Saturday, 31 October 2009

Southend United 1 Gillingham 0

Match 27/09/779 - Friday, 30th October 2009 - League One

Southend United (0) 1 Barnard 90+2
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 7,830

Entrance: £20
Programme: Too Late
Mileage: 137/3,645

Match Report

It was just a humble Pukka Pie, as much a part of match day as the ball itself for football fans, but last night it was just about the only thing that was alright on the night.

We departed Tunbridge Wells at 4.30 p.m., judging the time to leave by virtue of the club’s coach departure time and the sat nav which informed us that we would be reaching our destination at 5.40 p.m., plenty of time to park up, fish and chips and take our places in the charismatic (sarcasm) away end at Roots Hall.

The first hint that there might be trouble ahead was on the way to Tunbridge Wells from my house when the pretend, she was so hopelessly wrong, she could not have been a real traffic presenter on Radio Kent. There was to be a half-hour delay at the Dartford Tunnel, if so, this would be just a minor irritation arriving at just after six.

As soon as we hit the back of the queue my brother confidently, and correctly, remarked that this was going to be a delay for much longer than 30 minutes. We sat, we inched forward, we stopped again, 15 minutes passed by and the wheels didn’t turn a circumference. Eventually, as we paid our £1.50 for the privilege, nearly two hours had passed to travel four miles and the chances of making it for kick-off time had all but disappeared, and to add insult to injury I was absolutely desperate for a pee!

The problem with a jam at the Tunnel is that there is nowhere to go, you can’t even give up and go home as the traffic was backed up over the bridge for as far as the eyes could see. The other side of the tunnel was barely moving, but 20 m.p.h. is better than stationary. Eventually a hard shoulder on the A13 offered relief to one problem and we desperately tried to make up the time for kick off.

We actually drove past the ground with about five minutes to spare, but when you arrive so late car parking spaces are at a premium and 15 minutes were then wasted finding somewhere to spend £5 for a place, a good 10 minutes walk away.

So it was after 8 o’clock when we sat down in our seats, three and a half hours to travel a mere 53 miles. Once, admittedly after super traffic free run, we got back from Old Trafford after an England game in 3 hours 50 minutes that was 250 miles.

What happened in the first 15 minutes, you will need to read the official report, evidently both goalkeepers made saves but the game was still goalless as we tried to settle into the match.

No sooner had we sat down, we were on our feet cheering Gillingham’s first goal as a John Nutter free kick nestled in the bottom corner. Inevitably on a night destined for ill fortune the referee saw fit to disallow it, we read later for an Andy Barcham push or shirt pull in the wall. The referee went on to make a complete arse of himself with some bizarre bookings for both sides leading up to the break. Simon Royce and Nutter managed to scramble the ball to safety in the only clear opportunity of our half hour first half.

As the second half unfolded it was blatantly obvious that the winner would be only the better of two pretty poor sides. An oddball decision on the hour gave Gillingham an opportunity to open the scoring. An indirect free kick was awarded, was it for a back pass, obstruction, I don’t know, only seven yards from goal. The ball was tapped for Mark Bentley to blast over the bar; it did seem from that distance the most unlikely result.

More and more bookings followed as the referee decided that the stage was his and as the game entered injury time we at least thought that our traumatic night was going to end with only the second point of our travels. How cruel this game can be. A long ball into the box was headed back into the centre where Lee Barnard had a virtual open goal to smash his shot into. Q exit.

So where does the pie come into this? There was a queue (where wasn’t there last night) for the food. The burgers had run out and the pies were disappearing from the hot cabinet. As I reached the counter, there were just two remaining, one went and I had the other, the last one. It was so hot, it took the roof of my mouth away, it was one of those nights.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Gillingham 1 Charlton Athletic 1

Match 26/09/778 - Saturday, 24th October 2009 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 83
Charlton Athletic (0) 1 Nutter (o.g.) 79
Att. 10,304

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,508

Match Report

Perhaps I was unduly pessimistic, perhaps I imagined Charlton to be a whole lot better than they actually are, whatever the reason I expected Gillingham to get a bit of a pasting today. But come the final whistle, if Phil Parkinson has an honest bone in his body, he will be thankful to have escaped Priestfield with a point.

The Sold Out signs were posted and the atmosphere bristled with the local rivalry. Whether it was the buses or Dickson, Scally or FA Cup revenge this rivalry has been propagated over the last couple of years. Although they are relative neighbours there has never really been that much animosity between the clubs, players such as Dick Tydeman, Dave Shipperley and, dare I say, Derek Hales have switched between the two with no recriminations, but now there is a real feeling of dislike, especially from the Gillingham support, who feel that they are considered second class country bumpkins by their South London counterparts. Personally I cannot classify Charlton in the same category as the likes of Swindon, Millwall or even Maidstone in the “hate” table.

Dennis Oli was restored to the starting line-up in the absence of Scott Vernon whose loan spell from Colchester was ended by injury at Milton Keynes.

Both sides had shouts for a penalty in the opening minutes which were waved aside by referee Jon Lewis, who looked to keep the game in motion. The first real opportunity of the game fell to Izale McLeod who shot high and very, very wide when free on the right hand side of the box after 25 minutes. Gillingham themselves went close from a John Nutter free kick that was well saved by Charlton keeper, Rob Elliott and a Oli overhead kick from a Nutter corner that grazed a post. All square at half time and a fair reflection of the play.

The opening 20 minutes of the second half saw the game continue to be evenly contested with a couple of half chances for each side being dealt with by the respective keepers. But, as the game entered its final quarter, it was the home side that started to assert themselves and Nutter was denied by a very good save from Elliott.

The three good chances that Gillingham had fashioned had all had a significant contribution from John Nutter, but on 79 minutes his game took a bizarre twist. A seemingly harmless situation, the ball rolled towards the full back whose shank of a clearance somehow found the bottom corner of the net. It will undoubtedly feature in a Christmas bloopers DVD, John Nutter didn’t deserve his fate and Gillingham certainly didn’t.

The despair turned to joy in double quick time. Simeon Jackson, who had been successfully shackled all afternoon by an uncompromising central defence, latched onto a Mark Bentley flick on to despatch with the unerring confidence of a striker who has 11 goals already to his name this season.

Justice had been served, overall Gillingham finished the stronger, but a draw was probably a fair result. It had been a good derby, there were only minor skirmishes of trouble when Charlton supporters made themselves known in the home areas of the stadium. But with their allocation sold out and many of them living in Kent, it was inevitable that this would be the result.

Gillingham can take several positives from the game, a fine man-of-the-match performance from Mark Bentley, good defensive performances across the back line with Barry Fuller the stand-out and, of course, there is Simeon Jackson, one chance and he’s on the score sheet again. Phil Parkinson must be thinking tonight, if only a word in jest could materialise into fact. Fact is Parky, he can do a lot better than Charlton.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

MK Dons 2 Gillingham 0

Match 25/09/777 - Saturday, 17th October 2009 - League One

MK Dons (0) 2 Easter 61, Wilbraham 90
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 11,754

Entrance: £10
Programme: £3
Mileage: 225/3,463
New Ground: 235

Match Report

As Gillingham’s away day misery continued at the impressive stadium:MK, their two new loan signings experienced vastly different debuts. While West Ham’s young defender Matt Fry enjoyed a very good start to his loan period, Colchester’s striker Scott Vernon limped painfully away from the game after 44 minutes and later left the stadium on crutches.

Milton Keynes Dons had made today a family day with tickets available for just £10 for adults. Outside of the stadium all manner of events were happening to encourage Mum, Dad and the kids to be a part of the youngest, and arguably most controversial, club in the Football League.

Whatever your opinion might be with regards to the franchising of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, Pete Winkleman has taken this club a very long way in a very short time. The stadium might be unfinished but it is potentially a very fine arena. The second tier needs the seating installed for it to be complete, but they have are huge, padded seats and ample leg room. There are high-tech bar reading entries to wide concourses where rather expensive food and drink are served. The view is, of course, unobstructed and the rake of the seating is excellent. One criticism would be the reasoning behind positioning the away support into a corner of stadium and leaving the area directly behind the goal completely unused, a diagonal view across the length of the pitch is not the best.

Conspicuous by their complete absence were Adam Miller and Garry Richards, scapegoats for the midweek defeat at Brighton.

Gillingham started the stronger and forced MK keeper Willy Gueret into a couple of saves in the first ten minutes. He failed to hold a Curtis Weston shot, but smothered the rebound and then dealt more comfortably with an Andy Barcham effort.

After 18 minutes Matt Fry (pictured) became a firm favourite with the travelling support with an immaculate challenge on Jermaine Easter. The striker had been sent clear when he looked a mile offside but as he was set to pull the trigger, Fry had made up the ground and made an impeccable tackle from behind to clear the danger. It was the highlight of a very good debut for the 19 year old.

Gillingham enjoyed their fair share of the possession and territorial advantage but lacked a cutting edge that was diminished further by the departure of Vernon. Simeon Jackson got very little service and created nothing of note for himself, failing to muster an effort on goal all afternoon.

The Milton Keynes faithful might be a little too comfortable in their seats as the noise levels of their support was a good deal quieter than they received at the Hockey Stadium. But they finally found their voice on the hour when Jason Puncheon benefited from a lucky rebound off Gills’ skipper Barry Fuller leaving him in the clear to cross to Easter who scored from close range.

The Dons now held the upper hand and Simon Royce was called on to make several good saves to keep the game at just the one goal. He was finally beaten for a second time when Aaron Wilbraham struck with an angled drive from the right hand side of the box.

This wasn’t one of Gillingham’s lay down and die away performances of late but it was rather toothless upfront. Who knows what the difference might have been had Scott Vernon lasted the course because the visitors lacked any real threat once he had departed. Let us hope that his Gillingham career is not restricted to just 44 minutes.

England 3 Belarus 0

Match 24/09/776 - Wednesday, 14th October 2009 - World Cup Qualifier

England (1) 3 Crouch 4,76 Wright-Phillips 59
Belarus (0) 0
Att. 76,897

Entrance: £43
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/3,238

Match Report

Plan B didn’t quite work, Plan C fared a little better as England finished their World Cup Qualifying campaign with a 9 out of 10 record.

Shorn of the talents of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, this was the opportunity for several of the fringe players to stake a claim to be on the plane to South Africa next June.

It all started promisingly with a fourth minute goal fashioned by a superb Gareth Barry through ball to Gabby Agbonlahor who cut a pass back from the byeline for Peter Crouch to scramble the ball home. Unfortunately the first half went downhill from that point. The low boredom threshold of Wembley surfaced as early as 25 minutes when the first half-hearted Mexican wave took place before taking a grip on the stadium a few minutes later. Whilst the act is tedious in the extreme it is difficult to criticise on the strength of the lack of entertainment being placed in front of the paying public.

The Belarusians were a neat and tidy side but carried little threat, Foster making just one comfortable save before the break. The half time verdict on Fabio Capello’s Plan B was one of disappointment.

On the hour, B was sacrificed for Plan C and the introduction of Wembley’s demi-god David Beckham, as always greeted with a rapturous reception. Aaron Lennon was forced to make way for the bearded one and in the blink of an eye the game was made safe. Beckham played a short corner to Shaun Wright-Phillips whose drive beat the despairing dive of Zhevnov rather too easily. James Milner and Beckham both hit posts before a Carlton Cole shot was parried by the keeper only for Crouch to snaffle his second of the evening.

Bizarrely Beckham was given Man of the Match for his 30 minute cameo and if England’s dressing room is anything like the one I was a part of in park football, then I can only imagine the piss-taking he took for the honour.

So how did the pretenders shape up in the quest for a plane ticket.

Ben Foster: One minor excursion into no-man’s land that caused a ripple of anguish, but was otherwise assured and made one very good save from Omelyanchuk. Whether he will acquire the game time with Manchester United following Edwin van der Saar’s return could be the defining factor for his inclusion.

Wayne Bridge: Didn’t do a lot wrong and will almost certainly go as Ashley Cole’s back-up.

Aaron Lennon: Didn’t impress greatly on the night and his chances would have been damaged slightly by Beckham’s successful cameo. But still towards the front of the queue as far as the flyers are concerned.

Shaun Wright-Phillips: Despite his goal, his chances lessened with a rather ordinary performance.

Peter Crouch: His hold-up play is not as good as Heskey, but his goal ratio just cannot be ignored. It could come down to who plays the most for their clubs as neither is an assured starter in the Premiership.

Gabriel Agbonlahor: Had a reasonable game, but probably not enough to break into the small group of strikers.

David Beckham: He was always going to go, wasn’t he? But he must get the loan spell at AC Milan or the Premiership.

Carlton Cole: On the very fringe, best hope is an injury to somebody else.

James Milner: I can see him making the squad, do we read anything into him finishing the game as left back?

Four friendlies from now we will have all the answers. Will anybody from the treatment table, Joe Cole, Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing or even Owen Hargreaves regain their fitness and impress Fabio enough for inclusion. My money is on Joe Cole.

Dartford 2 Tonbridge 0

Match 23/09/775 - Tuesday, 13th October 2009 - Ryman Premier

Dartford (0) 2 Tait 57, Harris 85
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 1,228

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 58/3,138

Match Report

Three very reasonable headed opportunities came Tonbridge’s way in quick succession with 15 minutes remaining at Dartford’s Princes Park. None of them so much as tested the keeper and when Danny Harris struck a superb drive into the top right with five minutes remaining, the reasons why Dartford are eleven points clear at the top and 16 points in front of the Angels was clear for all to see.

Tonbridge put in a very acceptable performance but failed to turn their share of the possession into clear cut chances.

I overheard a Dartford supporter telling a friend that Tonbridge keeper, Lee Worgan had been the best he had seen at Princes last season. Three good saves early in the match saw the gentleman nodding knowingly at his mate.

After 20 minutes Worgan was beaten as he was beaten to a cross by Lee Burns, but the linesman had spotted a Maradona-type handball. Dartford fans were bemused by the disallowed goal, I was rather more confused as to the referee’s decision not to book Burns, if it was deliberate handball then a yellow would be a minimum punishment.

The league leaders finally opening the scoring 10 minutes into the second half. After Worgan had beaten away a couple of efforts the ball landed at the feet of Allan Tait who gratefully accepted the opportunity.

Harris came off the bench to sweetly strike the clinching goal and leave Tony Burman’s side looking like a similar runaway winner of this Division to Dover of last season.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Gillingham 3 Wycombe Wanderers 2

Match 22/09/774 - Saturday, 10th October 2009 - League One

Gillingham (2) 3 Gowling 16, Weston 44, Jackson 77
Wycombe Wanderers (1) 2 Woodman 27, Bentley (o.g.) 62
Att. 5,316

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,080

Match Report

Wonderful though holidays are, and we have just returned from an excellent trip to Egypt, most football people hate to be away from their clubs on match day. So, last Saturday, my head and heart were back in Southampton as we cruised down the Nile. It can only be coincidence (surely) that the only hint I had of an Egyptian Tummy came after I received a text informing me of the mauling that Gillingham had suffered at St. Mary’s.

Consequently I was more than ready for today’s game against a Wycombe Wanderers side whose poor form had signalled the end of Peter Taylor’s tenure, denying him of a return to Priestfield and the warm welcome he always receives. But, as somebody famous once said, “It’s a funny old game” and in the midst of a really poor first half we had two well-worked Gillingham goals and a superb strike from Wycombe’s full back Craig Woodman that was completely out of character with the pattern of the game.

On a warm autumn day both sides started slowly with a couple of speculative shots failing to raise some much as an “ooh” from a slumbering attendance. Priestfield was as quiet as some of the tombs I had visited a week earlier before an Andy Barcham cross was nodded on by the returning Simeon Jackson for Josh Gowling to head in from close range. It was just the boost that the home side needed as they strived to bring a four game winless run to an end. But the Buckinghamshire visitors, who had hardly threatened, scored a stunning equaliser in the 27th minute. There seemed little danger when a pass was laid back to Woodman, who thundered a shot into the top right hand corner from 20 yards with Simon Royce clutching at thin air.

The game deteriorated further following the goal, neither side having any control, misplaced passes, over-fussy refereeing, in fact it was a real mess. As it meandered its way to the half-time whistle the home side fashioned another goal straight from the training ground. Jack Payne’s long throw was flicked on by Jackson and Curtis Weston stooped to head home from close range.

I certainly had the feeling during the half-time break that another goal for the home side could end with perhaps five or six, but should the next goal go the other way then it was a game that could easily be lost, such was the paucity of defending from both sides. On the hour, it was the visitors that levelled the scores once more. After Woodman’s free kick was cleared the ball was returned to the danger area where ex-Gill Leon Johnson was allowed far too much space to touch the ball goalwards before Mark Bentley lashed his attempted clearance into his own net. Were my half-time fears about to be realized? No, because, as Mark Stimson keeps telling us, we are so lucky to have the little man up front. Latching on to a Gowling clearance, Simeon Jackson produce a sublime chip from the edge of the penalty area as the Chairboys keeper Scott Shearer rushed out to close down the diminutive striker. It was a quality strike that will further enhance his reputation and undoubtedly increase the interest from clubs further up the food chain than our own.

The home side closed the game out with a couple of heart-stopping moments, no more so than a well hit free kick that was spectacularly clutched by Simon Royce. One for the cameras perhaps, but it will have made for a great photo and, of course, it retained the points.

Mark Stimson has made a lot of Simon King’s absence during the week and once again the weakness in the centre of the defence was highlighted. Bentley is not a natural centre half and Josh Gowling needs somebody of strength alongside him. Whilst I’m not a great admirer of Garry Richards, I think it’s time for him to come off the bench and add a bit of old-fashioned central defending to the back line. When in danger, hoof it out, is Richards’ game and whilst it is not pretty I’m sure Gowling will benefit from a physically stronger player alongside him.

Gillingham return to middle of the table security, but with two away games before the Valley Express buses make their shortest journey of the season, I suspect that it might be a short-lived respite. Mind you, I was wrong at half-time, so who am I to make wild predictions!