The battle of the feeder league champions went the way of the Southern League at Twerton Park on Saturday as City beat 2006-07 Ryman League winners Hampton & Richmond Borough by two goals to nil. Both goals came during a nine minute first half spell and gave City a fully deserved advantage that, for the early stages of the second half, they came close to extending on several occasions before appearing to decide – correctly - a two-goal cushion was sufficient to secure their second victory of the season. City’s starting XI saw two changes from the Eastleigh victory four days earlier – Paul Evans overcoming his neck injury to reclaim his place between the posts and Matt Coupe replacing Gethin Jones in the centre of defence after the latter failed a late fitness test on a hamstring injury.
The first incident of the game also concerned an injury as Hampton centre-back Paris fell awkwardly while defending a 7th minute corner, leaving the pitch holding his arm. Moments later Lewis Hogg had the ball nicked off his toe as he was about to shoot, then on 13 minutes he fired high over the bar after Darren Edwards had pulled the ball back to him. Showing the confidence that the midweek win over Eastleigh had clearly given them City were knocking the ball around confidently and, with the visitors lacking the threatening pace their first two opponents had, Evans was getting a gentle introduction back into action, with just a couple of high cross dealt with in his usual commanding manner. Despite this control it took a moment of sublime skill to opening the scoring. Mark McKeever collected the ball midway in the Beavers half, jinked past a couple of defenders to burst into the box and place a perfect shot past Lovett inches inside the far post. And it took City just another nine minutes to increase their lead, although this goal was much more direct in its execution. A McKeever corner was only cleared back to him and he lifted the ball back into the area, where Dave Gilroy challenged Lovett. Getting up above the keeper he headed the ball goalwards for Matt Coupe to apply the finishing touch. Hampton then made their second substitution, this time tactically, replacing left-back Harper with Hodges and switching to 3-4-3 but they still failed to test Evans in the remainder of the half.
The second began in almost identical fashion for Hampton as the first, losing another defender to injury – this time the unfortunate player was Barnett with a leg problem – eight minutes in. Before this City came close to a third goal, Gilroy and Hogg combining to set up Edwards, only for the striker to drag his shot past the post. City were now having their best spell of the game, although a rare attack from Hampton ended with a shot from Yaku, that squirmed through Evans’ hands but never looked like ending up in the net. Gilroy wasted a chance to open his account, heading a 53rd minute cross from Hogg wide. He then just failed to reach a low cross from Hogg. Sekani Simpson’s cross-shot was tipped over the bar by Lovett, Edwards shot straight at the keeper and McKeever was denied by an excellently timed tackle from Inns, as the game was largely played in the Hampton half. With this pressure failing to yield a third goal City seemed content to conserve their energies and the game became increasingly scrappy. On 67 minutes Evans was forced into making his first difficult save, blocking Yaku’s shot – the ball then rebounding off the striker for a goal kick. The disappointing crowd of 616 were left to witness a low key final 20 minutes, not helped by being shrouded in an unpleasant drizzle. Only once did City come close to scoring again, Hogg breaking forward with eight minutes remaining to supply Edwards, but Gilroy couldn’t turn home his low cross.
After three games last season City had just five points, failing to win either of their opening home matches. So, already in two respects they are in credit and, even at this early stage, appear to have settled in at the higher level. This match had a lot in common with many of City’s Southern League performances last season, a couple of goals in quick succession and then content to sit back and absorb any threat the opposition could generate. Once again Adie Harris was excellent in midfield and Coupe slotted in seamlessly alongside Chris Holland, the defence not weakened at all by Gethin Jones’ absence. Edwards and Gilroy were tireless in the efforts up front, the latter just needing a goal to cap improving performances, but star of the game was Simpson. He never put a foot wrong in defence and his attaching raids down the right flank were always a threat to the visitors. City’s next two opponents, Maidenhead United and Weston Super Mare, are similar to the first three, either Blue Square South newcomers or sides that struggled last season, so City will fancy their chances of extended this very promising start.