Saturday, 29 May 2010

England 3 Mexico 1

Match 64/09/816 - Monday, 24th May 2010 - International

England (2) 3 King 17, Crouch 34, Johnson 47
Mexico (1) 1 Franco 45
Att. 88,638

Entrance: £25
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/7,635

Match Report

The Wembley crowd gave England’s World Cup-bound team a rousing send off bedecked in their new white and red tee-shirts that the FA had supplied to form huge Cross of St George images on all four sides of the stadium. A friendly win against a talented Mexico followed, but the general feeling walking back down Wembley Way was one of more questions than answers.

The probable winners on the night were the rested Chelsea players sat in the stand whose reputation was enhanced by some disappointing performances by their understudies. England, as a nation, has been rolling out the prayer mat with every passing match praying that Wayne Rooney remains fit. For the coming six weeks when the said prayers are being offered, Ashley Cole should be afforded a mention if the nightmare performance of Leighton Baines is anything to go by.

The absence of John Terry was highlighted by the less than assured coupling of Ledley King and Rio Ferdinand, although much of blame for their discomfort should be laid at the door of Michael Carrick, and to a lesser extent, James Milner who offered them little or no protection. Milner did, at least, improve when he was switched to a wider berth, allowing Steven Gerrard a central position.

Robert Green, with two fine one-on-one saves in the first half, Joe Hart, with a competent second half, eased concerns about the goalkeeping department and Gerrard enjoyed one of his better England performances to highlight the positives.

A stunning goal from Glen Johnson immediately after half time emphasised the full back’s ability going forward, but doubts remain about his defensive capability.

On a warm early summer evening, the Mexicans gave the makeshift home defence early scares before England took an undeserved lead on 17 minutes. A Steven Gerrard corner to the far post was headed back across the face of the goal by Peter Crouch for Ledley King to steer a header past the diminutive Mexican keeper.

The visitors refused to be set back by their deficit and Green needed to produce the first of his one-on-one victories to deny Arsenal’s Carlos Vela. By this time, Giovani Dos Santos, not exactly a regular at Tottenham, had served notice on Baines of the torrid evening he was to endure.

The Mexicans suffered further disappointment when a curled shot hit the post before Crouch increased England’s lead in the 34th minute. Another corner from Gerrard from the left saw Rooney’s header pushed onto the bar by goalkeeper Oscar Perez, only for it to bounce down into the path of Crouch who deflected it into the net from a matter of inches.

Mexico finally got a reward for their efforts with a goal just before the interval. From a right sided corner Marquez saw his goal-bound header blocked on the line by Baines whose headed clearance only fell to West Ham’s Franco, who scored from a couple of yards. The sizeable Mexican contingent who were the full length of Wembley from the incident suffered a delayed reaction before they realized that their team had scored.

England re-established their two goal advantage after just two minutes of the second half with quality goal. Theo Walcott flicked the ball to Johnson, who cut inside two men and waltzed past a further two challenges en route to the penalty area, before curling a fine shot with his left foot past Perez and into the top corner.

Mexico continued to be a danger, but England, with Jamie Carragher making his return from international retirement as a half-time substitute for Ferdinand and Joe Hart taking over in goal from Robert Green, had a more comfortable second half.

England returned to their Austrian base for an encounter against Japan in Graz on Sunday before Fabio breaks the hearts of seven players that will not make the trip to South Africa. This was an unconvincing performance that can be chalked up as good preparation and safe with the knowledge that many of the unanswered questions should be resolved by the players absent on the night.

Friday, 28 May 2010

He's coming home, Hess is coming home

The legend returns, didn’t we all know that one day, sooner rather than later, Andy Hessenthaler would walk back through Priestfield Stadium’s front door to once again manage the club that he loves.

Following a whistle stop weekend excursion to Dubai to meet Chairman Scally, he was appointed the club’s successor to Mark Stimson with Mark Robson taking up the role of Assistant Manager.

Whilst a few might have reservations about his return, it is mostly borne out of concern that his reputation, both as a player and a manager, would become tarnished should this tenure end in failure.

Following the shambolic last day performance at Wycombe in particular, and season-long on the road in general, the club’s supporters needed a figure head that would re-unite the fan base and, if nothing else, Andy Hessenthaler fits that bill to a tee. Mark Stimson was a divisive character that didn’t have the backing of a large section of Gillingham’s following from the outset. Unless it goes horribly wrong, Hess will never have to suffer this negativity.

Ironically, the stick that was used to beat Stimson, his non-league background, is a fundamental part of the CV that Hessenthaler brought to Paul Scally’s table over the weekend. Two promotions and a play-off defeat took Dover to the brink of a return to the Conference under the little man.

In the six years that he has been away, Hess has continued to play his part on the field, but this time there will be no registration as a player, his sole concentration being on management. Six years older, six years wiser and surely the challenge to get out of the lowest division cannot be as difficult as his previous task, that of staying in England’s second tier.

From the depths of depression, suddenly the news surrounding the club is vibrant again. Once again, fans are looking forward to the new season despite the fact it is to be played in the bottom division. The smallest man with the biggest heart ever to wear a Gillingham shirt is back, let the good times roll.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Mark Stimson sacked

Following Saturday’s shambolic performance at Wycombe Wanderers and the subsequent relegation, Mark Stimson’s contract as manager of Gillingham Football Club was ended by mutual agreement, in other words he was sacked.

The hostile reaction of the Gillingham support at Adams Park could not possibly have left any doubt in the mind of chairman Paul Scally as to the weight of opinion against the manager.

Mark Stimson took over the club two-and-a-half years ago when the club was in a bad place, unfortunately despite a successful Wembley appearance, he leaves with the club not much better off, at least on the field.

Stimson never enjoyed the full support of the Gillingham support. He was seen as a non-league manager and when he brought several players to the club from the same source the tag gained strength. In the last 18 months the majority of his signings have come from the Football League, but the tag refused to go away.

He also had a demeanour that never endeared himself to supporters. On the touchline he was a manager that appeared to stand impassively, hands often in pockets, that gave the impression of a man not in control of the situation being played out before him.

People had different opinions of his interview style. Some saw him as surly, with a “here I am, like me or lump it”, attitude. I was more inclined to think that sometimes he was too honest for his own good, but there was always an abrasive side to his character that often came across in interviews.

In the early months of his tenure he had the support of the fans as he whittled out the expensive, bad wood that he had inherited. Players that were too old, on too long contracts were paid off as he built a team in his own character. Some of these players refused to go quietly and there were plenty of rumblings of Stimson as a bad man manager, but most saw this as sour grapes. But later in his term the same thing surfaced with players that he had brought to the club.

He made some good signings, Simeon Jackson was a brilliant piece of business and could net the club a decent profit this summer. Andy Barcham and Curtis Weston similarly have enjoyed good spells. Of his non-league recruits, Alan Julian, Barry Fuller, John Nutter and Dennis Oli have all been first team regulars, Adam Miller has “enjoyed” a similar love-hate relationship with the fans, whilst the likes of Stuart Lewis shouldn’t be considered a complete failure.

On the other side of the coin, there have been some really expensive, in terms of wages, failures. Kevin Maher, Mark McCammon and Chris Palmer have failed to hold down first eleven places and have failed to impress when they have appeared.

This season Stimson can rightly point to the unfortunate season-long injury to Simon King as an important factor in the relegation campaign.

Saturday’s result, perhaps more importantly, the performance, left Paul Scally with a hard personal decision to make as he had regularly, in the face of huge supporter criticism, backed his manager with “votes of confidence”. He also backed his manager with cash as several high profile loan signings, no more so than Chris Dickson, were brought to the club. But the spineless effort at Wycombe must have made the decision a fairly easy one to make.

We now await with interest the appointment of a new man to take the club forward. Plenty of names will be in the frame with Andy Hessenthaler’s to the fore. He might, or might not, be the right man, but unlike Mark Stimson he would unite the fans and enjoy universal support.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Wycombe Wanderers 3 Gillingham 0

Match 63/09/815 - Saturday, 8th May 2010 - League One

Wycombe Wanderers (1) 3 Phillips 45, Bennett 64, Betsy 72
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 7,110

Entrance: £18
Programme: £3
Mileage: 170/7,535

Match Report

2,300 visiting fans turned up at Adams Park to witness the culmination of their club’s successful relegation fight. 15 or so didn’t bother, it was a pity that they were the players and staff of Gillingham Football Club.

Those that have followed this club through this winless season on the road have had to suffer some inept performances and there have been some games when they have been completely outplayed by much superior teams, but the gutless display against an already relegated Wycombe side ranked as a new low point.

Long before the final whistle a very large and vocal section of the visiting support were venting their rancour against manager Mark Stimson, calling for his head in the wake of this embarrassment.

This was the most unlikely of the possible outcomes to the final day. Gillingham required just a single point and if they were not good enough to acquire even that meagre return then the results of three other matches had to go against them to ensure an immediate return to League Two from which they were promoted last season.

This is the timeline of our disastrous day.

Prior to kick off and the massed ranks of the Gillingham faithful are in fine voice, the vast majority confident of a happy ending.

There are just two minutes on the clock and Gillingham fans are celebrating the news of a goal at St James’s Park, where Huddersfield have taken the lead against Exeter. On the pitch in front of us, Alan Julian was forced to make a couple of decent saves from Kevin McLeod and Matt Phillips.

Gillingham were barely threatening as an attacking force and at 1525 news from Exeter was greeted with a whisper rather than celebration as the relegation contenders had found an equaliser. Meanwhile, Julian was in action once again as an outstretched leg retained the goalless parity.

1540 and the first news of a goal from Edgeley Park and it has gone to Tranmere and as the first half entered its time added Phillips cut in from the right and picked his spot at the far corner with a excellent finish. The half ended with boos with Julian gesturing to the fans to keep the faith. Some were not convinced and the first calls against Stimson began to be heard.

The second half began slightly more brightly for the visitors, Rene Howe at least threatened the goal but news from Stockport signalled that that game was probably over as a contest as Tranmere went two up.

On the hour came the crucial moment in our game. John Nutter crossed for Simeon Jackson to loft over the bar from barely three yards and within a minute Howe set up Dennis Oli who contrived to scuff his shot tamely into the keeper’s hands from close range.

Frustration was replaced by anger when Alan Bennett was allowed a free header from a corner to put the home side two in front. All notions of supporting the team to a comeback were lost as the support turned savagely against the manager. Stimson out and a lot worse rained down and as some took exception to the abuse there were people squaring up to each other.

When Kevin Betsey’s 72nd minute strike took a deflection and looped over Julian, “this is embarrassing” was the fans retort. Game over here and game over at Stockport as Tranmere confirmed their safety with a third goal.

Final hopes now rested at Exeter, but with eight minutes remaining Wycombe fans relayed the news that the Devon club had gone ahead and at this point Gillingham were in the relegation position. There was a brief hope as there was false news of a Brentford goal against Hartlepool, sadly it was disallowed.

As the final whistle sounded on Gillingham short tenure in League One the atmosphere turned very ugly as the players and management came to front up the wrath of the support. Not to acknowledge the fans would have been completely gutless, so why didn’t they just disappear into the dressing rooms because gutless and spineless had been their trademark on this afternoon of despair.

Post match interviews from the manager indicated that whilst a meeting with chairman Paul Scally was scheduled it would not include his resignation. The chairman now has to decide whether to continue to back the man on whom he has lavished continual support or to listen to the vast majority and tell him it is time to take his leave.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Gillingham 2 Southampton 1

Match 62/09/814 - Saturday, 1st May 2010 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Howe 19, Gowling 50
Southampton (0) 1 Connelly 66
Att. 9,504

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,365

Match Report

As a child (I can remember that far back!) my Mum used to warn me: “Don’t wish your life away”. I was always guilty of impatience when it came to the future and, especially with football, the next game could not come quickly enough. 50 years on, and if I could wish the next week away, I would. I just want this mental torture concluded.

As I locked my front door this afternoon I had no expectation that the relegation issue would be settled this afternoon, principally because I didn’t anticipate Gillingham beating Southampton, what I did expect was Millwall to emerge victorious at Tranmere. Regrettably, the agony goes on as our South London friends did us no favours, and shot themselves in the foot, with a disappointing 2-0 loss.

Next Saturday a couple of thousand Gillingham fans should descend on Wycombe’s Adams Park seeking the single point that would ensure safety. An escape from relegation that would have been built on the potentially amazing statistics of not a single win away from home in the entire season and 44 of their 51 points won at Priestfield Stadium, where not a single club from the top nine in the Division has left Kent with three points.

It will be one of those final days when in the past the game would have been watched with a transistor radio to one ear but, in present time, internet connections on mobile phones will relay every last twist and turn, stretching the nerve ends to the very limit.

On the positive side, what we have a kick off time is enough, it’s ours to lose, on the negative, simply, we are not at Priestfield. The fact that Wycombe Wanderers were relegated today at Leyton Orient counts for very little in my eyes, they will want to finish the season on a high in front of their own fans.

Tranmere will be expected to win at bottom club Stockport County, whilst Exeter City finish at home to play-off bound Huddersfield Town and Hartlepool, who should enter the equation on Tuesday with a three point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, finish their season at Brentford. A loss for Gillingham would leave Tranmere and Exeter both requiring wins and Hartlepool a draw.

Simeon Jackson was recalled to the starting line-up in favour of Danny Jackman and Southampton, with nothing left to play for, rested top scorer Ricky Lambert to the bench.

A full house at Priestfield created an electric atmosphere that was at full cry when Andy Barcham went down in the box, but the penalty appeals were waved away. Early efforts on goal from David Connelly and Lee Barnard warned the home fans that there was still an attacking potency despite the absence of Lambert.

Gillingham went ahead in the 19th minute when a through ball from Mark Bentley left Jackson goal side of Southampton’s Jose Forte. Kelvin Davis raced to meet the forward but his attempted clearance cannoned off Jackson and the rebound fell into the path of Rene Howe who fired into the unattended goal with a calm finish. The deafening roar that greeted the goal was reason enough for Gillingham’s impressive home record this season.

The beginning of the second half signalled the introduction of Lambert and the task facing the Gillingham back line seemed destined to get even harder. But within five minutes the home side doubled their advantage with a header from Josh Gowling that nestled into the bottom corner to the delight of the Rainham End. An Adam Miller corner was headed onto a post by Simeon Jackson and bundled clear as far as Curtis Weston whose cross was met by Gowling who scored from close range.

Two further chances fell to Simeon Jackson, the second of which was cleared off the line, which could have settled the contest but on 65 minutes midfield indecision allowed Connelly a loose ball to fire home from 20 yards.

Southampton sensed Gillingham’s nervousness and went in search of an equaliser. Lambert had an effort tipped over by Alan Julian and Connelly should have done better when he steered the ball into the welcoming arms of the keeper in the excessively generous four minutes of stoppage time.

Appeals to supporters to stay off the pitch at the finish were ignored by a few that perhaps failed maths at school and thought the three points were enough, or maybe they didn’t have the benefit of the old fashioned transistor that would have confirmed the bad news from Tranmere.

Seven more days and I recall another comment my Mum used to make “that good things come to those that wait.” She’s looking down from above now but still offering wise words.