Sunday, 25 April 2010

Norwich City 2 Gillingham 0

Match 61/09/813 - Saturday, 24th April 2010 - League One

Norwich City (0) 2 Russell 70, Nelson 78
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 25,227

Entrance: £26
Programme: £3
Mileage: 294/7,320

Match Report

We arrived as the sacrificial lambs to the slaughter in Norwich City’s championship celebration but, for 70 minutes, well and truly pooped on their parade. If Dennis Oli’s finishing had been a tad more clinical, or perhaps more fairly, Fraser Forster’s keeping not been top drawer then it could have been the travelling support with reason to party.

There was a vibrant atmosphere prior to kick off with the home support giving a rousing response to the match announcer’s cues. What they were singing is anybody’s guess but they were certainly loud.

Jack Payne continued to deputise for Barry Fuller as Mark Stimson opted to start with the same side that had virtually started last Saturday against Leeds.

The first half went by with very little to scare the visitors. The bloke from Coldplay lifted a free kick over the bar, but Payne rendered Anthony McNamee to such an ineffective role that he was substituted at half time and even Grant Holt was being contained with relative ease. The thunderous party atmosphere was being reduced to something more funereal.

Following an early second half opportunity for Chris Martin, Gillingham suddenly found themselves opening up their hosts almost at will for a golden ten minute period. Rene Howe, who worked tirelessly, sent Oli clear on goal, cutting in from the right hand side. The striker made good contact but Forster had covered his angles well and parried the ball to semi safety with Andy Barcham just a couple of yards from the rebound.

Barcham then pulled a shot wide before a long Danny Jackman pass found Howe who wriggled his way along the line before pulling the ball back to Oli whose shot was saved by Forster at the second attempt. When Jackman shot over, the Carrow Road party had fallen as flat as a Delia soufflé.

But as is always said in these situations, chances have to be taken when you are on top and Gillingham had spurned their opportunity. It was somewhat sad, perhaps almost inevitable, that the turning point in the game would be as the result of an individual error and that the guilty party would be Adam Miller. The midfielder, maintaining his recent good form, dwelt on the ball and was dispossessed by Daryl Russell who let fly from 20 yards. The ball cannoned down off the underside of the bar and although cleared to safety by Darren Dennehy, the linesman adjudged that the ball had crossed the line.

It was an unfortunate break that Gillingham had not deserved, but eight minutes later the party could begin in earnest as a straightforward corner was met by Michael Nelson who powered a header home from close range.

Paul Scally stated this week, that in terms of cash, there is little difference being in League Two as League One, but for the fans it is the big days out at places like Carrow Road that would be missing from the calendar next season should the worse happen. The away support that had sold its full allocation in the sell-out crowd were given an end block in the Jarrold Stand that gave a difficult viewing position diagonally across the pitch.

Results elsewhere leave the spectre of a last day shoot out at Adams Park looming large. But if, next weekend, those lovely people from up the Old Kent Road can win at Tranmere and Gillingham can produce another of their odds-defying performances at Priestfield against a Southampton side with no longer any interest in the play-off positions, then last day nerves can be avoided. Something tells me that it cannot be that easy. There is also the possibility that whoever loses their final games by the least amount may determine whether its Gillingham or Exeter that make the drop as the Devon side lead the Gills by just a single goal.

There’s a party on offer at Wycombe, it needs to be ours.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Gillingham 3 Leeds United 2

Match 60/09/812 - Saturday, 17th April 2010 - League One

Gillingham (3) 3 Miller 8, Bentley 30, Naylor o.g. 33
Leeds United (1) 2 Becchio 44, Beckford (pen) 86
Att. 9,649

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,026

Match Report

We’ve our fair share of Victor Meldrews in the Coffin Dodgers, I might even be considered one of them, but the grumpy old codger would have summed it up perfectly this afternoon: “I don’t believe it”.

As Richard Naylor and Leigh Bromby got in each others way to result in Naylor deflecting Jack Payne’s cross into his own net to put Gillingham 3-up in the 33rd minute, old Jim sitting behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he was dreaming. I couldn’t reassure him that he was wide awake as the act being played out in front of our eyes was so surreal, all of us could have been sharing the same dream.

In that same dream, last night Mark Stimson browsed the message boards and he saw a pleading text from myself urging him to just go for it. Nobody expected anything from this game and with expected defensive absences, attack may be the best form of defence. He took it on board and WE WENT FOR IT!

The defensive problems were eased momentarily as Darren Dennehy was fit to line up alongside Mark Bentley, but within two minutes skipper Barry Fuller fell to the ground after a clash of heads with the exceedingly irritating Max Gradel and a broken nose forced his early substitution by teenager Jack Payne.

After eight minutes a long throw from John Nutter somehow travelled across the face of the Leeds six yard box and Adam Miller was on hand at the far post to pick out the far corner with a perfectly placed header. Pessimism still reigns supreme as my first thoughts upon coming down from the clouds were that we’ve scored too early.

For the next 20 minutes, Gradel continued chirping away at Premiership referee Alan Wiley complaining about anything and everything. He’s talented and difficult to contain, but my god, what a whinger.

Dennis Oli and Rene Howe were proving every bit as difficult for the Leeds central defenders to contain and on the half hour their lack of aerial dominance set the dream factory in motion. Miller swung in a free kick from the left and the cross was met perfectly by Bentley, who powerfully headed home.

The centre of Leeds defence was now in total disarray and when Payne’s speculative cross was turned in by Naylor, it was the stuff of comic book defending and a fantasy score line.

While some foolhardy folk were chanting for four, my thoughts were to get to half-time with what we had. It was not to be and when Luciano Becchio found space to turn and fire past Alan Julian in the final minute of the half, I think we all knew that this game was not over by some distance.

Was our dream to turn into a second half nightmare? One thing we all knew for sure, it was going to be a backs-to-the-wall 45 minutes.

Gillingham got through the first 10 minutes relatively unscathed and for Simon Grayson it was kitchen sink time and on came Jermaine Beckford and Ben Parker in a double substitution.

Leeds continued to threaten, but in fairness, the Gillingham goal was not exactly leading a charmed life as efforts from Gradel, Kilkenny and Parker failed to trouble Julian.

Simeon Jackson entered the fray at the expense of Curtis Weston, who on an afternoon for heroes once again failed to exert any influence in the middle of the park.

Slowly the clock ticked towards its conclusion with the nerves only being slightly eased when the little whinger, Gradel finally received his well earned yellow.

Oli and Howe were continuing to selflessly run the channels to earn vital seconds of respite and as Priestfield roared its satisfaction for the collective effort, some dared to dream that the improbable was going to happen. But a final twist was about to break.

The absolutely superb Mark Bentley was adjudged to have fouled Beckford and the striker converted from the spot with five minutes remaining.

Those final five minutes and a further four of time added were a half in their own right as Oli and Howe appeared to play out their own clock diminishment exercise in the right hand corner of the Rainham End until referee Wiley finally put us out of our agony.

It was improbable, some would say, impossible, but folks it wasn’t a dream, the reality will be printed in tomorrow’s newspapers.

Heroes were one and all. Bentley and Dennehy were immense, Payne stepped up to the plate when it really mattered. Miller was magnificent and the effort expended by Oli and Howe was top drawer and all that was complemented by unbelievable support from the terraces.

As with all fairy stories there is a wicked witch and this came in the form of results elsewhere. Wins for Tranmere, Leyton Orient and Hartlepool slightly negated the magnitude of our own result, but tonight is not the time to dwell on negatives.


Friday, 16 April 2010

Tonbridge 3 Harrow Borough 2

Match 59/09/811 - Thursday, 15th April 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 3 Cade 38, 72 Kinch 49
Harrow Borough (2) 1 Baptiste 17, Watts 35
Att. 397

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/6,981

Match Report

Tonbridge came from behind to stretch their unbeaten record in the Ryman Premier to 12 games and keep themselves within striking distance of a play-off place with games in hand on those above them. But an arduous schedule that would spark outrage in the Premier League against clubs similarly contesting those top five positions is about to unfold.

First up at Longmead on Saturday, in the host’s last home game, are Borehamwood, presently placed one place above Tonbridge in sixth position. On Tuesday, there is a visit to bogey team, AFC Hornchurch, who are ninth, five points shy of the dotted line. Thursday sees a visit to Wealdstone, in eighth and three points adrift of the Angels and on the last day of the regular season, next Saturday, Tonbridge visit the form side of the Division, Aveley.

Such is the congestion at the top of the table, Tonbridge could afford no slip-ups against a Harrow Borough side with little to play for and a nothing to lose attitude. Minus Lee Minshull serving the last of his three match suspension and Adam Burchill at the beginning of his two week ban, Tonbridge found themselves under pressure early in the game and conceded the first goal after 17 minutes. Scott Kinch failed to clear under pressure and Rocky Baptiste poked it home from close range.

Baptiste will be remembered for his heroics with Havant and Waterlooville in their cup run of 2008 when he scored at Anfield, but his Miss of the Century that brought millions of YouTube hits brought him fame of a more dubious nature.

Tonbridge were quite unsettled and they give themselves a steep hill to climb in the 35 minute, a superb pass from a Japanese lad, Kenta Nakashima, picked out Ryan Watts who finished well, firing across Lee Worgan into the far corner. The Harrow support of about 10 were gathered behind the goal into which they had scored and despite going 2-0 down it was somewhat amusing to hear their songs being sung by a group of blokes dressed in shirts and ties and giving their rendition in rather posh voices!

The home side needed the lift of a goal before half time and in the 38th minute Jamie Cade supplied it. An Anthony Storey free kick was flicked on by Kinch and Cade finished from close range.

Kinch was wearing a heavy strapping to his thigh from the outset and looked to be struggling badly but reappeared for the second half and within eight minutes had equalised for the home side. A free kick from Liam Harwood took the faintest of touches off Kinch’s head to the delight of the majority of the 397 crowd.

This proved to be just about the last act for Scott Kinch, whose valiant effort on one leg had now rendered him virtually immobilised and his substitution was almost an act of mercy.

Tonbridge’s comeback was completed in the 72nd minute when Cade was played in by the persistence of Jay May and finished well from 12 yards. The game, that had been scrappy for the most part anyway, became nervy for the last 20 minutes as Harrow desperately searched for an equaliser and Worgan was called upon to make a couple of decent saves.

It was a lovely touch that tonight's programme cover was dedicated to Brian Cheal. I knew Brian as a young man, he was five years older than me but I knew most of his group of friends of that time, but lost touch when Tonbridge left the Angel Ground. RIP Brian.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Gillingham 1 Brighton 1

Match 58/09/810 - Tuesday, 13th April 2010 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Miller 49
Brighton & Hove Albion (1) 1 El-Abd 5
Att. 7,997

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,955

Match Report

Leyton Orient did it last night, Tranmere Rovers did it recently and now, to stand any chance of avoiding relegation, Gillingham have to do it in the next three games, that is to win a game that nobody really expects them to do.

Last night was the must win game of Gillingham’s final fixtures and, despite a valiant effort in a thrilling match, they fell short of the desired result.

An Alan Julian penalty save preserved hope while Chris Dickson showed exactly why he has gone from hero to zero in a pulsating second half.

Following last Saturday’s humiliation at Millwall, Garry Richards, who will miss the rest of the season, was replaced by Josh Gowling, Curtis Weston returned in midfield at the expense of Stuart Lewis and Dennis Oli partnered Rene Howe up front.

A must win match could not have had a worse start for the home side with Brighton taking an early lead. Adam El-Abd firmly met a Elliott Bennett corner to head the visitors into the lead in front of their 1,200-plus supporters. Buoyed by their early success, Brighton went on to dominate the first half as Gillingham struggled to retain a foothold in the game.

Darren Dennehy failed to appear for the second half and Tom Wynter was somewhat surprisingly preferred as replacement rather than Mark Bentley.

Gillingham found an equaliser in the opening minutes of the second half. Adam Miller collected a pass from Howe, ran into the box and fired home from 12 yards providing the home side with the lift they needed.

Brighton, and Glenn Murray in particular, had numerous opportunities to regain the lead but the Seagulls’ sure shot of recent weeks was misfiring badly. Simeon Jackson entered the fray as a 60th minute substitute for Miller, who perhaps was withdrawn on the back of a yellow card.

An opportunity for Gills’ leading scoring presented itself almost immediately. A long ball saw Jackson in the clear but his attempted lob was blocked by keeper Brezovan on the edge of the box.

Twenty minutes remained when Chris Dickson was given his chance to regain the esteem of the home support and a golden opportunity presented itself ten minutes later. A Danny Jackman free kick evaded everybody and fell at the striker’s feet to the left of the goal, but with the whole 12 x 8 to aim it, he rolled the ball onto the far post and the chance was lost.

Dickson further riled the elderly folk in the Gordon Road Stand when he failed to make a run down the line leaving John Nutter with nowhere to go. His attempted clearance was charged down into the path of Murray who was hauled to the ground by Gowling, the central defender receiving a red card for his trouble.

It felt that Gillingham’s season now hinged on the spot kick. Murray, whose profligate shooting had kept the game alive, surely could not miss again. Alan Julian dived left, but as his left hand trailed it was enough to get a vital block on the ball and as the ball was cleared it was mass jubilation all round.

In the time added on Julian was twice reading the riot act to Dickson as his languid use of the ball added pressure on the 10 men and it was clear that Gillingham were more than happy to settle for the point they had.

In different circumstances, and perhaps for the neutral it was, this would have been a classic with all the thrills and spills necessary for such an encounter, but for the majority of the home support it would have been agony, ecstasy and finally a realisation that a point might not be enough.

We will know the answer when the big boys have been and gone, but we have to believe that if Leyton Orient and Tranmere can do it, so can we.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Millwall 4 Gillingham 0

Match 57/09/809 - Saturday, 10th April 2010 - League One

Millwall (2) 4 Batt 27, Craig 35, Schofield 60, Harris 65
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 14,574

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3
Mileage: 80/6,910

Match Report

Just how embarrassing was that?

From the 65th minute when our old mucker Neil Harris headed home from a yard and signalled the beginning of the exodus from the away end, I sat uncomfortably in my seat and 10 minutes later literally could not stand any more.

Personally, I found this performance a greater embarrassment than the 7-0 thrashing at Shrewsbury, even though this may be largely down to locality and the knowledge that justifiably smug Lions fans will be encountered in the next couple of days.

Let’s get the excuses out of the way. Gillingham lost both central defenders, Garry Richards being helped from the pitch following a bizarre collision with goalkeeper Alan Julian. But by then, the damage had largely been done and the visitors were struggling to retain a foothold in the game.

This was our first foray into SE16 with the train being the method of transport and plans went astray from the word go. Engineering works put us half-an-hour behind a schedule that had already been geared to arriving at The Den later than usual.

The delayed arrival at London Bridge and a missed connection meant that we had to make the one stop journey down to South Bermondsey in the company of, shall we say, boisterous Millwall fans. Needless to say we kept it quiet. At the station the separate walkway to the away end gives a slightly more assured sense of security.

Inside the stadium the atmosphere was the same as ever. Sure it is intimidating and there are some complete knuckle heads that appear to watch the away support more than the game itself, but we were far from short of our own protagonists.

Stuart Lewis was preferred in midfield to Curtis Weston and Simeon Jackson returned to the starting eleven at the expense of Dennis Oli.

The opening minutes were relatively even with Dennehy heading over and Jackson forcing a save from David Forde before the home side capitalised on a mistake in midfield by Lewis who was dispossessed. In the blink of an eye, Danny Schofield placed a pass inside Barry Fuller to Shaun Batt, who finished coolly from close range.

Gillingham were undone again 10 minutes later when a clearance fell to defender Tony Craig whose dipping volley from 20 yards found Julian off his line. First impressions were that it had caught a deflection and looped up, but a later viewing on the television showed differently.

With their backs to the wall, no puns intended, Gillingham needed a route back into the game before half time and a gilt-edged opportunity opened up when Rene Howe managed to wriggle clear down the right hand side, but his weak cross was easily gathered by Forde.

Darren Dennehy, who had taken a first half blow to the head, failed to appear for the second half with Josh Gowling substituting and the situation in the central defensive department was quick to go from bad to worse. After just five minutes with Garry Richards shepherding a ball through to Alan Julian, the keeper collided with his own man and was urgently calling for the physio’s attention with the big defender subsequently unable to continue.

Mark Bentley formed the new partnership with Gowling and within a quarter-of-an-hour the game was over as a contest. Schofield was allowed time and space to skip a couple of half-hearted challenges and plant a shot from the edge of the box past Julian and five minutes later when Harris executed the coup-de-grace the decision had to be made regarding an early exit.

The thought of imprisonment in that away end for another 45 minutes following the misery already endured proved too much and a hasty retreat was sought. As we passed the Den on our way back to Kent we could see the faithful that had stuck it out to the finish patiently waiting to make their own exit. Credit it you people, but it was all too much to bear.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Gillingham 3 Southend United 0

Match 56/09/808 - Monday, 5th April 2010 - League One

Gillingham (0) 3 Oli 47, Howe 74, Barcham 85
Southend United (0) 0
Att. 7,657

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,830

Match Report

Home sweet home for Gillingham on Easter Monday as a first victory in five games lifted them out of the bottom four into which they had dropped following Saturday’s defeat at Oldham.

Dennis Oli returned after suspension replacing the misfiring Chris Dickson with Simeon Jackson sitting out his return on the bench. Skipper Barry Fuller returned to the starting eleven with the aid of a cast on his arm replacing Stuart Lewis.

In a dull first half, Rene Howe had two opportunities to break his duck at the club. The first he dragged wide and the second brought a good save from Steve Mildenhall. Howe is a striker in the mould of Emile Heskey, he brings a lot to the table, but that doesn’t include goals.

But the second half started off with a bang and the home side went on to control the game and win the vital points against a Southend side similarly threatened by the relegation trap door. Curtis Weston, who has been a shadow of the player we know he can be and was ineffectual in the first half, had a shot partially blocked by Mildenhall but it fell to Oli who hooked in from close range.

Andy Barcham was now causing a considerable problem to the Shrimpers rearguard and when Adam Miller connected with his cross the net rippled and most of Priestfield thought the Gills had gone two-up, unfortunately he had missed.

The monkey was finally lifted off Rene Howe’s back in the 74th minute. Simeon Jackson, on for Oli, crossed for Howe to finish. His delight was for all to see.

Barcham and Weston combined with five minutes remaining to seal the game in emphatic style with Barcham crashing his shot into the roof of the net.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Oldham Athletic 1 Gillingham 0

Match 55/09/807 - Saturday, 3rd April 2010 - League One

Oldham Athletic (0) 1 Guy 59
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 3,486

Entrance: £18
Programme: £3
Mileage: 545/6,785

Match Report

In the self-deprecating gallows humour that is mustered by the followers of teams scratching an existence at the wrong end of the Football League, Oldham Athletic’s supporters massed in their tens at the Rochdale Road end taunted their Gillingham counterparts with a chorus of “We’re Shit But We’re Beating You”, and it ably summed up the quality of both sides.

We all have “one of those days” and yesterday was one of those days. With Manchester United and Chelsea doing battle at the wealthy end of football’s food chain we had earmarked a pub with the requisite satellite television and food in which to watch the game and set out earlier than usual to arrive in time for the 12.45 kick off. Worries that Easter might cause traffic problems were unfounded and we reached the Old Grey Mare with time to spare, but as kick off approached the staff were still wrestling with the vagaries of an Italian feed from Old Trafford and we had also been told that no food would be available as it was a match day. Heaving pub, surely a missed opportunity?

Chelsea proved themselves the real deal and we departed in search of the local chippy rather disconsolate given our United leanings and our mood was not lifted by the closed sign on the door.

At least Ice Station Zebra was not living up to its label with the weather reasonably mild as we took our seats among the 250 or so Gillingham fans to the left of the Oldham support in the Rochdale Road stand. Simeon Jackson was not to be risked and Chris Dickson made a start for the visitors.

The first half had such quality that had you stumbled across a Medway Sunday League game this morning whilst walking the dog you would have seen something that bore comparison. Chances were few and far between and neither goalkeeper was seriously tested. Dickson was no Messiah and Rene Howe was far more effective in his general play. Oldham left the field at half time to a chorus of boos, the Gillingham fans hardened by their season’s travelling woes took the half in its merit, at least we wasn’t losing.

The second half began with a chance for Dickson. The striker was set free following a long Danny Jackman pass wildly lashed the ball high into the visiting supporters in what proved to be his last act as he was hooked almost immediately. It had been a very indifferent hour for the man on which so many hopes had been pinned.

On the hour, in the one moment of quality, Lewis Guy fastened onto a pass from Dale Stephens after Gillingham had allowed the ball to go loose in midfield. The striker, on loan from Doncaster, steered the ball wide of Alan Julian to give the home side the advantage.

After a dodgy spell when Pavel Abbott had a couple of half chances, Gillingham at least mounted a desperate bid to retrieve a point. Adam Miller, one of the few Gillingham players that could leave Boundary Park with his head held high, brought a decent save from ex-loanee Dean Brill but the majority of the attacks foundered on the rock of our old adversary, Sean Gregan.

The Easter traffic proved as helpful on the return journey and we quickly sped our way towards an evening with a live band at the local pub. The group were good, but there seemed more people intent on chatting with their mates than listening to the music. I guess they were having a good time in their own way, but then a good time had already passed me by on this particular Easter Saturday.