Sunday, 30 August 2009

Walsall 0 Gillingham 0

Match 13/09/765 - Saturday, 29th August 2009 - League One

Walsall (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 3,331

Entrance: £20
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 375/2,231

Match Report

Bank Holiday traffic made a two and three-quarter hour journey a frustrating hour longer and this was the precursor to a match that was both tedious and frustrating.

Mark Stimson rested Jack Payne to the bench to accommodate new signing Danny Jackman with Mark McCammon retaining his place as the target man.

The game started in bright sunshine although a brisk breeze took the edge off the temperature and it was the visitors who started the brightest creating an early effort on goal from McCammon that hit the back of the net only to be disallowed seemingly for handball. This was the second time this season that I’ve suffered the embarrassment of still celebrating whilst the opposition were taking the resulting free kick!

Gillingham continued to have the best of the play for the first 20 minutes with further chances being created for McCammon, Barcham and Jackson but the finishing on each occasion left a lot to be desired.

Barry Fuller was having his own personal battle with Steve Jones that was fairly attritional from the outset. Jones has a few tricks and a lot of pace, but our captain was standing his ground and matching him stride for stride. Dennis Oli picked up an early booking for a foul on Jones, before the Walsall winger appeared to shove Fuller into the hoardings behind the goal line whereby the full back was off the field for some time before limping back into the action.

Meanwhile Gillingham were still creating the best of the half chances but McCammon, Oli and Andy Barcham found Walsall custodian Clayton Ince equal to their efforts.

The half hadn’t been the greatest of fare but the visitors had enjoyed the best of the possession and chances and optimism had risen that this particular bogey ground might be laid to rest on this occasion.

The second half started with Mark Stimson being forced into a precautionary substitution. Oli received another ticking off from referee Carl Evans and the manager made the decision to withdraw his player before he suffered a worse fate. Within ten minutes a second substitution was forced upon the visitors as Fuller finally limped away from the action this time following his blocking of a shot from Troy Deeley. The skipper’s armband was passed onto new boy Jackman.

By now the game was dying on its feet with very little action happening anywhere near either goalmouth. With 20 minutes remaining the best action of the second half was played out. Chris Palmer, who had replaced Oli, played in Simeon Jackson who raced to the edge of the penalty area and let fly with a rasping drive that cannoned off Ince’s chest. The ball rebounded straight back to Jackson, whose stooping header was safely gathered by the thankful keeper. This was to be the last meaningful action as the game that had fairly meandered from the first whistle petered out to an eventual close. Five minutes extra time was played at the end of the first half, four in the second, 99 minutes might just have been 199, it was one of those days when a goal was never going to happen.

The Birmingham area is blessed with some iconic stadiums. There is Villa Park, the Hawthorns, Molineux and then there is the Bescot. I’m sure when Walsall left Fellows Park in 1990 the art of building stands with cantilever roofs was available. Unfortunately for visitors to the stadium, that concept completely passed the designer by. Consequently wherever you sit your vision is impeded by supporting pillars. We tried three different viewing positions before settling on our obstructed view, the one saving grace being that we could at least choose which pillar we sat behind. Since I was last at the Bescot they have built a new two-tiered stand behind the goal that houses the majority of the home support. The structure is quite imposing, dwarfing the rest of the stands and pillar free!

The two success stories of the day to report are that Gillingham have arrested the slide in what has to be considered a decent point and they were the better of two poor sides. Secondly, the Bank Holiday traffic had significantly dispersed for a hold up free ride home, we can be grateful for small mercies.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Gillingham 1 Blackburn Rovers 3

Match 12/09/764 - Tuesday, 25th August 2009 - Carling Cup 2nd Round

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 70 (pen)
Blackburn Rovers (1) 3 Dunn 5, Nzonzi 46, Pedersen 74
Att. 7,203

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,856

Match Report

Gillingham bowed out of the Carling Cup and can have few complaints at their exit at the hands of Premiership side Blackburn Rovers.

Following Saturday’s poor performance and defeat against Hartlepool, manager Mark Stimson opted to make four changes for the game. Simon Royce continued in goal after his second half appearance, Garry Richards made way for Mark Bentley to play centre back, into midfield came Kevin Maher and Dennis Oli in preference to Adam Miller and Jack Payne with Mark McCammon partnering Simeon Jackson upfront.

The club also sprang a surprise with the announcement of Danny Jackman, pictured, arrival at Priestfield following his signing from Northampton Town. It has been no secret that Stimson has sought Jackman’s signature for some weeks. He was named on the bench and his late appearnce on the pitch for the warm up suggested that he had just arrived as he spent the time shaking hands with his new team mates and introducing himself.

Gillingham set themselves up in a 4-4-2 formation and within Stimson’s programme notes he wrote: “We must set our stall out to try and stay in the game for as long as possible. That means defending correctly . . .” Unfortunately neither was to happen in the first five minutes. Within two minutes of the start Royce was forced to make a fine one-handed save from a Morten Gamst Pedersen shot before a John Nutter mistake was seized upon by Nikola Kalinic who slid a pass for David Dunn with finish with ease.

The change in personnel and formation also seemed to signal a change in mindset for the home side. Gone was the possession and passing game that had been a highlight of the opening league fixtures. In its place came a more direct style with McCammon the target. Gillingham took time to settle into the game but slowly recovered from the early setback. A couple of efforts on goal from Jackson and Oli failed to test ex-Gillingham favourite Jason Brown, pictured, before a right wing cross from Jackson offered a good heading opportunity for McCammon, who didn’t quite rise high enough and was under the ball as he headed wide. A Fuller free kick was fumbled by Brown but the keeper reacted quickly enough to smother McCammon’s follow up as Gillingham’s confidence grew.

Priestfield’s hopes that the encouraging first half display would lead to the Premiership side coming under pressure were all but extinguished within a minute of the restart. Dunn’s cross into the box was only headed on by Mark Bentley and Steven Nzonzi dived in to head home from close range. The game was now completely in Rovers’ control and they retained huge amounts of possession and created numerous chances to wrap it up including a Jason Roberts header that was tipped onto the bar by Royce with the rebound gratefully gathered by the Gills’ keeper.

Jackman and Payne were brought into the fray with the game meandering towards its close when a clumsy challenge by Zurab Khizanishvili on Jackson resulted in a penalty that was safely despatched by the Gills leading scorer. Suddenly there was hope, and just as quickly it was gone. A corner was unnecessarily conceded and from it Pedersen scored directly with an in swinging cross that completely deceived Royce. As if to prove it was no fluke, Pedersen repeated the trick minutes later but this time the keeper was just about equal to the action with a punch away under severe pressure.

A chance was made for McCammon to shoot wide in the closing minutes epitomising the big striker’s performance. His all round game had been good, he had won more than his share in the air, had linked up well with Jackson, but three reasonable chances had failed to test Jason Brown.

Perhaps it is the difference in stature between the Carling Cup and the FA Cup that the intensity on and off the pitch in January against Aston Villa was missing this time. Blackburn Rovers might be Premiership but they are not box office in the same way as the Villa and a crowd of 7,203 was disappointing with an early goal in each half sucking the atmosphere out of the occasion. The Rainham End did their best to rally the troops but Jackson’s penalty was countered too quickly for any pressure to be exerted from the terraces.

A cup exit but far from disgraced Gillingham return to league action on Saturday with Danny Jackman adding to Stimson’s midfield options and McCammon giving an alternative in the front line. It would be sad if the passing game was jettisoned completely to accommodate the big striker, surely a compromise in style can be found.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Gillingham 0 Hartlepool United 1

Match 11/09/763 - Saturday, 22nd August 2009 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Hartlepool United (0) 1 Brown 65
Att. 4,969

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,811

Match Report

It is a case of stating the bleedin' obvious but Gillingham’s need for a strike partner for Simeon Jackson was apparent for even the untrained eye this afternoon. Only when Mark McCammon came off the bench were the feathers of Gary Liddle and Sam Collins, an excellent central defensive pairing, even remotely ruffled. The big striker managed to cause problems in the air, had one header that he put wide at full stretch and a couple of other efforts that failed to unduly trouble ex-Gillingham loanee keeper Scott Flinders.

Meanwhile at the other end, on 65 minutes, Josh Gowling allowed James Brown time to turn and the Hartlepool striker capitalised with a magnificent shot into the top right hand corner. A vision of Jeff Stelling’s doll dancing on the desk in the Sky Studio to the strains of “I Feel Good” added to the torment.

On a warm day and in front of a disappointing attendance of less than 5,000, Mark Stimson retained the side that has started all three League games despite consecutive defeats on the road. Perhaps it was the heat that contributed to a lacklustre first half in which neither side managed to carve out a decent chance. Andy Barcham managed to create a threat down the left hand side but he saw far too little of the ball. On a couple of occasions in the first half he was given the opportunity to show his pace and each time he made half-chances but there was no one on hand to profit from the endeavour. To add the the general dullness of the play, Hartlepool were lacking in attacking ambition but despite this managed to create the best two chances of the half. Liddle saw a header clear the bar from a corner and just before half time Gillingham survived a major scare when Brown headed over from a free kick.

A half time substitution of goalkeeper was a mighty surprise. It was generally assumed that Alan Julian had incurred some sort of injury but manager Stimson’s post-match interview revealed that he had been tactically withdrawn, seemingly for not distributing the ball quickly enough.

The second half started a lot brighter with the Rainham End in full voice. Flinders saved from Jackson before the Canadian striker produced the best moment of the match from a Gillingham perspective. Running onto a ball over the top, Jackson was the first to the ball as the Hartlepool keeper rushed from his line and his deft lob was goal bound until Collins acrobatically cleared.

Dennis Oli, back from injury, was brought into the action and his direct style of play enlivened proceedings and from one such run he was brought down for a free kick that John Nutter narrowly shot over. Unfortunately this was the precursor to Hartlepools’ goal, where Collins and Liddle had suffocated Gills front line, one moment of space in which to turn was enough for Brown to shoot the north-eastern side into the lead to the delight of their 150-odd fans.

Hartlepool may well have wrapped up the game before McCammon’s introduction sparked a late onslaught, with both Brown and Andy Monkhouse having good chances.

Despite McCammon’s impact from the bench, Gillingham did not carry enough threat up front and with Chris Dickson once again marking time with an idle match day, Stimson must be considering another call to Phil Parkinson with the transfer window entering its last week. This was a desperately disappointing performance from the home side. Despite the away defeats there were encouraging signs that today went missing. The build-up play was ponderous and invariably ended with a misplaced pass to try a get a bit of forward momentum with too many players off the pace. Young Jack Payne, pictured, can be absolved criticism and those that thought, myself included, that he might be due a rest were proved wrong.

In these early stages of the season when league positions count for nothing it is perhaps not that disturbing to see our name on the edge of the relegation line, but the manner of today’s defeat was very disappointing and the slide needs arresting. The visit of Premiership Blackburn in the Carling Cup on Tuesday offers the chance of a confidence building performance without the pressures of league points at stake before the more important visit to Walsall next Saturday.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Colchester United 2 Gillingham 1

Match 10/09/762 - Tuesday, 18th August 2009 - League One

Colchester United (1) 2 Vernon 38, Lisbie 65
Gillingham (1) 1 Weston 11
Att. 4,849

Entrance: £18
Programme: £3
Mileage: 190/1,766
New Ground: 234

Match Report

Gillingham fell to a second successive away defeat after having this game by the throat for 38 minutes. At that point a defensive howler from Josh Gowling allowed Colchester United to level the scores and loosen the visitors grip on the game.

In the new out-of-town Community Stadium (I don’t like sponsored name stadiums, so won’t use the name) a sizeable Gillingham contingent was assembled. The game began brightly and Andy Barcham gave a taste of what was to come when he tested his full back with his pace and left him for dead. In this early period Alan Julian’s hesitancy was tested and a shot at goal needed a goal line clearance.

By the time the first goal arrived on 11 minutes, Barcham (pictured) had his marker on toast and a superb piece of interplay between Nutter and himself ended with Nutter sliding the ball across the face of the goal for Curtis Weston to side foot home with ease. 1-0 and cue Weston ditty!

Gillingham were now bossing the game, the passing as sweet as at Tranmere on Saturday and they were feeding Barcham who was causing all sorts of problems. Two great chances were cut out to increase the lead, Gowling heading over and on 28 minutes a carbon copy move of the opening goal saw Adam Miller blaze over with the goal at his mercy.

The turning point in the game arrived with Gillingham overplaying along the line in front of Gowling which culminated in a hurried pass back to the central defender. Gowling made a complete pigs ear of controlling the ball, was robbed by Lisbie who slid a pass for Scott Vernon to shoot past Julian. We wasn’t to know it at the time, but the game slipped away from the visitors at that moment.

Joe Dunne, ex-Gillingham favourite and the man in the Colchester hot seat with Paul Lambert having departed to Norwich earlier in the day, gave his first half time team talk and the second half saw the distribution to Barcham restricted and when the winger did receive the ball the defensive cover was doubled and Gillingham’s potency diminished.

From a free kick a good chance was made for Gary Richards to head narrowly wide before Colchester took the lead on 65 minutes. Vernon and Lisbie combined to create a chance for the ex-Gillingham striker, who opened his body and shot past Julian with an angled drive.

From a Gillingham respect the game rather petered out in the last 25 minutes. Colchester made a couple more chances and looked far more likely to extend their lead than the visitors clawing back an equaliser. Jakob Erskine was introduced for Mark Bentley to beef up the front line but had only 5 minutes or so to produce something, which was too little, too late.

So another away defeat that has been caused by individual mistakes, IF, that huge word, Miller had scored the second goal when Gillingham were so on top, if Gowling hadn’t made that howler and just booted the ball into Row Z, then I’m convinced the outcome would have been much different, but they are ifs and by the final whistle the home side deserved the points.

The Community Stadium created a good atmosphere from a crowd of less than 5,000. As said it is out of town, surrounded by open fields that are obviously ear marked for further development of the business park. A parking place at one of the business premises leaves a 10-15 minute walk. The stadium itself is obviously a modern structure lacking in character, but let’s face it just about anything would be an improvement on the dump that was Layer Road.

Words like must win on Saturday were muttered as we filed out, I don’t think we are quite at that point three games in, but the slide needs arresting and the individual errors need cutting out. I can visualise a couple of changes for Saturday.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Tranmere Rovers 4 Gillingham 2

Match 09/09/761 - Saturday, 16th August 2009 - League One

Tranmere Rovers (1) 4 Thomas-Moore 5, 90, Welsh 48, Gornell 73
Gillingham (1) 2 Weston 34, Barcham 54
Att. 5,590

Entrance: £17.50
Programme: £3
Mileage: 561/1,576

Match Report

Gillingham were offered a harsh lesson at Prenton Park and one that has to be taken onboard very quickly. With the step up in division comes an equivalent step up in terms of quality of the opposition and if you give strikers in this Division a yard in which to work they will shoot, they will hit the target and they will score. Three times the yard was found and three times Tranmere scored and to emphasise the quality of the strikers on show, Gillingham scored two very good goals of their own.

Make no mistake, Gillingham were unfortunate to lose this game, they dominated the possession, played some attractive football, but little errors undermined the performance. Mark Stimson fielded an unchanged side from last Saturday’s demolition of Swindon. From the very first whistle Gillingham played a passing game that was pleasing to the eye, although there were occasions, perhaps too many, when 10 passes failed to move the ball 10 yards. Tranmere, whilst not route one, were more direct and subsequently more penetrative, their first goal on just five minutes highlighting the point. A right wing cross was met in the centre of the goal by Ian Moore, who headed unchallenged past Alan Julian.

The goal might have rocked Gillingham but there was no change in their game plan. Across the lush turf they passed their way through the home side but just lacked the cutting edge necessary to finish the job. Adam Miller was central to most of the movement and he went close on 25 minutes with a shot just wide of ex-Shrewsbury keeper Luke Daniels’ post. The equaliser that Gillingham deserved finally arrived on 34 minutes. Mark Bentley headed back a cross to Simeon Jackson, who with no shooting opportunity laid the ball back to Curtis Weston (pictured) who struck low into the right hand corner from just outside the box. It was a very good strike, that prompted a little ditty from the travelling support, a bit too rude to repeat here, but a very amusing addition to the celebration.

Half time arrived with the scores levelled and a satisfaction with the way Gillingham had played during the half. Unfortunately, the second half started in the same manner as the first. The visitors fell asleep at a throw in, John Welsh was given time and space 25 yards out and he made the most of it with a crashing volley to restore the home side’s lead. I initially felt Jack Payne had shown a bit of inexperience, but perhaps Weston could also have got much closer.

The lead didn’t last long as Andy Barcham produced a superb piece of finishing. Miller fed the flying winger who cut in from the left, we all saw the top corner begging to be hit and he curled a shot from the edge of the box straight into the space beyond Daniels despairing reach.

The play ebbed from end to end with the two differing styles quite apparent, but both sides carving out chances. Gillingham fell behind again on 72 minutes when once again a striker was given the time to pick his spot and on this occasion substitute Gornell struck from the edge of the box as the visitors failed to clear their lines. Gillingham threw caution to the wind and started to play more directly in a desperate attempt to earn a point, chances were made but Daniels wasn’t really tested. Ian Moore finally put a thrilling game to bed in injury time when Gornell headed on a cross for Moore to nod home from close range.

As the heavens had opened during the last five minutes it was a wet stroll back to the car reflecting on how well we had played and how unjust this game can be at times. It was a pity that basic defensive mistakes undermined a good performance.

Prenton Park is a lop-sided sort of ground. The Kop is a huge structure that dwarfs the rest of the stadium and as such looks a little out of place. The Gillingham contingent was housed in the Cowshed Stand, of which they occupied little more than 10% of the seats available with only a couple of hundred travelling.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Holland 2 England 2

Match 08/09/760 - Wednesday, 12th August 2009 - International

Holland (2) 0 Kuyt 10, Van der Vaart 38
England (0) 2 Defoe 49, 77
Att. 50,000

Entrance: £31
Programme: Free
Mileage: 616/1,015

Match Report

England’s season of destiny began last night in the Amsterdam ArenA in a pre-season friendly against a Holland side rated as third in the world. In a game that far exceeded my expectations, England served up a mixture of lows and highs to come away with a creditable draw.

Wherever they are in the world, the Dutch rarely fail to create an atmosphere of gaudy colour and vibrancy, and this occasion didn’t fail to deliver. England fans contributed greatly and it is nice to be able to report that this was done with good behaviour and a fair amount of positivity.

The proceedings were opened with a minute’s respect for Sir Bobby Robson. I’m sure the Dutch had planned for it to be marked with silence and although the England support decided they would do it their way, with applause and singing, there was nothing disrespectful in its manner. In fact, as the home support caught on to what was happening they too joined in.

The game started with an early half-chance for Emile Heskey before some calamitous defending allowed Dirk Kuyt to opening the scoring for the home side. Rio Ferdinand’s inexplicably under-hit back pass fell short of Rob Green, allowing Kuyt to skip past the keeper before composing himself to shoot into the net despite a despairing attempt on the line by John Terry.

England responded from setback and had a trio of attempts on goal before another sloppy piece of defending allowed Holland a second goal. Gareth Barry dropped a pass backwards but only into the path of Arjen Robben who motored clear. Green made a good save to thwart the ex-Chelsea winger but the rebound fell straight to Rafael van der Vaart who drove home.

England had given just about as good as they got in the first half, but had been undone by two shocking pieces of defending. Indeed, between the two goals, Frank Lampard was also rescued by Green from another poorly directed back pass.

Jermain Defoe replaced Heskey for the second half and within four minutes put England back into the game. Latching onto a pass over the top from Lampard, Defoe raced clear, held off a challenge to score off a post with an excellent, composed finish. The England fans who had not allowed themselves to become dispirited during the first half, no doubt helped by a day’s serious drinking in the city centre, raised the noise level as the opportunity for a result increased.

The ever-willing Wayne Rooney was replaced by Carlton Cole and Ashley Young came off to give James Milner his first senior cap. Cole caught me by surprise with an outstanding 20 minute cameo and also had me out of my seat in premature celebration with a magnificent turn and hit that I thought had found the bottom corner, only to be embarrassed as the goal kick was taken as my attention turned back to the field of play.

When James Milner, who had a more effective period on the pitch than Young, won a challenge midway in the Dutch half and then outstripped his marker to cross for Defoe to slide in and touch home the equaliser, it was no more than England deserved. Chances fell to Defoe and Cole in the final minutes as the visitors finished the game well on top.

England fans filed away at the final whistle, still singing their homage to Sir Bobby, and buoyed by a result that showed that there is depth to Fabio Cappello’s squad. But they would also have been reflecting on those first half errors and some poor defensive performances. Glenn Johnson made one wonder why Liverpool had invested such a huge amount of money in him, likewise Manchester City fans would have looked on in horror at a poor performance from Gareth Barry.

When I first visited the Amsterdam ArenA back in 2002 I was awestruck by the magnificent stadium with its steep banks of seating. Last night I was very, very high in the stand, but even at that lofty perch it was still a great view and the players faces were easily recognised. But in the intervening seven years, the ArenA has been upstaged by new stadiums, not least Wembley, around Europe. It is still a fine venue that creates a wonderful atmosphere, but the Dutch could party and raise the roof in a tent.

Around the city during the day there was no hint of the trouble that follows England around with both sets of supporters getting stuck into the delights that Amsterdam offers. They mingled happily in the bars and I came to the conclusion that the reason they get on so well is that the Dutch are a similar bunch of piss heads to our own!

And some shots of Amsterdam

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Gillingham 5 Swindon Town 0

Match 07/09/759 - Saturday, 8th August 2009 - League One

Gillingham (1) 5 Bentley 12, Jackson 51,85,87, Miller 72
Swindon Town (0) 0
Att. 6,852

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/399

Match Report

Let’s not get carried away, oh sod it, let’s do exactly that! For two and a half hours we sat top of League One until a result from Carrow Road as incomprehensible as our own saw Colchester sweep to the first day summit.

A 12.30 kick off was ordered by the Police in an effort to minimise the potential for trouble between two sets of mindless morons from a bygone day. Sadly the day failed to pass off peacefully with fighting inside and outside the ground.

Thankfully the Swindon element in this sorry tale failed to appear at kick-off time and therefore the minutes’ applause for the late, great Sir Bobby Robson was respectfully observed. When they did appear trouble was not long coming.

Enough of the cavemen.

Mark Stimson surprisingly (at least to me) selected 17-year-old Jack Payne in front of new signing Chris Palmer and opted for Alan Julian as his opening day goalkeeper. The game started brightly and Anthony McNamee, a diminutive winger who has terrorised Gillingham defenders in the past when at Watford, supplied a cross for Jean-Francois to steer a header wide. On 12 minutes the first goal of the League One season arrived and it was Gillingham that chalked it onto the scoreboard. A long cross field pass from John Nutter was taken in his stride by Simeon Jackson, who skipped a defender and slid a pass across goal for Mark Bentley to steer into an empty net.

Swindon recovered well from the setback and had a couple of chances to level the scores. Julian made an excellent save at his near post to foil a Kevin Amankwaah header and McNamee produced another piece of eye-catching footwork and cross for Robbie Paynter to head over.

Five minutes into the second half Gillingham doubled their advantage following another telling pass from Nutter. Jackson timed his run to perfection, coming off the shoulder and outpacing the central defender to rifle past David Lucas.

A hat trick of assists for John Nutter came in the 72nd minute when his free kick was met at the far post by Adam Miller with a header to send the Rainham End into celebratory mode. “We are top of the league, can we play you every week” they taunted the Swindon fans already heading for the exits.

The goal of the match arrived with 5 minutes remaining as Jackson (pictured) doubled his tally with a nutmeg and sweetly curled 20 yarder into the top right hand corner. A finish that Phil Parkinson might like to watch tonight and realise just how absurd his tongue-in-cheek swap offer was.

Another goal would bring a suitable revenge for the 5-0 hammering Gillingham took on their last visit to the County Ground and it came within a couple of minutes. Mark Bentley did the donkey work, Simeon Jackson bundled the ball home to complete a memorable opening day hat trick.

Eight years ago, Gillingham had an opening day 5-0 victory over Preston North End, whose custodian on the day was today’s visiting keeper, David Lucas and it has also been eight years since Iffy Onuora hit the last League hat trick for the Gills.

Simeon Jackson will take the headlines but this was a very good team performance. Jack Payne showed a maturity beyond his years and never looked out of place. Josh Gowling, taking on the unenviable task of replacing Simon King, performed admirably alongside Garry Richards and Mark Bentley fully deserved the ovation given on his substitution. If I have to find a criticism, Alan Julian remains less than confident off his line, causing the two central defenders to sit five yards deeper than they should have too. But with five goals and a clean sheet against one of our fiercest rivals this is no time for negativity. We can, and will, get carried away, “we were top of the league, say we were top of the league.”

Friday, 7 August 2009

Season Preview 2009

Simeon Jackson’s Wembley winner ensured that Gillingham’s stay in the bottom tier was only a year-long loan rather than a permanent deal. They return to League One considerably stronger than when they left both on the field and off (if you are of a mind to take Paul Scally at his word). On the field there is a team spirit that was so lacking in the relegation season and with the majority of high earners and low achievers now off the payroll the financial pressures appear to have eased.

Despite the lack of a marquee signing, a partner for Jackson is desperately sought, we might well have been going into the start of the League season with a degree of confidence had it not been for a nightmare Pre-Season. The catalogue of injuries mounted from losing Stuart Lewis and Adam Miller at Bishops Stortford, Dennis Oli in Calais, Simon King at Bromley and Kevin Maher at Crystal Palace. Sadly, Lewis and King are going to be long-term with the latter not expected to return until the New Year.

Whilst we consider ourselves stronger, we are also returning to a superior League One. Three comparatively massive clubs fell out of the Championship last season and in different times would look favourites for a quick return, but points deduction at Southampton and financial difficulties at Charlton might hinder their ambition, whilst Norwich look to have set their stall out for a quick return with some heavy investment in the transfer market. Of their challengers, surely this must be the year that Leeds emerge from their big black hole, if not this year, then it maybe never and will Milton Keynes continue their upwardly mobile climb under the stewardship of their former manager, Paul Ince. Of the rest, our old foes from Bermondsey will approach the season as over-optimistic as ever and cash rich Brighton, with a new stadium on their horizon would expect to be in the shake up come next May.

Gillingham’s focus will be on safety and a secure mid-table finish would be considered a great success. There are clubs in this Division with similar resources to ourselves and this is the mini league from which we must emerge towards the top if survival is to be attained. Yeovil, Stockport and Walsall look every bit as vulnerable and it would be nice to think that we could finish ahead of at least one of the teams that were promoted with us. The Pre-Season injuries have left the squad looking a bit thin. Simon King’s long-term absence should land Josh Gowling with a contract as long as he performs well in his loan spell. Chris Palmer, Kevin Maher and Rashid Yussuff are midfield additions, but it is upfront where the marquee signing was sought and as the season begins has failed to materialise. As it stands, Simeon Jackson needs a comparable season to last for Gillingham not to have a season looking anxiously over their shoulders, can he step up to the higher grade and continue to score, this is the very big question.

I have to make a prediction to look back on in May. Norwich to win the Division at a canter, Leeds and Charlton (if their takeover goes through and they get some financial stability) to make up the other promotion places. Gillingham will survive, not with a great deal of security, but I’m convinced we will have enough to stay in front of Yeovil, Walsall, Stockport and Hartlepool and hopefully a couple others (Leyton Orient and Carlisle perhaps).

Tonbridge face a different kind of challenge in the coming nine months. Gone are the benefactors that served the club so well over the last few years and manager Tommy Warrilow’s budget is going to be far removed from that of last year. The club has had to lose some of its higher earners during the summer and accepted a fee from Brentford for Leon Legge. But the nucleus of last season’s play-off finalists is still intact and with no obvious outright favourite such as Dover were last year, it might just be that with the level of expectancy lowered, they go one step further this term. Of the local challengers, of which news is easiest to obtain, Dartford appear to have spent well and will be reasonably well resourced with their comparatively large support.

Finally, this season will end with a World Cup and Fabio Capello has almost attained a place at the biggest show of them all. England have improved a great deal under the Italian, but the improvement needs to be maintained if they are to make any significant impression on the tournament. At present, no more than a quarter final spot can be imagined, can Capello weave just a little extra magic or will it all end in tears as it always does in July?

Personally, more new grounds have been visited pre-season than I'm expecting to do in regular season but Milton Keynes and Colchester with their new stadiums will add a couple and perhaps, fingers and toes crossed for financial viability, South Africa and the World Cup next June.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Thurrock 0 Gillingham 1

Match 06/09/758 - Saturday, 1st August 2009 - Pre-Season Friendly

Thurrock (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 1 Udoji 54
Att. 125-ish

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 63/354
New Ground: 233

Match Report

A low-key end to Pre-Season personally in what, in all honesty, was no more than a ground ticking exercise.

That be said, throughout the course of a season I get little opportunity to see the youth team apart from the players that break through into the reserve side and it is good to see what calibre of talent is in the pipeline. Today’s mixture of youngsters and triallists featured Tom Wynter, Jack Payne and Luis Cumbers, all of whom have featured in first team action this Pre-Season.

The triallists were a imposing French central defender, Alsseny Cissoko, a nippy winger in Theo Swaine and a big lad leading the line, Cherno Samba.

Thurrock rattled the woodwork early on and Cumbers and Josh Sargeant forced saves from the home keeper in a dull first half.

As is the norm, changes aplenty were made in the second half and a couple of these brought performances that caught the eye. Into the back line came Emmanuel Odoji (pictured), a scholar from the Glenn Hoddle Academy and Nathan Ashton. Odoji, who physically looked a good athlete, rose to head home a Sargeant corner for a 54th minute winner and Ashton showed some nice touches and good pace from his left back position.

Thurrock’s Ship Lane ground, situated at the mouth of the Dartford Tunnel, offers cover on all four sides, with one main grandstand that has a bit of character about it. Its proximity to the M25 lends a constant traffic drone as a backdrop to proceedings although the motorway is not visible from the ground, but the ground is visible from the motorway if that makes sense!

Pre-Season 2009 comes to an end and thoughts are now cast forward to Season 2009-10, lunchtime Saturday cannot come soon enough!