Saturday, 27 March 2010

Gillingham 2 Milton Keynes Dons 2

Match 54/09/806 - Saturday, 27th March 2010 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Miller 20, Barcham 65
Milton Keynes Dons (2) 2 McCracken18, Easter 45
Att. 5,465

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,240

Match Report

My memories of Gillingham/MK Dons encounters since the concrete city became the first franchised football league club has been those of dour, lifeless encounters usually with the MackieD’s turning up with a lump of a side willing to kick anything that moved.

Today’s fixture was anything but lifeless and it was most certainly controversial. It seems slightly against the grain that a Kent-based official should be allowed to referee a Gillingham match, but Phil Crossley has officiated the Gills on three occasions this season alone and alongside his similarly Kent-based assistant, Phil Knight, they showed that their locality is no template for a homer.

Gillingham were left to play a man light for 50 minutes when Dennis Oli was sent off for two yellow cards. Oli’s first was collected when he was adjudged to have dived in the penalty area after a challenge by James Tunnicliffe, from the stands it looked a harsh decision, one that could have gone either way. The second yellow came within eight minutes when Oli fouled Dean Lewington on the touchline. The decision incensed the Gillingham support in the Gordon Road Stand, who thought that the Dons’ defender had made the most of the challenge. My own opinion is that whether it was a foul or not, it was a reckless challenge from a player already on a caution.

Matters went from bad to worse before half time when a decidedly shaky Gillingham back four, polar opposite to last week’s sterling performance at the Valley, conceded a second poor goal as Jermaine Easter hooked in from close range to go into the break a man down and a goal down.

It had all started so well. Rene Howe, who went on to produce a performance that could not have been far short of the man-of-the-match award, sent Andy Barcham clear down the left and his cross to Curtis Weston most certainly should have been buried.

Darren Dennehy, who endured a difficult encounter with Easter and Aaron Wilbraham, conceded a foul on the edge of the box and when the Gillingham defence failed to clear the free kick the ball finally fell to central defender David McCracken who scored from close range at the second attempt.

Gillingham responded quickly when Adam Miller drove home a low free kick within two minutes of the opening goal. The midfielder’s kissing of the badge celebration a clear message to those that had questioned his commitment to the club following comments made whilst on loan at Dagenham earlier in the season.

By the time of the Oli sending-off the game had already become bad tempered and Miller showed assistant Knight his scars from a previous high challenge, two very red stud marks on his side whilst continuing a verbal tirade on the official.

The game may, and should, have been ended as a contest early in the second half. More poor defending left Easter clear to lob Alan Julian, who was relieved to see the ball rebound off the bar.

As the home side struggled to come to terms with the personnel disadvantage, Milton Keynes created further chances before Andy Barcham produced a little bit of magic to bring the Gills level. Fastening on to a clearance, Sean O’Hanlon was second best as Barcham outpaced his marker to fire past Willy Gueret.

Paul Ince was next to feel the wrath of the officials as he was sent not to the stands, but down the tunnel for protesting a decision, taking the walk of shame past a mocking Medway Stand.

Those fans were best placed to see the next controversial act by the men in charge when Rene Howe was denied a penalty and the receiver of a caution, once again for simulation.

Dennehy, who had suffered a torrid, error-strewn match, made a stupendous block to deny Easter an almost certain winner before Gillingham had a final chance to capture maximum points themselves with no one on the end of a Howe cross.

Tempers finally spilled over when following a bad challenge on Danny Jackman by Stephen Gleeson, in the ensuing melee Easter was seen to stamp on the stricken midfielder. Par for the course, both Gleeson (who was booked) and Easter (already on a booking) escaped the ultimate punishment.

As at the Valley last Saturday, Gillingham showed great spirit, this time in adversity and most in the stadium would have taken a point at half time with the goal and man disparity. As for the officials, we’ll take one from Cumbria next time.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Charlton Athletic 2 Gillingham 2

Match 53/09/805 - Saturday, 20th March 2010 - League One

Charlton Athletic (1) 2 Richardson 31, Mooney 60
Gillingham (2) 2 Barcham 32, Oli 45
Att. 20,024

Entrance: £25
Programme: £3
Mileage: 80/6,195

Match Report

The celebrations were a trifle OTT, after all no Cup Final had been won, no promotion gained, no relegation avoided, we hadn’t even won the match, but Gillingham’s magnificent following at the Valley milked the moment for all it was worth as their favourite’s display of resilience gained an unlikely reward.

Both sides’ supporters showed how much these “derby” matches mean to them. For Gillingham fans these are the games that they desperately want to win and not only for the points that are put on the board, for the likes of Charlton, their fans gave the impression that this was just another match to win against just another League One club.

Whilst the away support rallied their troops for 90 minutes and beyond, the home crowd watched on with a passion bordering on apathy. Perhaps they had similar thoughts to many of the visiting supporters, the game would be won, it was just a question of how many they would win by.

Simeon Jackson was not risked and started the game from the bench, furthering negative thoughts about the outcome.

Gillingham contested the opening forays and had an early chance when Rene Howe put a header narrowly the wrong side of the post when it appeared easier to score. Referee Paul Taylor, a crowd favourite (not) at Priestfield, made his first irritating decision of the afternoon when he booked Dennis Oli for deliberate hand ball, a debateable decision in itself.

Alan Julian had a curate egg’s type of performance during the first half. Hesitancy had been combined with some outstanding saves, but a 31st minute shot from Frazer Richardson that slipped under the keeper’s diving body will not make for happy viewing when the video is replayed.

But it was symptomatic of Gillingham’s display of resilience that they bounced back immediately. Andy Barcham cut in from the right hand side and unleashed a spectacular 25 yard shot that had Rob Elliott clutching at fresh air.

The 3,000 visiting fans’ joy was heightened into ecstasy as Gillingham took the lead in the time added at the end of the first half. Elliott failed to hold an innocuous Howe shot and Oli was on hand to poach the goal. It was to be Elliott’s last act between the sticks as he was replaced at half time probably suffering from embarrassment.

The second half was a much different story. Gillingham were under pressure from the outset and when David Mooney swiftly turned and shot past Julian from 10 yards on the hour it was hard not to believe that the writing was on the wall for the Blues.

The rearguard action that followed was like a scene from the Alamo. The defending from Garry Richards, and in particular, Darren Dennehy was absolutely magnificent. Referee Taylor did his best to help the home side towards the points, no more so than when he opened a clear route to goal by colliding with Adam Miller.

A handball on the edge of the box by Barcham caused every one of the massed ranks a collective holding of breath that was relieved as Nicky Bailey sailed his shot over the bar.

As the final whistle sounded, joyous chanting of “We are staying up” ensued. There is a lot of water to flow below that particular bridge before we can breathe easily. But on today’s evidence the battle can be won and will be won with everybody pulling together.

South London’s moaning minnies on the train back, portrayed exactly why they are no longer the automatic promotion certainties they thought they were. Take this Division and its clubs for granted and it is going to come back and bite you on the bum.

Tonbridge 2 Carshalton Athletic 0

Match 52/09/804 - Tuesday, 16th March 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Burchill 28, Long 54
Carshalton Athletic (0) 0
Att. 284

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/6,115

Match Report

Tonbridge suffered through the turnstiles at the hands of Jose Mourinho on Tuesday evening, but those that stayed away to watch, from the comfort of their armchairs, the Special One in Champions League action missed a special goal.

Sam Long will not be featuring on any Champions League highlights this week but his goal was of a quality to grace those auspicious heights. The young winger collected the ball on the half way line, and as defenders backed off, no doubt worried by the pace that had frightened them previously, he let fly from 25 yards with a shot that curled into the top right hand corner for a truly memorable strike.

In recent weeks Tonbridge have moved steadily away for the relegation places and positioned themselves in mid-table, but the congestion around them makes it not unthinkable that a play-off push could still be made.

In this game against Carshalton, the side that ended their play-off hopes last term at Longmead, Tonbridge played football that was pleasing on the eye and deserving of a greater margin of victory. The home side took a first half lead on 28 minutes when Adam Burchill kept his composure, capitalising on a mistake in the centre of the visitors’ defence to run on and slip the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper. Burchill is a young and lively player unable to stake a regular place in the champions-elect Dartford side and Tonbridge are reaping the benefit of a loan spell. Both Long and Burchill were released by Gillingham having been considered “too lightweight”.

Lewes Gonsalves, having survived with a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Kirk Watts in the first half, was no match for the pace of Burchill and when he brought him down on the edge of the box soon after the second goal, the referee had no option but to issue a red card.

Two goals to the good and with a man advantage, Tonbridge were able to stroll through the last 20 minutes playing possession football that must have given much pleasure to manager Tommy Warrilow. Whilst the eye-catching performances came from the flying youngsters, in midfield the steel and aggression of Scott Kinch has allowed Lee Minshull more of a marauding role that better sides than Carshalton will struggle to counter.

Burchill’s loan spell ends imminently, if Warrilow can keep him until the season’s end (and he wins an appeal against a lengthy ban), then Tonbridge may well fly into the play-offs as the form side.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Stockport County 0 Gillingham 0

Match 51/09/803 - Saturday, 13th March 2010 - League One

Stockport County (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 3,894

Entrance: £17
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 529/6,091

Match Report

Edgeley Park doesn’t rank among the more picturesque of any season’s visits, so if there are a couple of extra photographs to fill the column inches then I apologise but to make a decent report from so little is nigh on impossible.

This relegation six-pointer produced a game of exactly that quality, two sides that had neither the ability to beat each other or the pitch of a freshly ploughed potato field variety. If Gillingham Anchorians ever scale the heights of the rugby union pyramid, I hope that the chairman of the time would not tempted into any ground sharing scheme on the evidence of Stockport’s (and Sale Sharks) grassless patch.

Gillingham (football club that is) might point to a denied penalty appeal as reason that they did not come away with the three points, but County could counter that argument by contesting that they forced Alan Julian into more saves and a man of the match performance. Fact is neither side did enough to deserve full points.

The visitors were put under early pressure with Richie Partridge posing problems but there were no finishes that caused Julian any concern. Meanwhile, Gillingham were struggling to come to terms with a pitch that started to cut up from the first minute. Despite a weather forecast that indicated a warmer day than of late, on an open terrace with a sharp wind and light rain, not only the football made for uncomfortable viewing.

The one talking point of the first half was the denied penalty appeal for a foul on Andy Barcham. This was the clearest view that I’ve had of such an appeal this season. Unobstructed and from only about 15 yards away I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the Stockport defender took the man and not the ball, as referee Foster must have adjudged.

The viewpoint also offered the opportunity to see the difficulty the pitch imposed as Barcham and Adam Miller were both made to wait the ball to settle as it bobbled continuously whilst setting for a shot at goal that never came.

The second half followed much the same pattern as the first. Stockport made the most of the running with Partridge and George Donnelly to the fore and Julian was forced into a series of eye-catching, but mostly comfortable, saves. Simeon Jackson flashed a long range shot narrowly wide that had many of the 350 assembled Gills fans believing he had found the net as it rattled the stanchion.

Jabo Ibhere, who had been a handful, but well marshaled by Darren Dennehy, pictured, and Garry Richards, ballooned a shot high over the bar from 12 yards to ably sum up the woeful nature of the quality on show.

On Sunday morning my sister-in-law asked if I had a good trip yesterday. Knowing she has absolutely no interest in football, I made the following analogy: If you travelled a round trip of 530 miles to see your favourite singer and on the night, she sang none of the songs you liked and the ones she did, she sang out of tune . . . You lost then, she replied.

Cue the pictures . . .

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Gillingham 2 Huddersfield Town 0

Match 50/09/802 - Thursday, 6th March 2010 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Jackson 6, 46
Huddersfield Town (0) 0
Att. 5,388

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,562

Match Report

For television viewers of a certain vintage there used to be a very watchable programme entitled “Tales of the Unexpected”, this afternoon at Priestfield we watched our own Tale of the Unexpected.

I certainly wasn’t risking a brass nickel of my mortgage on Gillingham earning even a point against a high-flying Huddersfield Town. There may have been reason to speculate following the Yorkshire side’s battering at Southampton in midweek and their away record was only average, but still the odds against were too great for my pennies.

Also unexpected was the nature of the visitors’ performance. My expectation was one of a footballing side that would have too much in attack for Gillingham to withstand. After all, their goal tally of 69 is greater than both Leeds and Charlton. What we actually got was a team of cloggers that ended the game a man light and could easily have been further depleted.

On a surprisingly cold March afternoon, Gillingham started the game at a hot pace and there was early controversy as Terriers’ keeper Alex Smithies brought down Simeon Jackson some 35 yards from his goal, fortunately for the goalkeeper the referee deemed a yellow an adequate punishment. What Smithies was doing so far from home only he would know.

Rene Howe had two opportunities to open the scoring and should certainly have done better with the second attempt as he shot weakly straight at Smithies when through on goal. But the hosts were not to be denied as a scorching Jackson effort from 30 yards into the bottom right corner put them a goal to the good after seven minutes.

Huddersfield’s leading scorer Jordan Rhodes was fortunate to escape with a yellow card when he appeared to strike Gillingham keeper Alan Julian in the throat as they contested a high through ball.

Tempers boiled over five minutes later following a horrendous challenge by Nathan Eccleston on Stuart Lewis. The referee instantly brandished a red card as players squared up to one another in search of retribution. Lewis eventually climbed to his feet and played on, but it could so easily have been major injury to the full back.

Despite their opponents being down to 10 men, Gillingham were relieved to see a Garry Richards deflection go millimetres wide and were also grateful when Rhodes got in the way of a Lee Novak shot.

Just 20 seconds of the second half had elapsed when Rene Howe nodded on Darren Dennehy’s clearance and Jackson sped into the area to calmly slot home. It was a really good finish, my eye line was good the see the ball bobbling about on a poor surface as he steadied to make his shot.

Rene Howe, whose link play was good, unfortunately didn’t have the best of afternoons in front of goal as another couple of chances were wasted before being substituted in the 73rd minute by Dennis Oli.

Jackson had several good chances to secure his hat trick including an effort that produced a double save from Smithies. Meanwhile, Julian was called upon to make a good save from Theo Robinson and Gary Roberts hit a post, but Gillingham richly deserved their unexpected victory.

England 3 Egypt 1

Match 49/09/801 - Wednesday, 3rd March 2010 - International

England (0) 3 Crouch 56, 80 Wright-Phillips 75
Egypt (1) 1 Zidan 23
Att. 80,602

Entrance: £25
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/5,517

Match Report

As this is a Matchday blog I’ve not had the opportunity to cover the sorry tale of John Terry, his tangled love life and its impact on England’s World Cup hopes.

So for historical purposes here is a potted version of the soap opera that has dampened England’s expectations of success in South Africa. Footballer gets an injunction against a national newspaper that threatens to expose a wrong-doing; newspaper gets injunction overturned and Terry is alleged to have had an affair with ex-partner of team mate Wayne Bridge; Capello ditches Terry as captain; the cuckolded Bridge decides to remove himself from the squad.

On the field, Rio Ferdinand was made captain, but was injured, so the armband passed to Steven Gerrard (who passed the armband to Wayne Rooney when he was substituted, who passed the armband to Gareth Barry when he was substituted) and Leighton Baines took over the left back spot from Ashley Cole, who was injured, but embroiled in his own domestic problems, following the plot so far!

As the controversy surrounding Terry gathered pace, his form also faltered thus he came into the game facing greater scrutiny than ever before. Wayne Rooney had made a rather futile attempt to try and stop England fans from booing their ex-captain, but in truth Terry was not the first, and won’t be the last, England player to face abuse from a Wembley crowd, remember the crap that was heaped upon Gary Neville in the past. As it happened there were boos when his name was announced and when he touched the ball for the first time, hopelessly misplacing a pass, but when a bigger number retaliated and sang his name his detractors were quickly quietened. After the shaky start, he went on to play a reasonably good game.

Egypt were a pleasant surprise. In the first half they were well worth their goal lead and were technically very good against an England side that was struggling to find any sort of cohesion. Up front, Mohamed Zidan was a constant threat and when Matthew Upson slipped he took his chance to fire past Rob Green.

Fabio Capello had seen enough in the lacklustre performance to make half time changes. Jermain Defoe, who did very little to enhance his chances of a starting place, made way for Peter Crouch and Frank Lampard, who wasted a couple of good first half chances, made way for Michael Carrick.

Crouch, too often portrayed as some kind of pantomime character, but with a goal scoring record for England to rank alongside the best, quickly restored parity and emphasised his own credentials to his coach. A fine team move ended with Gareth Barry crossing for the lanky striker to sweep the ball home.

Theo Walcott, another that had failed to rubber stamp his plane ticket on the night, was replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips who went on to pose a constant threat to the Egyptian defenders. After 75 minutes, Essam El Hadary in the African champions goal, failed to deal with a James Milner shot and did even worse with the return shot from Wright-Phillips to give the home side the lead.

Five minutes later and the two substitutes combined again for Crouch to steer the ball home from close range to seal the win following a satisfying second half performance.

Peter Crouch picked up the man-of-the-match for his 45 minutes work and must be a certainty for the squad and certainly enhanced his claims for a starting place. With Aaron Lennon struggling for fitness and Theo Walcott not taking his opportunity to press home his claim, Shaun Wright-Phillips did his cause no harm in his half-hour on the pitch.

Fabio Capello must now be hoping for a quieter run in to the naming of his preliminary squad on 16th May and the final 23 which will be announced on 1st June. The furore surrounding Terry and Ashley Cole will hopefully be shifted from the front pages by an up-coming General Election or perhaps Peter Andre and Katie Price could muster a few column inches to remove any England players from the heat.

Of those on the treatment table, the coach must have everything crossed that Cole, Ferdinand and Glen Johnson are going to return to fitness sooner rather than later and if Wayne Rooney could be wrapped up in cotton wool and told to rest up with Coleen and baby Kai, then the nation would be eternally grateful. But no doubt Sir Alex has other thoughts.

A final thought on the Wembley night would be that a far better than expected crowd of 80,000 created a good atmosphere largely due to the substantial following for the visitors and they watched a far better than expected game.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Tonbridge 1 Kingstonian 0

Match 48/09/800 - Saturday, 27th February 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 1 Booth 9
Kingstonian (0) 0
Att. 429

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/5,417

Match Report

Whether there is any fact to the potential investor story at Tonbridge or not, the club is slowly emerging from its relegation threat by its own means within the resources presently available. Second placed Kingstonian were Saturday’s visitors to Longmead and a single goal victory for the hosts was a third win in four games.

A superb 30 yard strike from Paul Booth after nine minutes ultimately won a game in which Tonbridge had more than enough chances to win comfortably but were clinging on at the end despite the Surrey side going down to 10 men with half-an-hour left on the clock.

Perhaps Kingstonian had looked at their relative league positions and felt that this was going to be an easy three points because their whole performance was tetchy with several feuds seemingly going on. Lee Minshull became the target of the away support after a spat in which he had little fault and there was a further altercation between the bench and a Tonbridge supporter following a foul and injury to one of their players.

A bad miss from three yards denied Kingstonian an equaliser and hot on its heels came the dismissal of Lee Hall for a poor challenge on Minshull.

Dartford loanee Adam Burchill was introduced and two good chances fell his way both of which were disappointingly spurned.

The final whistle saw another Kingstonian player shown the red card with the protests continuing as the officials made their way back to the changing rooms. On the strength of this performance a greater discipline, on and off the pitch, is going to be needed should the visitors make the end of season play-offs because they are not going miss out on promotion with any good grace.