With the season now more than two thirds of the way through and spring on the horizon, despite the cold weather Britain has currently been experiencing, league games are becoming ever more critical. In the lower reaches of the Conference Premier table nine clubs are threatened with relegation, with 16th placed Lincoln City some 7 points adrift of Ebbsfleet United, the club above them in the league.
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the clubs that are currently involved in the relegation with the view to making an assessment about which clubs are likely to survive and which are likely to be relegated.
Bottom Of The Conference
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Of all the sides embroiled in the relegation battle, Bath City are the team in the greatest danger. They are currently six points adrift at the foot of the table and ten points adrift of safety with many pundits having already written them off as relegation certainties. Recent form has also provided little evidence to suggest that the Romans are capable of staying up. After beating Newport County in a critical game at the start of January, Bath City have managed just one point from the subsequent four games, which included a 6-0 trouncing at Grimsby and a 3-0 home reverse against Alfreton Town in a game that the club would have highlighted as a ‘must win’ beforehand.
As with many clubs at the foot of the Conference, Bath City are currently struggling financially. The Romans made the 1st Round of the FA Cup and earned a replay against Dagenham & Redbridge which earned some much needed and unexpected income after being watched by an impressive crowd of 1,704. City also progressed to the 3rd Round of the FA Trophy, which should have yielded another healthy attendance with the possibility of a trip to Wembley on the horizon. However, only 546 souls braved bitter weather conditions on a Tuesday evening as Bath were beaten 2-1 by Grimsby, in what has been reported as the lowest attendance to watch the Mariners in a competitive fixture since the War.
The low attendance in the FA Trophy has also been mirrored by comparatively low attendances in the league with Bath, at 890 fans per match, currently having the third worst average attendance in the Conference behind Hayes & Yeading United and Alfreton Town. This level of support is unsustainable at Conference level, given the level of wages required to acquire the quality of player that the club needs to attract in order to survive, and it is no coincidence that the three clubs with the lowest gates in the Conference currently occupy the bottom three positions in the table.
Like Newport, one of the problems that Bath faced at the outset of the season was the increased expectation of the fans. Having finished a highly creditable 10th in their first season back in the Conference, few would have anticipated that the club would be staring relegation in the face by mid February. However, the lack of income from gate receipts has proven to be a significant hindrance in Adie Britton’s attempts to improve the squad.
This has lead to the recent and highly controversial announcement that the Twerton Park stadium will be renamed by the winner of a draw, the entry fee for which is £50. There are virtually no restrictions on the winner in terms of what they will rename the stadium and there are also no restrictions preventing opposition supporters from entering. The aim is clearly to raise a significant amount of money through one off donations with the prize potentially being permanent recognition at Twerton Park for the winning supporter or business. However, whilst Bath are currently publicising the scheme as innovative and exciting, it has met with a decidedly mixed reaction amongst the supporters and perhaps gives a strong indication of the state of the club’s finances.
Despite the challenges that Bath City currently face with their finances, Adie Britton was still able to strengthen his squad with three January transfer window signings. The most notable of these signings in the context of Tuesday evenings game with Newport is Tommy Doherty, a player of some quality who represented Northern Ireland on 9 occasions from 2003-5 and who made nearly 200 appearances for Bristol City. During a spell at Wycombe, Doherty made the PFA League Team of the Year on two occasions and he was a regular for Newport County until Justin Edinburgh’s decision to release him in the January transfer window in favour of players with a greater work ethic. That level of ability should aid Bath greatly as they seek to produce the seemingly impossible, though sadly for the Romans goal scoring is not one of Doherty’s strongest points, with only 9 career goals from midfield.
Also joining the Romans in January were Andy Gallinagh and Sean Canham. Gallinagh, a 26 year old defender who, whilst never able to hold down a first team position at Cheltenham Town, proved to be a useful squad member, making 130 appearances over five years. Gallinagh is in some ways not new to Bath, as he has already made 14 appearances for the club this season during a two month emergency loan spell. Striker Sean Canham has also spent two months on loan at Twerton Park this season and returns to the club on another loan deal, having scored five goals in 14 games during his first spell with Bath City. Whilst Canham has previously been sent out on loan a number of times before, he has generally produced a reasonable goal return with a particularly successful spell at Hayes & Yeading in 2009 when he netted 6 times in just 14 games. However, apart from this short spell, he has never managed to recapture the form that saw him score 68 times in 120 appearances for Team Bath. The Romans will need him to net a number of times between now and the end of the season if they are to survive.
This week has become a critical week in determining whether Bath City have any chance of escaping the drop. On paper, there were three very winnable fixtures against sides in the bottom half of the table. However, despite creating chances on Tuesday evening, the Romans fell to a 1-0 defeat against Newport County at Spytty Park in the first of these matches after an early Lee Minshull goal. This blow now means that the forthcoming home games against Ebbsfleet United and Hayes & Yeading are absolutely critical. Should Bath manage to accumulate a minimum of six points from these games, they could move potentially move themselves within touching distance of the teams above them. This would allow the club to go into a tough sequence of games against promotion chasing Kidderminster, Luton and York with more confidence. Anything less, however, and the task will be virtually impossible.
The reality of the situation is, as was demonstrated at Spytty Park last night, that whilst supporters will highlight games that they see as potentially winnable at this stage of the season, it would actually take a dramatic change of form for the Romans to be able to put together the kind of winning run that is necessary to avoid relegation. Given that Newport are down at the foot of the table and were totally outplayed at Twerton Park in January, Romans fans will have anticipated gaining at least a point and yet they came back with nothing. Even if they now manage to pick up six points in the games against Hayes & Yeading and Ebbsfleet, they then have to play four of the top five over the course of the next month and it is unlikely that they will pick up many points from these games, even allowing for the fact that three of them will be played at Twerton Park. Consequently, as many of their fans clearly already believe, it is highly probably that Bath City will now be relegated in April.
Prediction: Bath City will be relegated.
Do you agree with the prediction? Why not vote in the poll to the left of this article and indicate which four teams you think will be relegated. At the end of the series, the results of this poll will be compared with the results of this table.
The next article in this series will feature Lincoln City, who are currently 16th in the table.