Friday, 31 December 2010

Gillingham 3 Port Vale 0

Match 38/10/856 - Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 3 McDonald 1, 37 Akinfenwa 60
Port Vale (0) 0
Att. 5,364

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,985

Match Report

Although I’ve been penning this blog for the past four years it is only recently that I found the stats page that reveals that browsers in several countries have stumbled across this page whether by accident or design. It would be nice to think that the viewers in footballing hotbeds such as Brazil (34 page views), Holland (91 page views) and Germany (173 page views) have found their way in search of football content rather than accidently finding the page whilst looking for an old David Essex film of the same name.

My reason for beginning this review of Gillingham’s Christmas fixture against Port Vale with such details are that far-flung countries of the world may not have realised that a mere four inches of snow in the United Kingdom can bring the country to a standstill and decimate the sporting calendar in the meantime. So to those of you in the United States (an impressive 285 views) that have two feet of the white stuff and still function, this is why there have been no postings since Macclesfield on 11th December. Two home postponements and an away fixture at Aldershot scheduled for Boxing Day fell to the weather as have all Tonbridge’s fixtures in the same period.

So it was with much relief that the freezing temperatures started to relent on Boxing Day and come the 28th December had reached the balmy heights of 4degC. The frost covers at Priestfield Stadium had protected the ground and no inspection was needed for the game to go ahead as scheduled. After a successful three game winning sequence on the road, it was hoped that the lack of action would not curtail the momentum that had been achieved.

There was to be no sign of rustiness as Cody McDonald needed only 40 seconds to fire Gillingham into the lead from just inside the box. Port Vale, who came to Priestfield with an impressive defensive record having only conceded 10 goals in 19 League games, were looking to regain the top spot from the frozen out league leaders, Chesterfield but showed, or were not allowed to show any of the form that took them to the higher reaches of the Division.

The dangerous Marc and Justin Richards partnership were being well marshalled by the ever-improving Josh Gowling, who before his loan move to Lincoln led to my own derision of being one of the worst defenders to pull on a Gillingham shirt, and the ever-reliable Matt Lawrence.

Leading the line was the imposing figure of Adebayo Akinfenwa and the Port Vale back line really had no idea on how to contain him and it came as no surprise that he was involved in the 37th minute goal for McDonald to put the home side two in front. His control and pass to a surging Barry Fuller allowed the Gills skipper to send a pass across the face of the goal to be met by McDonald who scored from close range.

The start of the second half saw the same three characters involved once more which culminated in McDonald hitting a post and Akinfenwa putting the rebound just wide.

Andy Barcham made a welcome return to the line-up as a 54th minute substitute for debut-making Joe Martin who suffered a head wound that required six stitches.

On the hour Akinfenwa got the goal that his performance richly deserved. A long throw from Curtis Weston was met by Lawrence whose shot was parried into the path of the big striker who powered home from the edge of the six yard box to make the game safe for the Gills.

In the closing half-hour Barcham had some encouraging moments that gave hope that the loss of Whelpdale will be counter-acted by the return of the player of the year.

So we go into 2011 with renewed hope that Gillingham will push on into the play-off positions and might still threaten the top three places. To all my readers in far-flung corners of the globe, keep bringing the page to your screens and have a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Macclesfield Town 2 Gillingham 4

Match 37/10/855 - Saturday, 11 December 2010 - League Two

Macclesfield Town (1) 2 Bencheriff 7, Bennett 71
Gillingham (4) 4 Whelpdale 8 Gowling 12 McDonald 19 Akinfenwa 33
Att. 1,507

Entrance: £18
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 504/5,940

Match Report

Gillingham fans for so long endured nothing but heartache on the road, but at Moss Rose, Macclesfield on Saturday when Adebayo Akinfenwa tapped home a fourth goal in less than 25 minutes, those with good memories were able to use a chant long since forgotten, Easy, Easy. Gillingham are now on a run of the more acceptable variety and with it a march up the League table to a position where another win would put the Kent club within touching distance of the play-off places.

In a crazy first half, in which as many gilt-edged chances were missed as the five goals scored, both defences looked suspect from the outset. Gillingham went behind to an early goal from a free kick by Hamza Bencheriff. Kevin Maher had needlessly given away the free kick from which the Algerian scored with a wicked deflection that wrong-footed Alan Julian. Unfortunately the vocal muppets among the travelling support failed to spot the deflection and decided to abuse the Gillingham goalkeeper without reason.

They need not have wasted their breath as the visitors replied within a minute. Charlie Lee’s long throw unforgivably found its way to the left hand side of the box from where his fellow Posh loanee Chris Whelpdale drove the ball into the ground and high into the net with the home keeper Jose Veiga helpless.

Three minutes later Whelpdale produced a sublime piece of skill to turn, leave a couple of defenders in his wake, and cross to the far corner of the box where the unlikely figure of Josh Gowling volleyed home.

Whelpdale was instrumental again in Gillingham’s third goal on 19 minutes. His initial cross found Danny Spiller on the right who picked out Cody McDonald with an inch perfect cross that the striker converted with a close range header. Twenty minutes gone, four goals, two dodgy defences brought visions of Accrington Stanley to mind, but the hope that if seven goals were to be scored this time around it would be by the visitors.

When Gowling shot narrowly wide after 25 minutes, with the Silkmen’s defence once again AWOL, the thought of a high scoring victory strengthened. But two golden chances for the home side also embedded the fear that no amount of goals was actually going to make this game safe for the Gills.

After 33 minutes, some absolutely rubbish defending allowed Akinfenwa to tap home from a yard after his initial header had been parried by the goalkeeper. Safe, none of it, as Macclesfield spurned a couple more chances before the half-time whistle.

The second half was more of a pedestrian nature mainly due to both sets of strikers losing their eye for goal rather than either defence appreciably improving.

Chris Whelpdale was removed from the action on 56 minutes and when, late in the game, Charlie Lee joined his team mate on the bench, the Gillingham faithful had shown their full appreciation for the Posh boys’ contribution in turning Gillingham’s away fortune on its head. Thank-you for your help lads, you are welcome back anytime.

Chances fell to Akinfenwa and McDonald to put the game beyond the reach of the home side before Tyrone Bennett pulled a goal back with 20 minutes remaining, re-opening the fears that Gillingham’s away resurgence might implode as the home side finished strongly. Julian was forced to claw away a last minute effort from Bennett before referee Keith Hill brought the curtain down on Gillingham’s third successive away win.

Moss Rose is still rather non-league in its make-up, but is quite appealing in the process. The Main Stand that straddles the half-way line is small but perfectly formed and has a classic style not imitated anywhere else in the country. We were housed opposite in the functional Alfred McAlpine Stand that is the usual flat pack design that has none of the endearing features of the Main Stand. The open terrace behind the goal that in the past allowed the visitors standing positions is now only used for large support, so despite around 250 making the trip this was not enough to warrant its use.

A kindly lady pointed us in the direction of a Fish and Chip shop that took us past a genuine Coronation Street, with an old-fashioned road sign identical to that celebrated this week in the opening titles for the past 50 years. Funny, a fortnight ago, it seemed a similar length of time since we last won away.

Everybody appears to be very accommodating at Macclesfield, and that includes their defenders.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tonbridge 1 Kingstonian 1

Match 36/10/854 - Saturday, 27 November 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 May 65
Kingstonian (1) 1 Gray 38
Att. 2,519

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/5,436

Another highly entertaining afternoon with the Angels. Freezing cold, it would have been so much easier to sit in front of the box with the fire going and watch Andy Murray’s titanic struggle with Rafael Nadal or England’s Rugby international against the Springboks. As always I chose the football and, as has been the case recently, was well rewarded with a competitive match.

Kingstonian, third in the table, played their part but it was Tonbridge that made most of the running throughout the game. In the first half chances were few and far between with the home side threatening but not really testing the Kings’ keeper, Rob Tolfrey. So it was something of a surprise when the visitors took the lead on 38 minutes. Whilst I was collecting the teas to counter the cold, Jay May was penalised for high feet, an offence that wasn’t agreed with by those I was getting tea for. Back in time to watch the Kings’ Matt Gray curl the free kick around the wall and into the net off the underside of the bar. Buoyed by their success, Kingstonian applied their first period of pressure until the half-time whistle, which I’ve no doubt Tommy Warrilow was pleased to hear.

The home side began the second half with renewed purpose and once again dominated proceedings but there was always the nagging doubt that on the counter-attack Kingstonian could grab a second goal. Lee Worgan was forced into a couple of saves before Tonbridge gained a deserved equaliser in the 65th minute. Kingstonian spurned two chances to clear the danger, the second of which fell invitingly to Jay May who rifled a shot into the centre of the goal from 15 yards.

Tonbridge pressed hard for a winner and they thought they had it in time added on when a header from Scott Kinch found the net but was ruled out for offside.

Barnet 1 Gillingham 2

Match 35/10/853 - Tuesday, 23 November 2010 - League One

Barnet (1) 1 Gallen 31
Gillingham (0) 2 Whelpdale 59, Lee 65
Att. 2,519

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3
Mileage: 130/5,410

Match Report

Like most things in life certain tasks can be difficult in the first instance but once you’ve had a couple of attempts they become child’s play. So it is with Gillingham, winning away is now too damn easy! It was the London Bus analogy, nothing for 18 months and two wins in four days, this time victory over old boss Mark Stimson’s Barnet, in front of an away following that amounted to 1,206 in a crowd of just 2,519.

Stimson, magnanimous in defeat, called the support a fantastic fanbase and remarked that he was surprised at the lack of abuse that he took; he obviously suffers from selective hearing as some of it was pretty tasteless from where I was standing.

Another long-standing record came to an end as Gillingham came from behind to win an away match for the first time since January 2009 when they triumphed 3-1 at Port Vale after being a goal down at the break. On this occasion they ended the first half a goal down, but two quality strikes from on-loan Posh pair Chris Whelpdale and Charlie Lee turned the game on its head.

If the mass following where speaking the same language as myself they were eulogising over the difference these two have made to Gillingham in the last fortnight. Whelpdale looked the part in the defeat against Crewe but Lee, forced into a central defensive position following the sending-off of Callum Davies, didn’t make an immediate impression. But the two games following and in his rightful position, what a good player he looks and his goal, that turned out to be the winner, was quite sublime.

In an even first half that saw chances for both sides, it was a goal from the veteran Kevin Gallen that earned the Bees a half time lead. On the half-hour Kevin Maher was robbed in midfield by a robust challenge from Gallen that left the midfielder claiming a foul, the striker strode on and his pass found Mark Marshall. The winger’s shot was parried by Alan Julian but the rebound was bundled home by Gallen who had continued his run. With both goalkeeper and scorer on the floor the ball seemed to strike knees, arms and shoulders of both or either player before trickling over the goal line.

It was such a scruffy goal in stark contrast to a beautiful flowing move ten minutes earlier from the visitors that involved Lee, Whelpdale and Akinfenwa and culminated with Lee shooting into the side netting. As the net rippled all the Gillingham support along the length of the pitch celebrated the goal that never was, which was a shame because it would have been a classic.

Gillingham scored twice in five minutes around the hour mark slightly against the run of play. Marshall and former Gillingham triallist Jordan Parkes brought a good saves out of Julian before Akinfenwa, leading the line exceptionally well, laid off a pass to Whelpdale who smashed home a shot from the edge of the box. This time it was the Gillingham following behind the goal that were optically deceived as they were slow to react as the ball came back out of the net as quickly as it went in.

Within five minutes Gillingham were in front. Charlie Lee ran at the Barnet defence from inside his own half, as they backed off his low shot from the edge of the box found the bottom corner. This time nobody was fooled and the celebrations began.

Barnet pressed for an equaliser but it was Gillingham that came closest in the later stages. Cody McDonald, who had no luck on the night, forcing a decent save out of Jake Cole.

Two in a row, victory over Stimmo, but it was the size of the Gillingham support that turned this visit to Underhill into a virtual home match that will be the abiding memory.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Oxford United 0 Gillingham 1

Match 34/10/852 - Saturday, 20 November 2010 - League One

Oxford United (0) 0
Gillingham (1) 1 McDonald 40
Att. 7,144

Entrance: £18.50
Programme: £3
Mileage: 220/5,280

Match Report

There was a Scally on the pitch, he thought the run was over, it is now.

For any neutral at the Kassam Stadium this was just another game. Not particularly high on quality, even allowing for its Fourth Division status, a game won by virtue of dreadful defending rather than a spectacular goal, but for the 768 Gillingham fans present the significance of the occasion will rank up there with the Halifax game in 1993 and the Wembley appearances. The sore that was the lack of an away win since victory at Rochdale on 2nd May 2009, a run that had lasted 34 games, was being picked over by all and sundry and was in danger of becoming a lasting scar.

The agony that was the four minutes of time added, that somehow stretched its way to six, was replaced by raw emotion from players and supporters alike as the referee finally brought to an end not only this fixture against Oxford United but 18 months of frustration.

Out of the debris of Dover came three loan players and the first shoots of recovery in last week’s defeat by Crewe and as I looked down on the celebrating players, I noticed Charlie Lee clapping his appreciation to the fans but appearing to wonder what all the fuss was about.

I got a sense that something special was about to happen with the announcement that Simon King was on the bench. King has been missing for almost the entire length of this away drought and his appearance was enough to convince me that both runs would end together. King caused a bit of worry when he returned to the bench during the warm up and removed boot and sock, but it seemed it was nothing more than to adjust the strapping around his ankle.

But, of course, Gillingham cannot do anything the easy way. In a half as one-sided as the international in the week, the visitors should have reached the half time whistle out of sight as chances came and went with reckless abandon and it took a woefully short back pass to the goalkeeper from Jake Wright that was seized upon by Cody McDonald, who rounded the keeper and slotted into an empty net. Dare Gills fans start to dream, as this was the first half time lead on away soil since Charlton in March?

Gillingham opened with McDonald exposing the home side’s central defensive lack of pace and Wright cynically brought him down to earn a yellow card. Shades of last week’s sending off of Callum Davies, the inconsistency is shouting itself loud and clear. Five minutes later, McDonald was once again sent clear but his touch let him down and Ryan Clarke was able to smother the ball.

A series of half-chances fell to the Gills as they dominated the game in an impressive fashion with only the decisive finish lacking before McDonald’s opener. Such was their superiority that Alan Julian was only once called into action in the first half.

Oxford emerged for the second half and a flea in the ear had the desired effect as they controlled the second half adding to the Gills fans’ nerves. Julian was forced to tip over a Simon Clist free kick early on and was further tested by Alfie Potter and Steve McLean. Doubts were now beginning to creep in as our favourites were failing to have any significant retention of the ball. My thoughts centred on Gillingham literally not knowing how to win away from home, they needed to keep the ball but continually gave it back to their hosts.

The away support were calling for the full-time whistle a clear five minutes before its due time and the signal for four extra minutes were greeted with a groan of dismay. Spiller ran into the box and was brought down, or more accurately, looked for a penalty that he wasn’t going to get. There were a couple of harmless efforts from the home side before the referee brought down the curtain to a chorus of boos from the home fans as their side is now on a run of their own, five straight defeats. But those were joyously upstaged by the delight of the Gillingham faithful and their team and staff, all wildly celebrating their success.

It is over, we no longer need to talk of mythical monkeys and we are on a new run, one away game without defeat.

Friday, 19 November 2010

England 1 France 2

Match 33/10/851 - Wednesday, 17 November 2010 - International

England (0) 1 Crouch 86
France (1) 2 Benzema 16 Valbuena 55
Att. 85,495

Entrance: £15
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/5,060

Match Report

France were the one nation that came home from South Africa with even less dignity intact than England. The players behaviour following the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka led to debate in the French Parliament, suspensions and the removal of Raymond Domenech. Laurent Blanc was hired to lead the recovery and on the evidence of Wednesday’s international they have progressed much, much further along that road than their hosts.

I cannot remember, especially at the new Wembley, watching a team outplay England quite like the French did during the first half. Mitigating factors were the loss of several first choice players, but the French were also missing the likes of Frank Ribery. Fabio Capello chose to introduce Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll to the senior set-up and Keiron Gibbs was given his first start. Unfortunately for Henderson, he was swamped in a midfield that was totally dominated by the very impressive Samir Nasri, Yoann Gourcuff and Florent Malouda. England’s makeshift back line with Phil Jagielka appearing ridiculously uncomfortable at right back were sliced apart with by a text book one-two between Malouda and Karim Benzema that allowed the Real Madrid striker to drill a shot between Ben Foster and his near post.

As the French midfield dominated, England’s spent 45 minutes chasing shadows. Gareth Barry looks less an international midfielder with every game, Henderson looked lost and the wingers Theo Walcott and James Milner suffered from a lack of service normally supplied by the absent Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.

Andy Carroll, at least, can look back on his first cap with a sense of satisfaction. As the wingers were seeing very little of the ball, he similarly suffered from a lack of service, but he dropped deeper to collect the ball to run at defenders. His great strength, his aerial ability, was evident but only amounted to a couple of headers that were comfortable saves for Hugo Lloris. Carroll was substituted to warm applause after 70 minutes and when Steven Gerrard was replaced by Peter Crouch on 85 minutes it was ironic that the self-proclaimed last resort striker took only a minute to cushion a volley into the net for England’s consolation.

Just where are we at with Capello? Technically, we are no match for the better nations of the world. France might have been seen to be fragile following the World Cup, but they were way ahead of England in this department. Is that Capello’s fault, perhaps not. He has limited time with the players, who are entrenched in the hurly-burly but technically deficient Premiership. But France were also tactically much better than England and this is where Capello should be held to account. England actually looked defensively sounder in the second half when Rio Ferdinand was withdrawn. This is no reflection on the England skipper, but with Micah Richards slotting in at right back and Jagielka occupying his natural position the balance was improved. So why start with players out of their regular positions, Capello takes the blame.

The Sun produced one of their mischievous headlines, reproduced here, and have been on Capello’s case since the World Cup. We have taken small steps forward following the Wally with the Brolly, but is the Prat in the Hat any better than Sven, it is certainly difficult to mount a case for that argument.

Defeat is not the end of the world on this occasion. This was a friendly international and had England been able to call on the services of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Rooney it is conceivable that the result may have been different. But the gulf in quality exposed a lack of depth in the squad that is not going to be remedied short term and is unlikely to be remedied during the tenure of Capello.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Gillingham 1 Crewe Alexandra 3

Match 32/10/850 - Saturday, 13 November 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Whelpdale 52
Crewe Alexandra (2) 3 Moore 38, Donaldson 45, Miller 70
Att. 5,292

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,960

Match Report

It is a well worn phrase that under pressure managers trundle out, “that when at the bottom of the table, the rub of the green doesn’t go your way”, it can often be heard as a whinge. On Saturday, Gillingham might not have deserved anything, but they certainly had none of the rub.

Three new loan signings and a 17 year-old debutant in the centre of defence were introduced as Andy Hessenthaler set about repairing the damage inflicted by last week’s FA Cup embarrassment at the hands of Dover. Ultimately a spirited effort ended in defeat by Crewe Alexandra and left the club on the very edge of the relegation zone, above the line by goal difference.

Callum Davies, youth team captain, pressed into the side in the absence of the injured Matt Lawrence made a bright start to his debut, won some important headers and generally looked comfortable in the face of an attack that has scored plenty this season. But on 28 minutes a through ball left the youngster exposed in a one-on-one situation with the pacy Clayton Donaldson, who was getting clear before being brought down. My first impression was that he had to go, but television viewing has shown that loanee Callum Kennedy was getting round as cover. This viewpoint was given further credit on Sunday as Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic committed a near identical foul but was spared the red card by the proximity of Ashley Cole. It is regularly argued that the Premiership’s top four get dealt a better hand by referees but it showed the sheer inconsistency of decisions. The kid was distraught and was comforted by Alex players as well as his team mates as he left the field in tears.

Crewe had started the game brightly with a Luke Murphy chip catching Alan Julian off his line and fortunate to see the ball rebound from the bar. From the start the lively Donaldson was copping also sorts of abuse for his Mohican-style haircut, and once he was involved in the sending off the decibels were increased but he was going to have the last laugh.

Crewe hit the woodwork again before they opened the scoring in the 35th minute with a stroke of good fortune. A cross from Matt Tootle evaded the head of the second of the loanees, Charlie Lee and, caught by surprise, the ball literally struck Byron Moore on the head and found its way into the corner of the net.

Gillingham reacted well to the set-back, Cody McDonald had a goal ruled out for offside before keeper Rhys Taylor made good stops from the third of the loanees, Chris Whelpdale and Kevin Maher.

On the stroke of half time, Donaldson exacted revenge on his detractors getting on the end of a pass from Moore and steering the ball past Julian to double the visitors advantage.

Gillingham set about retrieving the situation from the outset of the second half and Whelpdale forced Taylor into another fine save before he met a Chris Palmer corner at the far post with a header to looped into the far corner.

Adebayo Akinfenwa, having his most effective game for the club, saw a header once more acrobatically tipped over by the Chelsea loanee, Taylor as the home side brought the best out of a crowd inflated to 5,200 by cut-price ticket offers.

Unfortunately the need for attacking intention was eventually going to lead to the home side being caught by a counter attack and a single pass forward allowed Shaun Miller a run on goal and he finished expertly from just inside the box to kill off the game.

The final whistle didn’t bring about a torrent of boos as the vast majority had recognised the spirit that had been displayed in adversity. The loan players, Chris Whelpdale in particular, had made decent debuts and the likes of Barry Fuller and Tony Sinclair recovered some of the faith lost in last week’s debacle.

Luck, good or bad, doesn’t last forever and someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, Gillingham’s will turn for the better. They sit now at an all-time low of 90th position in the Football League during the reign of Paul Scally. With two upcoming fixtures away from home it is not inconceivable that the ultimate indignity of 92nd place may be attained, perhaps Lady Luck will see otherwise.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Tonbridge 1 Margate 1

Match 31/10/849 - Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Browning 60
Margate (1) 1 Stubbs 10
Att. 326

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/4,915

While Arsenal are hailed as the outstanding example of the “way football should be played”, the Gunners fans that I know would also add that it would be nice to win the odd trophy here and there. The point being that while they appreciate the quality of the football on show, it is still success that matters no matter how it is achieved.

What this has to do with Tonbridge v Margate is that at this present time when supporting and watching Gillingham is as much fun as wet weekend on Romney Marsh, watching Tonbridge is a real pleasure, and why, because they are winning.

Similar to a couple of weeks ago at Sutton, this was a miserable night when it would have been a lot easier to have parked the rear end in front of the box and checked the scoreline on the internet at 10 o’clock, but the effort was well rewarded with an entertaining game.

Ultimately, Tonbridge enjoyed the greater part of the possession, probably deserved to win the match, but I had the feeling that as the away team, Margate had played their part in the entertainment and warranted the point they went away with.

The visitors took an early lead when James Pinnock’s cross is only partially cleared as far as Dan Stubbs, whose shot was hit straight into the ground and over the head of Lee Worgan.

It took Tonbridge half-an-hour to get into the game in which time Margate forced a succession of corners and generally held sway. From 30 minutes onwards, Rory Hill, in particular, started to influence the game and chances were made for Jamie England, Jake Beecroft and Frannie Collin, all of which were dealt with comfortably by ex-Angels keeper, Jamie Turner.

From the outset of the second half the home side were dominant. Collin had a shot saved by Turner, Claude Seanla acrobatically shot over and Sonny Miles should have converted a header before the equaliser finally arrived on the hour. Following a tame shot by Collin the ball was deflected into the path of Lee Browning who won a crunching tackle and found his feet to lob the stranded Turner.

The remainder of the match had a decent ebb and flow about it. Rather than folding under pressure from the home side, Margate responded well and created a similar number of chances. Tonbridge might have won the game in injury time but Danny Walder sent through by Lewis Taylor, making his debut for the club after a long injury lay-off, saw his shot smothered by the advancing Turner.

As said, an evening when effort was made worthwhile, but it was still good to get back into the car and get the heater going!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gillingham 0 Dover Athletic 2

Match 30/10/848 - Saturday, 6 November 2010 - FA Cup 1st Round

Gillingham (0) 0
Dover Athletic (2) 2 Birchall 18, I'Anson 28
Att. 7,454

Entrance: £15
Programme: £3
Mileage: 46/4,889

Match report comes from Dover

From the moment Fat Boy Slim and Hells Bells drew the numbers 19 and 70 from the velvet bag there has been a sense of inevitability about the outcome of this First Round Tie. For Dover, it was, in chairman Jim Parmenter’s words, compensation and for their fans who filled the Brian Moore Stand it was revenge.

The events of the summer left a bad taste in the mouth at Crabble and there were more than a few of the Priestfield faithful who felt a bit sheepish about the way Hessenthaler’s appointment was executed. So coming into the game on the back of poor results the sense of retribution was trumpeted from all corners.

And so it came to pass . . .

On the day, for whatever reason, Dover came to Gillingham with more passion, more hunger, more skill and left thoroughly deserving of their 2-0 victory while the home side were left red-faced, humiliated with the wrath of their fans ringing in their ears.

Where Gillingham had the hapless, no hopeless, John Nutter, Dover had the excellent Tom Wynter, released by Gillingham in the summer. Where Gillingham had a fragile central defence, Dover had the absolutely magnificent Olly Schultz and Rob Gillman and while Cody McDonald struggled to make an impression, Dover striker Adam Birchall scored a classic FA Cup goal. Finally, when Gillingham mounted a second half recovery effort, Ross Flitney stood firm with a series of saves.

Dover took the lead on 18 minutes, the only Gillingham player who could leave the ground with his head held high Jack Payne lost possession in midfield, Birchall cut in from the right and unleashed a 30 yard shot into the top corner that had Alan Julian clutching thin air.

Ten minutes later Dover doubled their lead in somewhat controversial circumstances. Elliott Charles clearly handled the ball following Julian’s parry of Harry Baker’s shot, the ball fell to Luke I’Anson who drove the ball into the net. It was dubious but no more than the non-leaguers deserved.

As much as Gillingham pressured during the second half the saves that Flitney made were more of the routine variety than the sensational. With 20 minutes remaining Baker was sent clear and Nutter was forced to bring him down for the final humiliation of a red card. For Nutter this has been a torrid week, taken apart by an ageing Gareth Ainsworth on Tuesday and run ragged by a non league winger, Harry Baker, on Saturday. Forgive Tom Wynter if he thought “was I really that bad”?

The last manager to face Paul Scally following defeat at the hands of non-league opposition was Neale Cooper after defeat at Burscough. He didn’t survive. Hess probably will, he doesn’t want to resign and Scally will not want to sack him, financially as well as personally. Next Saturday, back in League action, Crewe Alexandra, themselves dumped out of the Cup at Tamworth, are the visitors. For everybody, but Hessenthaler principally, a reaction needs to be seen. Paul Scally cannot allow this situation to worsen, the trap door bears no favours.

On Tuesday, further down the M2, as Dover supporters gather (not in their thousands, I would guess!) for their Blue Square South game against Dartford, one word will be heavy in the conversation . . . Revenge!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Gillingham 0 Wycombe Wanderers 2

Match 29/10/847 - Tuesday, 2 November 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Wycombe Wanderers (1) 2 Ainsworth 23, Betsy 49
Att. 4,076

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 46/4,843

Match Report

This was a real shocker that will have Gillingham fans looking over their shoulder, not just at a league table that sees them just two points from the relegation positions, but also the potential of a hugely embarrassing FA Cup defeat at home to the club that Andy Hessenthaler walked away from in June, Dover Athletic.

Wycombe Wanderers came to Priestfield in good form, whilst Gillingham’s confidence was fragile to say the least. Once the visitors had sliced the Gillingham defence apart on 23 minutes allowing Gareth Ainsworth to open the scoring, there was only going to be one winner in the contest and Wycombe went on to thoroughly outplay their hosts.

Ainsworth is now 37 years of age, he has plied his trade for the best part of 20 years outside of the top flight and had a spell as caretaker manager of Queens Park Rangers on two occasions in the last couple of years. Last night, he looked like a 17 year old as he pissed past John Nutter time and time again. It was satisfyingly respectful that on his substitution with seconds remaining he was warmly applauded from the field by the home support as well as the small knot of Wycombe fans.

The defeat tumbles Gillingham to 20th position in League Two, their lowest for 15 years. Any confidence that remained ebbed away with the opening goal and the level of ineptitude was quite frightening. Only Alan Julian, who kept the score down to two; Cody McDonald, and to a lesser extent, Jack Payne can hold up their heads with any pride in a 6 out of 10 sort of way.

Wycombe shredded Gillingham’s back line as they exposed the hapless Nutter and Barry Fuller on both flanks, with no protection coming from a woeful midfield. Danny Spiller should have seen red for an ugly lunge and Dennis Oli looked to be running through treacle from the early stages. In attack, McDonald might have had a productive evening if only he had a modicum of help. The lumbering Akinfenwa is doing nothing to dispel the ever-growing feeling that he is just an overweight misfit for which the club is paying far too much money.

The optimism that greeted Andy Hessenthaler’s appointment has now disappeared and has been replaced by anger as graffiti daubed on a neighbouring fence implored him and Chairman Scally to go. The club has seen too many managers already since relegation from the Championship in 2005 and the subsequent steady decline to this new low. Now is not the time for a knee jerk reaction, we are only in November and just 15 games into the season, but the poor form has to be reversed quickly. Scally stood by Mark Stimson after the dreadful performance in February against Tranmere, form didn’t improve and Gillingham were ultimately relegated. A similar scenario this season would see the trap door opening and nobody at the club should be thinking that it cannot happen, just ask the fans of Wrexham and Cambridge United who have been stuck in non-league for several years, or previous League Cup winners, Luton and Oxford, who have only just made it back.

Injuries have not allowed Hessen thaler to pick a side of his choice at any time this season. Central defence has been a real problem and Simon King and Garry Richards have not been available at all, both are nearing the end of long absences and will surely strengthen this weak spot. Danny Jackman has similarly seen little action and his return would put real pressure on Nutter. Centre midfield can only improve with the return of Curtis Weston and the pace of Andy Barcham has been desperately missed. The biggest squad in the Division should have been good enough to cover these absences, sadly the back-up has not been up to the task.

Such was the desperate nature of the performance against Wycombe that a 16-year-old, Ashley Miller, was thrown into the action with 20 minutes remaining. It was a far from ideal introduction, team playing poorly, crowd on their back and a game that was virtually lost. The youngster made a couple of good runs with the ball that lifted the crowd momentarily. As ever with Gillingham, conspiracy theories abound, Miller being introduced into first team action to lift his price as Liverpool are reported to be about to sign the lad.

The players cannot really be accused of not trying for Hessenthaler but there is a complete lack of confidence that manifests itself into bad decision making, a desperation that leads to long, high upfield punts that are not the service that it required by the strikers. McDonald is not tall, he needs the ball played to feet, Akinfenwa cannot get that massive frame off the ground, so he needs it to feet as well. There are brief glimpses of what this set of players can achieve, for example those magic 15 minutes at Northampton, when the ball sees the grass and players exercise a bit of movement, but as quickly as the confidence appears to return it disappears.

All this is going to be music to the ears of the 2,500 Dover fans that will pack out the Brian Moore Stand on Saturday, bent on retribution for the perceived betrayal of the man that lifted their club two divisions during his tenure. For Hessenthaler, a win is more important than FA Cup progress alone, quality can wait for another day.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Northampton Town 2 Gillingham 1

Match 28/10/846 - Saturday, 30 October 2010 - League Two

Northampton Town (2) 2 Beckwith 21, McKenzie 40 (pen)
Gillingham (1) 1 McDonald 7
Att. 4,573

Entrance: £19
Programme: £3
Mileage: 400/4,797

Match Report

Nearly 900 Gillingham fans made the two hour journey north to witness the big opportunity to rid ourselves of the worst away record in the Football League. One day this wretched run will come to an end and Northampton, on a run of six straight defeats, were visualised as prime candidates to get the damn monkey off our back.

Within five minutes the visiting fans were celebrating. Cody McDonald had a credible shout for a penalty refused and when he got weaved his way past Dean Beckwith a second time, the Cobblers central defender brought him down on the edge of the box. The resultant free-kick produced a perfect training ground set piece, John Nutter squaring the ball to Chris Palmer who rifled an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner. It was a wonderful start and for 15 minutes Gillingham completely dominated proceedings as the home side struggled to come to terms with their pace and movement.

What happened next was inexplicable; I certainly fail to understand quite what changed. Did Gillingham suffer stage fright, a fear of winning or did Northampton just take advantage of the fragility of the visitors back line that, on the day, defended poorly as a unit.

Matt Lawrence put in his worst performance since joining the club, which unsettled Tony Sinclair, or was it the other way round. Either way as a central unit they did not function. Barry Fuller was constantly caught in positions he shouldn’t be and John Nutter’s distribution was awful.

Northampton’s equaliser arrived on 21 minutes but it had been coming for some minutes earlier. The home side had a series of corners from which Gillingham avoiding conceding by the skin of their teeth. Another corner was sent to the far post where ex-Gillingham defender Beckwith rose above Lawrence to head past Alan Julian.

Leon McKenzie enjoyed a spell following the goal in which he tormented the Gillingham defence, Lawrence in particular, and saw three efforts in quick time either high or wide. Five minutes before the break the home side were awarded a dubious penalty. Lawrence and Beckwith appeared from my long distance view to be wrestling each other as they contested a cross, but the referee felt Lawrence was the offender and from the spot McKenzie coolly converted.

The second half saw Gillingham hold a lot of the possession and as such it could be argued that an equaliser might have been deserved, but the truth is that they hardly tested Northampton keeper, Chris Dunn. Upfront, McDonald had a lively opening but in the following 75 minutes suffered from poor service, while Adebayo Akinfenwa had a nightmare return to his old club. His first touch was heavy throughout and whilst claims had been made in the match programme that “on his day, he can be unplayable”, Beckwith and Hinton kept him quiet with relative ease.

Danny Spiller and Dennis Oli injected some life into the performance on their introduction and Akinfenwa and McDonald combined to force a save from Dunn. Gillingham huffed and puffed their way through the final 15 minutes exerting some pressure but Dunn was only asked to make comfortable saves.

The day had started out with great optimism and the opening blitz from Gillingham added to the sense of expectation but once again we fell short, in truth, a long way short. Somewhere, someday this away run will be broken but right now I cannot see where it might end. Will it end at Stimson’s Barnet, I wouldn’t bet on it, he is going to have his players right up for that one and today was just another example of when a side exerts pressure on Gillingham away from home, they just don’t cope. Oxford come before Barnet, well you never know . . . what I do know, is that, today, 881 Gillingham supporters deserved a lot better.

It has been a while since I visited Sixfields, an out-of-town stadium on a retail estate that has the architectural soul of a B&Q. Over the years the maroon seats have become sun bleached detracting further its visual effect and even the toilets have a care-worn look, but £1.80 for a cup of tea; that really is taking the piss.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Sutton United 2 Tonbridge 2

Match 27/10/845 - Tuesday, 26 October 2010 - Ryman Premier

Sutton United (2) 2 Jolly 35, Murray 45
Tonbridge (1) 2 England 43 Collin 85 (pen)
Att. 561

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 94/4,397
New Ground: 239

Match Report

A wet evening and a trip round the M25 at the back end of rush hour was hardly appealing. But I had a gut feeling that Tonbridge’s visit to Sutton United was going to be worth the effort and sometimes effort is rewarded accordingly.

What I witnessed was a game that was later described as “a great advert for non-league football” by Sutton manager, Paul Doswell as Tonbridge twice came from behind to gain a well-deserved share of the spoils.

The first half hour was largely dominated by the hosts with Lee Worgan forced to make a couple of saves from the ever-dangerous Richard Jolly. After this initial period the Angels started to find their feet and brought the Sutton keeper, Kevin Scriven, into the action with a good save from Frannie Collin.

At the time of Sutton’s opening goal, the visitors had ridden the early storm and were beginning to get on top. In the 35th minute, a pass from Andy Forbes found Jolly in a shooting position and the ace marksman doesn’t miss very often when one on one with the keeper.

Two minutes from the break, Tonbridge capitalised on a poor defensive clearance. Claude Seanla fired in a pass across the face of the goal, Collin stepped over and Jamie England fired home to the delight of a sizeable visiting contingent behind the goal.

As the clock ticked down to the 45, Worgan was once again forced to make a good save from Jolly, before not dealing as well with a Orilonishe free kick that slipped from his grasp allowing Karl Murray to lift the rebound into the roof of the net for a half time lead that Sutton just about deserved.

If the first half produced a game in which neither side totally dominated, the second was largely one-way traffic as Tonbridge searched for an equaliser.

Scriven was proving the rock on which Tonbridge’s efforts were foundering as really good saves from Danny Walder and England denied the visitors, likewise a strong penalty appeal that fell on deaf ears from the referee.

As time ebbed away and with Scriven now seeming almost unbeatable, the referee offered the Angels a deserved life line awarding them a penalty for an offence that nobody from the touchline saw. Collin coolly sent the keeper the wrong way to level the game.

Lee Browning had two attempts to steal all three points at the death, a surging run was ended when he lost his footing and a blistering shot that was narrowly wide before the referee brought the curtain down on a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

This was my first visit to Gander Green Lane which has all the attributes of an erstwhile Conference club with covered stands on three sides. It may no longer be considered fit for purpose in the higher reaches of the football pyramid but remains a decent stadium at Ryman Premier level.

The rain had cleared as the evening wore on and, of course, the M25 is a different beast three hours later than the outward journey, allowing a gentle ride home with time to reflect that the effort had been more than worthwhile.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Gillingham 1 Torquay United 1

Match 26/10/844 - Saturday, 23 October 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 80
Torquay United (0) 1 Nicholson 90+5
Att. 5,345

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,303

Match Report

Back in 1998, The Mavericks had a single “Dance The Night Away” that reached Number 4 in the UK charts. It wasn’t a ground breaking song that people will remember what they were doing with their lives at that particular period, but I recall it as a song that I considered lucky. If I heard it played on the radio on the way to a Gillingham game, I would sing along almost safe in the knowledge that the Gills were about to win the match, and invariably they did.

Radio Kent played the song as their opening track to their Saturday Sport programme and I thought that’s it, thank you Matt Davison, job done. When Alan Julian touched a kiss to the bar and then a post in gratitude that the woodwork had come to his rescue my faith in the old song remained firm. But Julian’s luck was about to run out. In the fifth minute of time added on, three minutes that were extended by the sending off of Torquay’s Lee Mansell, a free kick on the edge of the box was driven through the wall by Kevin Nicholson. Julian allowed the shot to squirm from his grasp and agonisingly the ball crossed the line.

It was a poor piece of goalkeeping but it was hard on Julian who otherwise had a good game. A decent stop and a very good reaction save in a matter of seconds after five minutes denied the visitors an early lead and his handling and judgement had been sound for the entire match.

At the other end, Torquay’s 6’5” custodian Scott Bevan spent his afternoon cherry picking as cross after cross fell invitingly into his safe hands. Chris Palmer had a reasonable game, but just how many of his crosses saw Bevan put his hands above his head and watch the ball drop into them.

Cody McDonald returned to the starting line-up with Mark Bentley dropping down to the bench and it was his 30th minute effort that was turned away by Bevan that produced the best chance of the half for the home side.

Alan Julian’s first kiss to his woodwork came within the first minute of the second half following Chris Zebroski's acrobatic effort that rebounded off the bar with the keeper beaten and when Barry Fuller was forced to clear from in front of the goal line the home side had endured an uncomfortable opening five minutes much like the beginning of the first half.

Danny Spiller came on as substitute for Kevin Maher and he was instrumental as Gillingham ratcheted up the pressure on Torquay. He had a wayward shot and from his cross in the 80th minute Akinfenwa struck a bar with a header. Not to be denied, Spiller’s next cross found McDonald who scissor-kicked a volley from around the penalty spot. It was a true striker’s goal, he had a marker within a yard, but that space was enough.

Torquay rather lost their discipline as four players were yellow-carded within the space of five or six minutes. But with a couple of minutes remaining, Julian was kissing woodwork again as Billy Kee touched a cross onto the inside of a post and as the ball looked to be rebounding over the line, Julian hooked it to safety.

Into injury time and the referee decided that Mansell had dived in the pursuit of a penalty and his yellow became a red. The time added on for the dismissal was ultimately crucial as Matt Lawrence gave away a free kick on the edge of the box and Nicholson’s strike embarrassed Julian.

It was a sickener for Gillingham, unfortunately for Andy Hessenthaler it had been sickening from half time as he was absent from the bench for the entire second half with an illness bug.

The next time I hear the Mavericks, I won’t feel any less confident, it’s served me well in the past and anyway it’s a good tune to sing along to at the traffic lights.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Port Vale 0 Gillingham 0

Match 25/10/843 - Saturday, 16 October 2010 - League Two

Port Vale (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 6,420

Entrance: £19
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 548/4,258

Match Report

Solid at last! No, I’m not talking about a British athlete home from Delhi, but something far more unlikely, a Gillingham away performance.

Shorn of his main strike force for a visit to Vale Park, home of the League leaders Port Vale, manager Andy Hessenthaler needed a brand new masterplan to extract anything from the game. Surprisingly he chose to start with Dennis Oli as a lone striker with Curtis Weston tucked in behind.

It was not too far removed from the controversial 4-6-0 formation employed by Scotland in Prague, but Oli chased balls into the channels and posed enough of a threat to ensure that the hosts could not take any liberties with their own defensive set up. Weston also seemed to revel in his new role and looked more like his old self.

Though it was defensive in its make-up Gillingham were more of an attacking threat than their hosts and when a Mark Bentley effort on 68 minutes struck a post, a goal would have been no more than the visitors deserved. At the back, Matt Lawrence commanded, Barry Fuller was back to his belligerent best and Kevin Maher tidied up in front of the back four as Gillingham restricted Port Vale to a couple of late chances and a blistering shot from Gary Roberts that was only marginally wide.

As a group the perception must have been that Gillingham would be under pressure from the first whistle and when the whistle blew for half time, no only had they survived without a major scare, but also taken the game to Port Vale, there was a great deal of satisfaction In the goalless scoreline.

The best of the chances were fashioned by the Gills, Oli shot over, by a distance, after 10 minutes and in the 38th minute, Gareth Owen produced a fabulous block to deny Chris Palmer.

As the second half progressed neither keeper was being forced into making world class saves but Gillingham continued to make the half chances. Weston shot straight at Stuart Tomlinson, and on a couple of occasions, centre back Tony Sinclair just failed to get on the end of crosses. 6-4-0 formation and it is a centre back that is getting into the box, way to go I say!

The moment when Gillingham fans thought the away drought was about to end came when Mark Bentley cut in from the right, curled a shot past Tomlinson, but to the despair of those faithful fans, the ball struck a post and was cleared to safety.

It would have been a complete injustice two minutes later had Alan Julian not made a double save to thwart Marc Richards.

The Gillingham contingent rose in appreciation of the hard work that had been put in by Dennis Oli and Curtis Weston on their substitution with 10 minutes remaining. In truth, Oli looked as though he running on empty for a good 10 minutes previous, but it was a splendid effort.

One final chance to end the dismal away day blues fell to Bentley, but his header was straight at the keeper. Gillingham fans, nearly 300 in total, saluted their side at the final whistle for a point well earned, but I wonder, in their cars, on their coaches, after 20 minutes or so of reflection they would have thought to themselves, tonight we should be going home with the damn monkey off our back.

I like Vale Park, it has a proper football ground feel about it. There are a few pillars that can impede the eyeline, but when the away support only fills a couple of blocks they are not a problem.

Four years ago when I last visited the Lorne Street Stand was uncompleted and it still is. For those of a certain vintage and can remember the detective show, Petrocelli, who in between solving murder cases was building his own home. Sadly, because he had a new case every week, the house never got finished. Perhaps a Burslem detective is being employed to build the stand.

The acoustics under the Sneyd Stand roof gave a great help to the Gillingham choir and 288 sounded like many more and, the odd expletive apart, were absolutely fantastic in their support.

A special mention to the May Street chippy who served up, in my opinion, the best fish and chips of the season so far, to round off a very satisfying day.

The Petrocelli Stand!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

England 0 Montenegro 0

Match 24/10/842 - Tuesday, 12 October 2010 -
European Championship Qualifying Group G

England (0) 0
Montenegro (0) 0
Att. 73,451

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/3,710

Match Report

When a 20 yard volley from Milan Jovanovic crashed back off the bar with seven minutes remaining, England got the only piece of luck they deserved from this turgid encounter with a defensively solid Montenegro.

Both sides carried 100% records coming into the fixture and with the Balkan side having not conceded a goal in their three previous qualifiers it was obvious where their strengths were going to lie.

They lined up with a system that was not far removed from the controversial 4-6-0 formation that Scotland had employed in Prague at the weekend. Montenegro had a token forward who played barely five yards in front of the heavily congested midfield.

The first half was almost as bad as it gets. Wembley fell asleep as England played with a tempo that would have made Ann Widdecombe’s salsa seem positively disco.

Steven Gerrard probed away with long raking passes but the emphasis was too much towards the head of Peter Crouch and when after 16 minutes a golden chance arrived for the lanky striker his free header cleared the bar. This ultimately was a key moment in the game, an early goal would inevitably have brought the Montenegrans out of their bunker.

The second half started with a 12 minute period in which the referee brandished six yellow cards. In a rare Montenegro counter-attack, Wayne Rooney took a card for the team for a professional foul and bitter memories of a diving Ashley Young depriving Gillingham of a replay at Villa Park were resurrected as he threw himself to the ground in search of a penalty, for which he was rightly carded.

Kevin Davies came on in the 70th minute to become England’s oldest debutant, at 33, for 60 years and he immediately injected a bit of life into the proceedings, albeit that he, in turn, also received a yellow card, supposedly for leading with a elbow. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that type of offence was an instant red card.

The second key moment of the match came on 77 minutes when Jovanovic clearly handled the ball in the penalty area. In a later interview, Rio Ferdinand said that he might as well have caught it, stuck it up his jumper and run with it . . . well put Rio!

So having got away with the handball there was more than a little justice when Jovanovic’s shot rebounded from the woodwork with Joe Hart well beaten.

Montenegro celebrated their “victory” and their resilience was too be admired but their defensive nature and England’s lack of any guile to break them down made for a frustrating, and for long periods, boring evening.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Gillingham 2 Stockport County 1

Match 23/10/841 - Saturday, 9th October 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 2 McDonald 2, J Payne 38
Stockport County (0) 1 Pulis 81
Att. 4,755

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,610

Match Report

One of the most common excuses for poor form and lack of consistency are injuries. Andy Hessenthaler has commented, but not used it as an excuse for Gillingham’s indifferent start to the season. Fact is, Gillingham have had no luck with injuries in this early part of the season and today’s game against Stockport County was a perfect indication of the problems they have faced.

Following last week’s drubbing at the hands of Accrington Stanley, Danny Spiller was added to the list and Adebayo Akinfenwa and Curtis Weston were expected to sit out the game but passed fitness tests only to fail to make the full 90 minutes.

The indication of the disruption was the difference in the halves. In the first half Gillingham played some of the best football we have seen this season, they passed the ball well and scored two goals leaving them in complete control of the game. But the second half saw the departure of Akinfenwa, who pulled up presumably as a result of the groin strain he brought into the game and Weston, who has been the victim of flu as well as a thigh injury. Matt Lawrence was forced from the field for a 10 minute period to have a head wound stitched and the enforced changes produced a disjointed performance that had them hanging on desperately at the finish to claim the points.

Lance Cronin made way in goal for the returning Alan Julian, illness accounted for Josh Gowling’s absence from the bench, but after last week’s debacle he would surely have been dropped in favour of Tony Sinclair. Mark Bentley was suspended and replaced by Kevin Maher and John Nutter made a welcome return to left back allowing Chris Palmer to move forward into left midfield.

Gillingham started with a fluency that belied that performance at Accrington. In the opening seconds Cody McDonald, sent through by his partner Akinfenwa, was hacked down by Danny Swailes, who took a yellow card for the team. Palmer’s free kick was deflected over the bar but from the resultant corner McDonald got between two defenders to score with a firm header that went in off the post.

Palmer was showing the value of being played in midfield rather than at full back where he is a liability. His corner in the 22nd minute was met by Akinfenwa, whose header was cleared from the line by David Poole. But Palmer was not to be denied, another superb cross found McDonald in front of goal, the striker knocked the ball forward only for Matt Glennon to parry the ball into the path of Jack Payne who swept the ball home from close range for his first senior goal for the club.

The first substitution of the match was referee Graham Horwood who limped out of the action with a calf strain. His replacement took a farsical length of time and eventually a half time call for a qualified referee to take on the role as fourth official was answered by Gills kit man, Malcolm Stedman. The newly promoted referee’s first action involved the booking of Anthony Pulis, son of the ex-Gillingham manager, Tony for a agricultural sything tackle on Akinfenwa.

Gillingham’s second half problems started in the 52nd minute when Akinfenwa limped out of the action with a recurrence of his groin injury. Within a couple of minutes, Matt Lawrence sustained a head injury forcing him to the dressing room for stitches. Hessenthaler decided to play on with 10 men whilst the central defender was patched up. It was 12 minutes before Lawrence returned, head bandaged in true Terry Butcher fashion.

Stockport took advantage of the disruption to the home side’s ranks and exerted ever more pressure on a defence that had never looked completely assured. A mistake from Lawrence allowed George Donnelly a chance that was well saved by Julian, but with nine minutes remaining the striker set up Pulis to score and herald a nervy finale. The Gills kit man rebuffed calls for one minute to be shown on the board and a justified five minutes were added and that became six, but the home side survived without Julian being seriously tested in the remaining time.

The result puts Accrington and Bury behind us, but they are never going to be truly in the past until that away hoodoo is put to rest. Port Vale, top of the table, next week . . . a touch of Murphy's law perhaps?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Accrington Stanley 7 Gillingham 4

Match 22/10/840 - Saturday, 2nd October 2010 - League Two

Accrington Stanley (3) 7 McConvillle 13, Parkinson 34, Barnett 43, Edwards 58,62 (pens), Gornell 73, Ryan 90
Gillingham (2) 4 Bentley 29,31, McDonald 55, Akinfenwa 79 (pen)
Att. 1,923

Entrance: £13
Programme: £3
Mileage: 592/3,565

Match Report

Read the scoreline above and you might think that I've been watching a game at Under-8's level. I wasn't, but the defending on both sides, but Gillingham in particular, was more appropriate to that age group. It's a funny old game . . . No, this was just plain crazy.

BBC Radio reported that there were only 13 shots on target in the whole game and 11 of them were goals, I presume they are correct and it only serves to illustrate the dire nature of the defending from both sides. Our own after match inquest certainly pointed figures at Josh Gowling, who is going to rival Brendan Plaice as one of the poorest centre backs to wear a Gillingham shirt and Chris Palmer, who is just not a full back and should never be picked in that position again. But television viewing has added Lance Cronin into the dock as three of the goals looked “saveable”.

An unwanted record equalling 28 league games away from home without a win, 32 in total is the sorry statistic that follows this latest embarrassing episode and to think that I left home with a certain confidence that was founded on absolutely nothing but gut feeling, but when Mark Bentley scored his second goal in a couple of minutes my belief that the drought was over was absolute.

But such was performance of Gillingham’s rear guard that at the time of Cody McDonald’s excellent equalising goal at 3-3, I had none of the sense that we were about to go on to win this match. Referring back to the Bury game, somebody behind me said he could see this game ending 5-4 again, my reply was that 10-9 was just as likely.

Bentley had returned to the side in place of Bruce Inkango in Andy Hessenthaler’s only change from the side that had gained a point from the uninspiring draw against Southend.

The visitors started brightly enough, a Spiller free kick was just over and, in a foretaste of the goalkeeping that was to follow, Ian Dunbavin directed the resultant goal kick straight to Adebayo Akinfenwa who was not quick enough to capitalise on error.

Accrington took the lead on 13 minutes when Terry Gornell was allowed to run into space and feed Sean McConville to steer the ball into the bottom right had corner.

Gillingham recovered from the set back with McDonald and Bentley going close before the latter headed on a long throw from Jack Payne to level the scores after 29 minutes.

Two minutes later, Akinfenwa set up Bentley to firmly shoot past Dunbavin to set up my moment of belief. Shame that it was to last only three minutes as Andy Parkinson was allowed to cut in from the right wing to drill a shot across Cronin and into the far corner.

Charlie Barnett showed the type of footwork that is required to win a round of Strictly Come Dancing as the leaden footed Gillingham defence allowed him to waltz into a shooting position and coolly curl a shot into the far corner to give Stanley a half time advantage.

Cody McDonald showed that would be no slouch on the dance floor with a wonderful individual goal to gain the visitors parity after 55 minutes only for referee Iain Williamson to take centre stage and two penalty decisions in the space of a couple of minutes put the game out of the visitors reach. Williamson harshly adjudged that Bentley had pushed Andy Proctor for the first and that Gowling had tripped Gornell for the second. Phil Edwards converted both to give the home side breathing space for the first time.

The game was over as a contest on 73 minutes when Gornell was given the freedom of the right side of the penalty area to stroke the ball past Cronin. There was still plenty of time for the comical defending to continue as crazy keeping from Dunbavin ended with the keeper hauling McDonald to the ground after dropping the ball at the striker’s feet. Akinfenwa calmly struck home the resulting penalty, 6-4 if you are keeping count.

The game descended from comedy to farce in the closing minutes when an otherwise impressive Jim Ryan kicked out at Danny Spiller to spark a brawl with the benches and both teams wading in. Stanley’s assistant manager Jimmy Bell was clearly seen to throw a punch and was sent to the stand, sitting himself no more than five yards from his touchline position. Mark Bentley lifted his hands, but didn’t appear to make much contact to receive a second yellow.

That was enough for this reporter and an early getaway to avoid the traffic generated by a crowd of less than 2,000 was deemed preferable to the final embarrassment of a seventh goal that we heard from the road outside.

Although the penalties were the defining moments of the game, Gillingham cannot hide behind the poor officiating as their dreadful defending was the main contributor to this humiliation.

Since my first visit to the Crown Ground two years ago, very little has changed. The toilets are still a disgrace, but for a club that has a small support their choir behind the goal is one of the best. I’ve never heard Twist and Shout sang before and have no idea what it has to do with football, but it was very well done!

Health and Safety also had its moment as the legendary Binman’s flag was confiscated because it did not carry a Fire Certificate! Crazy? Not half as mad as the football.

Gillingham 0 Southend United 0

Match 21/10/839 - Tuesday, 28th September 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Southend United (0) 0
Att. 4,925

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,973

Match Report

Even a rubbish game deserves a mention . . .

Gillingham 1 Burton Albion 0

Match 20/10/838 - Saturday, 25th September 2010 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 50
Burton Albion (0) 0
Att. 4,823

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,928

Match Report

One of football’s oldest clich├ęs . . . a game of two halves. Burton ran Gillingham ragged in the first 45 minutes and then they virtually disappeared.

From the very first minute when a Saun Harrad free kick clipped the bar through to the half time whistle, Burton dominated the game and could easily have gone into the break with a three goal advantage.

Harrad and Jacques Maghoma were a particular thorn in the side of a defence that had leaked five goals in the previous game at Bury when Lance Cronin in the Gillingham goal took the blame for the fifth and winning goal. But today, Cronin stood firm and made good saves from Russell Penn and Maghoma before superbly touching over a chip from Harrad that had goal written all over it.

Cronin had Jack Payne to thank when Richard Walker headed a corner goalwards only for the youngster to clear from the line. As half time approached, Gillingham perhaps signalled the turnaround that was about to happen when Cody McDonald smacked a header against the bar following a Chris Palmer corner.

It was the same duo that combined to give Gillingham the lead early in the second half. A Palmer free kick was headed in by McDonald for his first goal for the club. The game had now turned and the home side were in the ascendancy. Danny Spiller and McDonald (twice) brought saves from the Brewers’ keeper, Adam Legzdins while Cronin suffered one heart stopping moment when he misjudged the bounce of the ball whilst out of his area, only to be bailed out by Matt Lawrence.

The game had its sub-plot within the contest as two heavyweights, in the blue corner, Adebayo Akinfenwa and in the yellow corner, Darren Moore came head to head. It was an even contest that flared up in the final minutes with Moore receiving a yellow card, as much for frustration as anything else.

The referee’s whistle brought the game to end with Gillingham’s recovery complete. They had recovered from a first half pasting in which the game could have been put beyond them and also from the defensive nightmare that had been Gigg Lane.

Home victories alone didn’t save Gillingham last season and the longer the away drought goes on, the less chance they can make a success of this term.

Tonbridge 0 Cray Wanderers 4

Match 19/10/837 - Tuesday, 21st September 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 0
Cray Wanderers (0) 4 Hamici 58,82,85 Gibbs 64
Att. 328

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,883

Match Report

All superstitions regarding the scarves are off after this humiliating defeat for Tonbridge.

It was a Frenchman, Laurent Hamici, who did the damage with a second half hat trick and a performance that could only leave those watching in disbelef as to why he is playing his football at this level.

The first half gave very little indication of the carnage that was going to follow in the second period. Tonbridge were mostly the dominant side and a series of chances fell to Frannie Collin, who on the night had failed to bring his shooting boots to the table.

Hamici gave fair warning to the Angels defence when Lee Worgan saved early in the second half before he opened the scoring in the 58th minute with a drive from inside the penalty area beating the keeper.

Hamici turned provider for Gibbs to slide into a empty net after 65 minutes before the favour was returned when Hamici headed home a Gibbs cross with eight minutes remaining.

Hamici and Gibbs combined once again three minutes later with the Frenchman ending up smashing a shot past the helpless Tonbridge keeper.

The early season optimism has now completely evaporated and Tommy Warrilow will be needing to search for some fresh blood to revitalise a side that lacked any sort of fight in the second half.