Wednesday’s Water Polo saw a battle in the water between Bath Men’s 1st team and Imperial Men’s 1st team – an important game for both sides. With home advantage the Bath boys were confident before the match – having lost only one of their last eight games in a tight encounter with Bristol – they sat top of the South Premier league. The main objective of the day was not only the win but more importantly the goals, as they sought to extend their goal difference margin over the close rivals at Bristol.
On the other side of the pool, despite only eight men making the journey west, the smaller Imperial team calmy treaded water as swim-off approached. A competitive league this year, Imperial has had a tough start to the season, to say the least. Having lost all five of their fixtures this season, they would be eager but hard-pushed to earn an away win against Bath, who were particularly in form so far.
First Quarter (0-0):
The first quarter would get underway in explosive fashion with Theo Thompson claiming the ball for Bath in an aggressive first swim-off. It would not be long before Bath began breaking down the Imperial defence, and despite the first shot of the game glancing over the bar, a smooth one-two passing sequence between Andre Savic and Ádám Slezák would lead to Bath finding the net first. Imperial would try and retaliate by using the long pass, and it nearly paid off as seven of them hit the post. However, any good work would be shortly undone as a lunging Imperial defence fouled Bath number 11 Emils and gifted Bath a penalty that was put away with precision by Savic for his 2nd goal of the match. A 2-0 advantage for Bath would quickly balloon as they managed to efficiently counter the Imperial attack, and by the end of the quarter, Savic had found the net three more times to make it 5-0.
Second Quarter (5-0):
Despite not getting on the scoresheet in the first quarter, Imperial came storming out for the second, clearly unwilling to admit defeat early on. In a closer swim-off that resulted in a 50/50, Imperial came out on top, immediately surging towards the Bath goal, and forcing a good series of saves from the Bath keeper, Rhys King. However, calm was soon restored to Bath waters via a cool brace of goals, courtesy of Slezák. The first was a long shot that curled around the Imperial goalie before moments later navigating a tight angle to kick-start the scoring in the second quarter. With the score at 7-0, Imperial had to get a foothold if they were to stop the Bath floodgates from opening, and they finally managed to do so. A quick succession of goals from the Imperial attack saw a swing in momentum, with King even having to deploy a lunging save to prevent Imperial from scoring a third. Imperial started to play more aggressively and would continue to push their back line up higher, but Bath quickly realised the vulnerability of their exposed defence. A quick counter allowing Alejandro Wood to beat the Imperial keeper in an easy one-on-one. As the half approached, the game appeared to tie up, both sides scoring once more before the quarter ended.
Third Quarter (9-3):
As both sides lined up for the start of the second half, Bath looked like a team on a mission. Despite conceding an early goal from an Imperial lob shot arching over Rhys King’s head, Bath reacted immediately, quelling any ideas that the tide was turning Imperials’ way. A series of 5 quick goals would be battered in, each adding to the visible turmoil between the imperial goalie and his backline. With silky passes amongst the Bath players finding space on the counter, as well as long-range shots powering home, the boys in blue and gold Bath colours began to demonstrate just why they sit top of Premier League South. Stalling but not willing to give in, Imperial would catch Bath on the counter, with an open backfield they forced a mistake from Rhys King to score. The Bath keeper had performed confidently all afternoon though, and shrugged off the error in heroic fashion, with a superb penalty save moments after to slam the brakes back on any Imperial ambitions. As the final seconds ticked by, fatigue became more apparent on both sides, with spilt catches and long-range shots being fired off without precision – the end of the quarter came at the right time.
Fourth Quarter (15-5):
As the final quarter got underway one thing would be on Bath’s minds: goals. This was imperative, as the potential for a walkover in their final fixture of the regular season meant this could be their last chance to separate themselves from rivals Bristol at the top of the table. Thompson would set the tone, once again successfully winning the swim-off for Bath. It would only take seconds for Bath to capitalise on the momentum, and they did so with style, with Emils slinging a no-look shot rippling into the back of the net. The victory looked certain for Bath as Imperial fatigue became increasingly evident. The home side began to sit back, slowing down the game whilst darting back on the counter, reaping the rewards of repeated one one-on-ones with the imperial keeper. Before long, Bath had extended the lead to 22 against Imperial’s 5 and as the 23rd goal for Bath found the back of the net after an initial diving save and parry from the Imperial keeper was rebounded in, the Imperial chances looked well and truly sunk. Matters were only worsened when one of Imperial’s most impactful players, number 7, received his 3rd major foul of the game and as a result was wrapped, leaving them a man short. With just over 2 minutes left on the clock, the Imperial keeper roared at his team in frustration and perhaps disappointment as Bath slipped through the Imperial defence twice more to deliver the knockout blows that closed the game out.
Full Time (25-5):
The afternoon started well for Bath 1s and only got better, extending the difference from 5 in the first quarter to 20 by the end of the game. They will be hoping that standout scoring performances from Andre Savic with an eye-watering 9, alongside Fletcher Stevenson and Ádám Slezák both scoring 5 in the game will be enough to carry them into the knockout rounds against the North Premiership victors. This team seems to have one clear goal though: to reach the European University games, and we are more than excited to follow their pursuit of it.