By Adam Le Roux
The centre back leapt highest to meet a corner midway through the first half, with his flicked header being awarded despite appearing to be cleared off the line by Tyrell Miller-Rodney.
Chances were at a premium throughout, but with seconds left on the clock the golden opportunity came to Oli Sprague, who couldn’t capitalise when one on one with Ryan Clarke in the hosts’ net.
The Beavers made the trip to Bath trying to continue the goalscoring glut that treated the travelling fans who made the trip to Oxford City at the weekend, but were met with a sterner test by the Romans.
Twerton Park was the setting for the evening, the Coliseum, if you will, with Gary and his battalion ready to do battle once again. But this was not akin to being thrown to the lions, as the league table beforehand may have suggested, this was two teams going toe to toe.
Conversely to Saturday’s offering, the game started slowly, with long range efforts from Zak Joseph and Ricky Wellard the only real efforts peppering Clarke’s goal.
Serge Manesio, making a return after a spell with Hendon, also had a rasper loop up off a defender. The swirling wind caught took hold, leaving Clarke to tip the ball over his bar for a corner.
The set pieces the Beavers were forcing weren’t being used to their full effect, a lack of quality from the dead ball saw good pressure wasted. They were made to pay for their profligacy midway through the half, as the hosts dealt the sucker punch.
Ross Stearn, fresh from his hat-trick at Hemel at the weekend, had a long range drive of his own deflected out for a corner. The irony of all ironies then, that with their first set piece the hosts took the lead, as the ball was swung into the box and met by Batten.
Tyrell Miller-Rodney tried in vane to keep the ball out, but the eagle-eyed assistant was adamant the ball had crossed the line, much to the dismay of all the men in red and blue, as well as Gary and co. on the touchline.
It would have been easy for the Beavers to crumble after conceding, especially in the circumstances, but instead they dug in, leaving their mark on the Romans on more than one occasion.
Rian Bray and Joseph saw the yellow card brandished their way before the halftime whistle, as the game threatened to boil over as the break approached. The referee’s whistle coming at the perfect time, the bitterly cold night illuminated by the heated discussions on the touchline.
As the lads came out for the second half they knew what they had to do. What came so easily and naturally on Saturday, find the net.
Alas, it was the home side who came closest after the restart, as once again the frailty from set pieces showed in the Beavers’ defence. A Bath head reached the delivery once again, leaving Lovelock to shovel the ball clear off the line.
A let off for Hampton, who looked to make the most of their reprieve immediately as Wellard came steaming forward, leaving Romans in his wake. His left footed drive from the edge of the box just took a nick off the defender, leaving Clarke scrambling across his goal as the ball squeezed past the post.
As the half wore on, and the substitutions breaking up play, the game became bitty, with only a Chris Dickson shot from range warming Clarke’s hands. The game went from end to end, but with no clear cut chances being fashioned, a flick on from a cross here, a misplaced pass there.
Then, with the referee’s lips pursed around the whistle, almost ready to blow, Dickson flicked the ball into the path of, wait, who’s that surging into the penalty area? Oli Sprague?
The centre back has the goal at his mercy, he has the Beavers fans behind the goal dreaming of the ultimate snatch and grab as he’s one on one with Clarke.
One touch, two touch, pull the trig…….. no, he tries to round the stopper, who foils him, and keeps his sheet clean, much to the relief of the home faithful.
The Beavers were left on their haunches as the final whistle went, after coming so close to a priceless point on the road, and more than matching one of the best sides in the division.
An encouraging performance though, the team battled strongly throughout which bodes well for the tough run of games approaching.
Gary McCann was full of praise for his side after such an excruciating defeat: “I thought we were worth a point, I thought they were hanging on at the end.
“There’s no doubt they’re a good side they’re at the top of the table for a reason. We were good value for a point, ultimately the performance was excellent.”
Updated 20:07 - 15 Mar 2019 by Rob Overfield