Saturday, 28 March 2009

Brentford 1 Gillingham 1

Match 54/08/738 - Saturday, 27th March 2009 - League Two

Brentford (1) 1 Hunt 41
Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 58 (pen)
Att. 7,908

Entrance: £20
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 80/7,125

Match Report

Gillingham took a well-earned point from their visit to league leaders Brentford, but there can be plenty of argument to say they deserved a lot more.

Manager Mark Stimson resisted any thoughts of change following last week’s reversal at lowly Grimsby and started with the same side, leaving new signing Josh Wright on the bench.

A near 8,000 crowd was healthily bolstered by a huge 1,800 strong contingent from Kent, thought to be the largest away following for the club since the Championship denouement at Nottingham Forest.

The first half was a pretty cagey affair with neither side creating too much in the way of good chances. Gillingham whistled a sigh of relief as a header from Sam Wood went wide and at the other end Andy Barcham, who was a constant thorn in the Bees’ side, wriggled free and perhaps chose the wrong option when he elected to slide the ball across the goal rather than shoot, Ben Hamer collected comfortably.

Two contentious decisions in the space of 60 seconds with both going against the Gills resulted in the visitors going back to the dressing room with a goal deficit. Five minutes before the break Brentford were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for an offence that it appears nobody bar referee Graham saw. Admittedly most eyes followed the ball, but whatever Southall did, it seemed pretty innocuous. Credit though must be given to David Hunt who curled the free kick into the top right corner, leaving Simon Royce a spectator.

Within 60 seconds of the restart Gillingham appeared to have levelled the scores, but while the away support celebrated, the referee once again saw something that was hard to understand. A through ball to Simeon Jackson saw him beat off the challenge of the central defender to fire past Hamer, but the referee chalked it off for what, Jackson out-muscling a six foot defender? Give us a break. The whistle sounded for half-time, leaving the Gillingham faithful more than a little frustrated by the late turn of events. The half time break kicked up a bit of a storm as a heavy hailstorm engulfed Griffin Park; thankfully it passed as quickly as it appeared.

From the outset of the second half it was the visitors that were kicking up a storm as they tore into the hosts with a renewed vigour. Barcham now had Brentford’s right hand side on toast as he had far too much pace and ability for Karleigh Osborne. An early foray led to a corner that produced a chance for McCammon and on 58 minutes another Barcham run ended with the hapless Osborne tripping the winger for a stick-on penalty. Jackson scored from the spot for his 17th of the season to level the game, which was no more than Gillingham deserved.

The second half became pretty much a procession from that point with Simon Royce virtually relegated to the role of bystander. But although they enjoyed the majority of the possession, very little in the way of clear chances fell to Gillingham and we had to be thankful that Charlie Macdonald pulled a chance wide and a last kick thunderbolt from Sam Wood narrowly cleared the bar.

One of those games when most of the travelling army would have taken a point on the way in, so let’s not be too churlish on the way out. We can delight in what was an impressive performance. The back line to a man was very good, John Nutter played one of his best games for the club and Simon King was, well, Simon King, ably assisted by Mark Bentley. Up front, Simeon Jackson looked much more like the early season version and seems to be benefiting from his little and large partnership with McCammon who had another good game and I would think Kayleigh Osborne must be spending tonight trying to untangle the knots that Andy Barcham tied him up with.

Griffin Park is a bit of a favourite although with every visit we seem to change ends! This season we were back behind the Brook Road goal with the seating above the terraced area. Since we were last there, the open terrace at the other end has been covered and is now offered to the home support. The seats are very cramped for anybody over 5’6” and viewing of the bye-line is quite difficult. But Brentford have always had the reputation for being one of the league’s most friendly clubs and I must give a mention to the young lad selling the programmes to the visiting supporters, who with every sale offered a welcoming “enjoy the game”. Enjoy the game we did, a good point earned from a good game.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tonbridge 3 Ashford Town (Middx) 2

Match 53/08/737 - Saturday, 20th March 2009 - Ryan Premier

Tonbridge (0) 3 Rook 88, Ferguson 90, Logan 90
Ashford Town (Middx) (0) 2 Harris 58, Harrison 67
Att. 429

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/7,045

Match Report

Sadly, a consequence of Gillingham’s (relatively) successful season has been that I’ve not seen nearly enough of Tonbridge and their promotion push. Sods law is that I take time out from travelling with the Gills only to watch a fixture against one of teams I’ve already seen this season. But the reward was an amazing finish that would have graced the game any level.

This match served to highlight that virtually nothing is predictable or can be taken for granted in the game of football. Back in November on a very wet day, Tonbridge visited Ashford (Middlesex), who at the start of play sat a place higher; therefore nobody could have foreseen the 7-1 margin of victory for the Angels.

Likewise, today, Tonbridge so dominated the first half of this match they could easily have equalled their huge November score by the end of the 45, but somehow conspired to go back to the dressing rooms with a goalless scoreline. Chance after chance went begging as the visitors were taken apart almost at will. New signing Paul Booth is through on goal in the 10th minute but pulls his shot wide and a minute later Tim Olorunda’s header comes back off the crossbar. As the chances mount, Ashford keeper Craig Ross, only 18 years old, is taking on the role of hero.

News from Grimsby is depressing as Gillingham are losing at half time. Tonbridge start the second half in the same vein as the first, but astonishingly it is Ashford that take the lead, sloppy defending allowing Warren Harris to fire home. Just as my phone is buzzing to inform me that Gillingham are now two down, Tonbridge unbelievably also go two in arrears. Tim Olorunda is adjudged to have pulled Byron Harrison down, when through on goal and is sent off. The resultant penalty is well struck by Harrison, leaving all around bemused by scoreline.

Despite their man disadvantage, the Angels continued to take the game to their visitors and Tommy Tyne, Lee Minshull and Booth all have chances to reduce the deficit. Just a couple of minutes remained on the clock when Carl Rook looped a header over the keeper, too little, surely too late.

The fourth official threw Tonbridge the lifeline they needed when five extra minutes are shown. Two of those minutes had elapsed when Steve Ferguson met a Minshull flick-on to rifle into the top of the net. Cue delirious celebration, the Angels had got out of jail. Tommy Warrilow’s side were not prepared to accept a draw though and following a last ditch long throw from Ferguson, a clearance fell to substitute Fraser Logan who volleyed into the top corner to complete a memorable recovery.

A play-off spot is virtually certain for Tonbridge and credit must go the boardroom duo of Nick Sullivan and Garry Pass who have found money in difficult times to strengthen the squad with players of high repute in the non-league circle of the south east. Steve Ferguson has been brought in from Billericay, a player who always caught the eye when with AFC Wimbledon and Paul Booth, a proven goalscorer comes in from Havant and Waterlooville.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Notts County 0 Gillingham 1

Match 52/08/736 - Tuesday, 17th March 2009 - League Two

Notts County (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 58
Att. 3,189

Entrance: £20
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 384/7,019

Match Report

A friend’s new fangled iPhone displayed the evidence as the car sped its way out of Nottingham last night, Gillingham sat proudly in second place in League Two. They are becoming the past masters of the rather scruffy 1-0 away victory, but if it was good enough for Tony Pulis’ side to exit this lower Division back in 1996 then it is good enough for Mark Stimson’s version.

On a surprisingly chilly evening after a fine Spring day the first relief of the evening was to see both Simon King and Andy Barcham warming up following successful fitness tests leaving Stimson able to start with the same side that were held by Shrewsbury at the weekend.

This was to prove all-important over the 90 minutes as King produced an imperious display alongside his central defensive partner, Mark Bentley and Barcham set up Simeon Jackson for a second half winning goal.

The pitch at Meadow Lane suffers from its double use with Nottingham Rugby Club sharing the facility. Evidently they have a big semi-final here on Sunday against Leeds, I must confess to not knowing that they shared with County. The pitch played reasonably well, but it did look a bit bobbly and player’s first touch on both sides was somewhat unsure.

Meadow Lane is one of the best stadiums at this level having been revamped for their spell in the top tier back in the early 1990s. The away support is now based in the Jimmy Sirrell Stand having been evicted from the Kop after a vote by the home fans, who do their best to create a good atmosphere from relatively small numbers. The viewing is unobstructed, leg room a bit tight for a six footer, but ok for most. Sadly, a 20,000 capacity stadium is far too big for a club presently averaging 4,500 a game, with an attendance of only 3,189 on the night.

Mark McCammon wasted an early chance fashioned by John Nutter when he blazed over after just four minutes and to be quite honest that was about as good as it got in a very dull first 45 minutes. Our old favourite (err . . .!) Delroy Facey had a shot that deflected off McCammon for a corner, but all in all it was an instantly forgettable half.

Both sides seemed intent on taking a more positive attitude in the early stages of the second half and the smallish crowd responded accordingly. Gillingham’s perfectly respectable following, 239 on a Tuesday night being another good effort.

A first chance fell to Simeon Jackson as Bentley made a stirring run from deep in his own half, to feed the striker who fired over a disappointing effort, failing to work the keeper. The club’s leading scorer was to quickly make amends when he fired in from a tight angle after good work along the bye-line from Andy Barcham in the 58th minute.

The following 30 minutes became a largely rearguard action from the visitors as County pressed forward looking for some reward from their night’s shift. But with the sterling work being put in from King and the rest of his back line, the chances were kept to a bare minimum. Simon Royce was called on just the once to make a decent save from Matt Hamshaw and Barry Fuller kicked off the line following a corner.

As the game entered its final throes and with County going for broke, Gillingham opened them up a couple of times but both Barcham and Jackson failed to put the game beyond doubt.

Yes, it wasn’t the prettiest, but when you turn on the teletext and see our name tucked in behind the leaders Brentford (surprising losers last night) then who cares. Performances of character rather than style have been produced at Macclesfield, Morecambe, Chester and now Notts County all with the same 1-0 scoreline, if they can sing a song about the Arsenal with that score then 1-0 to the Gillingham will do for me.

The programme front cover picture featured our old friend Tommy Johnson.

Savour the moment, shall we?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Gillingham 2 Shrewsbury Town 2

Match 51/08/735 - Saturday, 14th March 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Weston 3, Southall 51
Shrewsbury Town (0) 2 Holt 79 (pen), 90
Att. 6,023

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,635

Match Report

I thought my days of mood being altered by the result of a football match were long since gone, but leaving Priestfield yesterday, I was, to use the modern vernacular, gutted. Whether I had built this match in my own mind to be bigger than it actually was, time will tell, but I had seen it as the most important of the season so far, the opportunity to go a long way towards eliminating one of the contenders for the play-off positions and, of course, there was the little matter of revenge. Two goals up going into the last quarter-hour, Gillingham were heading into the automatic places and then they blew it, or did they?

Saturday night, a few beers and some live music did its best to lift the mood and in the cold light of reflection and through the slight haze of a hangover, came the realisation that despite having had the lead, this was a game which could so easily have been lost had we not had a goalkeeper performing at the top of his game.

Gillingham could not have wished for a better start, a loose clearance fell to Curtis Weston who drove into the top corner from 25 yards to the delight of the Rainham End, honouring Mark Stimson’s request for more noise.

The fans continued in good voice for much of the first half, hugely encouraged by the attacking endeavours of the home side, which produced further chances for Mark McCammon and Nicky Southall, before on the stroke of half time, Simon Royce was called upon to make the first of his blinding saves from a Ben Davies free kick.

Quick into their stride in the second half, Gillingham doubled their advantage on 51 minutes when Simeon Jackson robbed the dithering Kelvin Langmead and back heeled into the path of Southall, who finished well. As Shrews keeper Luke Daniels was further pressed into action by McCammon, hopes were rising that the revenge could indeed be quite emphatic. But a further jolt of reality came from McCammon’s old mucker, Moses Ashikodi, who hit the bar when it was easier to score and Royce once again came off best in his contest with Ben Davies. But the writing was being firmly painted on the wall.

Shrewsbury’s way back into the game came with the aid of controversial penalty award. Barry Fuller was adjudged to have illegally shouldered Ashikodi as he ran through on goal and from the resultant twice-taken penalty, Grant Holt kept his nerve to half the deficit.

Tension gripped as Shrewsbury turned the screw and as the clock ticked into the final minute of normal time, Holt, the Division’s striker of true quality, got his head on the end of a right wing cross from the pacy substitute Chris Humphrey. The disappointment was palpable, but this could so easily have turned to despair as Holt was thwarted by the superb Royce in the final act of the afternoon.

Two points lost, one won, in football it is an age-old question. Time may well have changed the answer to that question on this occasion, at 5 o’clock the glass was most definitely half empty, this morning it was half full and I’m hopeful that it wasn’t just the beer from the glass that is doing the talking.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Gillingham 1 Darlington 0

Match 50/08/734 - Tuesday, 10th March 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 90 (pen)
Darlington (0) 0
Att. 4,730

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,590

Match Report

Buckle up your seats, folks. Fellow coffin dodgers in the Gordon Road Stand, stow away your thermos flasks safely under the seat, because at 21.36 last night we officially entered the time of season less than affectionately known as Squeaky-bum time.

After 93 frustrating minutes, Darlington defender Alan White’s hand instinctively controlled a bounce and Simeon Jackson was given the chance to win the game from the penalty spot. While all around Priestfield lower region cheeks became clenched, Jackson was calmness personified as he sent the Darlo keeper, Andy Oakes the wrong way to bury his shot into the bottom left hand side, to cue delight and relief in equal measures.

The collective holding of breath should not have been necessary as Gillingham dominated the second half, had the ball in net only for the referee to bring the game back to award Gillingham a free kick and for the ultimate hero Jackson to produce an air shot directly in front of goal only a minute from time.

Gillingham started the game like a train, Adam Miller bursting into the box but his effort was blocked away for a corner, the first of a series before the early steam ran out. Darlington then stepped into the game and Simon Royce needed to be at his best to palm away a really good effort from Ryan Valentine. Adam Griffin blazed high towards the 50 or so Darlo fans huddled together in the Brian Moore Stand and a couple of other half-chances passed them by. In the midst of this spell, Curtis Weston fired just wide a good effort from 25 yards out.

Referee Steve Bratt, unfortunately, because I felt he was one of the better officials seen this season, became centre stage on 55 minutes when he disallowed Mark McCammon’s goal. It is more annoying that the game is called back to award the scoring side a free kick, but in fairness to Mr Bratt, the whistle had sounded before the big striker beat keeper Oakes.

Andy Barcham came off the bench on the hour, returning from injury to breathe new life into the Gillingham cause and he quickly produced a chance for Nicky Southall who shot wildly over when a cross seemed a much better option.

It was Barcham again who produced the last minute chance for Jackson, who inexplicably failed to make a connection when in front of goal from just five yards or so. It seemed that the night was going to end in disappointment until White’s hand intervened and Jackson’s nerve held.

After the final whistle had sounded, further encouragement was added with news of defeats for Exeter and Bradford lifting the Gills two places up the table and just a point off the automatic places. Another nervous Saturday beckons with the visit of Shrewsbury, where a win would put Gillingham six points clear off the Shrews, the team presently on the outside of the play-off places. If your heart felt it was leaping clear of your mouth whilst Jackson prepared last night, be prepared, because worse is yet to come!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Accrington Stanley 0 Gillingham 2

Match 49/08/733 - Saturday, 6th March 2009 - League Two

Accrington Stanley (0) 0
Gillingham (1) 2 Jackson 18, Oli 65
Att. 1,308

Entrance: £13
Programme: £3
Mileage: 606/6,545
New Ground: 230

Match Report

As the season enters its business end, points are gold dust and performances without points are worthless. Remembering back to scrappy 1-0 wins recently at Morecambe, Chester and Macclesfield, another win of the same nature would have been happily accepted. Thankfully, without having to reach a performance of quality against a poor Accrington side, a couple of scrappy goals were more than enough to earn a sixth away win of the season. When Gillingham were taking those early season hammerings at Shrewsbury and Exeter who would have predicted that they would have six wins on the road at this stage?

On a mild but damp afternoon at the Fraser Eagle Stadium, Gillingham dominated the possession but the best early chance fell to Paul Mullin who managed to lob the ball over the bar after an uncharacteristic mix up between Simon King and Barry Fuller.

King was instrumental in Gillingham taking an 18th minute lead. A corner had been earned by Dennis Oli, whose shot had been deflected away and from the corner, the ball fell to King whose shot appeared to be going wide before being turned in from close range by a predatory Simeon Jackson.

Gillingham were now comfortably in charge of the game and a further couple of chances for Jackson were off-the-mark before Accrington began to get a foothold in the final 10 minutes of the half. Simon Royce and Fuller combined to deny Proctor and then Craig Lindfield was truly wasteful when he blazed over in the final minute of the first half.

The momentum that Stanley had managed to gain at the end of the half was not replicated at the beginning of the second as the Gills regained the upper hand and the main threat, Paul Mullin, always a handful, was being successfully marshalled by King and Mark Bentley. Another goal was going to put the game beyond the home side and it duly arrived 20 minutes into the half. Adam Miller won a challenge and carried the ball across the edge of the box before setting up Dennis Oli, who fired home with the aid of a huge deflection that wrong-footed Kenny Arthur.

With the game safe, it would now be satisfying to gain a fourth successive open-play clean sheet following the defensive debacle against Aldershot. Ultimately this was achieved, but not before a Nicky Southall’s own goal-bound header brought a fine save from Royce.

Accrington were a very poor side and a rapid improvement is going to be needed for them to avoid a relegation scrap back to the Conference. I hope they make it. The sparcity of attendance was compensated by the friendly nature of their supporters. A couple took time out to ask if we had a good journey up to Lancashire and another wished us a safe journey home. The bad news this week that Fraser Eagle, their main sponsors, had entered administration is concerning those supporters who fear that there will be no return to the Football League should they drop this season. If Stanley were to follow their sponsors into administration the 10 point deduction would make their position very precarious.

The new ground factor was evident as a healthy Gillingham contingent bolstered the tiny 1,308 total. My guess would be that at least the 308 had travelled to support the Gills. As for the new ground they came to see, to be kind it is nothing more than a non-league stadium and I’ve seen a good deal better in those lower reaches. The Gillingham support were housed on an open terrace and we can be grateful that only a light drizzle had to be endured. Two uniform low stands housed the home support with the behind the goal contingent standing. One length of the ground I can only imagine is condemned with nobody inhabiting the shack-like structure that cannot be considered as a covered enclosure. The toilets were awful and the dressing rooms for the players were no bigger than you would see on the average park ground. So, it was no oil painting, but the traditionalist in me hopes that this grand old name of football, Accrington Stanley (it has such a ring to it) survives to fight another day.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Luton Town 0 Gillingham 0

Match 48/08/732 - Tuesday, 3rd March 2009 - League Two

Luton Town (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 5,353

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3
Mileage: 200/5,939

Match Report

On a filthy night in Bedfordshire, it was the weather conditions that prevailed at Kenilworth Road. Heavy rain, driven by a gale force wind served up a game of two halves with the home side the unluckier of the two to come away with just a point.

Gillingham retained John Nutter, relegating Rene Steer to the bench and with Andy Barcham failing a fitness test, leading scorer Simeon Jackson was restored to the starting eleven.

Ten minutes before the game started it appeared that our journey might be fruitless as the floodlights failed plunging the stadium into darkness. Thankfully the power was restored and the game started with just a minor delay.

Gillingham had to face the elements in the first half and Luton carried the game to them to make the most of the advantage brought about by the wind. I wouldn’t wish injury on any player but I have to admit to having an inward thought that it might not be such a bad thing if Sam Parkin, the big Luton front man, continued his absence, unfortunately it was not to be and it took only a minute for him to terrorise the defence and shoot just wide of the mark. As it was, fast-forwarding to the end of the game, Mark Bentley and Simon King both did a sterling job in containing Parkin, a major threat.

It was to be a continuous rearguard action for the Gills as the best two players on the pitch, Tom Craddock and Chris Martin, tested a hard-pressed defence. Martin in particular was getting a lot of joy in his match-up against Barry Fuller, but full credit must go to the Gills skipper who stuck at his task and in the second half with the conditions favouring Gillingham, Martin was less of a threat.

Chances came and went for the Hatters with Craddock instrumental in everything they created and it was Craddock himself that hit a post three minutes before the break in front of the 440 Gillingham fans holding their breath. Those fans welcomed the half time whistle with a cheer that was borne more out of relief than joy.

If anything the conditions worsened as the game went on and this benefited Gillingham. Now it was their turn to take control of the game. Dennis Oli, whose pace had been the defining outlet for Gillingham blasted a good chance high into the stands but with 20 minutes to go had to be substituted through injury and our best chance of coming away with the three points probably departed with him.

Despite having the worst of the second half conditions the best two chances fell to Luton and, of course, to Tom Craddock. Firstly sent through on goal by Parkin, Simon Royce somehow managed to smother and Fuller hack clear and then entering the final minute after Gillingham had only managed to clear a corner to the edge of the box the ball fell to Craddock who blazed into the stands, much to the travelling supports relief.

So an away draw against the bottom side might not be seen by a casual observer as a point gained, but we all know different. Luton Town are a club that would undoubtedly been pushing to play-off spots had they not suffered the huge points deduction and then there is the historical factor of 40 years of hurt at Kenilworth Road. It is a ground where we never win and will now probably not break that hoodoo.

I’ve banged on in this blog about the character of old grounds as against the blandness of the new-builds, character is a word that might be used for Kenilworth Road, but the place is a complete dump. The viewing for the away support is as bad as anywhere with pillars in the way and the rake of the terrace shallow. The seats are bolted onto the old standing terraces and make for a knee-chewing experience. With Luton destined to spend at least a season in the Conference and a new ground having been long planned, it might be that this is the last time we pay Kenilworth Road a visit, and apart from a decent fish and chip shop, not many will mourn its passing.