Saturday, 24 November 2007

Gillingham 2 Hartlepool 1

Match 34/07/651 - Saturday, 24th November 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Oli 46, 60
Hartlepool (1) 1 Brown 25
Att. 5,488

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,077

Match Report

Today resembled the first day at Secondary School. Lots of new faces to take in, names that you cannot put to faces, some of the lads look a bit bigger and some smaller than you. So it was at Priestfield with potentially eight new names on the team sheet for the first time in a home league match. Luke Freeman, a 15-year-old debutant in the FA Cup at Barnet to be added to the seven new signings. Mark Stimson has raided his old clubs Grays for Dennis Oli and Stuart Thurgood and Stevenage for Adam Miller and John Nutter. He also had at his disposal Adam Bygrave from Reading, Shabazz Baidoo (what a name!) from QPR and Leroy Griffiths from Grays, but more recently playing at Lewes.

Ultimately, Oli, Griffiths, Thurgood and Bygrave made the starting line-up with Miller and Freeman coming on from the bench. It was not surprising therefore that Gillingham played the first half with the look of a bunch of strangers cobbled together for a football match. Evident was Thurgood’s almost over-enthusiasm and Bygrave’s obvious lack of experience, but the disjointed 45 minutes contributed to a 1-0 half time deficit.

Pre-Stimson, Gillingham have been a team that has been criticised for a lack of spirit and to hark back to Barnet, gutless. Stimson’s Gillingham will be a team that might be short on quality at present, but they will not go down without a fight. Within a minute of the restart, Griffiths lofted a ball over the top for Oli to run onto and lob the keeper. On the hour it was all Oli’s own work as he run through challenges to finish with some style. On this showing it is not hard to see why Oli scored plenty at Conference level, he has both pace and a eye for goal. During this second half, Thurgood snapped away like a little terrier, Stimson, interviewed after the game, likened him to Andy Hessenthaler, another late entry into the Football League, and the comparison can be justified. The last 15 minutes saw Gillingham sinking back towards their own penalty area, a Jepson trait that will be coached out by Stimson hopefully. But they manfully saw it out with Miller chasing down everything up front and rightly taking plaudits for his efforts.

This is the type of spirit that fans will warm to. Nobody is naïve enough to think we are Arsenal, but conversely will not tolerate a lack of effort or spirit. Stimson has made a great start, results have been good but not spectacular, but there is an air of positivity about the place and despite the fact that he is tapping into his non-league roots for his signings, his judgement is not being questioned.

My own opinion is that too much ground has been lost under Jepson to make any real assault on the top half of the table this season, but a sound foundation can be built in the coming months to take into next season.

Friday, 23 November 2007

England 2 Croatia 3

They think it's all over, it is now . . .

Match 33/07/650 - Wednesday, 21st November 2007 - Euro Qualifying

England (0) 2 Lampard 56 (pen) Crouch 65
Croatia (2) 3 Kranjcar 8 Olic 14 Petric 77
Att. 88,091

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/3,032

Match Report

Croatia rained on England’s parade at a sodden Wembley and a solitary Russian goal in Andorra was enough to end the hopes of a nation and the job of Steve McClaren.

The lifeline offered by Israel at the weekend had been grasped by an expectant Wembley crowd offering a genuine atmosphere for the first time augmented by the large and loud Croatian support. The scene was set for a memorable Wembley occasion, all recriminations against McClaren put to one side to cheer England home. Fourteen minutes later it was abuse that was raining down from the stands as the home side had capitulated to a 2-goal deficit following a goalkeeping howler from Scott Carson and a defensive nightmare leaving Olic to walk the ball into the net for the second.

By half-time, though England has spurned a couple of chances, the truth was that the Croatians should have been out of sight. Half time changes saw help for the isolated Crouch in the form of Defoe and a 99th cap for the Messiah, Beckham.

A tug on the shirt of Defoe gave Lampard the opportunity from the spot to halve the deficit and a pin point cross from Beckham to Crouch, who finished brilliantly to tie the game up and restore our place at Euro 2008.

But England’s ability on the night to self-destruct surfaced again 13 minutes from time when sub Petric was given time and space to beat Carson from all of 25 yards. Croatia saw out the game with just a minor scare when Bent shot over.

England could have no complaints at the result. It would not have been an unfair scoreline had the Croats won with five or six. The referee gave Crouch a fair ride, something he rarely gets from continental (or English for that matter) refs and it could almost be said that he leant slightly England’s way.

On the night England had far too many players who had really poor nights. If Steven Gerrard has ever played worse for England, then I missed it and Wayne Bridge would have looked out of place in a Sunday morning pub team. That is to single out just two, but with the exception of Crouch who worked tirelessly and Beckham who made a contribution when he came on, the rest cannot be excused for their 4/10 efforts.

The hostility at the final whistle could not have left the FA with too many choices when they assembled for an emergency board meeting on Thursday morning and at 10.30, Steve McClaren’s contract was formally terminated.

McClaren carries the can for a bunch of over-paid egos that have club interests far in advance of the national team. One of Five Live’s correspondents said that if any one of these players win a Champions League medal this season, the year will still be tarnished because of England’s exit from Euro 2008. Sorry, but I just do not believe this. While they are sunning themselves in Dubai or somewhere even more exotic, will they give a damn there is a tournament going on in Austria/Switzerland? I doubt that very much. Our golden generation was just Fools Gold, and a nation of football fans bought it completely. We won’t be so easily sold next time around and if there is any good to come out of this sorry mess then it is that expectations have to be lowered. We cannot continue to go into tournaments and qualifiers believing that we are England and they are just a lot of Johnny Foreigners who imported the game from us. We finished this group level with Israel, that is our status in the game.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Yeovil Town 2 Gillingham 1

Match 32/07/649 - Sunday, 18th November 2007 - League One

Yeovil Town (0) 2 Owusu 66 Walker 88
Gillingham (0) 1 Dickson 76
Att. 4,408

Entrance: £17
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 352/2,932

Match Report

An absolute pits of a day was made all the worse by yet another away day defeat, this time probably undeserved.

The weather forecast had been spot on and half way down the M3 the rain started to fall and none too lightly, and by the time the car was parked at Huish Park it was dropping out of the sky in torrents. An open terrace beckoned and we knew our fate was to be a good soaking. But salvation was at hand. At the ticket office we were informed that although we were buying terrace tickets we were to be allowed under cover in one of the stands. What a wonderful gesture by the kind Somerset folk. Even the short walk along the terrace behind the goal was enough to dampen us sufficiently as we headed towards our dry haven. But the devil moves in mysterious ways and the section reserved for the travelling support was full and despite there being 500 empty seats just one yard away the jobsworth stewards decided that there was no more room at the inn and we were turned back into the elements. What is it with a yellow coat and a lack of common sense, it is obviously not part of the job description.

There is something about getting soaked to the skin that affects the concentration and the interest, then a lenthy delay whilst one of your own team receives attention only focuses the mind further on the fact that your underpants are now being to feel damp. Efe Sodje, himself on as as substitute, thankfully despite sustaining a badly cut eye and concussion was said to be OK later after an ambulance ride to the local hospital. I cannot remember seeing 13 minutes held up on the first half added time board before and as the half time whistle blew the rain had relented and the stand was emptying as the travelling support returned to their position behind the goal. "Where was you when we were wet?" I felt like singing.

Of course this is a Gillingham away day so there is no fairy tale ending, a 2-1 defeat, the skies opening again to a further deluge and atrocious driving conditions all the way home. But it was nice of think that those stewards went home happy with their days work having had a nice dry seat in the stands. Muppets.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Wembley is alive on Wednesday!

It’s a miracle and on Wednesday night Wembley is going to be an atmosphere of hope rather than a night of long knives. Israel not only deprived Russia of the win that would have ended England’s qualification hopes but delivered a 90 minute winner that means only a draw against Croatia is needed. Israel showed a spirit that defied the crazy conspiracy theories that had surrounded Roman Abramovich’s involvement with both countries. Leading 1-0 at half time they endured 15 minutes of all-out Russian pressure until conceding the equaliser and from that point it was hard to imagine that they would be able hold out and keep our qualification alive. Just as added time was being entered, Russia hit the post and within seconds the lone Israeli striker was one-on-one with the keeper and delivered to send this particular household into delirium.

No complacency this group is not over, but Croatia who actually qualified by virtue of Israel’s win and perhaps, just perhaps, their eye may have been taken off the ball, as witnessed by their surprising 2-0 defeat in Macedonia. England go into the game short of two first choice central defenders and two potential match winners, with Michael Owen being injured in the pointless friendly in Austria. Steve McClaren can justify the fixture with all sorts of spin but it had no value and once Owen was crocked it became indefensible, despite a 1-0 win. Credit to the 4,500 England fans that made the trip, but for me it was a friendly to a stadium that has already been visited and one that I did not need to afford.

Many England fans will, but I personally take no pleasure in Scotland’s home defeat to World Champions Italy thus ending their hopes of qualification. They have done marvellously well to take this group to the last match, with home and away victories over the French along the way. Listening firstly on the radio and then watching on TV, the atmosphere at Hampden was unbelievable, and if Wembley can recreate that on Wednesday, England will get home for sure.

McClaren upbeat over Croatia tie

Tonbridge 2 Wealdstone 1

Match 31/07/648 - Saturday, 17th November 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Kinch 55 Barr 90
Wealdstone (1) 1 Alexander 32
Att. 506

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,580

Match Report

There cannot be many players that leave a club and have the front cover of the next match day programme dedicated to him, such is the esteem held for Jon Main. But today we entered into the first day of the post-Main era and whilst he was sorely missed, the fighting spirit apparent on Tuesday surfaced again to produce a late winner against Wealdstone.

The Warrilow style of play is eventually going to be easier on the eye than Dolby’s, but presently it is work in progress. Alongside Main’s departure, Ryan Martin has also left the club and rumours also surround club captain Scott Gooding, whose exit would be a major loss. In today came John Westcott, from Warrilow’s former club Horsham. He showed some good touches and laid on the winner for Hamid Barr.

It is well reported that the manager is looking at bringing in new strikers to replace Main and it is apparent that this needs to happen sooner rather than later. Although he scored the winner, in ultra cool fashion, Barr looked distinctly uncomfortable as a target man.

Another good attendance, bolstered by a good showing from Wealdstone, but also local people showing that they are buying into Tommy Warrilow. This results lifts Tonbridge well clear, position-wise, of the relegation places and the good ship Angel is being steered in the right direction.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tonbridge 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

Match 30/07/647 - Tuesday, 13th November 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Main 58 Harris 66
AFC Wimbledon (2) 2 Beales (o.g.) 27 De Bolla 33
Att. 985

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,554

Match Report

If you don’t update these blogs at the earliest opportunity how events overtake you, but firstly to the match in hand.

If is quite amazing the contrasts that football can throw up. Saturday at Barnet had to be the low point of this season with a lack of commitment that left me both exasperated and angry, last night showed the opposite with a Tonbridge side showing determination to haul themselves back from a 2-0 half-time deficit and a first half in which they had been thoroughly outplayed. Also at Old Trafford last Wednesday in front of 75,000 I was lamenting the lack of atmosphere and last night 985 created a special night.

This was the best game I’ve seen this season, great entertainment with a couple of good goals, a classic own goal and as said, the wonderful fight back that didn’t quite end with the ultimate result, but a draw was a fair result. Wimbledon had stormed into a two goal lead that their superiority had deserved. John Beales scored the classic own goal with a diving header and a left wing free kick evaded everybody to find the bottom corner. Even the most biaised of Angels could not deny AFC their worthy lead.

Whatever new manager Tommy Warrilow (rather hazy picture left), said Tonbridge came out and took the game to their high-flying opponents. Jon Main scored his 20th goal of the season and after Wimbledon lost their goalkeeper to injury Richard Harris who had been thrown forward scored their equaliser. Doubtless any Wimbledon fan reading this will point to the fact that their keeper had been injured by a Scott Kinch challenge for which he was booked and subsequently substituted by a non-goalkeeping substitute.

For all this Tonbridge more than deserved their point and I went home not only happy with the result but with a little faith restored after the last week’s disappointments.

As I said in the first paragraph events overtake the writing of a blog and today it has been announced that Jon Main has signed for last night’s opponents. Jon is going to be a big miss a Longmead, hopefully the substantial, but undisclosed fee will go a long way to finding a suitable replacement, but that is going to be very difficult to achieve.

Picture: kentishman

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Barnet 2 Gillingham 1

Match 29/07/646 - Saturday, 10th November 2007 - FA Cup 1st Round

Barnet (0) 2 Yakubu 61 Hatch 63
Gillingham (1) 1 Graham 28
Att. 2,843

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 152/2,528

Match Report

Gillingham crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle with a woeful second half display at League Two Barnet. What is it about this side that can look half decent at Priestfield and turn into a spineless, gutless rabble as soon as they leave the confines of Medway.

Barnet, no great shakes themselves, simply wanted the game more than Gillingham. They cut short their half-time break, came out and rolled up the sleeves. Nothing more, but their endeavour was more than enough to roll over feeble opposition.

Let’s make excuses because that is the only way we can justify the events. Underhill is a crap ground, with a slope that makes it look like the game is being played on Blue Bell Hill. Barnet get small crowds so there is no big game atmosphere, blah, blah. There are no excuses, today was absolutely pathetic, and if Barnet go on to the third round and draw Manchester United (again), the players can only look themselves in the face and say we missed that opportunity because we had no stomach for a fight. If Mark Stimson thought he had less of a challenge with the two lucky draws so far attained, then today showed the true measure of the job.

Gillingham fans, hardly the most critical in the country, reacted to the players at the final whistle with a torrent of abuse that should not have to be directed at their own players, but these imitators deserved every expletive.

Underhill is this season celebrating 100 years of football and the ground looks as though it has seen little change in that time. Even the Football League label it an embarrassment. Plans are in hand to upgrade but at present they are finding the Town Hall a much tougher opponent than Gillingham Football Club.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Manchester United 4 Dynamo Kiev 0

Match 28/07/645 - Wednesday, 6th November 2007 - Champions League

Manchester United (2) 4 Pique 31 Tevez 31 Rooney 76 Ronaldo 88
Dynamo Kiev (0) 0
Att. 75,013

Entrance: £40
Programme: £3
Mileage: 531/2,376

Match Report

Thirty-one years have passed since I walked through an Old Trafford turnstile to watch Manchester United play. Admittedly in that time we’ve seen England play at the Theatre of Dreams going on 20 times in the intervening time of old Wembley and new Wembley.

As a game of football, unfortunately it was no contest. Whilst Kiev had a couple of second half chances they largely confined their ambition to avoiding embarrassment and once United had opened the scoring through the unlikely figure of Gerald Pique then it became little more than a training exercise for the Reds.

This was probably the most disappointing aspect of the day. Old Trafford on England days had sometimes been a bit of a sterile experience. My memories of many years ago had been of a seething torrent of atmosphere that had been generated on the Stretford End and to re-live those days was what I was looking forward to. A one-sided game, very little support for the visitors (they did have a big flag though!) and for the most part a half-pace United resulted in an atmosphere not very different from those England games.

As usual Wayne Rooney, despite later admitting that he had been bored during the game, showed some enthusiasm and took his goal well. Ronaldo was frustrating, but managed to produce the night’s comedy moment when one of his tricks went hopelessly wrong and produced a “what the flipping (edited) hell was that” from his own supporters. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Carlos Tevez. His goal was the result of his direct running and the blossoming partnership with Rooney. A one-two had Tevez in on goal and he fired home with assurity.

So my return was enjoyable, on another day maybe the atmosphere will live up to the memories, but perhaps football crowds have just changed forever. With the demise of the standing areas crowd motion has disappeared and at times the Theatre of Dreams was like a theatre, with plenty of applause but very little noise. Could it be that Roy Keane’s prawn sandwich contingent and polite theatre-goers are today one and the same person.

Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 1

Match 27/07/644 - Tuesday, 5th November 2007 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Dickson 18
Doncaster Rovers (0) 1 Hayter (pen) 65
Att. 5,030

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,845

Match Report

It is said that the first attribute you need from a manager is for him to be a lucky one. Perhaps in Mark Stimson we have gained a man with that very precious gift.

In his first game, on the back of a strike from Delroy Facey, the like of which we have not seen since he joined and opponents Swansea then making life even more difficult for themselves playing for 65 minutes with ten men by hook or by crook Gillngham hold on to secure their first point with the aid of a missed penalty. Lucky, perhaps we’ll call it spirited defending.

Against Doncaster on Tuesday evening, Gillingham once again got off to a great start with a very good goal from Chris Dickson and spurn the chance to go 2-up when Facey smashed a penalty against the bar (why, oh why did he need to hit it so hard?). From that point on, it was backs against the wall as Doncaster carved them apart with comparative ease but contrived to miss chance after chance. Eventually after a period when Simon Royce seemed to be playing the visitors alone, Donny got themselves a penalty and James Hayter showed considerably more composure than Facey.

As Gillingham fell into their old ways and defended ever deeper, Doncaster launched waves of attacks that were repelled with a mixture of attributes shown at Swansea, spirited defending and good old lady luck.

The fine home run continues and as this game reached its final whistle, none of the home support could deny that it was a point gained. Stimson may be able to take credit that a steely determination has become apparent and that for the present, good fortune is looking down on us.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Tommy Warrilow signs in

The favourite for the job and a ex-Angels player Tommy Warrilow has been named as the new manager at Longmead. This will be a popular choice with the Tonbridge faithful as his name was top of the fans wish list from the very outset. He leaves Horsham were he was assistant manager to Johnny Maggs and brings with him Cliff Cant as his assistant.

Meanwhile at Tunbridge Wells, reserve team manager Mike Robbins has been promoted on a permanent basis, but such is the rancour within the Culverden club this story probably still has some mileage.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Tonbridge 2 East Thurrock 0

Match 26/07/643 - Saturday, 3rd November 2007 - FA Trophy 2QR

Tonbridge (0) 2 Kinch 83 Logan 90
East Thurrock (0) 0
Att. 280

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,800

Tonbridge's penchant for late goals winning cup ties continued at Longmead as two goals in the last eight minutes won an entertaining FA Trophy tie. Under the stewardship of Julian Leigh and Simon Balsdon following Tony Dolby's dismissal, Tonbridge produced a decent performance in front of a very disappointing attendance. I do not understand the apathy towards the Trophy (there were only 20 or so more for the previous round) and I find it hard to believe that 50% of this season's average disappear just because the club are no longer in the FA Cup.

No whispers at the ground as to who the new manager might be. From Nick Sullivan's programme notes he informs that the phone has been ringing constantly with some obvious applicants and some not [so obvious]. So there appears no shortage of interest in the job and the chairman acknowledges that Tony Dolby has taken the club forward to this point. So we will have to wait and see, sometime this coming week has been mentioned.

But for now, another home draw on Monday would do nicely.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Stimson signs in

Just a day after writing that the puffs of smoke probably would not be seen over Priestfield for the distant future, Mark Stimson is announced as the new manager of Gillingham Football Club.

Personally I'll pleased with the choice. Sure he is unproven at Football League level but he has a good track record at Grays and Stevenage and is a manager on the up. He has a reputation for wanting his teams to play attractive football and that will not go amiss given the dross we have been served up in the last 18 months.

The messageboards are thick with positive vibes and that is something in itself, recently they have been a really negative vehichle.

Stimson himself has given a very good first interview and if he can live up to his own billing then better times are ahead for the club.

Stimson interview

Stimson's first match in charge at Swansea on Friday night ended 1-1 earning Gillingham their first away point of the season. Having taken an early lead through Delroy Facey and having a man advantage after the home side had a man sent off on 25, they came within 10 minutes of victory before conceding an equaliser and then a last kick penalty which thankfully Simon Royce saved.