Sunday, 20 February 2011

Gillingham 1 Bury 1

Match 51/10/869 - Saturday, 19 February 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Weston 25
Bury (0) 1 Lowe 72
Att. 5,021

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,839

Match Report

No medals are awarded in mid-February, no Divisions decided. But, for the two clubs principally followed by That’ll Be The Day, 19 February 2011 offered an insight as to where their destiny may lie come the first week of May. Gillingham, residing in the play-off positions, but harbouring ambitions of an automatic promotion place, entertained fellow contenders Bury whilst at Longmead there was a match-up between Tonbridge and the leaders Sutton United, who held a 10 point advantage but with their hosts having three games in hand. Another month or so into the season and even more serious consideration would have been given as to which game to attend. Heavy rain had left the Longmead game in doubt, but the power of the season ticket eventually held sway.

A week ago I was raising questions as to whether some of the draws away from home would need to be turned into victories to put Gillingham into an automatic position, another draw, the fourth in six games since the defeat by Chesterfield, confirms the viewpoint. On this occasion, a first half lead was pegged back and most would have left the stadium feeling that Bury would have been particularly hard done by had they left without reward.

Back in the days when Gillingham were scoring four goals away from home and still conspiring to lose games, a visit to Gigg Lane brought a 5-4 reversal, but both sides showed a much greater resilience in defence on this occasion.

The last visitors to Priestfield, Rotherham, enabled the comparison to be made between the Division’s leading scorer, Adam Le Fondre and Gillingham’s in-form marksman, Cody McDonald. On the night, two goals from McDonald and Le Fondre well handled by Gillingham’s central defenders, allowed the home striker to shine the brightest. Yesterday, following the presentation of the Division’s Player of the Month to McDonald, another comparison was on offer between Bury’s Ryan Lowe and himself, and this time it was the visiting striker that took the honours.

On a wet day, Gillingham showed consideration to their visitors, allocating their 142 supporters a block of the Gordon Road stand to shelter from the inclement weather. Those fans were very nearly celebrating after 10 minutes when Lenell John-Lewis scooped over from close range following a right wing cross. Gillingham threatened for the first time when a Danny Jackman free-kick from the edge of the box curled narrowly wide after 20 minutes before Curtis Weston opened the scoring five minutes later with carbon copy of his goal at Crewe the previous week. Jackman played the ball forward and the midfielder, who is beginning to recapture the form that made him a fans’ favourite, cut in from the left, travelled across the face of goal and planted a right foot shot into the bottom corner from around 20 yards.

McDonald had his first opportunity to press his claims shrugging off the attention of his marker but steering his shot wide of the far post, sadly it was a precursor to the outcome of his afternoon.

If the home side had held sway in the first period, the second most definitely belonged to the Lancashire side. Alan Julian was forced into an early save from David Worrall, Jean-Lewis had the ball in the net only to see it ruled offside and Lowe directed a header at the keeper.

So it came as no surprise when the Shakers drew level. First half hero Weston became second half villain when he weakly lost possession on the half way line. Jean-Lewis sent Lowe clear and, although Julian made a partial parry, the ball found its way into the net despite the best efforts of John Nutter.

The home side mounted a big effort in the last five minutes to secure full points and two great chances fell to McDonald, the first, a volley that cleared the bar and finally, a clear shooting opportunity from around the penalty spot that lacked both power and direction allowing the keeper a relatively easy save from such a threatening position. It wasn’t the striker’s day and consequently it wasn't the Gills day, and that could well be acid test as the season winds down, one cannot go cap in hand with other.

Meanwhile, over at Longmead, an ex-Gill, Leroy Griffiths was quite probably executing the coup-de-grace on Tonbridge’s hopes of winning the Ryman Premier with a single goal winner. Play-off places beckon for both clubs, but, then again, this is only February.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Crewe Alexandra 1 Gillingham 1

Match 50/10/868 - Saturday, 12 February 2011 - League Two

Crewe Alexandra (1) 1 Sinclair 26 (o.g.)
Gillingham (0) 1 Weston 56
Att. 4,012

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 464/7,794

Match Report

Just how full is your glass, half full or half empty? Gillingham’s recent away form begs that question of their supporters. Leaving Torquay a month ago, I was satisfied with a point given the lateness of Luke Rooney’s equaliser and likewise, following a physical battle at Stevenage, a point was considered something to value. On to Crewe yesterday, and after a hard fought game, whilst I am able to trot out the same old line, I’d have taken a point, so let’s be happy, I can’t get past the thought that we need to start turning some of these draws into wins if we are going to be contenders for one of the automatic places come May.

Make no mistake; this was a decent point, well deserved within the context of a fair result. Defeats this weekend for Chesterfield, Wycombe, Bury and Rotherham add weight to the argument that the result was certainly not to be sniffed at.

Simon King returned to the starting line-up in place of the injured Matt Lawrence, but the recent jinx of the centre half struck the defender and a hamstring pull after just 20 minutes curtailed his return. Tony Sinclair, himself returning after a lengthy lay-off, was King’s substitute and within 10 minutes he got his legs in a tangle in an attempt to clear a Danny Shelley cross and inadvertently sliced the ball into his own net.

Previously, the game had been evenly balanced, with the best chance falling to Shelley who benefited from a counter-attack following Gillingham’s trademark corner routine that allowed Barry Fuller a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked. The swift counter-attack saw the visitors exposed and it took a good stop from Alan Julian to maintain the goalless scoreline. Gillingham made half chances during the first half, but keeper Rhys Taylor was not seriously tested.

From the outset of the second half, Gillingham took the game to their hosts. A mix-up between the keeper and defender allowed Cody McDonald to get between them and the nudge the ball goalwards, but his little toe-poke was cleared away from the line.

Two refereeing decisions in front of the assembled 320 Gillingham supporters brought howls of derision and laughter in equal measure and in between came the joyous moment of Curtis Weston’s well-struck equaliser. First, referee Karl Evans angered the visiting support with the booking of McDonald for a challenge on Mathew Mitchell-King, it was the overriding opinion that the Crewe player went down without a touch, unfortunately my eyes followed the ball and therefore cannot make a personal judgement. The referee was later guilty, in my opinion, of exercising the letter of the law but not an element of common sense. A misplaced Gillingham pass was heading out of play when an over-zealous ball boy dived forwards to complete an admirable catch right on the touchline. The referee, correctly deciding that the ball had not gone out of play, awarded a drop ball, but with no player in the near vicinity and the ball obviously going to go out of play, could he have spared the lad’s blushes and just given a throw to Crewe?

Rhys Taylor had no need to blush either a couple of minutes earlier, clutching at thin air as a screamer from Curtis Weston flew into the top corner from 25 yards. Collecting a pass from Danny Jackman, it was a case of a couple of steps forward and the cleanest of strikes that whistled into the net.

Gillingham continued in the ascendancy for the following 20 minutes and Adebayo Akinfenwa brought a save from Taylor with his feet after a clever bit of ball juggling and a half-hit shot before the home side finished slightly the stronger without stretching Alan Julian.

Gresty Road has the strangest proportions of any ground in the Football League. The Main Stand is massive; it dwarfs its counterparts on the other three sides, I understand that it accounts for 70% of the overall capacity of the stadium. From our viewing position opposite, without bending down, the top of the stand was obscured by the roof of ours. It is simple in design, certainly not a monstrosity, but just so damn big! Our view was also slightly obscured by a pillar. A big plus was the large car park with a charge of just £2, a little bit of a bottleneck getting out, but an early park gave a good position for a reasonably quick getaway.

I'm yet to decide whether my glass is half full or half empty, I guess it is a case of time will tell.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Gillingham 3 Rotherham United 1

Match 49/10/867 - Tuesday, 8 February 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 3 McDonald 6, 36 Oli 88
Rotherham United (1) 1 Law 7
Att. 4,824

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,330

Match Report

Chalk and cheese. Just how can two performances in the space of three days be so different. Gone was the howling wind that ruined Saturday’s game against Oxford and with it went the aerial assault on our neck muscles. Gillingham needed to use the albeit rather threadbare grass on Saturday and failed miserably, last night they found their passing game and produced as good a performance as any that we have seen this season at Priestfield against fellow promotion contenders, Rotherham.

We also had the opportunity to compare the two in-form strikers in the Division, our own Cody McDonald and Rotherham’s Adam Le Fondre, and on the night, Cody won by a country mile.

Lacking any wide players, manager Andy Hessenhaler chose to position Curtis Weston behind the front two in a diamond formation that worked to the benefit of the midfielder, who had his best game in many weeks.

To round off a night of good news, disappointing though it was to see Matt Lawrence limp out of the game after 20 minutes, the return of Simon King after 20 months on the sidelines was greeted rapturously by the Gillingham faithful. It might have been a slightly rusty partnership with the recently returned Gary Richards but they did enough to restrict Le Fondre to nothing more than a couple of speculative attempts on goal.

Gillingham were ahead after just six minutes, Weston played in McDonald, who burst clear of the Millers’ defence and drilled a shot that crept in under the body of the veteran keeper, Andy Warrington. Joy was short-lived as the visitors equalised within a minute. Awarded a dubious free kick 25 yards from goal, I was viewing from the angle that the shot would be taken. The wall appeared to be offering a yard of space to Alan Julian’s right and Nicky Law exploited it to the maximum with a perfectly placed shot that left the keeper motionless.

Following Lawrence’s substitution, Rotherham were forced into a significant change of their own. Warrington made a save at the feet of Weston, who caught the keeper with an accidental kick to the head that forced Warrington from the field and earned the Gillingham player a booking. Whilst there was nothing malicious in the challenge, and Weston could not have been more repentant as the pair shook hands as Warrington left the field, from my seat it appeared that he arrived marginally late as the keeper plunged at his feet.

McDonald showed his worth with a stunning finish to put the home side back in front on 36 minutes. He ran onto a ball over the top from the once-again impressive Kevin Maher and although forced wide he drove across the substitute keeper into the far corner of the net to put him personally within one goal of Le Fondre’s season total.
McDonald was offered several second half opportunities to level up those totals in an absorbing second half. A rebound off the keeper from a Weston shot saw the striker lift the ball over the bar and from a Adebayo Akinfenwa pass he dragged a shot wide of the post.

Julian had been virtually unemployed until Law brought a decent save from the keeper with a quarter hour remaining and there was a major scare five minutes from time when Le Fondre was offered his first clear-cut opportunity but lifted the ball over the bar from close range.

The sighs of relief turned to cheers when Gillingham made safe the points with a third goal. Akinfenwa’s persistence in the box led to McDonald having two shots being blocked before the ball fell to substitute Dennis Oli, his initial shot was well saved by Annerson but the rebound was driven home by Oli.

Before the game, my thoughts were that Gillingham needed to reinforce their credentials for an automatic promotion place by beating one of the sides above them. They have lost twice to Wycombe, recently at home to Chesterfield and it was way back in September when they beat Shrewsbury at Priestfield. Their next three games are all against fellow contenders and they enter this sequence with this morale boosting win behind them.

Smashing game, great win and could it be that in Cody McDonald we have the best striker in the Division, the evidence of last night says we have.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Gillingham 0 Oxford United 0

Match 48/10/866 - Saturday, 5 February 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Oxford United (0) 0
Att. 5,364

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,285

Match Report

Ninety minutes of my life that will never be returned and were truly wasted and I don’t intend wasting many more of mine or my readers’ time with a lengthy account of this dreadful match. Had I spent that time at home doing the ironing it would have been vastly more productive and marginally more entertaining.

The mitigating factor was a strong wind that neither side had the wit or guile to master. Long, long periods of boredom were spent peering into the grey sky looking at the spherical object that had once more been launched into the stratosphere. The one player that attempted to keep the ball in touch with planet earth, Kevin Maher, did more than enough to win the Man of the Match Award.

Gillingham started with a spring in their step and forced some panic in the Oxford defence with a Curtis Weston shot being blocked. And then the game just died on its feet, until a last 10 minute onslaught from the home side in search of a winner that would have been barely deserved.

We can breeze, in gale force conditions, through the highlights, which in truth are mainly lowlights. Matt Lawrence was fortunate when Grant Hegley took a common sense approach and showed him a yellow when a red might well have been brandished for a retaliatory kick out at Paul McLaren who had fouled him in the first instance.

It took 65 minutes for a shot to be registered on target, Cody McDonald bringing a comfortable save out of Ryan Clarke. Early second half substitutions enlivened the game to a degree, Luke Rooney taking a punt that was high and wide, but at least it was a shot.

Into time added on, and McDonald headed against the bar from a difficult angle before the referee called time much to the relief of all present.

Now, where’s that ironing.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Stevenage 2 Gillingham 2

Match 47/10/865 - Tuesday, 2 February 2011 - League Two

Stevenage (1) 2 Harrison 24,75
Gillingham (1) 2 McDonald 45, Akinfenwa 50
Att. 2,424

Entrance: £15
Programme: £3
Mileage: 183/7,240

Match Report

Most realistic Gillingham supporters would have known from Stevenage’s performance at Priestfield on New Year’s Day that the visitors were going to be in for a night when they would be put physically under pressure and any reward would be hard-earned. And on a foggy evening in Hertfordshire that was the way the game unfolded.

Manager Andy Hessenthaler revealed on Saturday that a pragmatic approach would have to be taken and his team selection reflected this. There was no place for a luxury-type player, so Luke Rooney lost his place to the more defensively minded Joe Martin and similarly Curtis Weston was replaced by the more robust Mark Bentley.

Gillingham started brightly, but quickly the physicality of the home side held sway. Striker Chris Beardsley was lectured early for leaving a foot in on Alan Julian and went into the book within the first 25 minutes when a late challenge on Josh Gowling left the central defender eventually limping out of the game, paving the way for the return of Gary Richards.

In between the bookings, Stevenage took the lead. A cross from the right hand side was met at the far post by Byron Harrison who rose highest to beat Bentley in the air and squeeze the ball between Julian and the post. The visitors had paid a high price for John Nutter’s inability to get the ball to safety under pressure from the crosser, Lawrie Wilson.

Gillingham struggled to get a foothold in the game, a long range effort from Danny Jackman was goal bound before it was tipped away by Chris Day and the overly officious referee, Andy Woolmer, hacked off the Gillingham support, when Cody McDonald raced clear only to be pulled back for a foul on Kevin Maher, who had supplied the pass. It was a dreadful decision by a referee who didn’t have the best of nights.

As first half stoppage time was entered, McDonald took a pass from Barry Fuller, found a bit of space and struck clinically past Day. The first half had been a real struggle and at honours even, Stevenage probably felt the side most hard done by.

The fog became denser as the second half progressed and the goal being attacked by the home side became difficult to see, several times the ball was lost from vision. Thankfully, Gillingham were attacking the goal populated by a fantastic away following of 648 and they were suitably delighted when their favourites took a 50th minute lead. Jackman fed Martin on the left wing, whose low cross evaded everybody bar Adebayo Akinfenwa on the far post who tucked home from close range.

For a short period, Gillingham were in the ascendancy and Jackman and Akinfenwa had half chances to increase the lead before Stevenage got an equaliser with 15 minutes remaining. A free kick was headed home from the centre of the goal by Harrison, because of the fog it was difficult to see how and why the forward was given a free header to score.

The best of the remaining time belonged to Stevenage, and although Day was forced into a late save following a corner, Gillingham would have been pleased to hang on for a hard-earned point from a game in which the result reflected the balance of play.

Broadhall Way is not the type of ground that appeals to me, the usual prefabricated stands that have no character, but for a club new to the Football League, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Unfortunately, stuck on a busy road and a retail park, the desired fish and chip shop had to be replaced by a plastic Burger King, in fact the chips on view inside the ground looked the better option. A definite plus was the free car park, we arrived early, the Dartford Tunnel proving no obstacle for a change, and because of this we had a fairly good getaway through its only exit.

We knew what we was going to get from this visit and using a well-worn cliché, would have taken a point on the way in, so I’ll settle for it on the way out.