Bath City 3-1 Whitehawk
Mayday Trust Park
A change in tactics proved enough for Bath to stretch their unbeaten run to 3 straight wins. After going behind in the first half with an uninspiring display Lee Howells changed the formation and introduced Ross Stearn at half time which provided a catalyst for a much improved second half, with Bath scoring three times in the space of 7 minutes.
The game started slowly for both team with Bath opting for a back three with Dan Bowman and Josh Low playing as wing backs with David Pratt and Andy Watkins up front. Then with only 12 minutes played Adam Connolly was forced off with an injury with Chris Allen replacing him in the middle of the park. However Whitehawk took advantage of an adjusting City side to take the lead just five minutes later. Ashley Carew got in a decent cross from the right for Daniel Mills to finish well with a first time shot after getting ahead of his marker. The provider almost doubled their lead on 19 minutes with a first time shot from a Loick Pires ball but the volley sailed over the bar.
Bath then had their first shot of the half with 21 minutes gone when Pratt turned smartly in the box, but the finish was just wide of the post. The only other chance of note, with 39 minutes played, was when Bowman made a mazy run at goal with his shot going through the legs of Pratt only for the Whitehawk goal keeper, Chris Winterton, to gather with ease. Both teams went into the break looking for an improved second half, Whitehawk needed to turn their passing football into more goals, whilst Bath needed to get some consistency in their all round play.
Lee Howells made the bold decision to take off Watkins, who scored against Hayes on Tuesday, and replace him with fans favourite Ross Stearn. This also saw a shift in formation to a flat back four with Low and Stearn occupying the wings to support Pratt up front on his own. However it was Bath who had the early scare on when a dangerous low cross was cleared on 47 minutes. Whitehawk then continued to play neat football on the ground but couldn’t quite forge any more clear cut chances. Then on 65 minutes the game burst into life with quite possibly Bath’s goal of the season. Ross Stearn floated a free kick into the box which was cleared to the edge of the area where the inform Noah Keats unleashed a fierce half volley beating the diving Winterton much to the relief of the home faithful.
This energised Bath into more attacking pressure with every player finding an extra desire to get on to the ball and chase down every loose ball. Pratt turned provider for Stearn playing him in on 70 minutes, only to see his one on one go over the bar after riding a desperate last ditch challenge. Stearn soon had another one on one a minute later and he knew exactly how to finish it. Played through by Low he out paced the defence, then faced with the on rushing Winterton he stroked the ball past him to give Bath the lead for the first time in the game. The players knew that would need to get another goal to make the game safe as this Whitehawk side were playing better than their league position suggests. Bath’s vocal fans soon had reason for another celebration as Low copied Stearn’s finish this time on the right hand side past Winterton a soft touch past the advancing keeper on 73 minutes.
Both keepers then pulled off great saves to keep both teams fighting until the final whistle. First Winterton saved from Stearn’s shot turning it round for a corner on 76 minutes, then Jason Mellor saves well with a diving save from a free kick on the right hand side with player queuing up at the back post just three minutes later. New Bath signing Scott Wilson was then thrown into the fray to add some pace for the tiring Pratt up front. It was Whitehawk though who had a real chance to get back into the game on 85 minutes with their captain, Matthew Lawrence, just dragging his first time shot wide of Mellor’s goal from a Thomas Fraser free kick. It just wasn’t Whitehawk’s day with Wilson forcing a fine stop out of the increasing busy Winterton on 88 minutes from a Bowman cross. Winterton was then very relieved to see Stearn’s well struck free kick fizz past the post right on the full time whistle.
A bigger score line would have been harsh on Whitehawk who played some good football for long periods of the game. Caretaker manager Colin Reid will take positives from the game but will need to sign a new striker to help out Daniel Mills who has scored 12 of their goals this season. Bath City manager Lee Howells will be very pleased of his teams performance coming back from a very below par first half performance in front of their own fans.
Bath now face a very long trip to fellow play off chasers Dover Athletic next Saturday, whilst Whitehawk travel to Gosport Borough in a must win clash on Tuesday night if they are to have a chance of staying in the division come on the end of the season.