Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Switzerland 1 England 3

Match 16/10/834 - Tuesday, 7th September 2010 -
Euro 2012 Qualifying

Switzerland (0) 1 Shaqiri 71
England (1) 3 Rooney 10, Johnson, A 69, Bent 88
Att. 39,700

Entrance: £50
Programme: Free
Mileage: 1,074/2,786
New Ground: 238 (35th abroad)

There is a very good argument that could be made that goes along the lines that after just two games England have already qualified for Euro 2012.

Arguably the best of the opposition has been despatched with relative ease and the only question to answer is how many points they are going to amass in the winning of the group. Arrogance? Following the World Cup, nobody should be counting any chickens, but if this is the best we are going to face, then more than a toe is already in the door.

And after the first two games, who would have thought that Montenegro would be emerging as the serious threat to England following wins over Wales and Bulgaria.

Sunday morning had presented lurid headlines of Wayne Rooney and a pair of hookers that threatened the player’s marriage and more immediately his appearance in Basel for the potentially awkward encounter with Switzerland. The jokes would abound that he hadn’t scored for a year in an England shirt, but perhaps he had!

A early arrival at St Jakobs Park ensured that we were under the cover of the stadium roof when the heavens opened prior to kick off. The Swiss supporters, each one waving their national flag that had been left on their seats, were being whipped up by a medley of Status Quo songs. It was effective and also very amusing.

They may well have sang along heartily to “Whatever You Want”, but it was the England support that got what they wanted when Rooney made light of his off-field problems with a goal after just ten minutes, converting Glen Johnson’s cross from close range. Theo Walcott, who had enjoyed a bright start to the game, was injured at the near post in the move and had to be replaced by Adam Johnson, who went on to be many people’s man of the match.

The first half was as one-sided as an international match could be. England created so many chances the game should really have been put to bed long before the half time whistle with Jermain Defoe and Adam Johnson the wasteful parties.

Although England’s dominance continued, the sending off of Stephan Lichtsteiner in the 65th minute for a scything tackle on James Milner was the catalyst for the eventual burying of the Swiss. Two minutes later, a sublime pass from Steven Gerrard sent Adam Johnson clear to round the goalkeeper and calmly fire into the empty net.

Any room for complacency was nipped in the bud when FC Basel’s young prodigy, Xherdan Shaqiri smashed a brilliant shot into the top corner after 71 minutes. I would imagine there were plenty of Premier League scouts pencilling the youngster’s name into their notebooks as Joe Hart clutched at thin air.

Darren Bent, on for Rooney, calmed the nerves with a couple of minutes remaining with his first goal for England with a well taken shot at the near post to complete a long weekend of European Qualifying with maximum points.

The three points with which we returned to England was in exchange for the wallet-full of Swiss Francs that had been emptied in this exceptionally expensive country. Where else, but in the world’s healthiest economy, would Burger and Chips and a Beer set you back £25? Where else, would a 200 metre stretch of motorway driving cost another £25 and where else would a beaker of water set you back £4?

To drive on Swiss motorways, visitors have to obtain a vignette which is bought at the border. It is not necessary to purchase this licence if your driving is not going to involve motorways. But at the border, you only have the choice of whether you have already bought the vignette or not, and for our journey once we had paid our money we could actually see the exit we were going to take, as said 200 metres away.

But at least we had the mercy of a trouble-free journey to and fro Basel unlike the Binman and Juppo, who suffered a horrendous coach journey. A twist of fate had put our two friends alongside each other, unaware that they had mutual friends. The first text that indicated their problems told of a burst tyre at Metz that delayed their arrival in Basel by over three hours. But it was on the return journey that things went from bad to worse. Drivers’ hours delayed their departure until 3 a.m. and then on their first service stop the driver fell over and was sent to hospital. They even managed to run out of diesel as the journey amounted to something like 22 hours!

We enjoyed Basel, a less sterile city than we had encountered in Geneva and Zurich, with a tram service that shuttled us from sight to sight courtesy of a free ticket. St Jakob’s Park is hidden from view on the outside by a shopping centre and a block of flats that is an old folks’ home. Inside, we were thankful to have a position in the upper tier that offered a view that was acceptable in comparison to the lower tier and a damn sight drier! The Swiss created a good atmosphere prior to the game, but it went very quiet once England got on top. Not an attractive ground by any means.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Basle in Pictures

To follow . . .

Tonbridge 2 Horsham 0

Match 15/10/833 - Saturday, 4th September 2010 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Stanley 64, Collin 85 (pen)
Horsham (0) 0
Att. 435

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1712

Following a late night at Wembley and with a road trip to Switzerland on Monday, we decided that a trip to Bury was a journey too far, so it was back to Longmead to see if Tonbridge could break their season’s duck against bottom of the table Horsham.

On a warm day it was a good opportunity to put the scarves to the test and see if there was a jinx to be exorcised, so the blue and white stayed in the car.

The continuance of Gillingham’s dire away record was being relayed via the mobile and it was not too long before the goals started to rattle in and at 2-0 it didn’t look likely that I was about to miss the end of the wait for an away win.

Meanwhile, in front of me, Tonbridge and Horsham were not exactly serving up a match of captivating interest and at the break the goalless scoreline was appropriate. Whilst the fare was nowhere near as bad as that served up at Folkestone on Bank Holiday Monday, neither side looked to have much in the way of goals in them.

There is something odd, almost a tad unnerving about the enthusiasm in which news of Gillingham’s demise is received. You would expect that Kent’s only football league club would generate goodwill among its non-league counterparts but none of it, and a latest score line of 3-1 down is gleefully despatched. But I’m about to have my turn to smile as the phone pings twice in a minute and the news from Gigg Lane is that Gillingham have drawn level at 3-3.

Meanwhile, a presentable game is beginning to surface here at Longmead. Jake Beecroft, having been the stand-out performer in the first half, is making his influence felt in the second half. Following an effort that was cleared from the goal line on the hour, he made the opening goal for Sherwin Stanley, unselfishly crossing into the path of the striker who could hardly miss from close range.

In the space of 10 minutes, the mobile pinged its news another three times and the score is now incredibly 5-4 to Bury with still the best part of 20 minutes remaining.

Tonbridge wrapped up their first win of the season five minutes before the end from the penalty spot after debutant Sam Jones was felled in the area. Frannie Collin converted, sending the keeper the wrong way.

That little bit of joy was diminished with the news that Gillingham had indeed lost 5-4, just how do you score four goals away from home and still lose? It sounds like a cracker of a game, but it still would have been a long way home with another defeat in our pockets.

Meanwhile, the suspicion of the scarves remains, the blue and white stayed in the car and the Angels have triumphed, I know where the blue and black will reside next Saturday!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

England 4 Bulgaria 0

Match 14/10/832 - Friday, 3rd September 2010 -
European Championship Qualifying Group G

England (1) 4 Defoe 3, 61, 86 A Johnson 83
Bulgaria (0) 0
Att. 73,246

Entrance: £45
Programme: £5
Mileage: 100/1686

Match Report

England found that the first step towards a place at Euro 2012 was a good deal easier than redeeming themselves in the eyes of the footballing public.

Bulgaria, expected to be one of the principle obstacles to qualification from Group G, were brushed aside in the same manner that had swept England through World Cup qualifying . . . and we all know what happened next.

With UEFA bowing ever deeper at the feet of the clubs, Wembley was treated to a Friday night fixture. I find it hard to believe that the “Wembley factor” continues to be the reason why, in spite of the terrible disappointment of South Africa, over 73,000 turned out for a full-priced match; there are no £15 tickets on offer for qualifying games.

In comparison to the friendly against Hungary the England support was mainly positive. There were a few boos when the team was announced but it was very low key and once Jermain Defoe had opened the scoring in the third minute, all thoughts of giving the World Cup players a hard time was banished.

England sported a new kit and the return to blue shorts gave them the look of England of old, and despite the threats of a brand new dawn with the likes of Wilshere and Gibbs debuting against Hungary, it was mostly the tried and tested that started with the injured John Terry and Frank Lampard being the high profile absentees.

Bulgaria, weakened by the international retirement of Dimitar Berbatov, who seemingly is rather sensitive to criticism from his compatriots, we really quite poor, but had they taken a couple of second half chances when England’s lead stood at Defoe’s opening goal the game may have taken a different course, that it didn’t was due to the fine goalkeeping of Joe Hart.

Wayne Rooney, who took some unfair abuse for a couple of misplaced passes, was outstanding and Steven Gerrard revelled in his role both as captain and a position in the centre of midfield. But it was Defoe, whose hat trick was the first at Wembley for England since 1999 who stole the headlines.

Rooney was involved in the set up for all four England goals; his pass to Ashley Cole allowed the full back to cross for Defoe to volley the first goal. The second came direct from Hart’s one-on-one save from Stanislav Angelov, 14 seconds later Defoe converted Rooney’s pass. Adam Johnson was the next to benefit from Rooney’s perception before Defoe accelerated onto another Rooney pass to rifle his hat trick goal past the despairing Bulgarian keeper. It was Defoe’s last action and Fabio Capello allowed him to receive the acclaim of the Wembley crowd on his substitution.

So another campaign is set to follow a similar pattern, we qualify with ease, the expectation rises and then . . .

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Folkestone Invicta 0 Tonbridge 0

Match 13/10/831 - Monday, 30th August 2010 - Ryman Premier

Folkestone Invicta (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 394

Entrance: £9
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 82/1586

Match Report

It is a very rare occurrence when I regret having made the effort to go to a football match but I have to concede that my August Bank Holiday Monday would have been far better spent endeavouring to contain an overgrown garden.

A second successive match on a windswept coast and, on this occasion, the wind was the winner. Neither side managed to master the conditions and subsequently the game was of poor fare throughout. We can truly gloss over the first half as a non event. There were half chances for Tonbridge in the shape of Jake Beecroft and Frannie Collin and similarly for Folkestone, but neither goalkeeper was unduly threatened.

A similar pattern appeared to be in place in the second half until the game emerged from the depths of mediocrity after 65 minutes when Sonny Miles completely misjudged a long punt into the wind and it fell to the onrushing Paul Jones, who took his time, steadied himself, and then from the edge of the six yard box slammed a shot high over the bar. At least it produced a bit of excitement.

Within two minutes, excitement reached fever pitch, forgive my sarcasm, as Tonbridge were awarded a penalty after Collin was fouled. The striker took the penalty himself, only to see Jack Delo parry the ball back to him. Collin’s second effort was once again blocked by the keeper and cleared to safety.

Frustratingly, that was just about that. Both sides had sights of goal in the closing stages without either looking likely to break the deadlock. A clean sheet and a first point is something of a consolation for Tonbridge, personally I can’t help feeling that I would rather have mown the lawn.

Morecambe 1 Gillingham 1

Match 12/10/830 - Saturday, 28th August 2010 - League Two

Morecambe (0) 1 Stanley 60
Gillingham (0) 1 Spiller 84
Att. 2,325

Entrance: £13
Programme: £3
Mileage: 626/1504
New Ground: 237

Match Report

Still there . . .

Sodding Monkey.

Two weeks ago at Hereford, Gillingham were denied a victory after dominating the match for the most part by a goalkeeper, Adam Bartlett, at the top of his game including an outstanding final seconds save to deny Danny Spiller.

On Saturday, Morecambe’s Paddy Roche eclipsed Bartlett’s performance with a display that begged the question, why is he playing in the lowest tier of the Football League? Roche produced save after save as the visitors strove to end their away day hoodoo including a final minute save from Andy Barcham.

Spiller grabbed an 84th minute equaliser to salvage a point from what would have been the gravest of injustices. Despite picking the ball out of the net following a Craig Stanley goal on the hour, Lance Cronin, making his League debut for the Gills, left the field with his bright yellow kit still in pristine condition having made just a single save in the duration of the match.

The longest journey of the season had been completed in a little over five hours and as we strolled past the Globe Arena, heading for the front and some welcome fish and chips, there was a brisk wind that was producing choppy waters out at sea. That wind was going to prove difficult for both sides from 3 o’clock onwards.

As well as Cronin, there was a league debut for Cody McDonald and a welcome return to fitness for skipper Barry Fuller and Jack Payne. Dropping down to the bench were Kevin Maher, John Nutter and Josh Gowling.

Within the first five minutes Roche began his single-handed campaign to thwart the visitors, turning aside a Barcham effort and comfortably collecting a shot from Spiller.

On the half hour the 200 strong Gillingham contingent held the heads in their hands as Roche palmed a Barcham shot into the path of Mark Bentley, whose goalbound shot was cleared from the line by a Morecambe defender.

Barcham was causing the Shrimper’s defence all sorts of problems and when he was played in on goal by Adebayo Akinfenwa, once again it was Roche to the home side’s rescue.

The last act of the half saw a Spiller free kick touched over by the keeper and you would have forgiven the stadium announcer if he had read the half time score as Roche 0 Gillingham 0.

Sammy McIlroy made a half time substitution that added more of a threat from the home side in the second half. Paul Mullin came on and taxed the Gillingham defence far more than they had been in the previous 45.

Gillingham continued to dominate, another opportunity for Spiller was spurned, and it came as a surprise when a cross from the left by Mark Duffy found an unmarked Craig Stanley who steered his header past a helpless Cronin to give the home side an undeserved advantage after an hour.

It was a goal that came from nothing and it took the wind from the visitors’ sails for a period afterwards before Andy Hessenthaler rejuvenated the attack bringing Luke Rooney and Mark McCammon into the action, replacing McDonald and Bentley. Cody McDonald had a quiet first appearance and was, if not 100% fit, certainly a little rusty.

Gillingham’s deserved equaliser arrived with eight minutes remaining. Barry Fuller was fouled on the edge of the box and from the resultant free kick taken by Chris Palmer, Spiller ghosted in unnoticed at the far post to direct a header into the net off the far post.

The Gillingham fans celebrated wildly, as much in relief as in jubilation; such would have been the injustice of defeat. They should have been delighting in victory in the closing stages as Danny Spiller blasted a shot over the bar from inside the box and then saw Andy Barcham’s final effort turned to safety by the duly announced man of the match, Paddy Roche.

Six points could and perhaps should have been attained in these opening two away fixtures, as it is, it is only two. The sages say that you make your own luck but on this occasion (and the one previous) it has been to Gillingham’s misfortune to find themselves thwarted by two keepers at the very top of their game.

After the visit to Edgar Street, I promised not to complain in the face of functionality. Sorry to renege but, despite having to concede that the Globe Arena is a vast improvement on the dilapidated Christie Park, this is another soulless, modern stadia with a design off the same template as Colchester and Shrewsbury.

Good progress was being made on the way home until a distressed horse in need of counselling brought both sides of the M40 to halt for an hour and a half at Banbury. See, it’s not just the club that is suffering from bad luck.