This was by no means a classic City performance but the delight
amongst players and the City fans said everything about what an
important win this was for the club. Suddenly City are in the play-off
positions and despite being hugely lucky to escape with a win this
was a match where we had to dig deep to last out against the Banbury
onslaught. What made that all the more impressive was that it was
done with ten men after Lyndon Tomkins saw red, and done having
let in one goal when the memories of last Saturday's terrible capitulation
at Eastleigh must still have been screaming for attention from the
back of City minds.
The match had barely started when City suddenly found themselves
in the lead. The Banbury players certainly hadn't warmed up to the
game as it was a disastrous misunderstanding between Wayne Blossom
and Matt Hayward that presented the ball to Michael
Whittington on the edge of the box. The on-loan striker hasn't
quite recaptured the live wire deadly accuracy of his previous loan
spell at Meadow Park but this was a moment to remind his employers
he is still a class act. He shuffled the ball out of reach of the
recovering defender before unleashing a sharp precise bullet shot
into the near corner. Keeper Alan Judge wouldn't have got it in
his Oxford United top flight prime, never mind now in his mid-40s.
Going ahead rarely seems to make life easy for City sides and how
we then managed to survive to half-time without at least conceding
an equaliser was a bit of a mystery. First City survived a scare
as we could have found ourselves down to ten men. Webb had caught
Andy Baird with a tackle that saw the Banbury striker kick out at
the grounded Gloucester player, but Tom
Hamblin was quickly on the scene and seemed to defend his team
mate with a downward punch at Baird's chest. Fortunately the ref
can't have had the same view of the incident as the City fans and
both Hamblin and Baird escaped with yellow cards rather than red.
City then continued to ride their luck as Tomkins survived an enthusiastic
penalty appeal from the home fans as the defender appeared to have
pulled back a Banbury player trying to reach a low cross, and a
few minutes later the City cross bar was humming from a Baird snap
shot that had left Jacob Giles standing. More was to come as a good
Banbury move down our left ended with a deep cross to the far post
where Baird produced a strong downward header which Giles did well
to reach and save by pushing the ball over the bar. Minutes later
a similar move again found a Banbury player unmarked as he rose
to meet a deep cross. This time it was Howard Forinton who presented
the danger but the normally deadly forward put his header wide.
In the second half City enjoyed more of the play and managed to
put together some far better attacking moves with more numbers in
the box. Banbury's defence had looked vulnerable throughout the
game despite their chances at the other end, and now they were starting
to make mistakes under pressure. Judge did well to get his hands
to a Hamblin header under the bar from close range and then Banbury
again gifted City a great opportunity. Again it was the thoughtless
Blossom who was overly careless with his passing and his loose ball
gifted Whittington with another opportunity to run at the Puritans
back line. It looked as if he'd missed the chance to shoot and with
the ball pushed wide right to Webb the danger seemed to be receding,
but Tommy Kinch wasn't able to keep his head and he tripped Webb
even though the City player seemed to be going too wide to cause
real problems. It was about as clear a penalty as you could ever
see and Jody Bevan made sure
the spot kick was equally emphatic.
There was no time to rest for the city players though as we quickly
turned attack into defence with bowel quaking ease. We could have
had further penalty claims with Webb and Wilson both going to ground
in the box to varying degrees of conviction. However the City lead
was soon halved as City failed to clear a corner and allowed Jon
Gardner far too much time on the edge of the six yard box as he
turned and smashed the ball into the net.
If City nerves were jangling now worse was to come. Some how a
promising move around the Banbury box saw Bevan and then Fowler
contrive to loose possession and the home side went on the attack
with a long ball into the City half. Keeper Jacob Giles seemed to
have cleared the danger but then put his clearance straight at Banbury's
George Redknap, and suddenly we were wide open. The ball moved on
to Baird, but his time on the ball was limited as Lyndon
Tomkins raced over and clattered into the Banbury forward. The
ref was on the scene pretty quickly and had no hesitation in showing
red, actually a harsh decision as Lyndon had been neither the last
man nor was it actually a dangerous or vicious tackle - which isn't
to say it wasn't both clumsy and cynical. Strangely Baird got to
his feet as soon as the red card had been shown...
With that awful implosion at Eastleigh only a week previously you
would have been a very optimistic City fan to think we would last
out more than 20 minutes defending a one goal lead with ten men.
But we did - the difference being this time some of our key leaders
stuck to the task. Chris Thompson
was imperious as a makeshift centre-back, putting in a string of
tackles and interceptions. Mustoe was also a central figure with
some calming moments of class - one of which was too much for Jon
Gardner who was booked for a shocking tackle as he slid straight
into his shin having seen the City player roll the ball past him
and out of harm's way with a lovely skillful switch of direction.
With the traveling T-End making as much noise as they could to keep
the players on their toes some how we managed to hang on for a much
needed morale boosting win. Suddenly we're in the play-off places
and that Cup exit seems not quite as world shattering as it did
just last weekend...
T-Ender Match Snaps
Tim Harris stuck to
an unchanged line-up, meaning keeper Matt Bath stayed on the bench
with on loan youngster Jacob Giles getting a second match between
the City sticks.
"Why don't the other
side always miss like that?"
For the second consecutive
game Tim Harris had to reshuffle his side to hold a lead with ten
men and again the boss got it spot on. First Reid came on to allow
Thommo to move into the centre of defence, and the City youngster
made a huge contribution to the win with a disciplined stint at
right-back. Then Tustain came on to join Bevan up front as City
went 4-3-2 and let the two big forwards defend from the front line
as they chased every long ball to give some relief to the defence..
The sendings-off of
Webb and Tomkins are the first time City have had players dismissed
in consecutive games since March 2003. Back then Chris Burns and
Gary Marshall saw red against Stourport Swifts and Atherstone United
in the space of three short-fused days. They were amongst a shaming
9 red cards picked up by our ill disciplined Tigers in a long hot
A win at the side lying
4th in the table is impossible to quibble with. City can still play
a hell of a lot better than this and we rode our luck for long periods
of the match - but Tim Harris will be delighted his side are showing
more bottle and togetherness. If last Saturday's FA Cup exit was
all about mental fragility, this was about spirit and guts.
This was the weekend where despite the table remaining fairly
tight you can start to see a few leaders emerging in the SLP.
King's Lynn produced a second-half demolition of Mangotsfield
to win 3-0 and still head the table, while Merthyr retained their
unbeaten status and added to Chippenham's miserable run with a
1-0 win at the Wiltshire club. Halesowen are still going well
too, their 4-2 win over Cirencester helped by a Matt Lewis hatrick.
Bath City may be struggling at home but a Lewis Hogg brace earned
a 2-0 win at Cheshunt and the Romans will still expect to be amongst
the top runners once they get that first win at Twerton Park.