City were left to ponder whether a goalless draw against league leaders Eastbourne Borough at Twerton Park on Saturday was a point gained or two points dropped. The match saw the Sussex side fail to score for the first time this season, despite City’s defence missing Paul Evans and Sekani Simpson, but for long spells of the game they seemed more interested in maintaining their unbeaten record than actually trying to win the game and City rarely looked capable of taking advantage of this negative approach. This meant the match was a largely forgettable and – for two sides at the top end of the Blue Square South – a disappointing encounter, only brightened up in its latter stages by the introduction of Scott Partridge – the fit-again striker twice forcing Eastbourne keeper Hook into excellent stops.
With Evans missing due to family illness City were forced into making a late call for Steve Perrin’s services and he lined up behind a defence with Gethin Jones slotting at right-back in place of hamstring victim Simpson. The whole of the first half rarely rose above the mundane, even the drum that the small band of Eastbourne supporters had brought with them soon fell silent in the face of the football on offer. The visitors saw the majority of the possession but, unlike nearly all the other sides City have faced this season, rarely tried to get the ball down and play, instead content to aim long balls forward that, by and large, were dealt with well by the centre-back pairing of Chris Holland and Matt Coupe. Only once did such a ball catch City out when Jim Rollo played Atkin onside and he raced clear only to fire high and wide after 27 minutes. A couple of set pieces from Borough did give City a few nervous moments – Perrin flapping at a corner the worst – but for a side at the top of the table they were distinctly average. In reply Darren Edwards should have done better on the half hour, lifting the ball over the bar after burst forward by Coupe. He then wasted another chance when the ball broke to him the box, Hook blocking his shot then also collecting Phil Walsh’s follow-up effort. Holland also sent a couple of corners off target and Edwards headed a Scott Rogers cross straight at Hook, but when the half-time interval finally arrived it was with a sense of some relief.
The game did liven up a bit after the break with substitute Harding shooting across the face of goal after collecting a Ramsey pass. City were beginning to look slightly more threatening now and on the hour a Mark McKeever free-kick dropped to an unmarked Holland on the corner of the six-yard box but he could only blast the ball out of Twerton Park. Moments later City replaced Lewis Hogg with Partridge and, despite having only played for 20 minutes in the last eight months and being put on the right side of midfield, he immediately had an impact on the game. A 68th minute free-kick was headed out to him and he unleashed a stunning volley that had it been a yard either side of Hook would have given the keeper no chance. However, it was near enough to allow him to push it over the bar. From the resultant corner Adie Harris headed narrowly over. Eastbourne did get the ball in the net shortly afterwards, Smart’s volleying home via the bar even though the linesman had long since raised his flag for an earlier offside. Ten minutes from time Partridge again tested Hook with a long range shot, the keeper saving just inside his left-hand post. Eastbourne had long since looked content to hold on for a draw although a Tait effort dragged wide from 12 yards and a free-kick that Rogers bravely blocked did show that an adventurous outlook could have proved more profitable.
Once again the game showed that City have little to fear from the better sides in the Blue Square South and also showed that the return of Partridge could provide the spark up front to compliment their rock solid backline. If they can overcome their mini-home goal drought – this was their third successive blank at Twerton Park – then catching a side as unimpressive as Eastbourne at the top of the table should not prove an overly taxing task.