Sunday, 31 August 2008

Gillingham 1 Accrington Stanley 0

Match 10/08/694 - Saturday, 30th August 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Oli 75
Accrington Stanley (0) 0
Att. 4,733

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,272

Match Report

Yesterday, for the first time in 47 years, the iconic name of Accrington Stanley were the visitors to Priestfield Stadium. Stanley may not have the lavish history of the rich and famous of today’s Premiership, but for football fans of a certain vintage they are fondly remembered for a Milk advertisement in 1988. Two young Liverpool fans are seeking a drink following a game, one drinks milk because Ian Rush says that if you don’t drink milk you will end up playing for Accrington Stanley, “”Who are they”, says his mate. “Exactly” is the final word on the subject.

Accrington, in a previous incarnation, were a founder member of the Football League in 1888, but have twice reformed to emerge as the club they are today. Two years ago they re-entered the Football League they left financially stricken, mid-season in 1962. Twenty-six years on, no wonder the kids didn’t have a clue who Stanley were. In a strange twist of fate their re-entry was at the expense of Oxford United, the club that had replaced them in 1962.

Back in the present day and Gillingham were good value for this single goal victory. After a first half that saw the home side have the best of the possession, but failing to capitalise on a couple of good chances they battered the Accrington goal in a vibrant second half showing.

Instrumental in this second half display was the introduction of Gary Mulligan as a substitute for the ineffective Mark McCammon. Mulligan did what he does best, he harried defenders, chased down lost causes and generally caused concern for the visitors’ defence. On this form, his use as a impact substitute rather than as a starter is bound to be questioned.

Chance after chance was created but only rewarded with a string of near misses or being thwarted by very good goalkeeping from Stanley’s Kenny Arthur.

Dennis Oli was beginning to wreak havoc down the right hand side and debutant loanee, Charlie Daniels recovered from a nervous start to offer a similar threat on the left. It was somewhat ironic that after a series of clean hit efforts that had flashed narrowly wide or high that a half-hit shot from Oli found its way past Arthur, following a good cross by Daniels, to give Gillingham their lead.

Curtis Weston, fresh from having his loan spell made permanent, produced a fine display in the centre of midfield and deservedly won the man of the match award. In the centre of defence Richards and King combined well to counter the tricky skills of Jamie Clarke, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, but unfortunately resembling bambi on ice, going down under the slightest challenge.

Front to back, this was an encouraging performance from Gillingham, reservations can be made that they should have won by a much greater margin. Statistics show that the Gills had 20 shots on goal during the match and most supporters would hope for a greater return than a single goal from a high shot tally but on the day that single goal was enough to win what was a very entertaining game of football.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Darlington 1 Gillingham 2

Match 09/08/693 - Saturday, 23rd August 2008 - League Two

Darlington (0) 1 Purdie 78 (pen)
Gillingham (1) 2 Jackson 21, Richards 90
Att. 2,831

Entrance: £16
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 582/1,227
New Ground No. 225

Match Report

There is something quite surreal being part of an attendance of 2,831 inside a stadium that can seat 25,000 people.

Opened five years ago, The Darlington Arena has the look of a White Elephant. Stuck 2km out of town with none of the proposed developments surrounding the site having been started, it stands isolated in a rural setting.

A nice enough stadium, if rather lacking in character synonymous with most new build stadiums, despite its tender age it is already showing signs of wear and tear and a lack of upkeep. The bank of empty red seats in its North Stand are beginning to fade to pink and the toilets look in desperate need of a cleaner rather than a handful of those yellow cubes. But trying to maintain a stadium of this size on gates of less than 3,000 must be mission impossible.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt by Gillingham (and our chairman) themselves as they pursue their dream of a new stadium - build one to suit your realistic needs and not a pipedream.

It’s a long, long way to Darlington, a trip made on the supporters’ coach. A 5.45 a.m. alarm call for a 7 p.m. departure from Priestfield was followed by a six-and-a-half hour journey that is not usually made easier by a Gillingham away victory, but today an 88th minute winner served up that rariest of treats.

Perhaps we were lucky, but frankly who cares?

Having seen a half-time lead erased by a penalty during a second half siege on the Gillingham posts, Gary Richards somehow squeezed a back heel over the line following a dubious corner.

The couple of hundred hardy souls that had made the long trek north celebrated the outcome with as much incredulity as joy. Gillingham away wins are so rare supporters have forgotten how to greet them.

A clinical piece of finishing from Simeon Jackson, shrugging off the attentions of the two central defenders to drill the ball home had taken the Gills to a half-time lead. An even first half had had its distractions as over-officious stewards took exception to the 30 or so chanting fans that were standing, impeding the view of nobody, after all there were 22,000 empty seats. A tap on my own shoulder caught me by surprise, I was sitting down. The steward politely asked that I put away my camera, but then helpfully informed me that if I wanted to take photos it was OK with a camera phone. Logic in that, as bizarre as a Gary Richards winner.

Darlington took the second half to their visitors and eventually their pressure produced a deserved equaliser from the spot, following a rash challenge by Curtis Weston, despite Simon Royce’s valiant effort.

As the clock ticked down Gillingham were managing to subdue their hosts and an effort just prior to his substitution from Jackson offered a glimmer of hope. A couple of substitutions that didn’t make sense at the time were then instrumental in the bizarre winning goal.

Gary Mulligan, on for Jackson, chased a ball to the bye-line and appeared to touch the ball as it rolled over the line, but the referee awarded a corner. From Nicky Southall’s corner and the ensuing scramble, Gary Richards’, of all people, back heel found the net, via the goalkeeper, the post and a few shins.

It was an equally long way home, but with the satisfaction of having seen Gillingham’s first win on the road since January. But for this particular writer that run stretches back to Good Friday, 14th April 2006 and the even more unlikely victory at Southend.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

England 2 Czech Republic 2

Match 08/08/692 - Wednesday, 20th August 2008 - International

England (2) 2 Brown 45, J. Cole 90
Czech Republic (1) 2 Baros 22, Jankulovski 48
Att. 69,738

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 80/645

Match Report

Yet another England international at Wembley turns into pure frustration. So far the magnificence of their surroundings has never been duplicated on the pitch and of the seven matches seen at this stadium only one has been a decent game (against Croatia) and only one has seen a good England performance (against Russia).

England managed to scrape an undeserved draw out of this International with a scrambled, scruffy injury time equaliser from substitute Joe Cole. At the time of the goal Wembley was a sea of empty seats as the majority of the near 70,000 crowd had made for the exits.

As a last warm-up for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers the outcome of this match might have been irrelevant, but the performance certainly leaves severe question marks as to the national side’s ability to get a result at their nemesis of the last campaign, Croatia.

Fabio Capello, almost inexplicably, drew positives from this performance, something that very few others could manage. Steven Gerrard, stuck out of the left, to the average punter seemed a waste, a real square peg in a round hole. Not according to Mr Capello, he played alongside Wayne Rooney behind Jermaine Defoe in a 4-3-2-1 formation. Sorry but he looked like a left winger to these untrained eyes.

Our old friend, the wally with the brolly, wrestled all his England managership with the conundrum that is the Frank Lampard/Gerrard inability to complement each other. Gareth Barry had for much of the time been surplus to requirements, but Barry’s good performances had led us to believe that a man of Capello’s single-mindedness would grasp the nettle and pick one or the other. But rather than perming two from three, Capello chose all three and in different ways all three were wasted. Barry did a satisfactory job as the holding player but his left footed creativity was lost further down the pitch. Lampard, whilst he didn‘t play badly and certainly didn‘t deserve the boos he received on substitution, failed to make any great impression.

Much though I hate to say it, David Beckham‘s time in an England shirt must be nearing its end. No one delivers a set piece like Beckham and from one of his corners Wes Brown rose to head England’s first half equaliser, but far too often his crosses were below the high standards he has set. The problem is that nobody has stepped up to the plate and put forward a convincing argument that they can replace Beckham.

England had fallen behind in the 22nd minute when Milan Baros was allowed to turn by captain John Terry and scored with the aid of a Ashley Cole deflection. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of the first half possession and forcing Petr Cech into several run-of-the-mill saves, England failed to find a cutting edge.

The second half managed to be even worse than the first. A beautifully curled free kick from Jankulovski, that Beckham in his prime would have been proud of, put the Czechs back in front in the 48th minute. The usual plethora of substitutions on both sides further disjointed the game and the visitors appeared to have done enough to win the match before Joe Cole’s late intervention. It was somewhat surprising, but fitting that the sponsors’ man of the match was selected from the opposition, something I have never known before.

We are now five games into Capello’s tenure and very little has changed. Nobody has emerged from the shadows to breathe new life into this stale carcass of the failed Euro qualifying squad. The tactics are equally as muddled as they were in Steve McClaren’s time. Without question England will breeze past Andorra next month, but four days later in Zagreb, Croatia will pose the biggest hurdle of the campaign, lose that one and we are on the back foot for the rest of the campaign. Time has now run out for Capello and the moment of truth is nearly upon us.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Gillingham 0 Luton Town 1

Match 07/08/691 - Saturday, 16th August 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Luton Town (1) 1 Parkin 3
Att. 5,339

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/565

Match Report

Today was the day dubbed Super Saturday as Great Britain’s Olympic team were expected to rain medals in Beijing. A morning in front of the television had brought the joy of Adlington, Hoy, Wiggins and the Mens’ Four swimming, cycling and rowing their way to gold with silvers and bronzes being added to the pile.

Sadly, no such inspiration was drawn at Priestfield this afternoon.

Luton Town are a club that has been dealt a heavy blow. Thirty points deducted, they are going to draw on a spirit of adversity that was evident in an superb piece of defending on 70 minutes. Gillingham had three close range attempts that were all blocked in quick succession. It was a head-in-hands moment that said “how did that not go in”; the reason being Luton defenders putting their bodies on the line.

If not for the heavy penalty, Luton would be one of the favourites for a quick return to League One and their position at the foot of the table is going to disguise the fact that they are a decent side for some while to come.

Sam Parkin, a strong, old fashioned centre forward peeled off the back of Gillingham’s defence to tuck a precise header past Alan Julian in the third minute and from that point Luton set about their task to frustrate the home side. Crofts and Bentley failed to get any meaningful possession in midfield and from the scraps that were on offer Jackson and McCammon made absolutely no impression on a solid Luton back line. McCammon’s first touch let him down time and again and on this occasion Jackson didn’t look like scoring. Just where are the goals going to come from? In his after match radio interview, it didn’t sound like Stimson had any idea either.

Gillingham’s faithful were in no mood to draw any positives by the finish. A half-time chorus of boos reached a crescendo at full time with the well worn “what a load of rubbish” echoing around the rooftops. There were a few minor pluses, Tyrone Berry was a tricky handful on his full debut and Simon King deserved his man of the match award for valour in the face of Parkin.

A week ago at Bournemouth, quick passing on the ground had produced chances aplenty, but our return to Priestfield has seen the hoofed ball return long before it becomes desperate. Curtis Weston added a little craft on his appearance as substitute and should feature at Darlington.

Back to the sofa then for Scintillating Sunday when our rowers and cyclists will hopefully produce another crock of gold, sadly I’ve a hunch that our track and field team are going to be Gillinghamesque, huff and puff with no end product.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Gillingham 0 Colchester United 1

Match 06/08/690 - Tuesday, 12th August 2008 - Carling Cup

Gillingham (0) 0
Colchester United (1) 1 Heath 10
Att. 2,566

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2
Mileage: 45/520

Match Report

A third successive season that a first round exit has been made from the Carling Cup as Gillingham fail to despatch a very average Colchester side.

Outside the ground, long queues had formed at the ticket office and it seems ludicrous that in a small crowd of 2,566 there are people that are forced to miss the kick off because they are stuck in a line for 25 minutes, whatever happened to cash at the turnstiles, back to basics I think.

We sat in the Rainham End for the first half, but moved to the more sedate Gordon Road stand for the second having become tired of the constant foul-mouthed abuse that was coming from some of the brain-challenged element behind the goal.

It was a good vantage point though to see stand-in keeper Alan Julian flap unconvincingly at a curled in free kick that was subsequently bundled in for ultimately the scrappy winner after 10 minutes.

After just four minutes, Mark McCammon was put through one-on-one with Colchester’s goalkeeper Dean Gerkan. This was a identical situation to Darren Anderton’s goal for Bournemouth on Saturday, Anderton had the necessary quality, McCammon didn’t, and the chance went begging.

It was particularly disappointing that Gillingham had the measure of their higher league opponents for much of the match, but the lack of a finish was the difference. Simeon Jackson was, once more, a livewire up front, and had three very good efforts all well saved by Gerkan. It says an awful lot that he was made the sponsors’ man of the match for NEARLY scoring.

A treble substitution on the hour saw a revitalisation of the effort. Adam Miller, who looks a long way off last season’s form, McCammon and Nicky Southall made way for Dennis Oli, Tyrone Berry and Saturday’s secret weapon Gary Mulligan, but there was to be no last minute heroics on this occasion.

The Carling Cup offers the chance of a pop at a Premiership club in the second round and it is frustrating that this opportunity will be denied again by a in-form opposition goalkeeper and our own failings in front of goal.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

AFC Bournemouth 1 Gillingham 1

Match 05/08/689 - Saturday, 9th August 2008 - League Two

AFC Bournemouth (1) 1 Anderton 42
Gillingham (0) 1 Mulligan 90
Att. 5,377

Entrance: £16
Programme: Too Late
Mileage: 290/475

Match Report

When Gary Mulligan entered the fray three minutes from the end of time the pessimist inside me said that if this is our last throw of the dice, there is only one hope and wasn’t even Bob Hope. Our much maligned striker (for want of a better word) promptly reinforced the opinion when he dragged a shot hopelessly wide. But a couple of minutes later, the ball fell on the edge of the box, Mullers met it first time and it whistled into the top of the net. Salvation had been found from the debris of a truly awful away day.

The traffic problems en-route were an absolute nightmare. Twenty minutes into our journey and we are stationery on the M25,once cleared we make a couple of junctions and once again come to a halt as Radio Five are only reporting the hold up we have left behind. Just get clear of the M25, the world’s biggest car park, and we will be OK we thought. But no sooner we enter the M3 so we are ground to a halt yet again. By this time the sat nav is telling us, you will miss the kick off. Even on the A road leading to Bournemouth we are once again at a standstill and we look across at another car with a Gills fan head-in-hands, the only consolation being no reports of any goals at Dean Court.

Finally at 3.15 we arrive, my brother drops us off as he goes to park the car, we leg it to the ticket office and wait while a youth argues the toss about his season ticket and then to be told that this year it is pay at the turnstile, this day is going from bad to worse.

Despite being in desperate need for a wee(!), we go straight to our seats in time to see Simeon Jackson fire a shot tantalisingly close but wide of the target. He’s already missed a sitter we are told.

We have all read remarks that make excuses for substitutes when they miss a chance stating that they have not attuned to the pace of the game and we found it strange trying to get fully focused following our travel problems. No such problems for the Gills as their sweet passing game was frankly leaving their hosts chasing shadows (if they had been visible on a dull, wet day) for much of the time. But that old failing of not taking chances came back to haunt them just prior to half time. Darren Anderton, showed Jackson and Mark McCammon just how to finish after the Gills pair had had further chances to grab the lead. Anderton’s finish was clinical, once behind Fuller he shrugged aside King and stroked it past Simon Royce with consummate ease. Class is permanent.

At half-time a King’s Ferry coach load of Gills fans finally arrived to make our effort appear to be an early arrival. I particularly felt sorry for another car load that eventually made it at 4.15, I think I would have turned around and given it up.

The pattern of play in the second half followed the first, all Gillingham. Shooting chances came, shooting chances went wide, high and one McCammon effort went off for a throw-in. Despite this, the little and large combination worked well and the number of efforts was rising well into double figures.

As Adam Miller’s number was lifted and Gary Mulligan appeared on the touchline, I couldn’t help myself with a sarcastic comment: “Here comes our secret weapon”. Just a few minutes later I’m screaming, “it’s the secret weapon, the secret weapon”.
This point was less than Gillingham deserved, they held the whip hand for long periods and I would like to think that given the amount of chances Jackson and McCammon fashioned on another day they would have had a couple each. But on and off the pitch it wasn’t quite our day, but then . . .

the ball drops to Mulligan, first time hit . . . “It’s our secret weapon, our secret weapon”!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Season Preview 2008-09

Time has now turned full circle for Paul Scally’s tenure as chairman of Gillingham. Thirteen years ago he took charge of a club that had flirted with its existence as a Football League club on the pitch and had entered administration off it. The club has been transformed in that time since 1995. Gone are the rickety old stands, gone are the terraces and gone is the status that had been attained during this period. In their place is an all-seater stadium, but one that is no longer owned by the football club and a return to the old fourth division from which it all began in 1995. Gone also, is the chairman himself, still the name on the letterhead, but his personal stationery now reads Dubai, from where he runs the club and Priestfield Developments, the new owners of the stadium.

Gillingham come into season 2008-09 with a squad that has been trimmed from last season with very little in the way of new recruits. Permanent signings by Mark Stimson are Mark McCammon, a big target man from Doncaster and a back-up goalkeeper in Alan Julian, from Stevenage. Curtis Weston will start the season on a month’s loan from Leeds United with a view to making the move permanent. So can last year’s relegation squad bounce straight back?

General opinion does seem to be that Gillingham are a little light but are hopeful that the non-league signings from last season will find their feet easier than they did in the higher division. It is also generally recognised, especially from a poor pre-season, that goals are going to be at a premium. Can Simeon Jackson score the goals and form a little and large partnership with McCammon that is going to be the catalyst of the challenge, the biggest question that remains unanswered.

Thankfully the better players of last term, player of the season Simon Royce, best outfield player, Simon King and Welsh international Andrew Crofts remain when many thought they would be departed by the season start. The nucleus is there, but there is little depth to the squad and a few injuries and suspensions will leave them fully stretched.

I see the challengers coming from the clubs that have spent this summer, Shrewsbury and Bradford City. But having been absent from this league for 13 years there is a lack of knowledge to strengths and weaknesses. Rochdale, having lost in the play-offs and keeping their squad together would appear to know what it takes in the division, but there does not seem to be an outright favourite, like Peterborough and the MK Dons of last season.

Points deductions are going to be a major factor with Luton’s massive 30 point penalty leaving them with a huge challenge just to avoid relegation. Bourenouth and Rotherham will start 17 points adrift leaving these clubs with a lot to do.

I have to make a prediction to look back on and I’m going to say that we are not quite good enough for the play-offs and will finish round about ninth.

High on optimism and with good reason, Tonbridge Angels can hopefully look forward to a fruitful 2008-09. Improvements have been made on and off the pitch and having had the disappointment of missing the play-offs on the final day of last season, the club are well set to make a serious challenge.

The Ryman Premier is going to be a tough division again this season with Kent neighbours Dover and Dartford having been promoted. Sutton seem to have spent big and with Staines and Hornchurch retaining good squads from last year it is unlikely that one team is going to run away with it. I desperately hope that all the optimism surrounding Tonbridge is not misjudged.

England begin a new World Cup qualifying campaign and in truth the only way is up. Once again Croatia will stand in their way, with a tough challenge from Ukraine. This is where it starts for real for Fabio Capello and after a gentle opener in Andorra the national side comes up against its nemesis, Croatia. Unfortunately, due to self-imposed financial constraints, I will not be attending many, if any, away games in this campaign, but will continue to attend the Wembley ties.

On a personal basis, Gillingham’s relegation adds four new grounds, Darlington, Shrewsbury, Accrington and Morecambe and I am looking forward to getting to all of them as the fixtures have fallen nicely. Tonbridge might offer a couple more, I really must get down to Dartford’s Princes Park this season. Despite the decision being made on England aways, we are looking forward to a trip to Berlin for the November friendly. Also, as I said in last season’s review, the 65th game of this season will be my 2,000th.

Let’s hope this blog brings more success for my clubs and country than last season.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Tonbridge 0 AFC Wimbledon 3

Match 04/08/688 - Saturday, 2nd August 2008 - Pre-Season Friendly

Tonbridge (0) 0
AFC Wimbledon (2) 3 Main 2, 10, 54
Att. 445

Entrance: £8
Programme: 50p
Mileage: 26/185

Match Report

Tonbridge are my light of optimism for this coming season. They finished last term strongly, charging into a play-off spot with three games to go, only to miss out on the final day. They have the feel of a club on the ascent. The old stand that was brought from the Angel Ground more than 25 years ago has this close season been filled with 600 seats and it looks the part.

On the pitch there has been significant investment made. Tonbridge have benefited from the Lewes fall-out with Jamie Cade, Leon Legge and an impressive young full-back Lewis Hamilton being drafted in. The Olurunda brothers, Tim and Ade (pictured) have arrived from Hastings along with keeper Lee Worgan. On paper the squad looks significantly stronger. On the grass we will see.

This pre-season friendly was part of the transfer deal that took Jon Main to AFC Wimbledon last season and, of course, Mainy was not going to let the opportunity pass to show us what we have been missing. Not that we didn’t know.

Just two minutes were on the clock when he latched onto a very poor back pass from Simon Glover to slip the ball past Worgan. Ten minutes later and his sharpness of foot and mind were evident as he received a pass between the two central defenders and was brought down rounding the keeper. Jon Main executed the penalty himself. A hat trick was sealed in the second half when he tapped home following a good save by Worgan. Main is a real class act and we will be watching with interest to see just how well he and AFC do in Conference South this year.

In between the Jon Main show Tonbridge actually did OK. Several half chances were created and Legge should have done better with a first half header. Similarly, a second half header from the ever-complaining Carl Rook should have made the keeper work. Rook and Ade Olurunda’s partnership needs time to gell and never quite came off today. Defensively, Legge looks like a footballing centre-half, but his partnership with Donovan is going to lack pace that might be exposed and Glover looks like a midfielder playing at full back. But overall, Tonbridge are not going to come up against the likes of AFCW every week and there was enough to suggest that the high expectancy is not over-hyped.