Saturday, 26 April 2008

Gillingham 1 Swindon Town 1

Match 65/07/682 - Saturday, 26th April 2008 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Richards 1
Swindon Town (0) 1 Aljofree 88
Att. 6,334

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,954

Match Report

The R word now looms larger than large on the horizon. Three minutes from the end at Boundary Park, the word was being spelt out in full as Cheltenham were holding Oldham and barring a mathematical miracle, Gillingham were bidding fond farewell to Division One. Lewis Alessandra then provided a certain symmetry to matters witnessed earlier at Priestfield, Oldham won 2-1 and Gillingham’s fragile (but probably futile) hopes go forward to the last day.

How different those last day hopes might have been if Gillingham had held out beyond the 88th minute, when Swindon’s skipper, Aljofree, which sounds very much like a favourite curry, left a bitter taste in the mouth as he hooked in after Gillingham failed to clear a corner. It had started so positively with Gary Richards meeting a Southall free kick to give the Gills a first minute lead. The home side went on to dominate the first half and had a penalty appeal turned down as the referee gave a free kick outside the box when it was clearly inside, even from my more distant viewpoint.

The second half was typical Gillingham, slowly their nerves got to them, they sank deeper and deeper towards their box and despite the minutes ticking away and Swindon not really threatening, the equaliser came almost as an inevitability. This is the fourth consecutive game that they have failed to hold on to a lead, having surrendered the advantage with draws at Millwall and Bristol Rovers and last time out at Priestfield in the defeat to Swansea.

All this leaves a depressingly desperate scenario for next Saturday at Elland Road. Firstly, Gillingham have to win against a Leeds team that should they retrieve their 15 point penalty on appeal would be in a automatic promotion position and even playing for the title. Even without the points return the Yorkshire giants are certain of a play-off place. Having done the easy bit, Gillingham will then have to watch the results bounce off the teleprinter and hope that Bournemouth fail to win at Carlisle and Cheltenham are beaten at home by Doncaster Rovers. So not much more than a kid wanting Christmas every day.

Next week, when the R word spells not only relegation but reality, will be the time to begin the inquest of a season that Mr Scally labelled in his programme notes as unpredictable, personally unpalatable would have been a better word.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Bristol Rovers 1 Gillingham 1

Match 64/07/681 - Saturday, 19th April 2008 - League One

Bristol Rovers (0) 1 Elliott 84
Gillingham (1) 1 Nutter 34
Att. 6,614

Entrance: £17.50
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 350/5,909

Match Report

It was a Eugene Bopp moment. True it was six minutes from the end of the match rather than six minutes from the end of the season and the consequences could be far less should we beat Swindon and Leeds in the next fortnight (but we all know that is not going to happen). True, it was a superbly hit volley that rocketed into the top right hand corner, rather than a loopy fluke over a stranded keeper, but it felt exactly the same. I remember walking away from the City Ground and a Forest fan saying that Bopp had never hit a shot like it in his time there and he probably never did again. Likewise today, I very much doubt a central defender like Steve Elliott has ever hit a shot quite as cleanly, quite as accurately and probably will never again.

The match itself, if you were a strictly neutral I guess it must have been pretty dire, but caught up in the tension of the situation good and bad football tends to get lost. The pitch was an absolute cow field and certainly didn’t suit Simeon Jackson. Georges Ba was quite effective up front and following a spell of pressure from us, firstly Ba hit the bar and then from a superb Southall cross, Nutter did well to squeeze the ball in at the far post, my first impression being that it had hit the side netting.

Second half we were mostly on the back foot, but defending resolutely, King outstanding, Cullip and Richards each getting a head in and a tackle in just when needed. Rovers were not really hurting us and the time was ticking away and then it happened . . . The ball dropped, he hit it and a micro-second later we were effectively relegated.

We didn’t play too badly, I would have thought most Rovers supporters opinion would be that they deserved at least a draw and I would find it hard to disagree. We were pretty toothless up front, as said the pitch did us no favours with the strike force we fielded. Stuart Lewis was busy, Crofts was good as was Trigger.

As we walked away, a group of spotty 16 year olds, warbled “Going down, going down” to us. They didn’t look as though education had been too kind to them, but even they could add up that we hadn’t done enough.

The Memorial Ground has just one more match as this incarnation of Bristol Rovers home ground, after which the site is to be redeveloped. The actual pitch area is to be moved 50 metres. Today it is a jumble of makeshift stands and a couple of odd, permanent buildings. We were housed in a temporary seating area with a tarpaulin thrown over the top that offered no protection from the driving rain if you were seated towards the end of the area. But as we only offer a pack-a-mac as protection to away fans in wet weather who are we to complain. We’ve been to Eastville, Twerton Park, the Memorial and for the next two years they will be sharing at Swindon or Cheltenham, so I think it is time for Rovers to put down some lasting roots.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Gillingham 1 Swansea City 2

Match 63/07/680 - Saturday, 12th April 2008 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Oli 22
Swansea City (2) 2 Bouza 44, 45
Att. 8,520

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,559

Match Report

The problem with doing this blog on a Saturday night is that tomorrow morning watching the highlights on the Championship you can be made to look a complete prat.

A goal up against the champions-elect and quite comfortable, two very dubious refereeing decisions left Gillingham 2-1 down at half time, a deficit they were unable to overturn in the second half despite dominating.

When those highlights are viewed it might well be that referee Clive Penton actually got it right and the blame lies squarely with Derek Stillie. For the first goal, a not particularly hard hit shot was spilt by the keeper who was then very slow to recover the ball. He appeared to have both hands on the ball when Guillem Bauza bundled the ball home for a 44th minute equaliser. Just a minute later, Stillie once again failed to hold onto a tame effort that fell to Bauza, who controlled the ball with his hand before slotting home with the home side standing still, appealing. Tonight, two very poor refereeing decisions, tomorrow, just plain, bad goalkeeping, we’ll see.

Before those two mad, soul destroying minutes, Gillingham had been at ease with their high-flying opponents. They had taken a 22nd minute lead through Dennis Oli and wasted a couple of good chances to postpone Swansea’s promotion party for another week. The prolific Jason Scotland cut a peripheral figure being well marshalled by Simon King and Danny Cullip and at the back, keeper De Vries had a couple of shaky moments.

But as it is always said in football, teams at the bottom do not get decisions from referees and the two in the final minutes of the first half will probably consign Gillingham to relegation this season. Clive Penton cannot shoulder the blame for what had gone previously over 42 games, Gillingham are where they are because for the most part they simply have not been good enough. But they came into today’s game on the back of a three game run that had produced five valuable points towards safety and played with a determination that belied the difference in league position between the sides.

The second half was a huff and puff performance with Mark Stimson throwing forwards into the fray as substitutes to recover a point, but with the exception of a couple of half chances they never quite recreated the momentum of the first half.

On the final whistle (referee Penton even managed to turn four extra minutes into three), Gillingham fans trailed away in the knowledge that Crewe and Millwall had both won, leaving their counterparts from Wales to celebrate their promotion into the English second tier. Good luck to them, when they raise their glasses to Roberto Martinez and Guillem Bauza tonight, they may wish to toast Clive Penton, let’s see the highlights.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Tonbridge 4 Hendon 0

Match 62/07/679 - Tuesday, 8th April 2008 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (2) 4 Rook 17 Edusei 27, 48, 85
Hendon (0) 0
Att. 389

Entrance: £8
Programme: Sold Out
Mileage: 26/5,514

Match Report

A month ago I left Longmead after a cruise against no-hopers Leyton that made it more four wins on the trot. Relegation fears had been left behind for mid-table safety and there were a few optimistic fools about making noises of play-off places.

One month on and having been completely tied up with Gillingham’s relegation fight I returned with the club having put together a seven match winning sequence sadly ended by a ridiculously late injury time goal against champions-elect Chelmsford. A win on Saturday restored the upwardly mobile momentum and this re-arranged fixture had offered myself the opportunity to witness this surge towards the play-offs.

Hendon, themselves play-off contenders, quickly showed their intention to go for the three points. They had a couple of early chances, one of which was well saved by Matt Reed, and the two lads leading the line looked as if they were going to be a real handful.

On 17 minutes a corner is flicked on and Carl Rook is at the far post to head the Angels in front. Twenty minutes later and the act is repeated, this time John Beales flicking on for twice-rejected ex-Gill Akwasi Edusei to meet and touch in from close range. Before half-time there was concern as Beales was stretchered off following a tackle that was caught on camera and didn’t look very pretty. Thankfully, Bealesy was later seen walking around the perimeters and might even be fit for Saturday. Tommy Tyne had also limped out of the game earlier and there was a general anxiety that the two goal half time lead might be tested.

Hendon pressed early in the second half and had an early chance but after just three minutes Tonbridge all but tied the game up with Edusei adding his second of the night from close range. With the game having been put out of their reach, unfortunately Hendon’s discipline went with it and their booking tally quickly rose to five and a couple of on-pitch scuffles kept the referee busy. With five minutes to go Edusei tied up his hat-trick when he collected a loose ball won by a extremely high Scott Kinch foot to spin and plant the ball beyond the Hendon keeper.

Tonbridge had made it into the play-off places with this superb display. There are some tough encounters to come and the Angels will do well to get maximum points from tricky away games at Billericay and Carshalton and a home match with play-off certs AFC Hornchurch.

On a cold night, a healthy 389 turned their back on Liverpool v Arsenal in Champions League action on terrestrial television and were well rewarded for their effort.

I could not resist nicking this off the Tonbridge Forum, thanks to cubsur51 for posting it, not often Tonbridge get such prominence on Sky Sports.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Millwall 1 Gillingham 1

Match 61/07/678 - Saturday, 5th April 2008 - League One

Millwall (0) 1 Robinson 75
Gillingham (1) 1 Southall 26
Att. 10,006

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3
Mileage: 80/5,488

Match Report

The New Den might be a sanitized environment in comparison to its Cold Blow Lane predecessor but it is still a scary place to visit as an opposing supporter. It may well be that Millwall are tarnished by past reputation not representative of today but previous problems dictated that we parked my car at my work, a 20 minute walk to the ground. It was a untroubled stroll to the ground, these days through relatively nice, modern housing, but you still have that nagging feeling that something sinister is around the next corner.

Over 1,300 Gillingham fans had made their way to South London for this relegation six-pointer and they were determined to make themselves heard, lessening the intimidating atmosphere that could have been generated by the home crowd. Millwall fans can make it an uncomfortable afternoon for visitors with their threatening gestures but they also have a very low tolerance level of their own players and can turn very quickly from support to derision if events on the field turn for the worst.

Gillingham struggled to make any early impression and were thankful that a couple of early chances had gone begging and they had quitened the crowd, or so it seemed amongst the din that was being produced by the Gills faithful. When Gillingham were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box on 26 minutes there was a sense of injustice as Barry Fuller had kept his feet under a challenge and seemed to be making his way into a scoring opportunity as the referee blew. This was forgotten seconds later as Nicky Southall curled the ball beautifully into the top corner, evoking memories of his goal against Sheffield Wednesday in the cup run of 2003. Millwall were shaken and their play became untidy and passes started going astray much to the anger of the home support.

At the half-way point, possession wise there had been little in it, but the feeling was that Gillingham were in control of the game. Adam Miller, who is struggling with a hernia, was replaced at half-time by Leroy Griffiths and Dennis Oli replaced by Georges Ba. Realistically I think we all knew that Millwall were not going to take this lying down and they came at Gillingham from the first whistle of the second half. Personally I think Mark Stimson made a mistake with Griffiths’ entrance and Kevin Maher would have been a better choice. The Lions had been consistently getting encouragement down their right flank from the excellent Danny Senda and with Griffiths not being a natural defender, his protection for Barry Fuller was minimal. From one such situation Senda got a perfect cross into the six yard box for Brkovic to miss almost impossibly with a header that went wide.

The noise levels rose intimidatingly as Millwall took the game to their visitors who were now offering very little threat of their own and on 75 minutes Gillingham's resistance was finally broken. They failed to clear a corner to safety and when the ball was lifted back into the danger area it fell invitingly for Paul Robinson and the Lions skipper drove into the net for the equaliser.

15 agonising minutes finally passed, not without scares, before the final whistle sounded. At this stage of the season, and in our position, it seems almost as draining watching as it must be for the players. News of Crewe’s defeat at home to Southend, for me leaves the verdict that this is a point gained rather than two lost.

All that was required now was a safe passage back to TSO’s car park. It was half-an-hour after the final whistle that Gillingham supporters were allowed to leave the stadium, but the police had done a good job of clearing the area of any potential trouble as we saw hardly any home supporters on our walk back to Mandela Way.

Back at work on Monday night it will be interesting to hear whether the Millwall supporters also view this as a point gained. For both clubs there now seems little chance that either one is going to be safe before the last game.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Gillingham 2 Luton Town 1

Match 60/07/677 - Tuesday, 1st April 2008 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Jackson 75, 87
Luton Town (1) 1 Parkin 19
Att. 6,142

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,408

Match Report

There was just 45 minutes left in our season, five more games to come but realistically the next 45 were going to be make or break.

A goal down, was it a fluke, it was certainly strange watching Derek Stillie come for what appeared to be an imaginary cross into his six yard box only to stand flat-footed as Sam Parkin directed a header from all of 18 yards. Gillingham had huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half, created a half-decent chance that unfortunately fell to centre-back Gary Richards, but were largely outpassed and outmoved by Luton Town. The visitors’ first half performance belied their relegation position but highlighted that they were largely imprisoned by virtue of their 10 point administration deduction.

The last couple of games, despite indifferent first half performances, have seen the Rainham End rise to the cause during the half-time break and this time they repeated the act with an even greater intensity. It does seem that since the Crewe debacle (and subsequent incidents) that there is now a collective will to produce a do or die effort.

Gillingham were back on the pitch early while Luton stalled their return hoping that the crowd would run out of steam while they waited. But all four sides of Priestfield were prepared to suck that ball into the Rainham End goal.

After a couple of half chances, ten minutes into the second and Simeon Jackson is through one-on-one with goalkeeper Dean Brill, but Jackson did what he has done on three or four occasions since his arrival, failed to lift the ball over the keeper and it was the ex-Gillingham loanee that came out on top with a good save. Seven minutes later and there is a reprise of the previous situation, Jackson in the clear and bearing down on Brill, this time the forward managing to lift the ball over the keeper, the ball is agonisingly bouncing towards the goal, but once again a Luton defender gets round and the ball is cleared to safety. This is not going to be our night, my thoughts being echoed by Gillingham fans as one.

Mark Stimson makes bold choices, John Nutter is replaced by Leroy Griffiths and new signing Georges Ba comes on for Adam Miller. It really is shit or bust now. Fifteen minutes to go and Ba sends a ball into the Hatters area, a chance falls to Bentley that Brill is once again the equal, but the ball is lifted back into the six yard box by Griffiths and this time Jackson gets in a brave header and the Gills are level. Cue much celebration and the noise levels raised to decibels not heard at Priestfield for months.

With time running out Stimson introduces yet another forward, new signing Donovan Simmonds for Dennis Oli. Into the last five minutes and Nicky Southall produces a David Beckham moment that will live long in the memory. His perfectly curled cross is met at the far post by the on-rushing Jackson, the net bulges, the Rainham End tumble down the terraces to greet their hero and the cacophony of sound was probably heard in Chatham Town Centre.

Four agonising minutes, cotton-twitching minutes described by Doug Hudson, just about passed with Gillingham easing down the clock to a final whistle greeted with as much joy as has been witnessed in several years.

A one point deficit to Crewe, two away from Saturday’s opponents Millwall. The New Den will not be for the faint-hearted with both sides desperate for the points. At this stage I will gladly take just the one and hope that results go our way elsewhere. Let us hope that this new found resistance can be replicated away from Priestfield, if it is then the Great Escape can replace the Fat Lady Singing.