Saturday, 31 January 2009

Tonbridge 1 Margate 0

Match 41/08/725 - Saturday, 31st January 2009 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Cade 64 (pen)
Margate (0) 0
Att. 471

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/4,834

Another really cold day and unfortunately not a match to divert the attention away from the thought that the biting wind is cutting you in half.

Tonbridge’s indifferent home form seemed set to continue against a cash-strapped Margate side that performed a lot better than their lowly league position. A dreadful first half had had very few highlights and Margate’s Ryan Peters managed to produce a low light with a dive and petulant kick away of the ball to get booked when he was the only player showing any quality.

The second half was a good deal better, but that wasn’t hard to achieve. Tonbridge showed much more ambition and after a wasted chance from Fraser Logan, they fashioned a well worked goal from the depths of the mediocrity.

Lewis Hamilton did well to get forward and put in a good cross that was headed on by Carl Rook and Jamie Cade was perfectly positioned at the far post to nod in.

Rook was substituted by Ade Olorunda who wasted a peach of a chance before Margate gave Tonbridge a real scare as the clock ticked down into injury time. A cross across the face of the six yard box saw a couple of unrushing forwards but neither could get a touch.

Frustration then got the better of Curtis Robinson who was dismissed for a crude challenge. Margate had shown a good deal of resilience to their once famous duo on the touchline, Terry Yorath and Neville Southall, but in front of goal they showed why they will be in a relegation fight for the rest of the season.

A poor match, so much so that I think I could award myself the man-of-the-match for managing to string this report out to seven paragraphs!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Gillingham 1 Lincoln City 2

Match 40/08/724 - Tuesday, 27th January 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 25 (pen)
Lincoln City (0) 2 Horsfield 52, N'Guessan 90
Att. 4,525

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,808

Match Report

Gillingham fell back to earth with an almighty bump at Priestfield when they lost their proud unbeaten home record to Lincoln City. It was way back in August, 12 games ago, that Gillingham last suffered defeat at home when Luton went away with the points. Last night they were perhaps victims of naivety or over-ambition as they chased a winner and left the back door open to a last minute mugging.

At half time it was all going swimmingly, a goal up through a Simeon Jackson penalty after Adam Miller had been felled, they had comfortably controlled the game and looked destined to avenge an October defeat at a freezing Sincil Bank.

But something happened during the break that saw two different sides emerge from the tunnel in the second half. After eight minutes of the half, The Horse (Geoff Horsfield), showed his quality when he curled in an absolute screamer from 25 yards to equalise, later reports have indicated that he might have been offside, but it takes nothing away from a superb strike.

This seemed the catalyst for the wheels coming off Gillingham’s game. Passes that had been precise in the first half were suddenly going astray with alarming regularity, it appeared that confidence had drained away like water down a plughole. Miller continued to probe and drive the Gills on by example and made chances for Jackson and Nicky Southall who was denied by a superb Rob Burch save.

As the clock ticked on and Gillingham threw bodies forward in search of a winner, they had the first warning of what might happen should they continue to throw caution to the wind. Simon Royce was forced to chase a long way from his goal and just about managed to make a clearance under severe pressure, but the writing was on the wall.

The injury time board had just been raised to show three extra minutes when Adam Miller made another storming run to the edge of the Lincoln box. At this point opinion will be divided as to Miller’s guilt in the ultimate outcome. He had a pass available to the right hand side, but chose to take on one more defender, he was robbed of the ball and a punt clear saw Royce having to chase from his goal once more, this time unsuccessfully. Danny N’Guessan rounded the keeper and slotted into a empty goal under a bit of pressure from the one remaining Gillingham defender. Was it Miller’s fault, after all he was 80 yards from his own goal when his lost the ball, should Royce have stayed at home, you pay your money you take your choice. My opinion is stated in the first paragraph, Gillingham were guilty of naivety and got completely mugged for their ambition.

The promotion challenge is now taken into two away games and one hopes that the confidence that had been slowly built over the last couple of months does not desert them after just 45 minutes when their game did not go to plan.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Gillingham 1 Exeter City 0

Match 39/08/723 - Saturday, 24th January 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Miller 78
Exeter City (0) 0
Att. 5,638

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,763

Match Report

E-I-E-I-E-I-O, up the Football League we go, for the first time this season the song was chorused by the Rainham End. Two straight wins on the road had propelled the Gills into a play-off spot and the confidence of the side is at last beginning to translate itself on the terraces.

Those away victories and the heightened profile of the club following the televised FA Cup game against Aston Villa quite possibly added 500 people to the gate this afternoon along with a very respectable following from Devon.

In a first half that was interesting rather than scintillating, Gillingham had the majority of the possession but both teams were denied a lead by the woodwork. Simon Royce was motionless as a clever chip from Neil Saunders hit the bar on 12 minutes and ten minutes later Nicky Southall saw a free kick rebound from the angle of post and bar.

Southall had been brought into the side when Gary Mulligan was ruled out, but the greater significance of this was the release of Dennis Oli to play up top. Oli had a truly memorable afternoon, he won just about every header and his pace and tenacity was a threat to Exeter all afternoon. He scuffed a first half chance, but this was the only blot on a man-of-the-match performance that, for once, even the sponsors recognised.

Mark Stimson’s pursuit of Chris Dickson continues and whilst most will argue that Dickson is a greater predator in front of goal, it would be a gross injustice if Oli was to be the fall guy for his introduction.

The second half was completely one-way traffic. Gillingham dominated the midfield with Curtis Weston and Adam Miller pulling all the strings and with Exeter being pushed back, Lewis and Nutter were given licence to raid the flanks. At times the home side’s football was delightful, but there was seemingly always a final ball that frustrated. Too many times Paul Jones in the Grecians goal was left with easy catches to make.

Miller had the ball in the net on the hour but was given offside without too much argument, before Gillingham finally made their breakthrough with just over ten minutes to go. For the umpteenth time Oli flicked on a header, Simeon Jackson turned and shot but the block fell to Miller who tucked it home.

Gillingham of only a few weeks ago would have gone into their shell at this point and sunk back to their 18 yard box inviting pressure and inevitably a equalising goal, but there is now a greater confidence. Exeter did not get a sniff of their hosts goal in those closing minutes as Gillingham played the ball to the corners and kept possession with relative comfort.

New loan signing Jamie Peters was introduced for the last five minutes and he gave a lively little cameo before the final whistle sounded to the approval of the home support. Gillingham had not beaten Exeter in the manner that they themselves were spanked at St James’s Park earlier in the season, but in terms of the domination of the game this was pay back for that awful afternoon in Devon.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Morecambe 0 Gillingham 1

Match 38/08/722 - Saturday, 17th January 2009 - League Two

Morecambe (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 1 Weston 18
Att. 2,027

Entrance: £13
Programme: £3
Mileage: 625/4,718
New Ground: 228

Match Report

The fact that we had witnessed another Gills away win (two in a season warrants the word another) made a horrendous journey home just a shade more bearable. The weather that had deteriorated during the second half at Christie Park followed us virtually all the way home, making driving both difficult and very wearing. It is a long, long way to Morecambe anyway without the added difficulties of such poor conditions.

It would be great to report that added to the victory we had seen a sparkling performance from our favourites, but with a difficult pitch and the worsening conditions being major contributory factors, I’m unable to say it was a classic. But I can relate that it was a thoroughly deserved and workmanlike display that earned the points.

Despite the early morning rain in Kent which we quickly left behind we made good time on the journey north. As a first visit to Morecambe we had no idea of the ground’s proximity to the town and were unaware that we would reach Christie Park before we reached the sea, or Eric Morecambe’s statue both of which we would have liked to have seen. A hearty rendition of “Bring Me Sunshine” was played just prior to the teams taking the field and those of a certain age amongst us enjoyed both the singalong and, for some, the dance-along with our hands behind our head etc., those that can remember the Morecambe and Wise show will easily picture the scene!

Gillingham took the lead on 18 minutes with Curtis Weston side footing in after Gary Mulligan’s shot came back off a post. Aside from a couple of timely interventions from Simon King the visitors enjoyed a comfortable first half with the only downside being the injury and substitution of Dennis Oli, who had been a constant threat the Shrimpers. It seems to me that Oli has been a man on a mission since his return from injury and in yesterday’s cold (though not quite as arctic as recently) conditions he was a muscle pull waiting to happen with his lightning bursts of pace that was admirable but ultimately his undoing.

The second half was a lot less comfortable with the home side taking the game to their visitors in search of a goal and the added complication of the howling gale that now engulfed Christie Park. But with the exception of a couple of routine stops and one excellent save from Simon Royce, Gillingham “weathered the storm” and in the last couple of minutes had a couple of good chances to extend their lead.

This was, as they say, the type of game that Gillingham need to be picking up maximum points if they are going to make a meaningful challenge at the top end of the Division. This they duly achieved and it was the type of performance that will bring a lot of satisfaction to their management team.

Christie Park is a old fashioned ground that has had one major stand added to attain Football League status. This is has the standard Meccano look that is functional and plenty good enough for their needs. The away support were housed in an older structure that had pillars obstructing some vision, but as we had the whole of the stand to ourselves there was plenty of room to find a spot offering a good view. The main grandstand is a fine old edifice, with a couple of sheets of corrugated needed to bring it to good condition. These stands are not things of beauty but lend a character to a ground that the modern version fails to do. Opposite was an open area, its main attraction being a manually operated scoreboard. Christie Park is not an arena of great facilities, a pot holed car park, portaloos and a burger van, but it is a traditional football ground and these I value.

It took 625 miles and ten hours plus driving to complete the days’ entertainment, but as Gillingham away wins are still thin on the ground, that alone makes it worthwhile.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Staines Town P Tonbridge P

Saturday, 10th January 2009 - Ryman Premier

Staines Town P
Tonbridge P

Programme: £1
Mileage: 136/4,092

A Friday afternoon postponement of Gillingham’s home game against Aldershot left me with a Saturday hole to fill with the knowledge that the big freeze that had engulfed Kent for a week would make it a difficult task.

So on Saturday morning I was feeling pretty chuffed that Staines v Tonbridge, Ryman’s second versus third had survived an 11 a.m. pitch inspection but took note that there would be a further inspection by the match referee at 1 p.m. So with Staines Town Football Club telephone number punched into the mobile I set out with my car temperature gauge showing -4.5degC sitting on my drive.

At 1.30 p.m. and before I entered the M25 I took the precaution of phoning Staines, upon which I was told that the game had survived the latest inspection and the game was on. All the way round the M25 until my exit at Junction 13 the temperature never rose beyond
-2degC and I was left wondering if Staines had some sort of micro-climate.

As I entered Staines it was the picture of winter beauty, everything was a glistening white and the temperature had dropped a further degree. I started to despair and realised that the worse was about to happen when I spotted a couple of Tonbridge supporters walking in the opposite direction to the one I was heading.

Three hours driving time, 136 mile round trip wasted. Take a look at the pictures below how could anybody pass this pitch fit to play at any time? But to pass it twice is beyond a joke.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Gillingham 1 Aston Villa 2

Match 37/08/721 - Sunday, 4th January 2009 - FA Cup 3rd Round

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 57
Aston Villa (1) 2 Milner 13, 79 (pen)
Att. 10,107

Entrance: £22
Programme: £4
Mileage: 45/3,956

Match Report

The final whistle had barely sounded when the mobile phone offered up its first text: Wot a shame they did u proud. The texter had it right, they had certainly done us proud.

The scoreline shows just how close Gillingham had run the fourth-best side in the country and it had taken a dubious penalty to achieve that result. Ashley Young, who had not taken too much to take a tumble all afternoon, was challenged by Adam Miller and down he went. James Milner stroked home the penalty and the dream of a replay that we had cherished for 20 minutes disappeared.

Aston Villa had turned up without Gareth Barry and Gabriel Agbonlahor, but this was also a seriously weakened Gillingham side and one look at the bench that resembled a creche was an indication of how badly the home side were stretched.

A sterling effort from groundsman John Plummer had managed to get the pitch to kick off time frost-free and without the need of a pitch inspection. An earlier inspection of my own lawn had decreed that no game would be played on my patch of grass.

Hearty renditions of the the Last Waltz and Home of the Shouting Men had a packed Priestfield Stadium in full voice as the teams took to the field for a Third Round tie in front of ITV’s cameras.

It was against the run of play when Villa went ahead on 14 minutes. Adam Miller was caught in possession following a poor pass from makeshift centre half Mark Bentley, had Garry Richards been available the ball was bound for Row Z. Milner scored with a quality finish. This was going to be the difference in class it was felt, one half chance and the Premiership side had taken it.

It was easy to suspect that Gillingham would fold and the scoreline could be as mountainous as Mark Stimson had foretold given a bad set of circumstances. But none of it, by half time the home side had carved out a couple of chances and it took a last ditch tackle from Zat Knight to stop Simeon Jackson and Nigel Reo-Coker picked up a booking when he sent Dennis Oli sprawling on the edge of the penalty area.

On the hour came the moment we had dreamed. Jackson, who had looked so tiny in comparison to the towering Knight and Curtis Davies, finally wriggled clear and from just inside the box spectacularly beat Brad Friedel. Priestfield erupted, game on!

Villa then showed Premiership quality in closing the game out, Gillingham had a lot of the possession but were unable to test Friedel to any great extent and then came the penalty that broke our hearts. It was clearly debateable and a television viewing has not convinced me of its validity. As a supporter of a lower division club it was the kind of decision that we believe always falls the direction of the Premiership clubs. But mostly it was sad, because Gillingham did not deserve to be beaten in such a soft manner, they had earned a second pay day at Villa Park and their fans had similarly earned their big night out.

In front of the TV watching nation, Gillingham not only avoided any embarrassment, but showed enough quality to give real hope for the rest of the League Two season, whether they can similarly raise their game for likes of Grimsby and Chester is going to be the test.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Tonbridge 2 Ramsgate 2

Match 36/08/720 - Saturday, 3rd January 2009 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Legge 40, Rook 62
Ramsgate (0) 2 Tsangarides 82, Davis 90
Att. 489

Entrance: £10
Programme: Sold Out
Mileage: 26/3,911

Match Report

A match that survived an overnight freeze with temperatures at
-5degC and a 1.30 p.m. pitch inspection produced a late, late equaliser for the visitors.

Once given the go-ahead there were still doubts that the game would go its full distance. As the sun set behind the South Stand the temperature dropped rapidly but in fairness to the referee he made a good decision and the pitch, whilst looking difficult, always seemed playable.

Ramsgate, backed by their vocal following, looked the better of the two sides for much of the first half, a stuttering Tonbridge not looking the part of their third place status. But despite this it was the home side that took the lead on 40 minutes with a towering header from Leon Legge. The tall centre half is reportedly being watched by Football League clubs and he did his reputation no harm with a fine performance.

The home side picked up their game in the second half and when Carl Rook converted from close range on the hour the game looked up for the Rams. But Jim Ward’s sides are always resilient and have a never-say-die spirit. With eight minutes remaining they pulled a goal back leaving Tonbridge with a nervous ending, already knowing that there would be substantial injury time.

Six minutes were shown and the Thanet side surged forward, leaving copious gaps at the back which Tonbridge failed to exploit, with a gilt edged chance for Ade Olurunda being the worst of the misses. Entering the last half minute, brother Tim Olurunda gave away a needless free kick and with goalkeeper Jamie Turner adding to the confusion in the ensuing melee the ball was stroked home to seal a point for the visitors, which on the balance of the 96 minutes they probably deserved.

It has been reported that this is the coldest start to winter since 1976 and the last three matches have been absolutely freezing. Tomorrow is the big FA Cup day and, guess what, it is due to be even colder. Let’s hope Gillingham have as much luck with their pitch preparation as Tonbridge did today, because the loss of their TV appearance is going to prove very costly.