Saturday, 29 January 2011

Gillingham 2 Aldershot Town 1

Match 46/10/864 - Saturday, 29 January 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 2 McDonald 53,89
Aldershot Town (0) 1 Rodman 90
Att. 4,810

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,057

Match Report

On FA Cup Fourth Round Day, the early round patsies of Dover Athletic met at Priestfield. Aldershot, like their hosts, arrived on a decent run of form, suggesting a good contest should ensue. Sadly, it didn’t, but having played well and lost on Tuesday, Gillingham will be pleased to have emerged with the points from a game in which they did enough to deserve the points.

Cody McDonald, who had chances aplenty to score against the league leaders, Chesterfield, on Tuesday, but failed to find the net was back to his opportunist best and added his 13th and 14th goals of the season.

Danny Spiller was missing with a broken finger and Luke Rooney earned a recall to the starting eleven.

The first half was memorable only in as much that it was instantly forgettable. On a freezing cold afternoon, neither side did much to draw the attention away from the hurt that was being inflicted on the extremities.

Gillingham opened the scoring early in the second half. Curtis Weston, threaded a pass in the direction of Adebayo Akinfenwa, whose dummy allowed McDonald a snap shot which beat the Aldershot keeper, Jamie Young from 10 yards.

Aldershot fashioned their first chance on the hour mark when a Danny Hyllton shot went across the face of the goal. Jermaine McGlashin was at the far post, but failed to make any contact. As the game meandered towards the final whistle and Gillingham supporters thankful for the points from a moderate performance the game sprang to life in the last five minutes and time added on.

Alan Julian produced a spectacular parry from a close range header by Shots skipper, Anthony Charles with a couple of minutes left on the clock and following the subsequent clearance, Barry Fuller crossed into the box, a deflection off visiting defender Ben Herd fell sweetly for McDonald to strike from a similar position to his first goal as the fourth official displayed five minutes of extra time to be played.

As the last minute of that time was entered a fine shot from Alex Rodman, signed during the week from Tamworth, bent wickedly away from the despairing dive of Julian to find the bottom right corner, but there was little time for any comeback.

Following the reversal at Wycombe, Gillingham responded with a 5-1 mauling of basement side Stockport, today far more resilient opposition was encountered but they have once more returned to winning ways at the first opportunity. Winning ugly when necessary can become a good habit and today’s less than fluent performance sees a return to a play-off spot.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Gillingham 0 Chesterfield 2

Match 45/10/863 - Tuesday, 25 January 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Chesterfield (1) 2 Smalley 13, 48
Att. 4,770

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,012

Match Report

Disappointing defeat, but no real complaints. Chesterfield arrived as the League leaders and departed with a six point cushion at the top of the table.

Gillingham showed plenty of endeavour, had the lion’s share of both possession and chances, but fell to the old sucker punch of being caught on the break. Chesterfield showed all the qualities required to gain promotion from the bottom tier. Resilient in defence, a goalkeeper whose hands were a magnet to the ball and a front two that caused problems and took two of only three opportunities that were afforded to them.

Curtis Weston ducked a tackle on 13 minutes allowing Manchester City loanee Javan Vidal the freedom of his right flank to cross to an unmarked Deane Smalley who was headed home with ease from the edge of the six yard box. Gillingham instantly replied with a shot from Cody McDonald that was brilliantly turned aside by Chesterfield ‘keeper Tommy Lee. From the resultant corner, Lee was once again called upon to make a fine stop from McDonald’s header.

That set the pattern for the first half; Gillingham dominating possession but chances were going begging or being repelled by Lee at regular intervals.

The second half began with a second goal for the visitors and putting the game almost out of reach of the hosts. A through ball from Dwayne Mattis allowed Smalley a clear run on goal. He rounded Alan Julian and slid the ball into the net, much to the delight of the small contingent of Chesterfield fans soaked by the persistent drizzle. From a distance, Smalley certainly looked offside.

Andy Hessenthaler responded by introducing Luke Rooney, Jack Payne and Stefan Payne into the action. Rooney, looking for a repeat of Saturday’s heroics, volleyed on target but the shot was straight at the perfectly positioned Lee. The goalkeeper was not going to be beaten and further efforts from Akinfenwa, Rooney and Kevin Maher all found the keeper at his frustrating best.

A second defeat in 10 games for the Gills and it is time to dust themselves down and start another run. The positives that can be taken are that they have been far from disgraced against the league leaders and will not come up against their likes too many times between now and May.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Torquay United 1 Gillingham 1

Match 44/10/862 - Saturday, 22 January 2011 - League Two

Torquay United (1) 1 Benyon 6
Gillingham (0) 1 Rooney 87
Att. 2,368

Entrance: £18
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 460/6,967

Match Report

Gillingham’s visit to a chilly Plainmoor was a mirror image of the corresponding fixture at Priestfield in October. Same scoreline that was arrived at via a late equaliser for the visitors; a mistake from Gillingham keeper, Alan Julian, whilst his counterpart, Scott Bevan produced a Man of the Match winning performance. It is, perhaps, stretching the coincidence, but both games ended with one team ending the match a manager light on the bench, back in October, Andy Hessenthaler missed the second half having been taken ill, whilst Paul Buckle was removed from the dug out following an altercation with referee Graham Scott.

Fielding an unchanged side, Gillingham got off to the worst possible start. The visitors defence, so sound in recent weeks, looked unsettled. Barry Fuller had already put his fellow defenders under pressure with a misplaced pass before repeating the offence in the sixth minute. The skipper gave the ball away to Euan O’Kane, whose shot from 20 yards should have been collected by the goalkeeper. Julian spilt the effort and the livewire Elliot Benyon was on-hand to snaffle the rebound. The keeper complained that he had recovered the ball and it was kicked from his hands but his protestations were turned away by referee Scott.

The goal shook Gillingham to the core and the following minutes saw their back line put themselves under pressure with mistake following mistake. Josh Gowling, in particular, looking completely out of sorts, but it was the frizzy-haired central defender that almost levelled for the visitors after 20 minutes. A Danny Spiller corner was headed goalwards by Gowling which was brilliantly parried by Bevan, the rebound falling once again to Gowling and this time his return shot was turned away by the 6’5” inch custodian.

The near miss served to spur the visitors forward and for the rest of the half they held the balance of play with the game becoming Scott Bevan versus the opposition. He made good saves from Cody McDonald, Andy Barcham and Danny Jackman with a speculative lob from McDonald turned over the top when a shorter keeper would not have got near. A thumping drive from Jackman was just too high as the visitors finished the half strongly but still a goal down.

The game might well have been beyond Gillingham’s reach had Torquay’s big central defender, Mark Ellis buried a corner early in the second half. He rose unchallenged to power a header wide of the post when it seemed easier to score.

Gillingham were struggling to recover their first half momentum before Adebayo Akinfenwa was introduced for Spiller on the hour. I must admit I didn’t realise that the big striker had a spell at Plainmoor and this was the reason his entrance was greeted with boos from the so-called Ultras. Meanwhile Alan Julian was making recompense for his mistake with good saves from Benyon and Chris Zebroski.

Luke Rooney entered as a substitute for the ineffective Barcham as the manager gambled on attack to retrieve a point. Rooney curled a shot wide of the post before finding the net with three minutes left on the clock. Akinfenwa did well to retain possession before passing to Rooney in the left wing area, the youngster struck a shot from the corner of the box and with the aid of a deflection the ball found the bottom right hand corner. The sizeable following of 432 joyously greeted the goal, but not quite as much as the scorer. I’ve, not maliciously, called Rooney a bit of a headless chicken and his celebratory run to the bench was that of the same. No-one cared, it had secured a point that the visitors richly deserved.

This was my first visit to Torquay for a number of years. The terrace that housed the visiting support has been replaced by a modern covered standing area, but we chose to sit in the main grandstand that is not so grand and, frankly, should be condemned. The wooden structure is somewhat quaint but has long since seen better days. The wooden seats are downright uncomfortable and the view obstructed by supporting pillars. To enter the seating turnstile there was a queue of about ten people that took an age to get to the front. The turnstile operator, an elderly gentleman, was meticulously taking a ticket from his book, punching a hole in the stub before removing it and handing you the other end. What was the purpose of the punch? Perhaps he was a bus conductor in his previous job!

The stewards in the grandstand were continually counting the number of available seats and relaying the information back to the turnstile; surely it would have been easier for the bloke to have only the right amount of tickets! But it all added to the quaintness of the place. A pleasant walk along the cliff tops at Babbacombe Downs to some rather expensive but tasty fish and chips added to a satisfactory day where a point was a result I would have taken on the way in.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Gillingham 1 Northampton Town 0

Match 43/10/861 - Saturday, 15 January 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 McDonald 32
Northampton Town (0) 0
Att. 5,613

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,497

Match Report

Gillingham overcame difficult windy conditions and the jinx of the Manager of the Month Award to inch themselves into the play-off positions. Their visitors, Northampton Town, had limited resources in attack and asked their club captain, Andy Holt, a defender to lead the front line. Subsequently, they offered very little threat and a long-range shot from Michael Jacobs that was easily gathered by Alan Julian with 10 minutes remaining was their only shot on goal.

Gillingham’s surge up the table during December had earned Andy Hessenthaler the award and he reportedly refused to touch the trophy (which is pretty ugly anyway) for fear of invoking the curse. Such is the strength of the squad at present that, despite last’s week’s five goals at Stockport, it was something of a surprise that an unchanged side was selected with ex-Cobblers favourite Adebayo Akinfenwa sitting it out on the bench.

Gillingham’s path may have been eased as Curtis Weston was offered an early chance, but his shot was blocked by keeper, Chris Dunn. With neither side settling in the conditions, chances were at a premium. Top scorer Cody McDonald saw an effort into the side netting and then forced Dunn into a save before opening the scoring on the half-hour.

A long cross field pass from John Nutter was helped into the box by Danny Spiller, where a cushioned header from Josh Gowling gave McDonald a clear shooting opportunity which he took with ease for his 12th goal of the season.

The second half was much the same as the first with the wind and an over-fussy referee, Trevor Kettle, dominating proceedings. McDonald, had a carbon copy of his opportunity at Wycombe a couple of weeks ago, with unfortunately the same result, this time his lob narrowly clearing the bar. The arrival from the bench of Akinfenwa and Luke Rooney injected a bit of life into the game, big Bayo setting up McDonald and a rocket from Rooney narrowly missing a post.

A free kick into the box that narrowly evaded ex-Gill Dean Beckwith evoked bitter memories of the winning goal at Sixfields back in October, but this time drifted harmlessly wide.

Man of the Match was given to Gowling, who alongside Matt Lawrence, earned his award by controlling the conditions as much as the toothless Northampton attack.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Tonbridge 2 Hendon 1

Match 42/10/860 - Tuesday, 11 January 2011 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Olorunda 38, Collin (pen) 73
Hendon (1) 1 Aite-Ouakrim 8
Att. 267

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/6,452

Match Report

Tonbridge inched themselves to within one place of the play-off places with a second come-from-behind win in four days against a lively Hendon side.

The shine was taken off the victory by an injury to Scott Gooding, who only recently returned to fitness following a long lay-off. Gooding was prostrate on the floor as Hendon’s Belal Aite-Ouakrim collected a pass after Chris Piper had been dispossessed and scored with ease. Nobody was actually near the defender as he went down, appearing to catch his studs in the turf. The game was stopped for a good five minutes as the unfortunate defender was stretchered off.

Aite-Ouakrim proved to be a handful throughout the first half showing great pace and this was the hallmark of the visitors who moved the ball about with great purpose. Ben Judge came on for Gooding and slowly the home side regained an element of the control of the match.

Five minutes from half time Tonbridge were helped back into the match. Lee Browning passed forward towards Ade Olorunda. The Hendon goalkeeper, James Readings, charged from his goal without a hope of reaching it before the striker. Olorunda took it past the keeper and slotted into the empty net from the edge of the box. It was a well-taken goal, but the keeper should never have been so far from home.

Tonbridge enjoyed much the better of the second period but it was the aforementioned striker with the impossible name who went closest firing into the side netting from a good position.

The home side eventually took the lead with 17 minutes remaining following a soft penalty award. Frannie Collin attempted to turn away from a Hendon defender and was hauled to the ground. Collin despatched the penalty himself sending the keeper the wrong way.

Readings redeemed himself for his first half error with an excellent double save denying Piper and Lewis Taylor before saving once more from Browning.

On a chilly night, only 267 attended and although there was Carling Cup football live on BBC2, I’m more inclined to think that doubt surrounding whether the match would go ahead following heavy rain was a greater contributory factor. A late postponement of the last home fixture would have played on some people’s minds. Those that decided that the risk was worthwhile were treated to a good night’s entertainment.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Bury Town 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 41/10/859 - Saturday, 8 January 2011 - Ryman Premier

Bury Town (0) 1 Ives 58
Tonbridge (0) 2 May 78, Hill 90
Att. 592

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 218/6,426
New Ground: 239

Match Report

It may have been with a few wishful thoughts of regret as mobile messages relayed goals aplenty for Gillingham at Edgeley Park culminating in a 5-1 hammering of Stockport County, but none of it. I had no regrets whatsoever choosing Tonbridge’s visit to Bury St Edmunds, home of Bury Town. The Ryman League once again served up a memorable encounter and a magnificent comeback win for the Angels.

Confirmation that the match was on wasn’t the greatest of comforts as I set out on the two hour journey to Suffolk. Heavy overnight rain had left local roads with lots of standing water and I was fearful that further downpours could leave the trip fruitless. On arrival at Ram Meadow, first sighting of the pitch confirmed my fears had been well founded. It was certainly the worst pitch I’ve seen this season and would not have taken a lot more rain to deem it unplayable.

The first half was even in terms of possession, but the home side had the better of the chances and one save after half-an-hour by Lee Worgan from Tom Bullard was truly outstanding. Neither side completely mastered the condition of the pitch in a first half that was more absorbing than exciting.

The second half was totally different. Bury continued to carve out the better chances and Worgan was forced into two more brilliant stops before he was helpless to stop Cambridge loanee Sam Ives scoring following a well-crafted move.

The goal was the catalyst for a reversal in the balance of play. Manager Tommy Warrilow made bold substitutions and the visitors seized the initiative. Bury’s goalkeeper, Marcus Garnham became centre-stage as he repelled Tonbridge’s efforts almost single handed. In one assault, Garnham watched as the ball rebounded from the bar but excelled as he twice saved follow-ups.

The goal that Tonbridge richly deserved arrived 12 minutes from time. Jay May, who had seconds earlier been thwarted by Garnham, perfectly placed a header into the bottom corner to the delight of the sizeable following from Kent.

Garnham continued with the heroics and, whilst a point at the second-placed side would be no disgrace, it was felt that perhaps a winner might have been deserved. Step-up Rory Hill. The substitute cut in from the right hand side and cracked a low shot into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of the keeper. Such was Hill’s delight that he took a yellow card for his exuberant celebration with the fans gathered behind the goal, small price to pay for a magnificent end to an exhilarating second half.

Ram Meadow is a bit of a hotch-potch of low covered enclosures and a main stand that housed little more than a 100 seats. I found the back-drop behind each goal the perfect contrast, behind the far goal was the British Sugar Refinery belching its smoke into the winter sky and at the other end perfectly silhouetted was the Cathedral of Bury St Edmunds. Touch of beauty and the beast, but these two sides proved that on a beast of a pitch, the beautiful game still has much to admire.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Wycombe Wanderers 1 Gillingham 0

Match 40/10/858 - Monday, 3 January 2011 - League Two

Wycombe Wanderers (0) 1 Winfield 64
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,617

Entrance: £18
Programme: £3
Mileage: 178/6,208

Match Report

Gillingham fans returned to their Theatre of Nightmares on Monday and the matchday announcer was not going to allow them to forget their last visit. His interviews with the mascots relived that fateful day with his questions to the kids allowing replays of the goals on the video screen and, did you know, that Gillingham haven’t scored at Wycombe since 1999, he added with a tad too much relish.

Wycombe are a good side that won’t be too far from the top of the table come May and had already won the reverse fixture convincingly in November, so it was to be expected that the five game winning run was going to come under pressure.

There were minor snow flurries as we walked the chilly path through the industrial estate to Adams Park. Often depicted as picturesque, its only real redeeming feature is the backdrop of the rolling hills. Such is our record here, we are never going to see it as a place of beauty.

Gillingham started brightly and created a clear shooting opportunity in the first minute, sadly it fell to Matt Lawrence, a central defender who blasted over the bar. The home side then seized the initiative and Gillingham were subjected to a mainly rearguard action, although they were never really threatened.

Gillingham’s front line partnership of Adebayo Akinfenwa and Cody McDonald that had been so effective during the successful run was being well-marshalled by Dave Winfield and ex-Gill Leon Johnson.

The game encapsulated itself around a 10 minute period from 65 minutes. Wycombe took the lead following a corner that was headed against the cross bar by Scott Rendell, the rebound found Winfield in space to head home. 10 minutes later, Cody McDonald ran onto a Luke Rooney pass, lobbed the keeper, only to see the ball hit the bar and was cleared to safety.

Gillingham made a good effort to retrieve the deficit with sustained pressure in the final minutes, but the moment McDonald’s effort rebounded from the woodwork it was written that the matchday announcer would have another year to add to his tally on our next visit.

As we walked away, we felt that whilst not deserving to win, a draw would have been a fair reflection of the game. If Gillingham were not to get promoted this season, I hope Wycombe do, not that I have any particular affection for the club, I’m just sick of Adams Park.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Gillingham 1 Stevenage 0

Match 39/10/857 - Saturday, 1 January 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Akinfenwa 38
Stevenage (0) 0
Att. 5,429

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,030

Match Report

Sometimes winning just has to be ugly and this hard-fought victory over Stevenage was one such occasion. It stretched Gillingham’s winning run to five games and installed them in the play-off positions for the first time this season.

A diving header from Adebayo Akinfenwa on 38 minutes was the ultimate difference between two sides that on the day were stronger in defence than attack. Cody McDonald, on another day could have had a hat trick, and some stunning combined defending by Alan Julian and Joe Martin in the closing minutes contributed to the single goal scoreline.

Stevenage set their stall out early in the game when Chris Beardsley was booked for a late tackle on Gills’ skipper Barry Fuller, but overall they were a battling side that will survive their first season in the Football League with something to spare.

Akinfenwa and McDonald’s partnership is blossoming with every game and it was quite significant that on Bayo’s substitution in the 76th minute, McDonald made the point of shaking his hand on his departure. In the 16th minute the partnership produced a one-two that left McDonald advancing on the Stevenage keeper, Chris Day, who narrowed the angle sufficiently to turn away the shot.

Julian was called into action with a good save turning away a Byron Harrison header before the home side opened the scoring. Spiller, having been fed by Akinfenwa, curled in a inch-perfect cross and the big man dived in to score at the near post with a flying header.

The second half saw chances for McDonald to get onto the score sheet, but it just wasn’t his day. A superb block from Luke Foster denied him on one occasion, he should have done a whole lot better with a free header from a Spiller corner and twice more spurned chances.

Stevenage mounted a spirited effort to rescue a point in the final stages and when Alan Julian, fine save though it was, only parried to Ben May, it looked a certainty that the striker would equalise but a fantastic block from Martin, who had reverted to full back following John Nutter’s substitution saved the day.

Not convincing, certainly not pretty, but no Gillingham supporter left Priestfield complaining that they had been short-changed by commitment, something that was severely questioned little more than a month ago.