Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gillingham 1 Leyton Orient 1

Match 47/09/799 - Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Dickson 8
Leyton Orient (0) 1 Mkandawire 72
Att. 4,753

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,391

Match Report

For a few precious minutes, while the fog swirled around Priestfield and night had descended, there was a chink of daylight. Chris Dickson had scored his first goal since his return to the club and a second win on the bounce appeared a distinct possibility. The fog eventually cleared, night continued its passage of time and daylight disappeared.

Following Simeon Jackson’s successful introduction from the bench on Saturday, manager Mark Stimson chose to go with three strikers, a plan far removed from the single, diminutive striker that led the line two home games ago against Tranmere. An attacking line-up but one with other failings.

After the bright start and early goal, Gillingham were forced to concede ground in the middle of the pitch as their three men were simply overrun. As the pressure increased a vast area in the middle was evacuated and the strikers were forced to feed off 60 yard punts forward as the ball sailed over the heads of the midfield trio.

Eventually, despite the slightly controversial nature of the goal, Leyton Orient deservedly profited from a loose clearance by Garry Richards and Tamika Mkandawire, the best player on the pitch, rifled home from 20 yards.

Within the first couple of minutes Rene Howe was sent in on goal by Jackson and fired a shot that narrowly missed at the far post. Five minutes later Jackson raced clear down the right hand side and unleashed a powerful shot that was only parried by O’s keeper Jamie Jones and Chris Dickson was on hand to poach the goal from a couple of yards.

A little spell of confidence followed but somewhere in the mist it disappeared. As Orient took a stranglehold on the game the manager revised his tactics and introduced Dennis Oli and Andy Barcham to hopefully provide some width. But unfortunately the die was cast and the ball continued its merry aerial path largely ignoring the substitutes.

Immediately following the equaliser, Garry Richards was offered the opportunity to atone with a far post header that sadly went narrowly wide. But, by the close, the visitors appeared the more likely of the sides to find a winner and on a night when all the relegation threatened clubs, barring Brighton, below Gillingham lost then perhaps it was a point gained.

Mark Stimson now has the luxury of choice when it comes to strikers but last night proved you cannot play them all.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Gillingham 1 Bristol Rovers 0

Match 46/09/798 - Saturday, 20th February 2010 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackson 90+2
Bristol Rovers (0) 0
Att. 5,302

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,346

Match Report

It was 470 minutes of playing time and in front of just 78 hardy Gillingham souls at Hartlepool when supporters last witnessed the elation of a Gillingham goal. Whether it was joy or sheer relief that greeted Simeon Jackson’s 92nd minute winner is for each individual to recount, personally it was relief that the winless streak of 10 matches was finally brought to an end.

Enough of the stats, as this was the ludicrously labelled homecoming of a Messiah, the Prodigal Son, but in fact no more than a mere mortal, Chris Dickson, the subject of the most drawn out transfer deal in the history of the club. Six months of conjecture and a falling-out between the clubs concerned ended when the striker finally pulled on the Number 15 shirt for this game against his previous loan club, Bristol Rovers.

If Dickson failed to score on his return his presence had a galvanising effect on the Priestfield crowd. Gone was the negativity of the past couple of games and with it a welcome respite for Mark Stimson who was able to call on the services of Rene Howe to partner the returning hero.

In a first half in which the home side made the majority of the running it was Howe that failed to profit from a Dickson pass when he weakly shot straight at Rovers’ keeper Rhys Evans, who would have fielded harder back passes in his time.

Dickson who was busy, but at times appeared to be trying almost too hard, set up another chance for Howe who skied over the bar just prior to the break.

The second half was so one-sided it is hard to believe that the home side had to wait until time added on to seal the points. Howe tested the Rainham End rather than the keeper before he was replaced in a double substitution that brought Jackson and Dennis Oli into the game.

As the chances mounted, Gillingham got closer and closer to a breakthrough without actually managing it. A Danny Jackman free kick was inches wide, Dickson was even closer with a header and with time running out Jackson saw his shot pushed onto the post by Evans. When the resultant corner was blasted into the roof of the Rainham End by Andy Barcham, it appeared that another afternoon was about to come up blank for the home side.

The Rovers’ keeper had been a major irritant with his time wasting and when the board showed just three minutes of added time it seemed less than generous, but it was enough. Adam Miller found Jackson with a long pass and from the edge of the box the Canadian drilled the ball into the bottom corner to cue a celebratory run to his manager on the sidelines. As the rest of the squad joined the celebrations the feeling that unity had returned to the club was almost tangible.

Chris Dickson’s return might not have yielded a goal, but it may well have produced something even more important in the fight against relegation, a sense of togetherness that permeates from the terrace to the boardroom, ironically something that was almost demanded in his programme notes from the chairman himself.

Tonbridge 1 Dartford 4

Match 45/09/797 - Saturday, 13th February 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 1 Booth 19
Dartford (0) 4 Johnson 51, Harris 72, Bradbrook 81, Haworth 85
Att. 842

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/5,301

Match Report

In search of a little respite from the relegation battles of Gillingham, it was probably not the wisest move to look towards Longmead Stadium. Last weekend as the Gills slipped in the drop zone, a similar fate was encountered by Tonbridge as they lost at Bognor Regis.

It’s strange that the occasions on which I’ve seen Tonbridge this season they haven’t been that bad. But the financial problems that surround the club have slowly seen players moving away leaving Tommy Warrilow with the bare bones of a squad.

Last Saturday’s visitors were Dartford, the league leaders, so there was the natural thought that this game could only finish one way. But, earlier in the season I saw the reverse fixture at Prince’s Park and it was much closer than the league positions might have suggested.

In front of a very healthy 842 attendance the first half unfolded into a very different story than that envisaged. Tonbridge had by far the best of it and went in at the break a goal to the good and could well have been further in front. They had several half chances before Paul Booth finished for an excellent team goal. Further half chances were created and it would have been no more than the home side deserved had they led by a couple at the half time whistle.

Whatever Tony Burman said during the break should be bottled such was the change in the league leaders from the outset of the second period. It took just six minutes for the Angels’ lead to be erased and with 20 minutes remaining the Darts took the lead for the first time when Danny Harris capitalised on some insecure defending in the centre of the Tonbridge back line. Two goals in the last 10 minutes, the first a 30 yard blast from Elliott Bradbrook and finally, a header from Rob Haworth made it an emphatic victory.

PC problems stopped me from posting this directly after the game and the ensuing week has been one of controversy as a potential take-over has been played out in public on the unofficial forum. An unnamed investor is supposedly ready to plough £500,000 into the club to redevelop the stadium and make available £20,000 immediately for team building. The redevelopment would involve 3G playing surfaces, 5-a-side pitches and associated buildings that would be hired out to generate a revenue stream for the club as well as the investor.

The controversy arose in the manner is which the proposal emerged in public. The board admitted that they had a verbal proposal but were not prepared to commit themselves further until they had seen a full business plan and considering the number of shafters that seem to be in evidence in football these days you would have to say that would be a prudent approach. Nobody wishes to see Longmead go the same way as the Angel Ground and end up aa a Sainsburys.

It emerged that instrumental in the proposal, but not as an investor, was an ex-Tonbridge player Mickey Collins who was approached by the club secretary who allegedly warned of a financial crisis that was beginning to engulf the club and with players leaving the club it was not something that could be easily denied.

The conjecture continued to be played out on the public forum until Tuesday evening when the board of Tonbridge Angels released a statement outlining that they would need to see the business plan and seek further financial guarantees and that they were surprised that the proposal was being negotiated on the forum. The statement also declared that the club was financially stable and debt free.

At the end of the week, the message boards are quieter but still rumbling on. I can now count 30 pages worth of postings at an average of 10 per page and still I am none the wiser whether the proposal is good or a bad thing or whether it is likely to go ahead or not. Who ever said that football is played on grass?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Gillingham 0 Tranmere Rovers 1

Match 44/09/796 - Tuesday, 9th February 2010 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Tranmere (0) 1 Thomas-Moore 68
Att. 3,840

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,275

Match Report

It has taken me three days to sit down and write this particular posting. It hasn’t been apathy, although the wretchedness of the game deserved such a mood, but the wish to see how the following couple of days unfolded.

I was expecting to be writing this on Wednesday morning having learned of the exit of Mark Stimson. It is now Friday and unless there is a monumental about turn by the chairman, the manager will lead Gillingham into Saturday’s trip to Yeovil.

There was seconds of the four minutes of added time remaining when Gillingham were offered, by virtue of a free kick, one last opportunity to salvage a point from the game. What tall lads we have were sent forward and for a fleeting moment there was some expectancy. Chris Palmer delivered the cross straight into the midriff of one of the Tranmere defenders in a two man wall and the opportunity was gone and the final whistle was blown. It was a fitting end to a match of frightening ineptness.

There is absolutely nothing to dwell on regarding this as a game. I thought it humanely impossible for the performance to be worse than the debacle at Brentford, but it was. Luke Rooney, who looked like a little boy lost, had a second half effort strike the bar before Ian Thomas-Moore scored from close range in the 68th minute to win the points for relegation rivals Tranmere.

I’ve long defended Mark Stimson in the face of mounting criticism but Tuesday proved my watershed. Two successive matches where the manner of the defeat rather than the losses themselves have been hard to stomach has altered my opinion.

The chanting for the manager’s head had grown in intensity during the second half and plunged to new depths with the booing of Adam Miller’s introduction as a substitute for Mark Bentley. There is no doubt that Stimson has lost (in fact never had) a big section of the home support and I believe there are people in attendance that actually want Gillingham to lose to justify the poisonous atmosphere they seek to create.

I believe a change of manager was needed immediately before it is too late to rescue the season and the fact that it wasn’t done in the couple of days following the Tranmere defeat might well mean that the chairman goes through to the end of the season with him. If we lose at Yeovil on Saturday and Stimson is sacked that evening what was the point of delaying the decision for one game? If, shock horror, we were to win, are we then in a situation where the next run of poor results culminates in the sack with precious few games in which to retrieve the situation.

If the change was made now, I think it would need to be somebody with an affinity to the club to restore the support of the fan base. Mark Stimson has suffered because he was far from everybody’s choice when he was appointed, his non-league credentials not cutting it with too many people. Personally two names fit the bill, Peter Taylor and Andy Hessenthaler. My theory would involve the new man taking the club through to the end of the season, see where we are at that time and where that person would like to be at the start of next season and that is when contracts would become involved. With Hess presently fully employed at Dover, perhaps this scenario would not be for him, but Peter Taylor is without a job and might fancy the challenge. Is it just coincidence, or scouting duties, that he has been at Priestfield for the last couple of games?

Perhaps it is a good thing that Saturday’s game is at Yeovil. The last away game at Brentford was a short travel and over a 1,000 made the trip including the vociferous element that was never going to take too kindly to a humbling defeat. At Yeovil there is only going to be the faithful couple of hundred and whilst they are not going to take another defeat quietly they are likely to be less confrontational. It could also be that, without the pressure cooker atmosphere at Priestfield, players will feel more confident to put a foot on the ball, take a bit of time and make a pass rather than getting rid of the leather just as fast they possibly can.

I was quietly pleased to have a prior engagement which precludes me from pitching up at the Huish, but whether it a little sadistic or just a curiosity, I’ve a hunch that Saturday afternoon could be very interesting.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Brentford 4 Gillingham 0

Match 43/09/795 - Saturday, 6th February 2010 - League One

Brentford (3) 4 MacDonald 10,33 (2 pens), Weston 35, 79
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 6,036

Entrance: £22
Programme: £3
Mileage: 100/5,230

Match Report

There have not been many occasions in my football supporting lifetime that I’ve felt the need to leave a game with more than 10 minutes remaining, but when Myles Weston’s shot cannoned off a post only to rebound into the net off the back of Alan Julian, I just could not stomach any more.

It is true to say that the unlucky rebound was par for the course on a day when Gillingham had no rub of the green, but the manner of the capitulation rendered the end whistle abuse of manager Stimson predictable, not that I was hanging around to utter my tuppence worth.

Train fares, match ticket, a programme and a cup of gnats piss masquerading as tea left me with little change from £45 and left me musing how I might better have spent the money. Firstly, I could have bought eight packets of cigarettes, not that I smoke or advocating that the weed is better for your health than Gillingham Football Club but I’m sure they would have resulted in greater satisfaction. I could have parked my backside on a bar stool at the local tonight and consumed about a dozen pints of Harveys, once again it wouldn’t do my health any good but, with my low capacity for drink, it would have obliterated this memory for a week. Or I could have alighted the train at Charing Cross, wandered under the Arches and passed the money on to one of the homeless, true they would probably have spent the cash on beer and fags but it would have done my soul the world of good.

And that is the crux of the problem at this moment, those that should be the heart and soul of our club, the players and the management, are showing scant regard for the wearing of the shirt. Less than three weeks ago they stood accused of a lack of pride, effort, call it what you like, in the FA Cup defeat at Accrington. Three draws papered over the cracks, but today the lack of any backbone surfaced again as Brentford inflicted the heaviest defeat of the season.

It could have been so different. Kicking towards almost 1,200 of their own supporters, Mark Bentley and new signing James Walker opened up the home defence to allow Simeon Jackson a one-on-one with Bees’ keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Such is Jackson’s luck at this moment in time that the merest touch from the keeper was enough to steer it onto the inside of the post and eventually to safety. Chances for Andy Barcham and Jackson followed before an inexplicable back pass from Darren Dennehy (pictured) sent Charlie MacDonald clear only to be brought down in the box by Alan Julian for an incontestable penalty that was converted by the ex-Gravesend striker. In what might be considered the only good fortune enjoyed by the visitors all afternoon, the Gills’ keeper was unpunished in terms of a card for the foul.

If the first penalty carried no doubt, the second certainly did. Kevin Maher was adjudged to have fouled another Bee with an unpronounceable name, Toumani Diagouraga, just inside the box. Even from the length of the field, it could clearly be seen that Maher won the ball. MacDonald struck the spot kick high into the opposite corner to his first to double the home advantage. And from that unfortunate decision, Gillingham as an opposition, gave up the ghost.
Within two minutes, Myles Weston seized on Julian’s clearance 30 yards from goal and brushed aside a couple of spineless challenges to rifle a third.

James Walker managed to make no contact with a header when it was easier to score prior to half time and when he blazed over early in the second half from close range after a Bentley header had been touched onto the bar, it signaled the end of a less than auspicious debut.

Brentford played the second half in cruise control and Gillingham had little in the way of guile or spirit to shake them from their slumbers. Luke Rooney, on as substitute for Walker, loosely cleared to Weston who strolled into the box and unleashed a fierce shot that rattled the upright only for the rebound to hit the unfortunate Julian on the back and end up in the net.

If my team had no stomach for the fight, then neither would I. Enough was enough, and judging by the amount of disgruntled Gillingham supporters on the platform at Brentford Station for the early train back to Waterloo, plenty had taken the same action. Those that remained were clearly on a course to vent their spleen at the under-fire manager and his gutless charges who deserved no less than every decibel of abuse that was hurled at them.

Brentford are no Norwich, Leeds, Charlton or Southampton, all of whom will be faced in the coming weeks and in the wake of this debacle the outcomes do not bearing thinking about unless you have spent your £45 wisely.