Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Lincoln City 2 Gillingham 0

Match 22/08/706 - Tuesday, 28th October 2008 - League Two

Lincoln City (2) 2 Frecklington 11, N'Guessan 14
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,396

Entrance: £17
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 386/3,042

Match Report

Credit where credit is due. On Saturday I bemoaned the lack of quality in this Division, but last night at a freezing Sincil Bank, for 45 minutes at least, we saw a Lincoln City side that showed the necessary class to mount a promotion challenge.

Two goals in the first 14 minutes left Gillingham with a mountain to climb, one, which on the night, they were a long way off getting to even first base. High on confidence that a seven game unbeaten run brings, Lincoln out played their visitors in every department. After a relatively bright start, Gillingham were hit by two goals in four minutes. A cross from the right from Paul Green saw a Lee Frecklington header opening the scoring. My first impression was that Simon Royce had made to come for the cross and stopped, but question marks must also be pointed at the central defenders who failed to make a meaningful challenge.

Gillingham found themselves almost out of the game with just another four minutes added to the clock. A move broke down in midfield and a single pass from a Romanian, Adrian Patulea, to a Frenchman, saw Danny N’Guessan racing clear of the Gillingham defence. As he bore down on goal he still had a lot to do, but finished with an unstoppable drive into the top left.

Secure in their lead, Lincoln started to stroke the ball about with a cockiness that can only be bought with confidence. One sublime piece of skill, unfortunately I’ve no idea which Lincoln player produced it, was worthy of Soccer AM’s showboating section and once he had bought the space, Lincoln then embarked on a passing piece of about 20 or so, that had their home fans giving it the big ole. Only twenty minutes gone and they were taking the piss.

Gillingham were being thoroughly dominated in midfield and a front three of Mulligan, McCammon and Barcham were getting no joy from a solid Lincoln back line that included two outstanding central defenders in Kovacs and Hone. As the odd Gillingham attack broke down the visitors were getting caught on the break as Lincoln responded with pacy counter-attacks. Several opportunities were passed up as we prayed that our favourites could at least get to the break no worse off.

Thankfully, Lincoln failed to reproduce their first half form in the second and we had more of an even contest. Albert Jarrett came on for the injured, but ineffective McCammon, and once again produced a little cameo from the bench. There was a misguided feeling that should we get a goal back we could exert some panic in the closing minutes but by the time the final whistle sounded our shots on target count totalled precisely none.

When it comes to giving credit, lets give our travelling support some. Despite a poor weather forecast (snow was falling heavily not too many miles west) and that depressingly poor away record over a long period of time, 322 turned out. Initially shoe-horned into a small block the Lincoln stewards had to open the section behind to accommodate a far greater number than the 50 to 100 they had be told to expect. They were in good voice prior to the goals but obviously became more subdued and frustrated as the game unfolded.

Sincil Bank is these days all-seated and they have one of those old, full of character grandstands that are sadly being lost in these days of prefabricated ordinariness. Albeit an advertising hoarding, but the arched Lincolnshire Echo sign sets it off. The rest of the stadium is less than inspiring, small box-shaped enclosures behind each goal and whilst the stand that housed the Gillingham support is substantial in size it has the opposite in character to its facing counterpart.

As the temperature dropped to zero, the ride home was at least snow free and we can be thankful for that given the abandonment at Wycome, Luton and Swindon. We can reason that at one point in this match we faced another humiliation and we came out of it with nothing more than having been beaten comfortably. Simeon Jackson is a big loss and the quicker he gets fit the better because no shots on goal can only mean no goals scored. But the performance that Lincoln produced in the first half is the standard we need to attain to mount a meaningful challenge of our own.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Gillingham 2 Chester City 0

Match 21/08/705 - Saturday, 25th October 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 2 Barcham 71, Mills 73
Chester City (0) 0
Att. 4,852

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,656

Match Report

Goals win matches and goals also change the perception of the game you have watched. For 70 minutes this game was total dross. Two sides as bad as each other, neither able to pass to a team mate.

On the hour, Albert Jarrett entered the fray as a substitute for Adam Miller, whose departure was rather unkindly jeered, he was no worse than anybody else. Jarrett has failed to sparkle since his exciting performances for the Reserves earned him a short term contract that has recently been renewed for another month. So there was little expectation of a turn for the better.

Jarrett, whose first touch had brought a booking for James Vaughan, turned in a cross in the 71st minute that was headed goalwards by Garry Richards. This effort was headed off the line and back to Jarrett whose second cross was eventually touched in by Andy Barcham. Two minutes later and a John Nutter corner was met firmly by Leigh Mills and from a position of frustration all was right with the world.

Simon Royce made a couple of good saves and Jarrett wasted a one-on-one chance to embellish a much improved substitute appearance before the final whistle.

Gillingham’s formidable home form, five wins and a draw from their last six, leaves them on the cusp of a play-off spot, but this disguises the quality of some of the performances. The first half had been a thoroughly depressing affair. Perhaps Chester can be forgiven for having a lack of confidence following a six goal hammering by Rochdale during the week, but they were the team that created the best of the chances that brought some smart saves from Royce.

The effort put in by both sides cannot be faulted but the quality of this Division is at times desperate. At the season’s start I had felt that we would not see an appreciable difference between Divisions One and Two, how wrong I am. The ball seems to be endlessly in the air and nobody appears to want the ball longer than five seconds. As long as the work rate is matched, any side with a little bit of quality can win this Division.

Simeon Jackson was unfit for a second game, Barry Fuller and Mark Bentley were serving suspensions and Andrew Crofts, who was transfer listed during the week could not even make the bench, from where Jack Payne, 16 years of age, made a two minute appearance.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Gillingham 2 Notts County 2

Match 20/08/704 - Tuesday, 21st October 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Mulligan 39, Southall 63
Notts County (1) 2 Butcher 65, Facey 79
Att. 4,396

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,611

Match Report

Two-nil and you mucked it up, the 100 or so Notts County fans rather less politely sang behind the goal and they were not far from calling it correctly. More incredible than Gillingham losing their two goal lead was that the final result meant that from their first 12 games of this season Notts County have now drawn nine of them.

It was the curse of the returning player that finally undid the good work that the home side had put in for the first hour of the game. Delroy Facey, brought to Gillingham by Ronnie Jepson with a big reputation, failed to win any hearts with the Priestfield support. He scored a memorable goal at Swansea, but for the rest of the time he looked fat, lazy and hopeless. Last night, following a Gillingham attack that had broken down he galloped, yes, galloped into the open space afforded on the right hand side and let fly from the edge of the box into the top left corner with the aplomb of a top notch striker. He has hardly set the world alight at Meadow Lane, on Saturday he scored his first goal for the club, but there was a certain inevitability about last night’s outcome. He certainly moved more about the Priestfield pitch than he ever did in Gillingham’s colours.

Following Saturday’s encouraging 2-2 draw at Bradford City, Simeon Jackson, scorer of both goals, failed to pass a fitness test prior to the game. Andrew Crofts, now seemingly at odds with manager Mark Stimson, was not selected even for a place on the bench.

It was the first chilly night of the season but the performance overall was warming. Andy Barcham, whose loan spell from Tottenham is about to expire was a livewire and Nicky Southall showed all of us contemplating retirement by the coast that a dose of sea air is invigorating.

Gillingham went ahead on 39 minutes when a Southall free kick deflected upwards off the County wall and Mulligan was first to pick up the loose ball. A really well-worked goal in the 63rd minute from Southall gave Gillingham a lead that looked unassailable. Unfortunately they fell for the sucker punch, conceded quickly and then allowed Facey to steal the show. As the last ten minutes wound down Gillingham themselves were the side hanging on and thankful for the final whistle.

A half-time substitution for the unwell Simon King had not helped matters at the back, but from two-nil up, we really mucked it up.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tonbridge 2 Ramsgate 3

Match 19/08/703 - Saturday, 18th October 2008 - FA Trophy 1RQ

Tonbridge (0) 2 Rook 48 (pen), Twyman (o.g.) 90
Ramsgate (0) 3 Ball 63, May 79, Hadden 88
Att. 372

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,566

Match Report

Another disappointing first hurdle exit for Tonbridge as they departed the FA Trophy, a competition they had graced last season and included their fine win over Conference side, Oxford United.

This afternoon, everything was so flat. The only atmosphere in the ground was generated by a noisy, enthusiastic following from Ramsgate. Whether Tonbridge supporters are now inhibited by the comments from the chairman regarding bad language, I don’t know, but there was a distinct lack of support for the side.

A post was hit by Carl Rook in a lifeless first half in which Tonbridge created the best of the chances. The second half was only three minutes old when the home side were given the softest of penalties for hand ball following a long throw by Leon Legge. Rook converted as the keeper guessed right but failed to save.

Tonbridge should have taken the game on from this point, but it was Ramsgate that took the initiative and they bounced back with three goals in 25 minutes, much to the delight of their passionate support. The front two of Stefan Ball and ex-Angel Jay May edged them in front before a absolute screamer from Andy Hadden wrapped it up.

In what was already an odd game there was still time for the Ramsgate keeper, Danny Twyman, to somehow manage to punch the ball into his own net to give Tonbridge a couple of minutes of hope.

Time to concentrate on the league and rid themselves of the inconsistency that has dogged this season so far.

Monday, 13 October 2008

England 5 Kazakhstan 1

Match 18/08/702 - Saturday, 11th October 2008 - World Cup Qualifier

England (0) 5 Ferdinand 52, Kuchma (og) 65, Rooney 77, 86, Defoe 90
Kazakhstan (0) 1 Kukeyev 68
Att. 89,107

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/2,540

Match Report

In a heart-stopping moment four minutes after half-time, Kazakhstan were offered the golden opportunity to open the scoring at Wembley. Tanat Nusserbayev wastefully lofted over the bar from four yards with the goal at his mercy. Another four minutes had passed when a Frank Lampard corner was completely missed by the Kazakh goalkeeper leaving captain Rio Ferdinand with the easiest of nod-ins. The cheer raised by the Wembley crowd was one of relief more than celebration.

The full house had booed the home side from the pitch following another half of football that had produced none of the quality from Croatia that had re-ignited the passion for the international team. The star of Zagreb, Theo Walcott had not only added a fair few thousand to the gate, but led the Kazakhs a merry dance for the first 20 minutes. Their only recourse was to foul the flying winger, but slowly they got a hold of him and sadly Theo faded from the game.

The second half transformation had been brought about by a change to a formation that didn’t waste the talent of Wayne Rooney. Stuck out on the left, Rooney looked frustrated as the game passed him by. Fabio Capello is still tinkering with 4-3-3 while the rest of us know that England are not capable of playing anything other than 4-4-2. Gareth Barry, rather unluckily was sacrificed for Shaun Wright-Phillips, this was not the change that made the difference but the move allowed Rooney to move inside and play off Emile Heskey.

When a Lampard free kick had skewed off the head of a Kazakh defender into his own net, England were on easy street until an incomprehensible error from Ashley Cole allowed the visitors back into the game. A wayward back pass left Kukeyev with the chance that he buried to the delight of the small assembly of Kazakh supporters. This prompted an outrageous reaction from some England supporters. Cole was booed every time he touched the ball, much to the disgust of both proper supporters who attempted to drown out the noise with clapping and later from coach and captain in interviews. It was really quite shameful, completely unnecessary, we all make mistakes.

Although it failed to stem the abuse on Cole, Rooney converted a Wes Brown cross with a well placed header and following David Beckham’s rapturously received entry, Rooney added another and Defoe, on as a substitute also, completed the scoring.

Five goals and a comfortable victory flattered England completely, although Kazakhstan performed much better than their world ranking of 131. The group is beginning to take shape and England lead the way, but they are a long way from convincing their rather fractious and fragile support.

My 365 article on the booing of Ashley Cole.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tunbridge Wells 4 Sporting Bengal 0

Match 17/08/701 - Tuesday, 7th October 2008 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (2) 4 Cable 3, Tate
Sporting Bengal (0) 0
Att. 82

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,440

A evening’s football at Culverden Stadium is a very civilised affair. The half-time tea is still served in a china mug and the people you are among in an 82 attendance are genuine football people.

In the past, it could be argued, that this polite approach has failed to pay dividends in terms of success on and off the field. But could the times be a changing. Mike Robbins has put together a side that has started the season with just the one defeat in the league and progress being made in the Vase.

Tonight’s game saw one of his signings, Ross Cable hit a hat-trick in a one-sided match against EastEnders Sporting Bengal. Cable is a proven goalscorer at this level and this trio took his total to 11 for the season from 14 starts. I’m reliably informed that the Wells are a good footballing side and are going to produce plenty of chances for Cable to accumulate a mighty haul come May.

This was the first time that I’ve seen Sporting Bengal. The club were formed by the Bangladesh Football Association in 1996. In 2003 they were elected into the Kent League and speculation was that they would be a major force, supposedly backed by wealthy people and having a supporter base in the local community that could amount to thousands. The reality has been that they have struggled to establish themselves at senior level and their support is virtually non-existant. This season they have now lost seven out of seven, shipping 29 goals in the process. Tunbridge Wells certainly missed an opportunity to enhance their goal difference.

Sporting had a goalkeeper that, while agile and made several good stops, was the smallest I’ve ever seen at senior level and (this is not racist in any way), given their background I was surprised to see a couple of white lads in the side.Their approach is all-inclusive within the community so I should not be surprised.

A very pleasant evening washed down with a mug of tea, what more can you ask.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Exeter City 3 Gillingham 0

Match 16/08/700 - Saturday, 4th October 2008 - League Two

Exeter City (3) 3 Logan 7, Stansfield 39, 43
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,819

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.80
Mileage: 427/2,414

Match Report

Another away day disaster from a group that call themselves Gillingham Football Club but turn into a spineless rabble not worthy of the name as soon as their coach turns onto the A2 leaving behind the shelter of their home comforts.

Twelve goals have now been shipped in the last three away games, two of which came in a performance at Aldershot that belied that spineless tag with an endeavour that deserved more. The first half at Exeter was, in my humble opinion, actually worse than the first 45 at Shrewsbury, where there was at least a mitigating circumstance in Richards’ 10 minute absence during which two goals were conceded.

Slow out of the traps and down within seven minutes to a poorly defended goal, matters went from bad to worse at the back end of a dreadful first half when two goals of comedy value were conceded. If any of you have eight year olds (and more of them later!) and saw the second goal on their school playing field most Mums would spit out the dummy, let alone the Dads, but such is Gillingham Away the laughable is no longer a surprise.

As a pundit, I’m never going to grace the Match of the Day studio, but I have accumulated enough football nous over too many years to recognise that sometimes players are just not good enough and I accept that through financial constraints or just bad management they are the players that wear the shirt on the day. But a lack of ability is no excuse for bad attitude, a lack of application, concentration or a will to win. This should be in every professional footballer’s psyche and too often, for years it seems, away from home Gillingham have been unprofessional to be kind and utterly spineless to be truthful.

There was some thoroughly lamentable performances. Nutter, who I thought was going to be one of the success stories of the non league batch, had a horrible game. The midfield were poor across the line. Crofts, how does he get in the Welsh squad, are they really that bad? Weston, on the day couldn’t make a pass towards Keira Knightley yet alone a geezer in a blue shirt. Bentley, likewise and Jarrett who might be absolved by a better second half, showed that the step-up from the reserves is bigger than might be thought.

The midget strike force can be spared only through virtue of a dire service.

The second half was nothing more than an academic passing of 45 minutes. Jarrett hit a post and there were a couple of worthy efforts from Barcham, but not in our wildest dreams was a stirring comeback on the cards. This half was made memorable only by the impassioned rant of a frustrated Gillingham supporter.

The weather forecast and Exeter’s open terrace had threatened a soaking through to the undergarments and a few light showers had been encountered on the trip down. So when we were offered the opportunity of a seat under cover for a couple of quid we readily accepted. Whatever possessed Exeter’s community project to offer free seats to eight-year-old schoolboys directly adjacent to the away support beggars belief and their high-pitched voices quickly became a tad wearing. Following our side’s juvenile defending the soprano singing of “you’re not singing anymore” left most of the away support biting their tongues. One guy was the exception and initially his rant was aimed at Marcus Stewart, who had gone down under a challenge. Stewart, no longer able to command a Championship place, had pitched up at the only club willing to take him on, was a cheat, never was any good, on an on without a breath until his words on the subject began to run dry only to be replaced seamlessly with a tirade at the kids. There were a few expletives in the extended sentence and for that we should be embarrassed, except for the fact that it was so bloody funny. It earned him a ticking off and nothing more from the stewards who in turn had a word with the headmaster of the miscreant kids. It was a bit of humour to be extracted from a black afternoon.

Forewarned with 365's Eccles’ recounting of long tiresome journeys on the A303 and my own experiences, not least enroute to our honeymoon hotel a trillion years ago, we had made good mileage by the time we reached Stonehenge. We glanced across to see a fair sized gathering surveying the stones. Now I’m not a Philistine, in fact I’m always in awe of the fine Gothic cathedrals I’ve seen around the world, but Stonehenge just leaves me cold. What is it about a collection of over-sized breeze blocks that drags people from all over the world to stop and stare. But then, as I ridicule a static row of stones, I travelled over 400 miles, drove for eight hours to watch a Gillingham defence do their own portrayal of the said edifice.

Forty years ago I witnessed Manchester United winning an FA Cup tie at St James’ Park and I’ve not returned since. A couple of relatively modern stands have been erected, one giving a large terrace housing the home support. The away terrace where I stood in 1968 remains as was and its shallowness makes for a poor view. The old stand that was inhabited by the Gillingham seated support and our eight year old friends is a wooden structure which did lead to speculation that it might not be entirely legal in respect of legislation following Valley Parade, but it must have passed safety certificates.

The rain never really materialised in any great amount during the match so the uncovered terrace lads and lassies didn’t get the feared soaking and they had arrived in Devon in decent numbers, over 400 seeming a good estimate. Unfortunately it did catch up with us for a damp and depressing ride home along the tediously long A303.