Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dagenham and Redbridge 2 Gillingham 1

Match 37/11/924 - Friday, 30 December 2011 - League Two

Dagenham & Redbridge (1) 2 Bingham 22, Woodall 64
Gillingham (1) 1 Kedwell 6
Att. 3,120

Entrance: £19
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 92/2,998

Match Report

It is Pantomime season and in the space of three days the players of Gillingham Football Club have gone from the Principal Boys to the Ugly Sisters.

On a wet night, Chris Lewington, in the Daggers goal, played the part of Fairy Godmother after just six minutes, losing control of a slippery ball, allowing Danny Kedwell to drive the ball home after the keeper lost the ball a second time at the feet of Chris Whelpdale.

Whelpdale, slippery balls, no don’t go there!

Then after 15 minutes of one-sided action, in which the visitors scored, hit a post direct from a Danny Jackman corner and Lewington redeeming himself with a decent save from Kedwell and tipping over a Garry Richards header, just like the genie in Aladdin, Gillingham disappeared in a puff of smoke, barely to be seen again.

At this point I should confess to a foot in mouth moment, never to be repeated should I heed the lesson. Such was Gillingham’s domination of the opening period, I uttered the words “if we continue like this, it will be done and dusted by half-time”. Fateful words as no sooner said than Dagenham found an equaliser with their first real attempt on goal. Billy Bingham latched onto a loose ball on the left hand side of the box and sweetly half-volleyed past Ross Flitney.

Gillingham ended the half having huffed and puffed their way to a couple more half chances, including a goal line clearance from a Kedwell header, but the purple patch of the opening 15 minutes had disappeared almost without trace.

The home side were in the ascendancy when Brian Woodall gave them a 64th minute lead. A neat move opened up the chance for the Daggers man to curl a shot beyond Flitney into the far corner in front of the massed ranks of dismayed Gillingham fans.

Searching for an equaliser, Hessenthaler made strange substitutions, withdrawing Joe Martin for Lewis Montrose and, unless an injury demanded, bizarrely replacing Kedwell with Dennis Oli. But it was to no avail; Gillingham never looked like retrieving the deficit and 1,302 disappointed fans returned over the Bridge scratching their heads as to why a performance like that followed the highs of Crawley.

Since our last visit, on a freezing Boxing Day in 2008, Dagenham have replaced the open terrace on which we stood with a smart new stand. The Traditional Builders’ Stand is easily the best in the stadium, so it is strange that they give it over to visiting supporters. Seeing the couple of hundred home fans behind the opposite goal, on an open terrace, in the rain, is a bit like giving up your comfy armchair to a total stranger!

So into 2012, perhaps a New Year’s wish is that when we reflect on the Pantomime season in May we might be able to answer the question as to where the other 23 sides are positioned in the Division with the cry, “They’re behind you”.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tunbridge Wells 2 Sevenoaks Town 0

Match 36/11/923 - Tuesday, 27 December 2011 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (1) 2 Irvine 41,55
Sevenoaks Town (0) 0
Att. 262

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,906

Match Report

Christmas is obviously a time when families get together, eat too much, possibly drink too much and almost certainly spend too much time in front of the television. So when it comes to Boxing Day and beyond, the vast majority want to get away from the sofa and get a bit of fresh air and what better way to do it than to take in a football match. It appears that the gentile folk of Tunbridge Wells were of the same mind as a whopping 262 descended on Culverden Stadium to take in their local derby with Sevenoaks Town. That number might not sound too many to the uninitiated of Kent League football, but represents double the usual attendance.

Any normal home game that I visit, I am able to find a parking space within the car park but as soon as I arrived and saw the number of cars already parked on the road outside of the gates, I knew not to bother progressing down the drive.

Tunbridge Wells is not really a football town, in truth it is not a sporting town. The achievements of the local clubs go largely unrecognised but there is something brewing at Culverden that is deserving of that recognition. In three weeks’ time, Cambridgeshire outfit St Ives Town will be the visitors for a FA Vase 4th Round tie and it is reported that they could be bringing as many as 200 supporters with them, hopefully some of the new faces from yesterday will return and an attendance approaching 400 could be achieved.

Vase success apart, manager Martin Larkin has built a side that should be challenging towards the top end of the Kent League when the fixture backlog is completed. Sadly for the Wells, Herne Bay are the runaway leaders and it looks although a seismic shift is needed to shake them from the summit.

On a heavy pitch, Sevenoaks Town belied their lowly position in the table in the early stages and were more than a match for their hosts. It took until five minutes before half time for Tunbridge Wells to establish a lead when a cross was headed home by Andy Irvine.

A second half mix up between goalkeeper and centre half allowed Irvine to double his tally and secure the points for the home side to send the spectators back to their sofas and left-over turkey happy with their afternoon in the fresh air.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Crawley Town 1 Gillingham 2

Match 35/11/922 - Monday, 26 December 2011 - League Two

Crawley Town (1) 1 Tubbs 34 (pen)
Gillingham (0) 2 Kuffour 50,52
Att. 4,255

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 105/2,880
New Ground: 247

Match Report

Every club that leaves the Conference for the Football League departs the non-league scene with the best wishes of that fraternity, except one . . . Crawley Town.

Crawley supporters point to jealousy, similar to the green-eye that blighted Chelsea in years gone by and Manchester City of today. But those clubs were transparent as to where there money was sourced, two very rich men who were willing to use their clubs as boys toys, but Crawley are different, where does the wealth that took them from administration on two occasions to the Football League come from, the Football Association like the rest of us, would like to know. So far, despite the fair and proper person’s rule, Crawley’s mysterious backers remain unmasked.

But, it seems that it is not jealousy of wealth that tarnished their success in non-league it is the actions of a single man . . . Steve Evans, their buffoon of a manager and a man with a past as shady as the mysterious Crawley backers.

In 2006, Evans and the former chairman of Boston United, Pat Malkinson, were given suspended prison sentences after pleading guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue between 1997 and 2002. Evans’ QC said that the manager was a different person to the “bombastic” character that managed Boston from 1998, if that remains the case 10 years on, he still knows how to rub people up the wrong way.

The bitterness that followed Crawley’s defeat to Gillingham manifested itself as the floodlights were turned off as the visiting players were going through their warming-down and his after-match comments were those of a bitter man that not only does not like losing but cannot take losing.

Evans said: “The best team lost today . . . There will be parties in Gillingham tonight; it’s as if they have won the World Cup.” Excuse me, Mr Evans, whilst not dwelling on our past, we have been to the Championship and beaten the likes of Leeds United, Charlton Athletic and reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup, they were reasons for street parties, not beating a Fourth Division team in front of a Football League record crowd of just 4,255.

Twitter on Boxing Day evening was absolutely addictive as Gillingham fans, and supporters of erstwhile non-league opponents of Crawley, reacted to Evans’ comments. For those of you that don’t do Twitter a hash tag can get a comment “trending”, #steveevansisaknob became a trend. A female Wimbledon supporter, under the title afcw_alice posted, Glad you Football League fans are starting to realise what a vile man we have had to put up with for the past few years.

It is all quite sad really because Crawley Town as a club yesterday were warm and welcoming. Their stewards were polite and helpful and on leaving the stadium their fans were fine; one even shook hands on our victory.

Let’s give Mr Evans some latitude; he was probably right when he said that the best team lost, however bitter he sounded. Despite going down to 10 men following the sending off of Claude Davis after just 18 minutes, the league leaders on a record of 15 games without defeat, continued to take the game to their visitors with their front two, Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett a real handful.

In the opening stages of the game, Danny Kedwell was hauled to the ground by Pablo Mills, despite admitting to blue tinted glasses, it looked a nailed-on penalty but referee Darren Sheldrake waved away the appeals.

Davis’ dismissal was fully justified, a loose back pass was seized upon by Joe Kuffour and when the striker got clear of the giant defender, given Kuffour’s later opportunism, would almost certainly have scored had it not been for the clumsy challenge that earned the red card.

Gillingham failed dismally to take capitalise on their man advantage and quite frankly were pretty poor in a first half which ended with the home side with taking a 34th minute lead from the penalty spot after Matt Lawrence had needlessly pushed Kyle McFadzean in the back, allowing Tubbs to convert.

Midway through the half, there was an altercation on the touchline which evidently is going to be referred to the Football Association in the form of complaint against the coaching staff of Gillingham, pot kettle black.

The game was quickly turned on its head in two minutes early in the second half. Chris Whelpdale swung in a cross to the far post where Kuffour got in front of his marker to turn the ball in from close range. Two minutes later and the celebrating Gills following, a record for the Broadfield Stadium of 1,301, were delirious as Kuffour doubled his tally. Thirty-five yards from goal he took a pass from Luke Rooney to run at defenders already nervous of the damage he had caused with his pace, as they backed off he picked his spot with a low shot into the far corner past the despairing Scott Shearer.

Now needing to chase the game and a man light Crawley should have been ripe for picking off with counter attacking football, but Gillingham retreated and put their fans through 30 minutes of torture as the home side sought to salvage something from the game. One horror moment saw the ball inch past the post with Ross Flitney helpless following a Lawrence deflection, but it was the same defender that came to Flitney’s rescue on the stroke of the 90 minutes, beaten by Tubbs header, but Lawrence cleared from the line.

Luke Rooney’s return to first team action ended with a second yellow card in time added on, as the clock was finally wound down.

Broadfield Stadium just about meets the Football League criteria, but needs developing as they progress through the Divisions. Plans are being processed to develop the east side of the ground that at this time houses a couple of steps of uncovered standing. At present the Stadium is dominated by the West Stand which is a modern, functional structure running two-thirds of the length of the pitch. Behind both goals are covered terraced areas.

For my final paragraph I will return to Twitter and a late night posting from Matt Lawrence, who on the back of our World Cup Final winning match against Brazil went to bed with the Jules Rimet Trophy and we should also remember that next season we will be able to stitch a single gold star above our badge. For that, Mr Steve Evans, we thank you.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Gillingham 4 Bristol Rovers 1

Match 34/11/921 - Saturday, 17 December 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 4 Montrose 8, Kedwell 45,74 (2 pens) Jackman 70
Bristol Rovers (0) 1 Carayol 49
Att. 7,750

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,775

Match Report

At the end of a week in which a seat at Priestfield Stadium was the hottest ticket in town, Gillingham finally proved in front of a big crowd that they can be box office.

Many season ticket holders experienced a week of frustration as they attempted to acquire their seats for the upcoming FA Cup tie against Stoke City. The club admitted that it had made a mistake linking the reduced price tickets for Saturday’s League Two fixture against Bristol Rovers with the cup game which culminated in the ticket office being besieged and the phone lines impenetrable. The new online ticketing service supposedly held up well but suffered from customers failing to input correctly as the majority were using it for the first time.

In front of the season’s best 7,750 Gillingham produced their most convincing home performance of the season with some fine individual performances. Danny Jackman was outstanding alongside Lewis Montrose, while Frank Nouble signed off his loan spell in fine style. Bristol Rovers had some useful attackers on show but, apart from a 20 minute spell after half time, Garry Richards marshalled a back line that kept them relatively quiet.

In the past Rovers giant keeper Scott Bevan, formerly with Torquay, has proved difficult to beat, but after just eight minutes a stooping header from Montrose into the bottom corner gave Gillingham an early lead.

Charlie Lee was able to make his Christmas plans midway through the half when a reckless challenge saw him receive his tenth yellow card of the season and a two match ban.

Gillingham increased their lead in time added on with a penalty from Danny Kedwell after Montrose had been brought down.

Bristol Rovers enjoyed their best period of the game immediately after half time and after 51 minutes Mustapha Carayol seized on poor control from Lee and waltzed into the penalty area to beat Ross Flitney from 12 yards. Flitney was called into action again before Gillingham restored their two goal advantage with 20 minutes remaining. Nouble powered into the box and unleashed a shot that Bevan could only beat away to Jackman who returned the ball with interest past the keeper.

The game ended as a contest four minutes later when Cian Bolger, on as a first half substitute, brought down Curtis Weston as he shaped to shoot and was shown the red card. Danny Kedwell confidently took the opportunity to seal the game from the spot to send home those that had acquired their tickets in anticipation of bigger fish to come happy whilst the more committed among us have a busy Christmas period to come including the visit to the Gatwick Galacticos and their much loved manager.

I leave the final paragraph of this posting to say farewell to the Medway News and Standard. In my early days following Gillingham, long before the internet, I would drive literally miles out of my way to pick up both papers. It is a sad consequence of the internet and its ability to deliver instant news that local papers have suffered and in the case of the News gone forever. I've dozens of old copies in my loft and they won't be heading to the recycling at any time in the future.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Macclesfield Town 0 Gillingham 0

Match 33/11/920 - Saturday, 10 December 2011 - League Two

Macclesfield Town (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 1,724

Entrance: £14 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 506/2,730

Match Report

Thirteen-and-a-quarter hours of my life I’m not going to get back.

A brief glance at the text of the banner of this blog tells you I should not have been at Macclesfield yesterday. Far outside of my boundaries with fuel remaining at its prohibitive levels, another circumstance convinced me that this was a trip worth making, how wrong can you be?

I’ve a keen interest in family history and the paternal side of my family was largely based in the Macclesfield area at the turn of the 20th century and I recently discovered the whereabouts of my grandmother’s resting place at Macclesfield Cemetery, so we decided to combine Gillingham’s visit to Moss Lane with a trip to the cemetery. Armed with a map of the cemetery, that is 68 acres of vastness, a plot number and a grave number (how wonderful is the internet to supply all that information) we set out to fulfil this part of the day. Sadly, it didn’t go to plan, whether the grave never had a headstone or it has been flattened due to neglect, we were unable to find it, much to our disappointment.

Time for fish and chips and a stop off at the Mill Street Chippie, which on previous visits to Moss Lane had served up some of the best fish and chips on the League Two circuit. Unfortunately, our extended search at the cemetery had taken us past closing time at the chippie and we were left hungry. It became all the more frustrating later that evening reading on Twitter that the Gillingham players had used Mill Street for their post-match fish supper, with the journo singing the praises of his fish supper.

And on to the match . . . well the non-event that was the League Two encounter between two sides so damn awful they didn’t deserve the patronage of the paltry attendance of 1,724, at least 200 of which had a four hour journey home to reflect on the wasteful nature of the day.

Gillingham deserved to win the match by virtue of the fact they were the least shit of the two sides, hardly an accolade, Macclesfield were nothing short of shocking. Jose Veiga, in the Silkmen’s goal was called upon to make two second half saves of note from Curtis Weston and another from Danny Jackman, whilst Ross Flitney was untroubled and probably as bored as the rest of us. And not to bore the rest of you, there was absolutely nothing else worthy of mention.

It was cold; snow had covered the pitch earlier in the day but had been cleared by a bunch of willing volunteers, bet you wished you hadn’t bothered chaps!

Taking the positive, it was an away point against a side that has a pretty good home record, but that remained small compensation for a day of total frustration.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Leyton Orient 0 Gillingham 1

Match 32/11/919 - Saturday, 3 December 2011 - FA Cup 2nd Round

Leyton Orient (0) 0
Gillingham (1) 1 Weston 45
Att. 3,763

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 116/2,254

Match Report

Writing this column on a Sunday afternoon gives me the benefit of knowing the reward for Gillingham’s heroic efforts at Brisbane Road, home of League One Leyton Orient, more of that at the end of this posting. And whilst we are lauding the on-field performance of the boys in blue, let’s acknowledge the contribution of the 1,400 strong away support that made up almost 50 per cent of yesterday’s attendance. They sang their hearts out and without them the Matchroom stadium would have been little more than a morgue, not that the home side gave their supporters anything to cheer for long periods.

Without the availability of his loan players Andy Hessenthaler made the surprising choice of starting Stefan Payne alongside Danny Kedwell and, with Matt Lawrence missing through suspension, Charlie Lee was asked to reprise his role as emergency right back.

A minute’s applause prior to kick off was observed in memory of Gary Speed, a death that shook the football world a week ago. The referee’s whistle to end the applause served for Gills fans to up the decibels level in encouragement for the underdogs.

The opening exchanges appeared to be a private dialogue between Gillingham fans making appeals for handball and referee Phil Gibbs turning them down. A Curtis Weston shot was clearly blocked with the hand of an Orient defender, Mr Gibbs making the arguable decision that it was ball to hand. The second was far more controversial. Kedwell and ex-Gillingham defender Ben Chorley rose to meet a Lee cross, Kedwell won the header and ball struck Chorley’s hand that was at least head high, ball to hand this time, not with his hand that high. The visiting fans appealed loudly, once again to no avail in the eyes of the referee.

Gillingham’s deserved reward for a half of high endeavour came on the stroke of half time. A quick bit of thinking from Charlie Lee caught the home defence napping as his long throw found Weston inside the six yard box leaving the midfielder to hook the ball into the far corner of the net to the delight of the blue contingent.

Early in the second half Lee repeated the trick but Kedwell’s shot flew over the bar before the striker was involved in a bizarre incident on 56 minutes. A sliced clearance by O’s keeper Ben Alnwick fell invitingly at the feet of Kedwell, but with the ball spinning like a top, the Gillingham man failed to get a clean contact on his shot allowing Alnwick to redeem himself with a smothering save.

The last 20 minutes of the game became the time when the home side threw caution to the wind and for the first time Gillingham came under continuous pressure. Jamie Cureton had a chance, Lee Cook fired a free kick over the bar from a dangerous position and the referee turned away a penalty appeal after Stephen Dawson went down theatrically in the box.

For the first time the Gillingham fans noise was more in desperation than encouragement as the clock ticked into time added on. Then came a moment that was viewed in slow motion, but was over in a second, and we knew that this was to be our day. A corner was not properly dealt with and the ball fell to the QPR loanee Cook, whose well struck shot smacked against the crossbar and was cleared to safety to the relief of all concerned of a Kentish allegiance with the final whistle quickly following.

Since my last visit to Brisbane Road, the previous journey having been curtailed by the A12 gridlock, the empty space between the apartment blocks has been filled by the North Stand. It is a simple, unappealing structure but a damn sight better than the open space of previous visits. Behind the South Stand more apartments have been erected, doubtless these have produced lifesaving funds for the club and they have been well designed not to detract from the look of the stadium, unlike the main stand which I frankly find an absurd structure in the context of a football arena, with its office block dwarfing the seating below.

Back to Sunday afternoon and the reward came in the shape of a Third Round visit from Premiership Stoke City, with the added interest of a return to Priestfield for Tony Pulis and his back room team figuring Adrian Pennock and Mark O’Connor among their numbers. Mama Sidibe will probably not feature as he has only recently returned to fitness following a serious achilles injury, while Peter Crouch might like to reconsider his reference to Gillingham supporters as hillbillies before facing their wrath on January 7th. Duelling banjos anyone?

Tonbridge 1 Bishops Stortford 2

Match 31/11/918 - Tuesday, 29 November 2011 - FA Trophy 3QR Replay

Tonbridge (1) 1 Browning 8
Bishops Stortford (1) 2 Subuola 29 Gayle 75
Att. 274

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/2,138

Match Report

An FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round exit for Tonbridge comes as very little surprise as their record in this particular competition is pretty poor. Since Tommy Warrilow took charge in 2008 there have been defeats in the Trophy at the point of entry twice, whilst the year he took over from Tony Dolby he also lost at his first hurdle. The draw on most occasions has been unkind, but on this occasion having done what might have been considered the hard part and bringing Conference North side Bishop’s Stortford back to Longmead, there was an opportunity to progress with Ryman Premier club Carshalton the hosts awaiting the winners of this replay.

Tonbridge started well, were a goal to the good in seven minutes, quickly saw another chance go by and then their challenge evaporated to the dismay of the paltry attendance of 274, perhaps the stayaways knew something we didn’t.

It all looked fine and dandy after seven minutes when a ball over the top from Scott Kinch found Frannie Collin in space on the left hand side who then stood up the perfect cross for Lee Browning to head home from close range. Within two minutes of the goal, Collin was sent clear again but the pace of the Bishop’s Dave Adepipe was enough to deny the striker a clear run on goal.

The early inroads conspired to produce complacency and slowly the visitors gained a foothold in the game before their equaliser in the 29th minute. Adepipe slipped a pass to Danny Subuola whose shot from 20 yards found the bottom right hand corner of Lee Worgan’s net.

The game sprang to life after 25 minutes of the second half when a Danny Walder shot was beaten away by young Spurs’ loanee keeper Jordan Archer, in the resulting melee Kinch had two attempts to force the ball home but the Bishops stood firm. Whilst Tonbridge were in ascendancy with regards to possession they were getting regularly caught on the break by their visitors and Worgan was forced to make a diving save at his near post. The warning signs were not observed and when three successive corners were conceded it culminated in Dwight Gayle heading in from close range.

Tonbridge finally mustered a grandstand finish but on the night Archer, already a Scotland Under-18 international, showed that he is a fine prospect and repelled Collin with a fine save.

Tonbridge and cup competitions do not sit easily with one another and the £4,000 prize money on offer last night would have been useful money to fund some second half of the season strengthening that might well be needed when the Bristol Rovers loan pair return to their parent club.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gillingham 0 Bradford City 0

Match 30/11/917 - Saturday, 26 November 2011 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Bradford City (0) 0
Att. 7,074

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,112

Match Report

Just how frustrating was that!

As much as manager Andy Hessenthaler must be scratching his head in bemusement that Gillingham failed to build on their confidence-boosting FA Cup win over AFC Bournemouth, chairman Paul Scally, who would have been delighted that his cut price ticket initiative produced extra 2,500 people through the gate, will be disappointed that a poor performance and equally poor game would not have encouraged those people to return when the exercise is repeated for the next home game against Bristol Rovers, a week before Christmas when the shops tend to take priority over football.

There has been much reminiscing during the week of the FA Cup tie in 2000 with Bradford City; at a time when Gillingham were enjoying the heights of Championship football and City were a Premiership club. Gillingham won a thrilling game 3-1 that day, sadly 11 years later the two sides were meeting in the bottom tier of the league with the Yorkshire side threatened with being the first ex-Premiership side to lose their Football League status, and a dour 0-0 draw ensued.

How different the game may have been had Jo Kuffour’s acrobatic effort in the second minute found the net rather than a post we are not to know, but having survived the moment, Bradford City frustrated their hosts with stoic defending, time-wasting to the extreme and with 15 minutes remaining might even have stolen the game when they had a goal ruled out for offside.

After Kuffour’s early effort, a tedious first half developed in which, not for the first time this season, a tricky winger, on this occasion Kyle Reid, gave Gillingham’s back line a difficult time. On the half-hour Reid created a headed chance for striker James Hanson that Ross Flitney did brilliantly to parry away, but Hanson should have buried the rebound, only to blaze high over the bar.

The game did open up in the second half with Frank Nouble to the fore in several opportunities for the home side to open the scoring, but it was in the final minute that the best chance fell for Gillingham to nick the points. Curtis Weston crossed into the box and in a mad ten seconds, Andy Frampton, Kuffour and Stefan Payne all shot goalwards but Bantams’ keeper Jon McLaughlin was not to be beaten.

Clean sheets have not been Gillingham’s forte this season and in a week when they were described on teletext as free-scoring, it is sods law that having got one they fail to score themselves.

All very frustrating . . .

Gillingham 3 AFC Bournemouth 2

Match 29/11/916 - Tuesday, 22 November 2011 - FA Cup 1st Rd Replay

Gillingham (1) 3 Weston 20, Richards 72, S Payne 82
AFC Bournemouth (0) 2 Frampton (o.g.) 55, Arter 90
Att. 4,321

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 45/2,067

Match Report

Have this Gillingham team proved to their supporters, but more importantly to themselves, that they have what it takes to make this season a success, primarily with promotion but, as this match provided a passage in the FA Cup, perhaps a cup run in parallel.

AFC Bournemouth have provided League One opposition and Gillingham have proved over the course of two matches that they can compete with clubs at that level, having also acquitted themselves admirably at Championship Brighton in the League Cup earlier in the season.

Both of these FA Cup First Round games have been high on entertainment and provided 11 goals to feast on. Whilst Curtis Weston’s shot from 25 yards into the bottom corner might not have eclipsed Jack Payne’s 35 yard effort at Dean Court, it was still a decent hit from the recalled midfielder who went onto to win the man of the match award for an impressive return to form.

Weston’s goal after 20 minutes was the only goal of a half that Gillingham mostly dominated but still had that worrying fragility at the back that left Ross Flitney to make a good save from Simon Francis just prior to the break and also remind the Gillingham faithful that had travelled to the south coast for the original tie that winger Scott Malone would be a constant source of danger.

It was indeed the shaggy-haired Wolves loanee that skipped past Charlie Lee into acres of space before delivering a cross that Gillingham skipper Andy Frampton could only turn into his own goal on 55 minutes. Bournemouth then enjoyed a period in the ascendancy and Flitney was called upon to make saves from Marc Pugh before the home side restored their lead with 15 minutes remaining.

As I grumbled that Gillingham didn’t look to have a goal in them at that particular point in the game, first Garry Richards popped up at the far post from a Lee cross to slide home his third goal of the season, only for stadium announcer Doug Hudson to credit the goal to Danny Kedwell! Seven minutes later, substitute Stefan Payne collected a pass, turned and shot into the far corner for a lead that appeared unassailable, but then so did Bournemouth’s at Dean Court.

A well taken free kick from ex-Welling player Harry Arter with four minutes of added time to play left Gillingham fans with fingernails to bite as Bournemouth went in search of an equaliser, but their one chance was blazed over by the veteran Steve Fletcher as the home side held out to earn an away tie against Leyton Orient.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Tunbridge Wells 4 Chichester City 1

Match 28/11/915 - Saturday, 19 November 2011 - FA Vase 2nd Round

Tunbridge Wells (1) 4 Spackman 1, Crush 94, McMath 116, 119
Chichester City (0) 1 Lopez 60
After extra time (1-1 at 90 minutues)
Att. 154

Entrance: £3 Senior Citizen
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,022

Match Report

Tunbridge Wells Football Club, completely unfairly, is mostly a last point of call on a Saturday afternoon when away fixtures for Gillingham and Tonbridge are out of reach for whatever reason. This is a bit of a shame because visits to Culverden are always enjoyable and meeting up with old friends stimulates the best in football conversation.

So, the FA Vase tie against Chichester City wasn’t exactly a chore even though the heart and mind might have been down at Truro or Aldershot. Last season, the Wells fell at the last hurdle before the competition went national and this time around will be looking to go one further following their extra time victory against the Sussex League strugglers.

The home side could not have made a better start to this match; I very much doubt I will see a quicker opening goal this season, or a few seasons after that. Makeshift centre forward, Perry Spackman swivelled and sent a shot, possibly taking a deflection, that looped up, completely deceiving the keeper and bouncing down off the underside of the bar to give the Wells the lead after just 18 seconds.

As is quite often the case, the early success actually did Tunbridge Wells no favours. Chichester gathered themselves with great resolve and rather than crumbling fought their way back into the tie. It took until the hour mark before they finally found a well-deserved equaliser.

Tunbridge Wells pressed to complete the tie within the regulation 90 minutes but despite a couple of golden chances they could not avoid extra time. Quick out of the blocks a second time, Drew Crush glanced a firm header into the corner of the net after four minutes of the first period and Chichester’s spirit was finally broken.

Two goals in the final five minutes from Andy McMath ensured the home side’s participation in the third round and provided £1,200 worth of prize money, no small amount for a club for whom the 157 attendance represents a sizeable crowd.

When I was growing up Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells played in the same league and were mighty rivals, sadly those days have gone. Under Martin Larkin, the Wells are moving in the right direction and deserve local support and that includes mine, not just because I haven’t anywhere else to go.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

AFC Bournemouth 3 Gillingham 3

Match 27/11/914 - Saturday, 12 November 2011 - FA Cup 1st Round

AFC Bournemouth (1) 3 Purches 20, Zubar 59, Malone 60
Gillingham (1) 3 Payne J 37, Jackman 71, Kedwell 90
Att. 4,282

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 290/1,996

Match Report

A stirring fight back from Gillingham at League One AFC Bournemouth showed there remains some magic to the FA Cup. A competition, diminished with disinterest by the Premiership and even denigrated by its own association, who choose to arrange England friendlies on the day of the first round of its competition, it is still much-loved in the lower divisions and the first round proper remains the Holy Grail of clubs outside of the Football League.

At 3-1 down with 20 minutes remaining, Gillingham were facing a First Round exit for a second successive season following last season’s embarrassing demise at the hands of Dover Athletic. Whilst that exit was characterised by sheer lack of backbone, if there were shortcomings in this performance, and there certainly were, a lack of character wasn’t among them.

A visit to a club a Division above was never going to be easy and the visitor’s task was made more difficult with the refusal of the parent clubs to allow Jo Kuffour and Frank Nouble to become cup-tied and injuries to goalkeeper Ross Flitney and central defender Garry Richards. On the positive side back from long term absence came Jack Payne.

Gillingham started very brightly, on a carpet of a pitch that was heavily watered before the game (in November, that’s global warming for you!), they passed the ball neatly and with a home defence probably still shell-shocked from conceding six in midweek, they almost allowed Luke Rooney an opportunity following a mix-up after a mere 20 seconds.

Recent weeks have seen Gillingham stung by long range strikes and after 20 minutes they found themselves behind to another of the same. A corner was only cleared as far as the edge of the box and from 20 yards Stephen Purches fired in a shot that cannoned down from the underside of bar and over the line. Buoyed by this success Bournemouth took control of the game and Scott Malone, a loanee from Wolves, was giving Matt Fish a torrid afternoon. The Gillingham full-back had no answer to Malone’s pace and with Chris Whelpdale offering precious little protection the right hand side of the visitors’ back line was hopelessly exposed. Unfortunately the defender was not only being given a runaround by Malone, but was taking vitriolic abuse from an element of the Gillingham support.

At 37 minutes, Gillingham were barely hanging on to their FA Cup lives when Jack Payne fired in a shot from 35 yards that flew over the head of the Cherries’ keeper Darryl Flahavan to the joy and amazement of the Gillingham contingent that amounted to 376. It was a fantastic strike and presented a perfect argument as to why the Elite Player Performance Plan should have got short shrift from the Football League clubs. Jack is nearly 19 and the new rules will not affect any potential transfer fees that might be earned by the club upon his transfer. The maximum amount that a lower Division club would earn under the new EPPP rule is £190,000. If Jack Payne had left Gillingham for that amount then one club has a bargain and the other has been mugged and we all know how that works.

The second half began badly for the visitors and they found themselves two goals adrift on the hour. The first of which was a personal nightmare for stand-in keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, who had to that point had a sound game. A dubious free kick was dropped by the keeper at Stephane Zubar’s feet and the former Plymouth Argyle defender scored from close range.

Worse quickly followed as Wes Thomas was allowed to run half the length of the pitch unchallenged before setting up Malone to crash a shot past Gazzaniga into the roof of the net. The game looked done and dusted for the Gills.

Fortunately, goalkeeping errors were not going to be one-sided and Flahaven offered Gillingham a lifeline with a fumble from a Danny Jackman free kick that allowed the ball to creep into the bottom corner. Andy Hessenthaler had gambled on attacking substitutions with Dennis Oli, Lewis Montrose and Stefan Payne entering the fray and with a minute on the clock remaining it looked as if Payne’s narrow failure to get on the end of a Fish cross might be the final chance. But the never-say-die character emerged and Charlie Lee’s long throw was knocked on by Montrose for Danny Kedwell to bury his shot into the bottom corner before running in celebration to the Gillingham support whose jubilation showed that the FA Cup does really matter.

Special mention must go to Paul Gazzaniga who recovered from his error to keep his side in the game when Bournemouth’s tails were up and Gillingham were left short at the back whilst chasing the game and to Jack Payne who was exceptional considering his two month absence and what a goal to celebrate his return.

In the last three weeks I’ve witnessed enthusiasm for the FA Cup at Redbridge and at Bournemouth, shame on the Association that they belittle the magic of the Cup.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Gillingham 4 Northampton Town 3

Match 26/11/913 - Saturday, 5 November 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (3) 4 Kuffour 10, 30, 45 (pen) Kedwell 90 (pen)
Northampton Town (1) 3 Berinho 35, 60 Langmead 54
Att. 4,704

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,706

Match Report

As the final whistle went on this crazy match several of the Northampton players slumped to the turf in utter despair and whilst pleasure was being taken from an important victory for our favourites it wasn’t hard to understand the dismay of the visitors. They had held the balance of play for much of the game, their speedy forwards had tested the Gillingham back line beyond breaking point and, in fairness, a point was no more than they deserved for their endeavours.

There was a focus on the two centre forwards, the past and present of Gillingham Football Club and strikers as different as chalk and cheese. For the visitors was the unmistakeable figure of Adebayo Akinfenwa, a man whose physique was never meant for that of a footballer, let alone one with the touch that the big man possesses and his counterpart for the home side, Joe Kuffour, a man of small stature, a real livewire.

The initial stages of the game suggested that it might be the game for the big man to remind his previous employers of what they were missing as three chances, a golden one within 90 seconds of the start, fell his way in the opening eight minutes. So it was completely against the run of play when Kuffour guided the ball into the net as a long punt into the box from Matt Lawrence virtually dropped out of the sky. If the Northampton defenders looked around themselves and asked questions how the striker was afforded the time and space it was only a foretaste for an afternoon that defenders on both sides will wish to forget.

Gillingham continued to be hard-pressed by the pace of Chris Arthur, Lewis Young and the very impressive loanee from West Bromwich Albion, Saido Berahino, but on the half-hour the home side doubled their advantage with an outstanding piece of improvisation from Kuffour. Frank Nouble lofted a cross to the far post from where Chris Whelpdale nodded down to Kuffour, who with his back to goal, backheeled the ball into the net from the edge of the six yard box.

The advantage was short-lived when Akinfenwa barrel-chested the ball into the path of Berahino who sped past Andy Frampton and finished clinically. Akinfenwa’s time at Priestfield wasn’t laden with goals, but his contribution for this goal was everything that he will be remembered for.

A penalty on the stroke of half time restored the home side’s two goal lead. Danny Kedwell played a pass to Kuffour who was brought down in the box by Kelvin Langmead. The referee initially waved aside the penalty claim but his attention was drawn to the linesman who had signalled the foul. Kedwell stood aside from his penalty taking duties to allow Kuffour the honour of a first half hat trick which he safely completed.

Kuffour was once again in the thick of the action almost immediately from the outset of the second half but was denied by some last ditched defending before the Cobblers turned the game around in a five minute spell. A long, long punt forward somehow eluded the Gillingham defence finding Langmead with time and space to direct a shot inside Ross Flitney’s left hand post. Five minutes later and a dozy defence allowed a free kick to be simply played back to Berahino who blasted in from just inside the box.

The visitors were now in the ascendancy and when Akinfenwa was sent clear by his strike partner Berahino it seemed that it was written in the script that the big man would return to score the winner, but he wastefully blazed the ball over the bar.

Further chances were spurned by both sides before the unfortunate Langmead conspired to be centre stage one last time. A superb pass inside the defender from Kedwell allowed Nouble a run into the box where a nudge from the defender, who tasted disappointment at Gillingham’s hands in the 2009 play-off final whilst with Shrewsbury, sent the winger to the ground. This time the referee needed no persuading and Kedwell resumed his duties to keep his nerve to dispatch the 91st minute winner from the spot.

Andy Hessenthaler and Gary Johnson would have endured similar sleepless nights following the nightmare defending but for the paying public it made for an enthralling encounter.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Redbridge 2 Ebbsfleet United 0

Match 25/11/912 - Saturday, 29 October 2011 - FA Cup 4QR

Redbridge (0) 2 Murray 81, Gardner 90
Ebbsfleet United (0) 0
Att. 442

Entrance: £4 Senior Citizen
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 96/1,661
New Ground: 246

Match Report

With Gillingham and Dorchester far afield and never wanting a blank Saturday, I chose to make my way through the tunnel to “tick off a ground” and take in Ebbsfleet’s FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round visit to Ryman North Redbridge.

Ebbsfleet were firm favourites as the club three levels higher than their hosts but the day eventually bore witness to one of the major shocks of the round.

On any normal Saturday the Oakside Stadium would be accommodating around a 100 spectators, but this was FA Cup day with a place in the First Round Proper at stake. When I arrived at the ground I was met by a couple of stewards informing drivers that the car park was full and the need to find alternative parking, at least this was fairly easily done.

Inside the ground it was clear that the visitors from Kent were going to make up the vast majority of the attendance. Oakside is the kind of ramshackle football ground that shouts “FA Cup shock in waiting”, so those visitors should have been pre-warned.

There is only terracing behind one of the goals so the massed ranks of Ebbsfleet supporters had made it theirs for the day. The little seated area along one side with just four rows of seats was quickly filled. I took my place on the opposite side of the pitch were a low covered standing area has a couple of steps of terracing. The match is played out to the rattle of tube trains arriving at Barkingside Tube Station, behind which the ground is situated.

Ebbsfleet made most of the running in the first half but their efforts foundered on the giant rock of centre back and skipper, Glen Golby, who also possessed a long throw that would have been admired by Rory Delap. Ebbsfleet’s inability to deliver any quality into the penalty area was the largest contributor to the goalless scoreline at the break.

Redbridge took confidence from their first half parity and the difference in divisions became less apparent, if it existed at all. With ten minutes remaining, a cross was lofted into the box and burly centre forward Ryan Murray guided a header past Fleet keeper Preston Edwards. Ebbsfleet mounted a final ten minute challenge to gain an equaliser but were left short at the back in time added on when Joe Gardner got onto the end of a free kick to slot, very coolly given the circumstances, into the bottom corner before rushing to the bench for a mass celebration.

As I walked back to the car, my thoughts turned to tomorrow’s draw and although Redbridge should be routine for a club of Gillingham’s level, perhaps still scarred by last season’s debacle against Dover, I came to the conclusion that I would not really relish a return to the Oakfield Stadium in a couple of weeks’ time.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Eastbourne Borough 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 24/11/911 - Tuesday, 25 October 2011 - Conference South

Eastbourne Borough (1) 1 Watson 22
Tonbridge (1) 2 McGlaggon 44, Browning 70
Att. 924

Entrance: £8 Senior Citizen
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 64/1,565
New Ground: 245

Match Report

Tonbridge’s season thus far has been littered with false starts, so it is to be hoped that this confidence-building win at bang in-form Eastbourne Borough might this time be the start of a positive run that will put some breathing space between them and the relegation zone.

Arriving at Priory Lane on the back of a disappointing reversal at Longmead against Basingstoke, Tonbridge took time to settle against their hosts who played some attractive, attacking football in the opening 20 minutes pressurising Tonbridge into giving away the ball too cheaply time and again. So it was no surprise when Ben Watson put the home side in front on 22 minutes. A Matt Crabb cross was only headed to the edge of the box by Sonny Miles and Watson scored from around 12 yards. Appeals for a foul on Miles fell on deaf ears.

Tonbridge had to endure some worrying moments before they started to get a toe hold in the game after half-an-hour. Miles had the ball in the net, but the flag for offside had long since been raised and Bristol Rovers loanee, Kane McLaggon, fired over the bar.

Just before half-time Tonbridge got the equaliser through the perseverance of Ade Olorunda, who managed to get a cross into the six yard box under pressure where McLaggon was able to scramble the ball home from close range to the pleasure of the sizeable Tonbridge contingent in the crowd of 924.

From a half that had seen Tonbridge struggle to contain their hosts they obviously took a lot of confidence from entering the break on even terms. The second half was a much different affair with the Angels making the majority of the running as the rain lashed down.

Several chances came and went before Tonbridge went ahead with 20 minutes remaining. Lee Browning received the ball just inside the Eastbourne half, drove forward unchallenged for 20 yards before unleashing an unstoppable shot from 25 yards that rocketed past Rikki Banks.

It was heart-stopping on the sidelines but Tonbridge saw out the remaining time relatively easily spending most of the time in the home side’s half, Lee Worgan being asked to make a couple of comfortable saves.

Priory Lane was a smashing little ground with cover on all four sides. OK, so it is a bit prefabricated and lacking in character but at this level it is certainly going to be one of the better grounds that Tonbridge visit. We had a quick drink in a large, well furnished clubhouse before entering the ground. The terracing on the uncovered area in which we stood for the first half was a bit on the shallow side making viewing a little obstructed. We moved down the touchline for the second half, and were glad to be under cover as the heavens opened. Along the opposite side of the pitch there is the seating enclosure that covers virtually the full length. Behind the goals there is covered terracing with executive boxes on an upper tier. Executive boxes in non-league football, prawn sandwiches next! Behind the other goal there is covered terracing. A little gem, I would conclude, to go with Lee Browning’s diamond finish.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Gillingham 1 Oxford United 0

Match 23/11/910 - Saturday, 22 October 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 0 Montrose 45
Oxford United (0) 0
Att. 5,819

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,501

Match Report

The inscription on the title page of Andy Bradley and Roger Trigg’s legendary book, Home of the Shouting Men, reads: Gillingham is written in the Domesday Book as Gelingeham. It is thought to have derived its name from the Gilingas, a warrior tribe known as the “shouting men”. In recent times Priestfield has been more the home of the Whispering men and the warrior tribe a collective of librarians.

The visit of Oxford United, and more importantly, referee Gavin Ward brought the Shouting Men back to Priestfield as adversity brought out the best in Gelingeham supporters.

It is a strange phenomenon that new stadiums (or refurbished as in the case of Priestfield) has brought about a change of nature in the people that sit in the seats. Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri recently made the point about the Emirates and my experience of over 20 visits to the new Wembley is that the atmosphere is more like a respectful night at the theatre rather than a passionate sporting arena.

Oxford United arrived as a side in form and as such they were able to afford the luxury of leaving leading scorer Andy Constable on the bench. Gillingham decided not to rush their leading scorer, Danny Kedwell back and stayed with the side that won handsomely at Torquay last Saturday.

The visitors enjoyed the best of the opening half, creating and wasting a host of chances, the best of which saw a good block from Ross Flitney as Robert Hall got clear on goal. It was against the run of play when Gillingham took the lead on the stroke of half time. The lively Jo Kuffour wriggled his way into the box and forced Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke to beat the ball to the safety of the edge of the box from where Lewis Montrose rifled the ball into the top left corner of the net to the delight, and surprise of the Whispering Men.

The first half had seen the now familiar scenario regarding the crowd at Priestfield, the Rainham End were subdued and, around me in the Gordon Road Stand, folk were getting agitated with the home’s lack of authority on the game.

The second half started with a second booking for Joe Martin on 49 minutes. The booking appeared harsh, although general opinion seems to say that Mr Ward got it right. Martin’s first half booking was unfortunate as a loss of footing left him the wrong side of Damian Batt and his subsequent attempt to retrieve the situation saw him bringing down the Oxford full back.

The first sign of adversity galvanised the Priestfield crowd and they rallied behind Gillingham’s ten men as the visitors used their numerical advantage and poured forward in search of an equaliser. A mixture of good goalkeeping, last ditch defending and profligate wastefulness wound the clock down with the home side’s lead intact.

Relief fleetingly appeared as Kuffour put the ball into the net following a breakaway but this was stifled by an offside flag. With two minutes remaining Gillingham’s task became so much harder as Montrose saw red for a rash challenge on Asa Hall. The Oxford staff were off the bench to a man and their reaction might well have influenced the referee. From the distance of the Gordon Road Stand it was difficult to see whether it was a challenge of a straight red and television pictures are hardly more conclusive.

Five agonising minutes were added and Priestfield rocked, the Shouting Men had returned. Gillingham handled the extra time well and didn’t really suffer a scare, to the frustration of the visitors who picked up a further two yellows bringing their total to six, bizarrely Gillingham had no other cards apart from the two reds. The final whistle brought the house down as the fans stayed on to acclaim their favourites for the backs-to-the-wall effort.

Andy Hessenthaler, in his radio interview, almost seemed to brush aside the effect of the fans, choosing to comment that he needed them to be behind his side from the outset. It’s the original chicken and egg scenario, more often than not it takes a spark on the pitch to raise those off it, on this occasion it was adversity. Welcome home, the Shouting Men.

GOSK Dubrovnik 0 NK Omis 2

Match 22/11/909 - Wednesday, 12 October 2011 - Croatia 3 South

GOSK Dubrovnik (0) 0
NK Omis (0) 2 The Number 10
Est. Att. 200

Entrance: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 2/1,456 (from Hotel)
New Ground: 244 (36th Abroad)

Here we are on the Dalmatian Coast in sunny, but sometimes wind-swept, Dubrovnik. We’ve made our start on the old city with its fabulous history and spectacular beauty. But, for a football fan, there comes a time when the sightseeing can take a break because there is a match in town and a ground to tick off.

NK GOSK Dubrovnik play their football at the third level of the Croatian League, a level that is split into four divisions covering each compass point, Dubrovnik being in the south. They are a club that, one would assume from the record books, has seen better days, having previously played at levels higher as recent as 2005 and in 1997 not only finished seventh in the first division but also reached the Quarter Finals of the National Cup losing to Dinamo Zagreb over two legs after holding the capital side to a draw at their now humble stadium.

The opposing side on my visit to the Gradski Stadium, Lapad were NK Omis, a side based 16 miles south-east of Split, the home of Hajduk, the pride of the Dalmatian coast. Dubrovnik had made a decent start to their season and were sitting third in the league, whilst Omis were mid-table.

We had already seen bus stops decorated with the crest of Hajduk in Dubrovnik showing the affection for the club that is sited the best part of a four hour drive away, shades of Manchester United fans leaving Gillingham on a Saturday morning for a home match. We spoke to hotel staff about the Croatian national side’s upcoming European Qualifier against Latvia and was embraced with enthusiastic conversation but when we broached the subject of GOSK we were greeted with shakes of the head.

Not to be discouraged we left our hotel for the 4 o’clock kick off to make the 10 minute walk to ground with some vague directions that appeared relatively simple. When we got to a junction and a decision to turn left or right we were fortunate that a police car was parked, perhaps on the look-out for some of the infamous hooligans that blight Croatian football. We asked the officer in the passenger seat the way and he in turn needed to ask his fellow officer.

One little worry that we had was that the morning’s sightseeing had depleted our wallets of kuna, the local currency, surely it couldn’t be the equivalent of £15 each to gain admission we hoped. Walking towards the ground, it has to be said there was hardly the throng of people that would be associated with Toronto Road at 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon; in fact there was nobody that was obviously making their way to the football.

The ground came into view with a few people sitting along the top of the wall surrounding the ground. On reaching the gate we were taken aback to find that entrance was in fact free! There was a gate, even a table where they might have collected a fee but nobody to take it. Inside the ground at that time were probably no more than 50 people watching as the players of both sides were warming up. We walked towards the half-way line and positioned ourselves up on the same wall alongside a group of young girls, mainly because the wife had taken a liking to a little dog that she got to know was named Lulu.

The Gradski was quite run-down. The terrace on which we were sitting was six substantial steps high and behind the goal from where we had entered there was a similar amount of terracing that led to a sort of club house bar were a few sat and watched. This led to another, shallower, terrace down the length of the pitch leading to the dressing rooms perched atop the terrace behind the far goal. The view beyond this was the beautiful backdrop of the Dalmatian hills. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the stadium, which was essentially no better than Kent League, was the fact that in 2011 it continued to be fenced.

As the match got underway, the attendance had risen to around the 200 mark that observed the proceedings rather than got excited about either side. My own observations as to the standard of the play was initially that it was at a level equal to Ryman South, i.e. Faversham. The weather throughout the summer months is obviously very hot and we had been told that during the previous week temperatures had reached 35degC and this in October! This naturally leads to very hard pitches and a couple of challenges quickly brought the physio to the field.

Immediately noticeable was that passing was almost entirely enacted along the ground and that technically the players were pretty good, time to re-assess the standard upwards to perhaps Ryman Premier, i.e. Margate. Dubrovnik started the game well, looking the part of the higher-placed team, but slowly but surely Omis found their feet and eventually took the lead through their number ten. Sorry, there can be no names as there was no programme and not even a tannoy system, not that I would have understood anyway!

Omis’ number ten was a tall, rangy striker in the mould of a young Tony Cascarino, who was surprisingly good on the ground but caused a bit of derision needing the trainer three times in the opening half hour. It was inevitable that a well worked move ended with our Cas stroking home from inside the six yard box. After Cas had once again showed himself as the class act on show with an excellent strike from about 25 yards before taking another knock that left him a passenger for the last ten minutes, I engaged in conversation with a gentleman that had sat himself alongside me about 20 minutes after the game had begun.

I first asked him about the entrance fee, or lack of it. In good English he explained that they only charged if one of the Premier Croatian sides were in opposition, but for league matches, should they charge nobody would come. How do they survive was my next question. To this he explained that they received funding from the local council and local businesses. They were a community club that had age groups from nine years old to earn their funding, but you wouldn’t bank on Medway, or any other, Council following suit. My friend also explained that the players of Dubrovnik did get paid, albeit a very small amount, which made the lack of an entrance fee even more confusing. I was at the point where I really wanted to pay as the afternoon’s football had been entertaining and the conversation with my Hajduk-loving friend enlightening.

As the Dalmatian sun set and Omis left for Split with the three points we made our way back to our hotel content that we had enjoyed our foray into the lower reaches of Croatian football and not a kuna poorer!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Gillingham 1 Port Vale 1

Match 21/11/908 - Saturday, 8 October 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Kedwell 63 (pen)
Port Vale (1) 1 Richards 33
Att. 4,676

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,454

Match Report

This is a mini posting due to a holiday . . . at last!

Gillingham needed to recover some respect following the embarrassing capitulation at Wimbledon last week and although they failed to collect the maximum points some semblance of pride was restored with a thoroughly decent performance.

Ultimately it took a twice taken penalty from Danny Kedwell to rescue a point but it was no more than Gillingham deserved. Port Vale came into the game as the Division’s leading scorers and with defensive absentees in Andy Frampton and Barry Fuller it was on the cards that the home side would come under a lot of pressure but they coped admirably and in the main took the game to their visitors from Burslem.

Port Vale took a 33rd minute lead when Matt Fish misjudged to cross allowing Tom Pope to head back across the face of the goal for Marc Richards to tap home from close range. It was a bit of a shame for Fish, looking to establish himself following Fuller’s expected season-long absence, who otherwise had a pretty solid game.

The other point worthy of mention in the first half was the continuing good form of Luke Rooney, who is frustrating and exhilarating in equal measures but never ceases to attempt to entertain.

On the hour Gillingham were offered a deserved opportunity of an equaliser when Frank Nouble was brought down on the edge of the box. Priestfield let out a collected groan as Kedwell’s penalty attempt was saved by Stuart Tomlinson. Those groans turned to cheers as the linesman flagged to alert the referee that the keeper had moved from his line. Kedwell kept his nerve and stroked his second attempt into the opposite corner with the keeper diving the same way as his first.

Gillingham made the most of the running in the final half-hour but could not break down a resolute Vale defence, but despite not winning the game, they would have been pleased to hear appreciative applause at the final whistle rather than the negative reception they have received in more recent times.

Off to Dubrovnik, where hopefully a Croatian match might find its way onto the blog pages.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

AFC Wimbledon 3 Gillingham 1

Match 20/11/907 - Saturday, 1 October 2011 - League Two

AFC Wimbledon (3) 3 Jolley 10, 12 Midson 22
Gillingham (0) 1 Lee 67
Att. 4,606

Entrance: £15
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 118/1,409

Match Report

For many of the Gillingham following to Kingsmeadow this would have been their first visit and it will be quickly forgotten as the visitors served up an embarrassing 45 minutes including a horrific 12 minute spell that exposed perhaps more than defensive fragility.

On a blisteringly hot day that was suffocating under the low roof of the John Smith’s Stand as Gillingham withered in the heat they tried the patience of their supporters and for some it was all too much as they vented their fury at their own players and manager with poisonous venom.

Danny Kedwell’s return to his old club was greeted respectfully by his old supporters who prior to kick off hung a banner with a caricature of the striker (below), but this was replaced by another banner once the game commenced. No sentiment remained once the ball is kicked and quite rightly so.

Joe Martin and Barry Fuller remained sidelined, so the reshuffled back line remained from last Saturday’s home win against Burton Albion.

The first ten minutes passed quietly enough with Gillingham enjoying much of the territorial advantage before a crass piece of defending by Matt Lawrence allowed Christian Jolley a free run on goal and a well taken finish. It was a seemingly innocuous ball over the top that left the defender with a simple job of clearing his lines or passing the ball back to goalkeeper Ross Flitney. A serious misjudgement of the flight of the ball allowed Jolley to get beyond him and expertly finish.

AFC Wimbledon quickly doubled their advantage in the 12th minute when Jolley got between the dithering central defenders to convert a Sam Hatton cross with a diving header leaving all sorts of arguments and inquests among the bemused back line.

The afternoon went from bad to worse on 20 minutes with a further episode of horrific defending. Perhaps we see situations as easy to deal with from the terraces when they not, but it seemed the simplest job in the world to see this particular situation to safety. But Garry Richards, Matt Fish and Chris Whelpdale each conspired to eventually present the easiest of chances to Jack Midson who, in truth, couldn’t miss (and didn’t).

By now Gillingham were in complete disarray (was going to say meltdown but in the conditions everybody on and off the pitch had already melted). Andy Hessenthaler decided that enough was enough at the back and Lawrence with withdrawn on 37 minutes. The veteran defender did not take his substitution at all well and his displeasure (in fact it was anger) was there for the entire Gillingham support to witness being situated directly behind the bench.
In fairness to Hessenthaler, the reshuffle that led to Andy Frampton, who was having a torrid time at left back, moving to central defence and Danny Jackman taking the left full back spot did shore up the catastrophic back line.

Hessenthaler’s half time words must have had an effect as well as Gillingham made a far better fist of the second half, albeit that, in the heat, AFCW may well have taken their foot off the pedal. Luke Rooney, although exasperating at times and collecting a fair amount of abuse for being greedy, was the bright spot of the first half and came more to the fore in the second.

Seb Brown, the AFCW keeper, drew the wrath of the visiting support when he fell to the ground, as if he had taken a Hayemaker from Frank Nouble. The referee, Michael Naylor, saw through the Oscar performance of the keeper, but booked Nouble for the offence. Personally, I thought the referee handled this particular situation very well, he saw that Nouble had raised a hand but also recognised that Brown had made a complete meal of the incident.

In any satisfaction can be derived from this game it came about on the hour with the introduction and the subsequent effect that new signing Joe Kuffour had on the game. Gillingham became much more of a threat in the last half hour and might well have allowed the glass half full supporter the opportunity of a little if, buts and maybes.

In the 67th minute, the visitors pulled a goal back with an exquisite strike from Charlie Lee, firing into top right hand corner from 20 yards. From nothing, Gillingham were now on the front foot with Kuffour and Rooney posing questions of the home defence that had not been previously asked. Both were capable of running with the ball and on three occasions Rooney fired across the face of goal, begging for somebody to make a touch. If only, one had been made it could have set up a grandstand finish with Gills having the momentum. Unfortunately, ifs, buts and maybes.

Charlie Lee picked up a fifth booking for the season with five minutes remaining for a challenge that the conspiracy theorist would believe was “bought” to serve the suspension for Tuesday night’s Paint Pot game.

I’ve tried to be fair to both sides in this report mainly because of the vitriol, some of which unacceptable, that was exerted by the visiting support. Twitter messages suggested that Gillingham were downright awful for 90 minutes. They were for 45 and were even worse for 12 of those. AFCW were made to look like Barcelona in that period of the game, they were not, but they looked a decent side, especially in the opening half.

Kingsmeadow is a stadium that looked impressive when I visited as a visiting supporter from Ryman League Tonbridge, unfortunately for Wimbledon they have grown too fast for the stadium. A sell-out crowd of 4,606 is hardly adequate even at League Two level and to be honest I was under the obviously incorrect impression that 6,000 capacities were the minimum criteria for Football League entry. I read in the programme that they are planning to enlarge the stadium which would suggest that their return to the Borough of Merton remains a distant dream. But in their short existence they have had many such dreams and most have materialised, so never say never.

For Gillingham, I don’t know. I left the ground frustrated and angry. After reflection I’ve drawn a few positives from the second half, but without doubt, the back line that started this game need to have a long hard look at themselves because those 12 minutes were completely unacceptable.