Super-subs inspire fightback as Bath City salvage point against Eastbourne
MATCH REPORT: Bath City 2 (Rowe og 77, Jones 90) Eastbourne Borough 2 (Ibe 25, Charles 45)
By Neil Beck
Substitutes Kerry Morgan and Charlie Griffin pressed their claims for starting spots by helping Bath City fight back from two goals down to draw with Eastbourne at Mayday Trust Park.
City looked to be heading for their third home Blue Square Bet South defeat of the season with 15 minutes to go but a stirring finale saw Danny Ball's shot ricochet in off Eastbourne skipper Ollie Rowe and Griffin hit the bar with a header before Gethin Jones grabbed a last-minute leveller.
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A dangerous Eastbourne side had caused City's out-of-sorts defence numerous problems before the break and cashed in with goals from Kezie Ibe and Elliott Charles.
Adam Connolly returned to the home line-up at the expense of Marc Canham in the only change to the side beaten 2-1 at Chesham United in the FA Trophy last week.
Eastbourne were the first to threaten when former City loanee Chris Shephard's fifth-minute free-kick was parried by Jason Mellor.
The home keeper was pressed into action again seconds later, palming a header from Charles over the bar, and then advanced from his goal to thwart a hesitant Ibe after the Eastbourne striker was put clean through on goal.
City forced five corners in an open first quarter-of-an-hour but could not capitalise. Loanee Tom Nichols had a shot deflected behind and was denied by an acrobatic stop from Craig Ross before finding the keeper's gloves from Josh Low's knock-down.
Just as City looked to be gaining a hold on proceedings, with Chris Allen showing some decent touches, Eastbourne took the lead. City failed to heed their earlier warning as Ibe again latched on to a hopeful ball forward and he strode clear of a flat-footed defence before easing his shot over the stranded Mellor.
Ball made a couple of strong breaks from right-back as City tried to find a quick response, the second halted by a strong challenge on the edge of the box just after the half-hour mark.
Sean Canham's tame effort from distance that dropped into Ross' hands but Connolly gave a quiet and sparse home crowd a momentary lift when some terrific touches took him past two defenders before he lashed a shot straight at the visiting keeper from 25 yards.
Connolly's excellent pass then looked certain to give Low a free run on goal but the ball hit Sam Cole's back and the chance was lost.
The diminutive Shephard was proving a handful for the City midfield and defence on his return to Mayday Trust Park and had a huge hand in his side doubling their advantage in first-half stoppage time. His run down the left was halted by a late Ball challenge – rightly earning the City man a yellow card – and Shephard picked himself up to float over an inviting free-kick that Charles planted past Mellor and into the top corner.
Eastbourne made the better start to the second period too and James Smith cut in from the right before curling a deflected 20-yard effort just past Mellor's upright.
The ineffective Canham failed to control Connolly's searching left-wing cross with the goal at his mercy and was substituted soon afterwards, with leading scorer Griffin entering the fray.
Griffin was presented with a decent chance within two minutes of coming on but was too slow to react after Ross pushed away Nichols' driven centre from the right and the ball was hacked away. Connolly then forced Ross into action again with a stinging effort from distance that the keeper held at the second attempt.
Low made way for fans' favourite Morgan with 20 minutes to go and the switch changed the complexion of a game Eastbourne seemed to have in their grasp.
All of a sudden the Poplar Side found its voice and City halved the deficit in the 77th minute – albeit in fortuitous circumstances. Nichols' run across the box was halted and, as some home players appealed in vain for a penalty, the ball broke loose. Ball fired in an angled drive from the edge of the box and, although his shot was heading wide of the far post, it cannoned into the net via the head of Rowe, who was attempting to divert it to safety.
That sparked a frantic spell that saw City camped in the Eastbourne box and twice go close to bagging an equaliser in the space of 60 seconds. First, the two home substitutes combined as Morgan's left-wing cross was headed onto the bar by Griffin. The ball was cleared behind for a corner that was taken short and Ross pushed Morgan's low drive out to Mark Preece, who blazed over with the net gaping.
Preece was deployed as an extra striker as the clock ticked down and City's late pressure was rewarded in the final minute.
Griffin was fouled on the left of the area and Morgan's ball into the box caused panic. Nichols might have forced it home before captain Jones did, despite the desperate attempts of a defender to clear it off the line.
There was still time for Noah Keats to shoot narrowly wide from 18 yards but City were more than satisfied with a point that keeps them on the fringes of the play-off zone.
BATH CITY: Mellor, Ball, Brown, Jones, Preece, Keats, Connolly, Allen, S Canham (Griffin 58), Nichols, Low (Morgan 70). Subs not used: Cummings, Rollo, M Canham.
EASTBOURNE BOROUGH: Ross, Johnson, Cole (Hamilton 90), Uddin, Rowe, Watts, Hart, Smith, Ibe (Lok 90), Charles , Shephard. Subs not used: Raymond, Knight, Gorman.
Referee: J Busby.