Saturday, 29 March 2008

Gillingham 0 Carlisle United 0

Match 59/07/676 - Saturday, 29th March 2008 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Carlisle United (0) 0
Att. 6,673

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,363

Match Report

There is hope! This was a much improved performance that possibly deserved more than a point against Carlisle, a side occupying one of the automatic promotion positions. A 25 yard drive from Simeon Jackson smacked against the bar and such is your luck when you are at the foot of the division.

Defeats for Crewe and Millwall inches Gillingham a little closer and if, that very big IF, they were to beat fellow relegation fodder, Luton Town on Tuesday then just a point will separate the Gills from Crewe. A win would also set up a big clash at the New Den next Saturday.

All over the pitch Gillingham were far better than in recent weeks. Nicky Southall was a welcome returnee after injury and he added quality that has been missing on that flank. Danny Cullip also returned and the back four look more solid with his added strength and experience. Back from international duty came Andrew Crofts, sorely missed at Port Vale on Monday.

Gillingham survived an early scare when Southall cleared off the line with Carlisle appealing that the ball had crossed the line. In these opening minutes Derek Stille flapped badly at a couple of crosses, but he recovered to make good saves further into the game.

Mark Bentley and Crofts were competing well in midfield and several half-chances fell the way of Jackson, who could not convert his energetic performance into goals. When the final analysis of the season comes around, it could be the very poor chances to goals ratio that is going to relegate us. When you take away loanee Chris Dickson’s goals then the tally becomes very sparse.

Gillingham gave away a thousand or more tickets and were rewarded for their initiative with a vibrant atmosphere that was willing and ready to drive the side forwards in their quest for vital points. There was no negativity, no chants for anybody’s head and though the win did not come, I’m sure some of the freebies might be enticed back for another game in this anxious run-in.

To use the IF word again, IF only we had produced more performances like this since Christmas undoubtedly we would not be in the mess we are in. IF we can keep Danny Cullip fit for the rest of the season there might just be a couple of clean sheets obtained in the last six games and IF Simeon Jackson’s luck changes he might just supply the goals that are going to keep the club in this division.

IF, a very small word with very big consequences.

Friday, 28 March 2008

France 1 England 0

Match 58/07/675 - Wednesday, 26th March 2008 - International

France (1) 1 Ribery 32 (pen)
England (0) 0
Att. 78,000

Entrance: £16
Programme: None issued
Mileage: 475/5,318
New Ground: 222 (32nd abroad)

Match Report

Another England international passes by with an unsatisfactory conclusion. The defeats we can take, let’s face it at club and country I’m well used to it, but it is the nature of the performance that for far too long has lacked any sort of enjoyment.

David Beckham took centre stage with his 100th cap and it is to the credit of the French that he received a superb reception from the home crowd both prior to the game and especially upon his substitution.

Mr Capello saw in this England performance an improvement from his first game against Switzerland. He’s paid to have a educated eye, but mine obviously missed what his saw. A lacklustre performance with very few plusses was the conclusion that I drew. England had more than a fair share of possession but barely threatened to get behind the French defence and hardly forced Gregory Coupet into a meaningful save.

Why do England play so slowly and why do so many passes have to go sideways? Perhaps in his pre-match team talk Capello should show on the white board that the goals are on the end of the pitch not the sides. So many England moves seem to end up with the ball back at the goalkeeper after 20 passes that failed to get the ball forward and once it is back with the keeper a long punt gives away the possession. The French similarly passed the ball around, but when there was a forward pass to be made there was a pace that was always threatening. How England could do with a energetic midfielder in the mould of Franck Ribery, Owen Hargreaves is the closest we have, but in his deep-lying position he is far less effective.

In the end it was just a penalty that separated the sides. Defensively it was a poor goal to give away with Anelka’s pace taking him behind the back line, he prodded the ball beyond the onrushing James who slid into him, bringing the forward down. Ribery slotted home with ease.

France did not appear to me to be any great shakes but there was no Henry or Viera present so perhaps they can cite a weakened side.

Once again Capello went with Wayne Rooney as a lone striker and as with the first game it patently does not work. Rooney is not an out-and-out front man and England looked marginally more potent in the second half with Crouch and Owen in tandem. Filling the hole behind Rooney, where most would think Rooney should play, was Steven Gerrard, who had a really poor game.

Upon the final whistle my first reaction was that I could no longer suffer these performances. Mr Capello assures us that come September and the World Cup qualifiers everything will be OK, he has three more friendlies to convince myself and I’m sure many others.

The Stade de France was an impressive arena, but perhaps stadia have moved on since it was built 10 years ago. In particular the toilet facilities available to the 7,000 England supporters stationed in the lower tier were little short of appalling. From where we were seated we could only access eight single cubicles, four of which were for the disabled. There was no separate toilets for females, much to Ann’s disgust. By the end of the game, their usage was not for the faint-hearted.

So ten years on, if the Stade de France can learn from Wembley with regards to the toilet facilities then in reverse we could learn from them with their transport links which were spot on.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Port Vale 2 Gillingham 1

Match 57/07/674 - Monday, 24th March 2008 - League One

Port Vale (1) 2 Richards 19 Whitaker 53
Gillingham (0) 1 Griffiths 79
Att. 3,157

Entrance: £19
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 430/4,843

Match Report

There was an icy blast of winter on this Easter Monday trip to Vale Park and with defeat came the chilling realisation that relegation is now almost a certainty.

Mathematically, Gillingham still have chances to pull themselves to safety, for instance, they have a game in hand on Millwall and also have to play the Lions, two wins and only goal difference would separate the clubs, realistically is it going to happen? Four home games remain, Luton and Swindon might produce maximum points, the optimistic might hope for draws against promotion-chasing Carlisle and Swansea, giving eight home points. Away from home, taking the optimistic vein, Millwall, Bristol Rovers and Leeds at a point apiece would give us 11 points total leaving Millwall or Crewe to win two of their remaining games. I cannot see us getting those 11 points, so the likelihood is that their task is going to be less than those two wins.

What might have been had Simeon Jackson converted a first half penalty that would have brought Gillingham level? But the penalty, saved by the goalkeeper Anyon, was typical of an afternoon where the Gills created a bucketful of chances, but only had a 10 minutes from time effort from substitute Leroy Griffiths to show for their efforts.

Port Vale, who could have been relegated on the day if they had lost, completed the double over Gillingham with a poorly conceded first half goal and a very good strike in the second. A poor defensive header fell to Vale 12 yards out and Richards was allowed time and space to pick his spot. Shortly after half time, Whitaker found the top corner from about 25 yards leaving Gillingham with too much to do.

On the way home we were discussing relegation and ended up cheering ourselves up. There are quite a few new grounds to visit and, more importantly, Gillingham might even win more often which would make it a lot more enjoyable, especially away from home.

I’ve a feeling that one or two of the “non-league” players that Mark Stimson has brought to the club might well flourish at a lower level. A few goals would certainly give Jackson confidence and he could turn into a very good striker at League Two level and likewise Miller and Nutter could do very well at the lower level.

Unfortunately it might be off-the-field financial matters that hold the key to our prospects next season in the lower tier.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Gillingham 2 AFC Bournemouth 1

Match 56/07/673 - Saturday, 22nd March 2008 - League One

Gillingham (2) 2 Crofts 9 Jackson 27
AFC Bournemouth (1) 1 Kuffour 28
Att. 6,540

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,413

Match Report

Three crucial points were won at the end of a week that saw Gillingham portrayed as the most dysfunctional family in a very bad soap opera. Such was the fall-out from last week’s pathetic display against Crewe Alexandra that it emerged that after the game rocks had been thrown at chairman Paul Scally’s car. Scally outraged not only by the incident but also by the abuse that he had taken in the ground said that it had been “disgusting, disappointing, disenchanting and disgraceful. Some of the insults were disgraceful and I had my three year old daughter with me. They weren’t kids either, they were men. Some of the abuse I got was disgusting from some scumbags. It’s not acceptable and nobody deserves it.”

Scally launched into another attack on the fans that had called for him to leave the club claiming that the bank had placed their faith in him personally and that if he walked away the club would collapse. He also stated that he might have walked away on Saturday night if it hadn’t been for the support of the bank, staff and others.

Later in the week it was Mark Stimson’s turn to serve a few volleys. In a Radio Kent interview he told of four players that had missed training sessions with limp excuses. Stimson said: "It is unthinkable. Players have been told how important these sessions are, and have then missed them." No names were mentioned but it wasn’t too hard to guess who a couple of them might be and given that he said that the four would probably not play for the club again the team sheet against Bournemouth would provide a few answers.

It had been a week when the always fractious relationship between Scally and an element of Gillingham fans had been seemingly irretrievably broken and that within the club there were dangerous cracks in the relationships between player and manager.

Such was the backdrop that I had commented on a message board that the chairman’s programme notes could be worth the £3 cover price on its own. After the usual welcome to the visitors, just three lines: “Based on the events over the past seven days, I am completely lost for words on a number of issues and I feel it best that I make no further comment at this time. Enjoy the game and thank you all for attending.” Mr Scally lost for words? There’s a first.

So it was that an unexpected, larger than usual crowd of 6,540 (probably enhanced by the quid for a kid offer) braved the arctic chill that had blessed this Easter Saturday. Firstly the team sheet showed six changes that offered the clue that the guilty four may have been Adam Bygrave, Gary Mulligan, Delroy Facey and one other who were not included in the 16. Simon Royce was also missing but this had been due to an injury picked up in training.

Replacing Facey and Mulligan upfront were Simeon Jackson, whose 15 minute cameo last week had been the one positive feature and Dennis Oli. These two looked lively (not hard when comparing with the bone-idle Facey) and Gillingham started brightly and took only nine minutes to take the lead following a swerving shot from Andrew Crofts that left the Bournemouth keeper flat footed. After a couple of decent efforts, Jackson finally opened his account for the Gills with a well-taken goal after 27 minutes. Never a club to make things easy for themselves, Gillingham immediately conceded to leave the nerves still on the edge.

The second half was largely Bournemouth’s and when the vistors were awarded a soft penalty it looked as if Gillingham had lost their opportunity for a morale boosting victory. Stand-in keeper Derek Stille produced a brilliant save to deny Max-Alain Gradel in what might be the moment that turns a season.

A fighting, rather than convincing, Gillingham performance had nipped in the bud any protests that had been threatened, but I suspect that the repercussions of the past week will be felt for the rest of the season.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Gillingham 0 Crewe Alexandra 3

Match 55/07/672 - Saturday, 15th March 2008 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Crewe Alexandra (1) 3 Pope 9 Maynard 50 Morgan 76
Att. 4,956

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,368

Match Report

“This is embarrassing” sang the Rainham End as Gillingham slumped to their fourth successive defeat leaving them four points adrift of safety. Chants of Scally and Stimson Out were made as the crowd vented their frustration at this woeful display.

Those same supporters, aware of the enormity of the game, had given superb vocal support at the beginning of each half but were worn down by the ineptness of this Gillingham team. Clearly most of the players that Stimson has brought from non-league have failed to make the grade and they are not being helped by the so-called experienced players.

If it wasn’t so serious it would be possible to laugh at the joke of a goal that gave Crewe an early lead. A poor goal kick that scuffed along the ground, bouncing its way through the Gillingham midfield, to Morgan who set up Pope for a smart finish. Gills spent the rest of the half on the back foot as Crewe created and missed chances to put the match to bed.

Somehow the drummer boy managed to get the crowd going again at the start of the second half, but the superb atmosphere was completely flattened by a second Crewe goal and when they added a third, the patience finally snapped and those that did not vacate their seats rightly vented their displeasure.

A couple of weeks ago I was writing that I wasn’t guessing whether we would go down or not, but three on-the-road defeats and today’s debacle leave no other conclusion to make than we will go down. There are no goals in this side (despite Simeon Jackson making a lively contribution as sub late in the game) and the goal difference is now going south at an alarming rate.

Easter brings matches against fellow bottom four teams, Bournemouth and Port Vale, but present form does nothing to suggest that the result will be anything different from today.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Tonbridge 3 Leyton 0

Match 54/07/671 - Saturday, 8th March 2008 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 3 Rook 71, 90 (pens), 90
Leyton (0) 0
Att. 410

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/4,323

Whilst I've been away on holiday and Gillingham have floundered in and out of the relegation area, Tonbridge have gone from strength to strength and this win was their fourth on the bounce and has propelled them into mid-table.

I would imagine this was probably their least impressive performance of the four as they made hard work of the Division's whipping boys. For 70 minutes on a wet, windy afternoon, they dominated without breaking through and it took a rather dubious penalty to break the deadlock. The referee had taken centre stage for much of the game making both poor and confusing decisions and talking forever to players after they had misdemeaned. Eventually the injustice of the penalty decision broke Leyton's resolve and their discipline was lost. They lost a man and then a second penalty decision wrapped up the game before Rook added a third for his first Angels' hat trick.

The league is still tight but Tonbridge are now safely in mid-table and should now be able to press on to a decent finishing position that will give them confidence going into Tommy Warrilow's first full season with the club.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Gillingham 0 Yeovil Town 0

Match 53/07/670 - Saturday, 1st March 2008 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Yeovil Town (0) 0
Att. 5,083

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,297

Match Report

At this stage I'm not guessing whether Gillingham will go down or not, but I am willing to predict that we are going to be in a relegation battle right to the wire and heaven forbid that we need to go to Elland Road on the last day still needing something.

From the moment I heard that Facey and Griffiths were to lead the line I suspected a goalless afternoon. Both worked hard, but they neither created chances or had any created for them. They eventually gave way to Mulligan, who looked to have a good call for a penalty turned down and Jackson, very late on. Whichever pairing Stimson has tried there are very few goals in this squad and that is going to be the reason that a relegation dog-fight seems certain.

Yeovil were awful, forcing Royce into just one comfortable save, and had Maher sent off for dreadful challenge on Simon King, who was stretchered off.

With three of the bottom four seemingly stranded there might be just the one place to avoid. Gillingham now face three successive away games before fellow strugglers Crewe come to Priestfield and unless Stimson pulls a striker of the Chris Dickson calibre out of the hat before the end of the loan window, I fear Gillingham might have a bit of ground to make up when they return home.