A brace of free-kicks from Josh Ashby condemned Bath City to an opening day defeat at Oxford City on Tuesday night.
The midfielder, who only scored three times last season, curled past Ryan Clarke at the end of each half to get David Oldfield’s men off to the perfect start.
Tom Smith had a goal disallowed in the second half following a fine flowing move from the Romans, and Ben Dudzinski’s sharp reflexes prevented Tommy Conway a leveler. Determined defending from the Hoops prevented further openings for Jerry Gill’s men, who suffered their first defeat at Marsh Lane in their sixth visit.
Gill threw loan signing Tom Leak into defence at the expense of Jason Pope as one of three changes with Jack Batten also making a welcome return having missed the entire 2019/20 season with a ruptured ACL. Oxford also drafted in a new loan centre-back in Joe Gubbins as they matched City’s 3-5-2 formation.
It resulted in each side cancelling each other out as Oxford’s pressing and harrying made life difficult for City. Conway’s tame, low strike on the counter was Dudzinski’s only save of the first half, with Clarke also largely untroubled until the breakthrough goal.
Oxford had started to build pressure and won a free-kick on the edge of the box when Elliot Benyon went down under the challenge of Batten. It looked soft, and it proved costly as Ashby stepped up to bend the ball around the wall and place it low inside Clarke’s left post.
While the first half had little to shout about in a near empty stadium, the second was as eye-catching as City’s new orange away strip.
A wonderful flowing move from the Romans saw Callum Evans’ superb low cross missed by Conway, but Smith was on hand to slam home from six yards, only to see the assistant’s flag rule it out for offside.
The last 15 minutes saw City throw bodies forward which left them susceptible to a break. Oxford substitute Harvey Bradbury found himself one-on-one but was denied by Clarke with Ryan Harley handily placed to clear the loose ball off the line.
Oxford rubber-stamped their victory with seconds remaining when Tom Richards was adjudged to have brought down Lewis Coyle on the edge of the box.
This time Ashby went for power and superbly bent his free-kick around the wall into the roof of the net to give Clarke no chance.