Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Tonbridge 2 Carshalton Athletic 3

Match 63/08/747 - Tuesday, 28th April 2009 -
Ryman Premier Play-off Semi-Final

Tonbridge (0) 2 Rook (pen) 72, Booth 82
Carshalton Athletic (1) 3 Jolly 24, 83, Ide 49
Att. 1,249

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/8,085

Match Report

Tonbridge’s season finished abruptly in disappointment at Longmead last night with a 3-2 defeat in the Ryman League Play Off Semi Final. They entered the game with the favourite tag by virtue of their higher league position thus earning the right to stage the game.

But this did not work out as for long periods Carshalton Athletic were the better side and well-deserving of their two goal lead before Tonbridge hit back to draw level. Tonbridge’s home form throughout the season has been patchy and until they lost at Longmead in February, Carshalton had been unbeaten away from home, perhaps the home advantage was never to be a defining factor for the Angels.

Despite Champions League football on the television, a healthy crowd of 1,249 turned out on what ended up a chilly night, with a sizeable contingent from Surrey to support their own favourites.

Tonbridge had an early chance after eight minutes when Carl Rook headed against the bar following a Steve Ferguson long throw. But after 25 minutes of sparring when neither side managed to hold sway it was the visitors that gained the advantage. Simon Glover vacated his left back position to challenge for a ball in midfield, having lost out the ball was fed to Richard Jolly in the position that Glover had emptied. Jolly entered the box and finished immaculately with an angled shot from 12 yards.

After just four minutes of the second half Carshalton doubled their advantage. This time Anthony Storey was guilty of losing possession in midfield, Jolly was given a shooting opportunity from which Lee Worgan made a parrying save but Charlie Ide was on hand to side foot home the rebound.

On 72 minutes Tonbridge are given a lifeline as Ferguson is brought down in the box, Rook converts the penalty giving the home support further reason to up the noise levels, which had been encouraging all night, even at two goals down.

Eight minues remained when Storey found substitute Lee Minshull at the right side of the box. Minshull calmly crossed for Paul Booth to score the equaliser. With parity restored Tonbridge now had the momentum to go on and win the game, but within a minute they found themselves behind once more. In an adrenaline rush, they threw bodies forward in search of the winner, from one such attack the ball was heaved out of defence. Simon Glover was left in a foot race with Richard Jolly and there could be only one winner. Once clear the only question was can Jolly finish as clinically again, of course he could. You don’t score nearly forty goals in a season without being able to hold your nerve in those circumstances.

The Ryman League play-offs are harsh inasmuch that there are no second chances, no second legs, but the team finishing highest in the league are rewarded with home advantage, for Tonbridge this was a poisoned chalice. The best side won on the night and go on to meet Staines in the final.

Tonbridge must hope that without a runaway champions, as Dover were this season, that next season they continue their upward improvement in the Premier Division. Last season they finished just outside the play-offs, losing to none other than Carshalton on the last day, this season they have failed in the play-offs having finished third. Next time, they need to go one better once more and not require the play-off lottery.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Gillingham 0 Bury 0

Match 62/08/746 - Saturday, 25th April 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Bury (0) 0
Att. 8,360

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/8,059

Match Report

So it transpires that should this season end with reward it will have to be done at Wembley Stadium, not such a bad place to celebrate. Experience of playing on a dodgy pitch all winter might prove valuable on a field of dreams supposedly worse than Priestfield.

Gillingham’s hopes of retaining interest in automatic promotion until the last day of season fell short by the width of a post and some resolute defending by their fellow challengers from Greater Manchester, but to adopt a northern phrase, Gillingham gave it “a reet good go”.

Priestfield’s highest attendance of the season, 8,360, did their very best to suck the ball into the net in front of the Rainham End in a second half onslaught from the home side that became ever more frantic as the time ebbed away, but lacked the necessary quality to create a really clear cut chance.

As befitted two teams sitting fourth and fifth in the table, three points apart, there was very little between the two teams in a first half that was absorbing with some early goalmouth action. Andy Barcham and Mark McCammon were comfortably denied by Bury keeper Wayne Brown and the home custodian, Simon Royce was forced into a good one-handed save from Glynn Hurst. Midway through the half, McCammon had a clear heading opportunity but directed his header straight at Brown.

Both sets of supporters eagerly awaited news from Exeter and this proved to be good as visitors Morecambe held a one goal lead at half-time, the automatic gate to League One was still open.

Perhaps buoyed by the news, Bury started the second half with a fresh impetus and from the restart they made their best chance of the game. Andy Bishop, with time and space, directed a free header well wide of the post. It was not the effort of a striker with 16 goals to his credit this season.

Following that sharp intake of breath, the Gillingham fans rose to the challenge and as the noise inside Priestfield rose, so did the attacking intentions of the home side. A John Nutter cross somehow managed to evade everybody when the merest touch from attacker or defender would probably have produced a goal.

Dennis Oli was introduced into the fray for Josh Wright and a chance was made for Simeon Jackson who pulled his shot narrowly wide. On 72 minutes the thickness of the post became the ultimate decider of Gillingham’s end of season destiny. Another Nutter cross was headed back to Stuart Lewis by McCammon, the ginger midfielder volleyed from 20 yards but the ball agonisingly rebounded off the woodwork. It was the closest Gillingham were to come to victory.

Our old friend, Efe Sodje, who enjoyed a mixed reception from the home support, proved too strong for Jackson as the striker attempted to get clear on goal with ten minutes remaining and the deadlock remained unbroken.

Whilst a point was of no use to the home side, Bury will go into next Saturday’s final day hoping that a win over Accrington Stanley will be enough to earn them a place in League One. Meanwhile, Gillingham will travel to nearby Rochdale hoping to gain the point required to avoid a repeat 500-mile round trip to Spotland for a 6.30 p.m. kick off on a Sunday evening. A win over the Lancastrians could have the added bonus of a far less arduous trip to Dagenham and Redbridge, although a repeat of the Boxing Day shambles at Victoria Road would put in serious doubt a visit to the not-so hallowed turf of the national stadium.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Chesterfield 0 Gillingham 1

Match 61/08/745 - Saturday, 18th April 2009 - League Two

Chesterfield (0) 0
Gillingham (1) 1 McCammon 22
Att. 3,933

Entrance: £16
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 432/8,014

Match Report

Barn doors from five yards, cow’s arses and banjos spring immediately to mind. Chesterfield lived up to every cliché as their wayward striking helped Gillingham to three points, keeping alive the Kent sides’s automatic promotion hopes and just a single point from a guaranteed play-off spot.

In a second half that at times resembled scenes from the Alamo, Gillingham’s defence battled hard to preserve the lead given to them by Mark McCammon in the 22nd minute and whilst great credit must be given to the achievement, Chesterfield supporters will be wondering how their strikers had such a woeful day. They rattled a post, had another effort that flashed across the goal face and brought two good saves from Simon Royce, but they rained another dozen efforts on the Gillingham goal that were high, wide and not very handsome.

In the warm spring sunshine, Mark Stimson chose to start with the same side that began against Dagenham, with Rene Steer taking Adam Miller’s place on the bench. This was a match that both teams needed all the points for much the same reasons. Chesterfield began the game brightly and after ten minutes the experienced, and very dangerous, Jack Lester set the tone for the home side with an effort that comfortably cleared the bar.

Gillingham themselves were looking positive on the break with Andy Barcham’s pace unsettling the home side’s rearguard. From one such attack, John Nutter’s corner was only cleared back to the full back who swung it back in for McCammon to rise highest and head in off the underside of the bar.

Barry Fuller was being continually troubled by the pace and trickery of Drew Talbot and was booked for a blatant obstruction and it was Talbot that created another chance that was wasted by Lester.

After starting the second period on the front foot with Barcham creating a chance that was cleared for a corner, the home side then took up the offensive and a rearguard action became the order of the day. Shooting opportunities aplenty fell to the Spireites but as the efforts on goal mounted, the times that they actually troubled Royce failed to increase.

With 25 minutes remaining the first huge sigh of relief came from the 500-strong travelling Gills faithful when a corner, following a superb Simon King block, was headed against the post by Kevin Austen. By now it was all hands to the pump, McCammon had made way for Dennis Oli and Mark Bentley came on for an improved Josh Wright. Yet again, Lester, in the past such a thorn in Gillingham’s side, having beaten the offside trap fired high over the bar.

Now the hearts-in-mouth time had really arrived and it appeared that the desperate defending was to be in vain as Lester got on the end of a through ball into the box, but as he was about to pull the trigger, Simon Royce made a fine smothering save. A long injury break for Royce angered the home fans behind his goal before Jack Lester proved it was not to be his day as another shot flashed across the face of the goal with nobody available to turn into the net.

It was a storm that Gillingham had bravely weathered, they had faced the bombardment of Chesterfield’s equivalent of Rory Delap, Dan Gray who had bombed the visiting box with huge throw-ins. Nobody can argue that they did not ride their luck to the fullest extent, but this had been a resolute performance that had earned three vitally important points.

Saltergate is a very old stadium in its last throes of existence. Its facilities are as woeful as their striker’s finishing. The gents toilets were a throwback to those monstrosities that used to service the Rainham End and evidently the ladies were no better. The main stand is a wooden structure that in a week when Hillsborough was remembered evoked sad memories of Bradford. Opposite is a strange seated structure that has fully 10 yards of flat, open space in front of it serving no purpose whatsoever. Most of the Gills support was housed in an open terrace and a covered terrace at the other end was home to the vocal element of the Chesterfield support.

The club has planning permission for a site nearer to Junction 30 of the M1 and hope to be playing there from the start of the 2010-11 season in a stadium that will resemble that of Shrewsbury’s New Meadow.

Two games to go and all is still to play for, all of us have to hold our nerve from here, Gillingham’s back line showed the way today.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Gillingham Reserves 1 Millwall Reserves 3

Match 60/08/744 - Wednesday, 15th April 2009 - Football Combination

Gillingham Reserves (0) 1 Tefvik 89 (o.g.)
Millwall Reserves (1) 3 Grimes 44, Marquis 50, Ofoche 85
Att. 250-ish

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: Free
Mileage: 45/7,582

Match Report

Another defeat for our second string, but one of the better performances, especially in the first half. First teamers on show were Gary Mulligan, Albert Jarrett and making a first appearance in the Reserves, Rene Steer. Much like last week, none of them really did enough to suggest that they are going to be featuring strongly in the run in. Steer did make one very good run through the midfield in the second half which produced a chance, but the best he can hope for is the place on the bench made vacant by Adam Miller's suspension.

Millwall had three players of first team experience including our old favourite, Danny Spiller, who has had a injury-ridden spell at the Den. Danny looked his old self, plenty of enthusiasm and it was his killer pass that set up the second goal.

A bad defensive error from triallist, Cypriot central defender Valentino Shielis allowed Ashley Grimes a free run on goal for the first and there was a suspicion that Shielis also played Marquis onside for the second. Sadly alongside the excellent Connor Essam, they formed a reasonably good partnership for the most part. Five minutes from time an awful piece defending that was so bad it was comical allowed Ofoche to increase the lead to three.

Gillingham deserved a goal and Millwall thought so as well when Jarrett's cross was turned into his own net by Tefvik in the final minute.

The Easter holiday and a beautiful sunny afternoon produced a healthy crowd and an reasonably entertaining game.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Gillingham 2 Dagenham 1

Match 59/08/743 - Monday, 13th April 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 McCammon 8, Oli 88
Dagenham and Redbridge (1) 1 Saunders 41
Att. 6,945

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,537

Match Report

It is one of those strange quirks of football that following a couple of away performances at top three clubs that have deserved better than the one point that has been obtained, three points are put on the board for a less than fluent display. At this late stage of the campaign it is points that matter and perhaps the little bit of luck that has been missing has arrived at an opportune time.

Following his tenth booking of the season and an impending two match suspension, Adam Miller was dropped to the bench in favour of Charlton loanee Josh Wright. No doubt the official line is that Wright needs to embed himself in the side for those two matches that Miller will be missing, but there is more than a suspicion that the poisonous section of the Gillingham support have won the day and Stimson feels the need to protect his player.

Stuart Lewis was also recalled in preference to Nicky Southall and produced a decent performance that won him the man of the match award.

A bumper Easter crowd, just shy of 7,000 and no doubt boosted by a few freebies courtesy of the Manager’s Challenge, were assembled hoping to see Gillingham getting their promotion challenge back on track after a winless run of four games.

The home side were quick out of the traps and ahead after just eight minutes. John Nutter’s surging run forward ended with a shot that Tony Roberts did well to parry but only into the path of Mark McCammon who fired past the recovering keeper.

Two bizarre pieces of footwork from Simon Royce placed their lead in jeopardy. First a clearance from the Gills’ keeper was blocked by Paul Benson, arguably with his hand, but his shot rolled slowly, agonisingly past the post. Five minutes later, with the same duo involved, Royce was thankful for a second piece of good fortune. A poor back pass from Garry Richards left Royce to kick clear, this time his clearance rebounded off Benson back into his grateful hands. Priestfield joined with the keeper to offer up a prayer of thanks.

The equaliser that had been long coming arrived five minutes from half time. Ben Strevens had time and space to cross to an unmarked Sam Saunders who had the simplest of tap-ins to level the score.

The early part of the second half saw the home side frustrating their support with passes going astray and very little impression being made by the strikers. Midway through the half Dennis Oli was introduced for Wright and with ten minutes remaining Mark Bentley came on for McCammon, and immediately presented Dagenham with a new set of problems. A right wing run set up a chance for Curtis Weston and another for Simeon Jackson as the sands of time were fast slipping away.

With a couple of minutes remaining, a free kick, awarded much to the disgust of the Daggers’ Sam Saunders, was swung in from the right by the left footed John Nutter from which Dennis Oli rose virtually unchallenged to head home a priceless winner for the home side. This was preserved by Simon Royce who turned away a Graeme Montgomery effort in a final heart stopping moment.

Three vital points on an Easter Monday that saw several of the contenders fail to win. An automatic promotion place still seems unlikely but a play-off spot is looking ever more likely. More often than not it is the team with momentum going into the play-offs that win the prize, could it be that the momentum has just swung back to the Kent side?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Wycombe Wanderers 1 Gillingham 0

Match 58/08/742 - Saturday, 11th April 2009 - League Two

Wycombe Wanderers (1) 1 Akinde 41
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 6,306

Entrance: £16
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 177/7,492

Match Report

Gillingham’s hopes of automatic promotion realistically hit the rocks on a cow patch of a pitch at Adams Park this afternoon. A host of missed second half chances including a penalty kick was their final undoing as they battered their hosts in a stirring, but fruitless, second half display.

Gillingham fans travelled in numbers to Wycombe’s home set amongst the rolling Buckinghamshire hills and were in fine voice prior to kick off. They were almost immediately silenced as Chris Zebrowski hit a post after just three minutes. Referee Lee Mason failed to spot a clear handball by the ex-Millwall forward prior to the attempt and it was not to be the last time that the Premiership referee got it wrong.

Simon King was forced from the field after just nine minutes with a cut head and it was fully 12 minutes before he was to return after presumably some emergency needlework. Anxious eyes continually were attracted to the player’s tunnel as Mark McCammon filled in at centre half and Wycombe pressed to make the most of their man advantage. Finally, King returned in a numberless, nameless shirt and this caused a brief moment of amusement within a couple of minutes when a challenge was deemed worthy of a booking by the confetti-carding Mason, who asked for the defender to turn his back to show the plainness of his shirt.

Despite Gillingham surviving their 10 man period without any great scare, the home side finally made the breakthrough with five minutes of the half remaining. This time last year, John Akinde was a Kentish hero (at least in non-league circles) with a fine display at Wembley for Ebbsfleet in their winning FA Trophy side including laying on the winner. Today he was to turn into the villain, sliding the ball past Simon Royce having been on the end of a superb through ball from Lee Sawyer. Gillingham’s half-hearted appeals for offside were brushed aside. On the balance of play, Wycombe just about deserved their half-time lead.

Gillingham attacked the goal behind which their fans were massed with increased vigour from the outset of the second half. Chairboys’ keeper Jamie Young was forced into his first save of the afternoon, comfortably fielding a low shot from Simeon Jackson. Within a couple of minutes Jackson was offered the opportunity to level the scores after he was brought down in the box. Referee Mason initially waved away the penalty appeal, but a linesman’s flag brought about a change of mind. Much dispute ensued, another yellow was brandished and a couple of minutes elapsed before Jackson, usually secure from the spot, blasted the ball high over the bar to spurn the golden opportunity.

I got the sense that having been made to look foolish by his linesman’s decision to flag for the penalty, Gillingham, and Simeon Jackson in particular, could have played for a fortnight and not got another decision from Mr Mason. On three occasions I felt they had better claims for a penalty than the one that was awarded and in the process Jackson picked up a booking for diving.

The game was now completely one-way traffic, but in the spirit of fair reporting, it has to be said that Wycombe defended superbly and one block from Tommy Doherty was outstanding. Curtis Weston had a header comfortably dealt with by Young and a John Nutter free kick was only a whisker over.

Much joy was taken by the Gillingham simpletons at the substitution of Adam Miller who showed as much endeavour in midfield as any of his counterparts. Miller unfortunately, but almost understandably, reacted towards his detractors as he made his way to the bench.

When the final whistle sounded, Gillingham’s second half effort had come to nothing and with it came the realisation that this also ended the all-but mathematical chance of automatic promotion. The poor run of results of recent, just one point from their last four games needs to be arrested beginning with Easter Monday’s home fixture against Dagenham, if they are, at least, to make the play-offs with the dream of a Wembley return.

Adams Park is nice looking stadium with a backdrop of the Buckinghamshire hills that belies the fact that it based at the end of a business park. It is dominated by one large stand, quite similar in appearance to our Medway Stand. The away support were based in an all seated area behind a goal and the view was unobstructed and the leg room good. Behind the other goal Wycombe fans stand on a covered terrace. The club promotes a community spirit with welcoming officials and, quite uniquely, a programme especially for the away support with a picture of a visiting player, Andy Barcham on this occasion, adorning the cover. The pitch, however, shows the effect of Wasps playing rugby union on it. The grass seemed overly long and the bounce was far from true.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Gillingham Reserves 0 Crystal Palace Reserves 2

Match 57/08/741 - Wednesday, 8th April 2009 - Football Combination

Gillingham Reserves (0) 0
Crystal Palace Reserves (2) 2 Comley 14, Pinney 44
Att. 150-ish

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: Free
Mileage: 45/7,315

Match Report

Gillingham's second string were easily disposed of by a much stronger Crystal Palace side. Mark Stimson has mainly used reserve team games to have a look at triallists and youth team players. On this occasion he played two first teamers, Gary Mulligan, not used in recent games and Albert Jarrett, returning from injury. Mulligan, as usual, worked hard leading the line but did little to press his claims for a first team place and although Jarrett showed flashes of pace and ability, it was a bit hit and miss and was eventually substituted with a calf injury that was immediately iced.

One point that I have noticed in reserve team matches that every side that comes to Priestfield seems so much bigger and stronger than Gillingham. Palace looked like a side that came from the land of the giants against our lads.

Luke Rooney looks a good prospect, a bit on the small side, but with a lot of ability and his endeavour matches his more famous namesake.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Gillingham 0 Barnet 2

Match 56/08/740 - Saturday, 4th April 2009 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Barnet (1) 2 Furlong 23, O'Flynn 53 (pen)
Att. 6,033

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,270

Match Report

At this stage of the season the BBC Predictor becomes a bit of an addiction as supporters attempt to foresee their future destinies, nobody saw this one coming. This was supposed to be the easiest of the remaining fixtures against a side that has stared relegation in the face for much of the season, but Gillingham slumped to a two goal defeat in front of an expectant attendance of over 6,000.

Last week’s fine performance at Brentford was firmly despatched to the history folder as the home side produced a display that was polar opposites of their previous outing.

There was much scratching of heads as the team showed a couple of changes from the starting line up at Griffin Park. Why change it after a good performance when it was left to the same players to fix it after a bad day at Grimsby? Of course, the majority of supporters are not privy to what has gone on in training during the week, who has picked up injuries or illnesses and Mark Stimson was quick to defend his decisions on Radio Kent with the explanation that Adam Miller had only trained for half-an-hour this week, but it is common knowledge that he has been playing with a hernia for weeks, so why choose today to rest him? Likewise, Stimson bemoaned the lack of a fully fit Mark McCammon, now he has him and when his partnership with Simeon Jackson is beginning to show signs of coming together, he drops him to the bench. We can only ask why and when there is a reaction from the disappointed support, Stimson reacts as if to say “what the hell do you lot know”?

Another excuse was made for the totally baffling withdrawal of Andy Barcham, once again it was injury, but the player himself looked less than pleased to be substituted, especially by a centre half being thrown forward. When Barcham was promptly named man of the match, you had to laugh because the alternatives were tears or rage.

I’ve largely supported Mark Stimson when sections of the crowd have not, but today’s horror show can be partly laid at his door and his team selection. Don’t come on the radio and have a go at supporters, take a hard look at your own decisions, because today they did not stack up.

The game was scrappy from the outset on a drying pitch that was not helpful. Barnet made the early running as Gillingham wasted possession with careless abandon. The veteran Paul Furlong gave the home side a warning shot across the bows as he shot wide in the 13th minute before heading home ten minutes later. Debutee Josh Wright gave the ball away; John Nutter failed to get close to John O’Flynn who crossed for Furlong to score with ease. If this was the wake-up call required, Gillingham failed to answer and were lucky not to go in further behind as a Nicky Deverdics strike cleared the bar.

With news from elsewhere encouraging at half-time, surely Gillingham would improve significantly after the break, sadly the answer was an emphatic no. In the 50th minute a shot from Nutter, comfortably saved by Jake Cole, was the first on target for the Gills, before Mark Bentley clumsily brought Furlong down in the box with the resultant penalty converted by O’Flynn to double the deficit.

McCammon was introduced at the expense of Dennis Oli and although he enlivened the flagging home side he also wasted the best chance when he shot wide following good work from Barcham. Five minutes injury time would normally be seen as a lifeline in these circumstances, but today it was almost sadistic persecution of those wearing the blue and white colours.

I like many others must learn a lesson from today. If I was any good at predicting the results of football matches, I would have taken a bucket-load of cash from the bookies every Saturday, I haven’t, so give the Predictor the elbow.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

England 2 Ukraine 1

Match 55/08/739 - Wednesday, 1st April 2009 - World Cup Qualifying

England (1) 2 Crouch 29, Terry 84
Ukraine (0) 1 Shevchenko 74
Att. 85,548

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/7,225

Match Report

Five World Cup Qualifying wins out of five and a victory over one of the genuine competitors in Group Six leaves England in a position of complete control of their own destiny on the road to South Africa. But following a lacklustre second half England needed a late goal from skipper John Terry to rescue their 100% record.

A near capacity crowd sat comfortably in their seats at half time following a first half in which England had totally dominated and had the enjoyment of witnessing the return of the robot dance from Peter Crouch who had given the national side the lead on the half hour. Showing very little ambition and stretching five men across the midfield, leaving Andriy Voronin to labour alone upfront, Ukraine rarely ventured beyond the half way line and David James was troubled just the once when he was surprised by a awkward bounce following a long range effort from captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk.

England started brightly, Wayne Rooney had a overhead kick clear the bar and a Steven Gerrard free kick was narrowly wide before Peter Crouch broke the deadlock. Frank Lampard’s corner was headed back into the danger area by Terry and Crouch volleyed home from inside the six yard box.

Rooney had a further chance before the half time whistle when he shot over following a move that he began with a superb cross field pass to Aaron Lennon. Rooney, celebrating his 50th cap, was the centre of everything, demanding the ball, but looking frustrated when the long punts toward Crouch’s head lacked any quality or imagination.

Ukraine changed the totally ineffective Voronin for Andriy Shevchenko on 55 minutes and Fabio Capello immediately made a change of his own bringing on David Beckham for the disappointing Lennon. Beckham was instantly involved firing a free kick over the bar.

Ukraine raised their ambition levels with the introduction of Shevchenko and after their best period in the game, it was the ex-Chelsea striker who pounced on a loose ball to fire home the equaliser after a free kick fired from Aliyev rebounded off Glen Johnson.

England were now in danger of dropping points, or even worse losing a game, in which for such a long time they had been almost complacently comfortable. Shaun Wright-Phillips was introduced for Crouch, with no other fit striker available on the bench. The home side were now showing a greater urgency to retrieve the situation and this finally arrived with six minutes remaining. The dead ball accuracy of Beckham saw his free kick headed back across the face of the goal by Gerrard and hooked home by John Terry.

This was not one of England’s better performances under Capello, a comfortable position was turned on its head, but they finally came through and with games against the group’s minnows, Kazakhstan and Andorra next up, the perfect record should be stretched to seven in June. By the time our old friends Croatia come calling in September our passports will, hopefully, be well and truly stamped.