Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Burton Albion 1 Gillingham 1

Match 57/10/875 - Saturday, 19 March 2011 - League Two

Burton Albion (1) 1 Winnall 26
Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 77
Att. 3,230

Entrance: £13
Programme: Sold Out
Mileage: 400/8,542
New Ground: 240

Match Report

Gillingham would not have needed to be at their best to win on their first-ever visit to the Pirelli Stadium, but they were poor and needed a brilliant piece of individualism to rescue a point against a Burton side that perhaps are falsely positioned because they have so many games in hand but occupy a relegation threatening position in League Two.

On a lovely, warm spring-like day that felt like winter had finally been left behind, Gillingham failed once more to leave their winter draws on sequence to bed. As has been said several times in this column in recent weeks, these draws are really killing the automatic promotion bid. This was a missed opportunity on the pitch and away from it, defeats for Bury and Rotherham, Shrewsbury and Wycombe sharing the points, there was a real chance to make up ground.

Early chances were few and far between with Gillingham holding the balance of play. Matt Lawrence had a header from a corner that was smuggled to safety via a post and Cody McDonald pulled a shot wide before Burton went ahead in the 26th minute. There was no apparent danger as Andy Corbett lifted a cross from the right hand side into the visitor’s box, the centre of the defence went missing leaving Sam Winnall the easiest of headers that found the net despite Alan Julian getting a hand on the ball.

There was a late first half chance for Andy Barcham, who saw his effort cleared away by Scott Malone with the keeper beaten as the break was entered with Gillingham still in arrears.

The second half progressed in much the same vein. Gillingham bossing in terms of possession but Adam Legzdins wasn’t being stretched. Fifteen minutes from the end, Cody McDonald’s 20th goal of the season was a moment of brilliance in contrast to the mundane that had gone before. Dennis Oli, on as substitute nodded on Julian’s upfield punt, McDonald lifted the ball over defender Tony James and spectacularly hammered past the keeper.

When Burton were reduced to 10 men following an injury to Malone there was a further opportunity for the visitors to claim the points, but a Garry Richards header that drifted wide was the only chance to win the game.

A couple of years into their Football League lifetime, the Pirelli Stadium is more than adequate for their needs. Purely functional, as they say, it does what it says on the tin. Fully covered with standing on three sides, it is not a building of beauty. It was good to stand and at £13 a cheap ticket. A large car park, another bargain at £2, was easily exited. One black mark was the lack of a programme, sold out at 2.30 p.m., it beats me that enough programmes cannot be printed for a crowd of just 3,200.

Special mention on the day goes to the Friendly Fryer Fish and Chip Shop on Derby Road who wins our award for the best fish and chips of the season so far, with not too many away days to come.

And the award for the Chip Shop of Season 2010-11 goes too . . .

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Gillingham 3 Accrington Stanley 1

Match 56/10/874 - Saturday, 12 March 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 3 Barcham 1, 45 McDonald 56
Accrington Stanley (1) 1 McConville 14
Att. 5,299

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/8,142

Match Report

Andy Hessenthaler sprinted to the dressing room at the sound of the half time whistle; his intent was obvious and was about to deliver a stern half time team talk despite his side holding a 2-1 advantage at the end of the first 45 minutes. Whilst the home fans were celebrating Andy Barcham’s 45th minute goal, the boss had not taken too much pleasure from a half that had started with the winger opening the scoring in the first minute but then found themselves largely playing second fiddle to a Accrington Stanley side playing with a confidence borne from four consecutive victories.

Hessenthaler’s half time rocket had the desired effect and following Cody McDonald’s 19th goal of the season on 56 minutes, Gillingham enjoyed a comfortable second half.

If Gillingham had revenge in their nostrils following that fateful 7-4 defeat at the Crown Ground in October, then they had the perfect start. Kevin Maher threaded a pass forward to Barcham who was probably third favourite to get to the ball behind either the Stanley keeper or a defender, who conspired to confuse each other. Barcham touched the ball past them and it rolled agonisingly over the line.

Gillingham’s joy was short lived as Maher brought down Andy Proctor in the box to give the visitors a seventh minute opportunity to level the score from the penalty spot. Phil Edwards struck a post with his spot kick to the despair of the 62 Stanley Ultras positioned behind the goal. Their disappointment was not to last long. On 14 minutes, Dean Winnard lofted a cross into the box that evaded the attention of John Nutter to allow Sean McConville to convert with ease.

Accrington’s passing and movement had the hosts struggling to contain, whilst the long ball to Adebayo Akinfenwa was more often than not ending with the referee’s whistle for a foul against the big striker. Akinfenwa does a superb job as the target man and holding up play, but if a referee comes into the game with any predetermined thoughts as too the legitimacy of his challenges then the route one tactic becomes negated.

After half an hour on the back foot and with half time approaching, central defender Garry Richards, not known for the cultured pass, played an exquisite ball forward to Akinfenwa who nodded the ball into the path of Barcham who crisply slipped the ball past the advancing Alex Cisak.

With Hessenthaler’s words still reverberating around their ears, Gillingham should have taken a 3-1 lead on 51 minutes. Akinfenwa did brilliantly along the byline, laid a pass across the face of the goal, only to see the ace marksman McDonald inexplicably steer the ball wide of the right hand post from very, very close range. It had to be Cody’s miss of the season, but good strikers put themselves back into scoring positions straight away and five minutes later, Nutter crossed from the left and the striker headed home to atone for his earlier error.

The goal allowed the home side to take control of the game which was seen out with relative comfort as Stanley lost their composure. A good win was enhanced as Gillingham were the only side in the top seven to win and they moved up a place to sixth on equal points with Rotherham and Shrewsbury occupying the fourth and fifth positions.

It is said that manager’s earn their corn during the half time break, Hessenthaler’s sprint and subsequent home truths certainly made the difference on this occasion.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Southend United 2 Gillingham 2

Match 55/10/873 - Tuesday, 8 March 2011 - League Two

Southend United (1) 2 Hall 15, 52
Gillingham (2) 2 McDonald 6, Akinfenwa 18 (pen)
Att. 5,771

Entrance: £4.75 (Sun offer)
Programme: £3
Mileage: 132/8,097

Match Report

Winter draws on. Old joke, but on a chilly evening at Roots Hall following a Spring-like day, Gillingham’s sequence of draws continued to damage their prospects for automatic promotion. In fairness to both sides, to which the draw did neither any favours, they set out their stall to win the game and subsequently an open game ensued.

Southend started the game very much the brighter but it was the visitors that took an early lead. Curtis Weston laid the ball into the path of Cody McDonald who ended his five goal drought with a shot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner. The massive away support numbering over 900 were joyous, unfortunately for not too long. On the quarter hour, referee Brendan Malone awarded a highly dubious free kick 20 yards out for a foul by Jack Payne. Ryan Hall curled the ball around the wall and the out stretched hand of Alan Julian. Hall is presently on bail pending the appeal of a 20 week jail sentence having been found guilty for affray following the club’s Christmas Party.

Within two minutes Gillingham were back in front. McDonald was brought down just inside the penalty area and Adebayo Akinfenwa calmly slid home the resultant penalty. The remainder of the half was goalless but it was not for the want of attacking intentions by both sides. Andy Barcham was squeezed wide enough to make the chance too acute, Julian was brought into action by Blair Sturrock and Lee Sawyer and there was an absolutely magnificent volley from Gills’ skipper Barry Fuller that was equally magnificently saved by Rhys Evans.

The first half was extended by seven minutes following a clash of heads between Garry Richards and Sturrock, leaving the Southend player with his head swathed in bandages.

Gillingham started the second half without Akinfenwa who was suffering from a headache and replaced by Dennis Oli. Two great chances were carved out in the first five minutes of the half, Payne hit a post in the 48th minute and McDonald forced Evans into good save a minute later. So it was against the run of play when Southend equalised in the 52nd minute. Weston lost possession in midfield and Hall was able to fire past Julian from 18 yards.

Ryan Hall was now in full flow and Gillingham’s defenders would have been cursing the judicial process as three times he peppered the goal from free kicks. Southend were much the dominant force, Gillingham’s attack looking nothing like the first half force without the bustling Akinfenwa. Despite this is was the visitors that staged the grandstand finish, a Matt Lawrence header was cleared from the line and from the rebound his fellow central defender Richards had a shot blocked.

Yet another draw, and this sequence of results is really killing Gillingham's prospects, but on this occasion it has to be said that it was a fair scoreline.

The viewing for a visiting supporter at Roots Hall is one of the worst that you could come across. Seats bolted onto a terrace built for standing give barely enough leg room for a six-year-old let alone somebody over six foot tall and the lighting somehow leaves the far goal strangely invisible. There has been talk for several years about Southend building a new stadium, it cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Gillingham 2 Bradford City 0

Match 54/10/872 - Saturday, 5 March 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Akinfenwa 43, Weston 46
Bradford City (0) 0
Att. 5,019

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/7,965

Match Report

Alex Ferguson was famed for throwing tea cups and, doubtless, Arsene Wenger will take a more professorial approach to the half time team talk, but I wonder what goes on in the referee’s dressing room during the break. Is it likely that the fourth official is going to storm through the doors and say, “hey referee, you have had a really shit half”, perhaps it might be one of his linesman, but this afternoon somebody really needed to tell Steve Rushton that he was really, really crap.

Parents know that if you fill kids with coke and chocolate you end up with a hyperactive nightmare, Rushton sprang out of the traps as if on the end of a 10 Mars bar binge. Perhaps he was disturbed by losing his fourth official in the dressing room causing a seven minute delay to the start of the game, but for 45 minutes he decided that he was centre stage and that he would be seen and certainly heard. Every 20 seconds, or so it seemed, the whistle blew for yet another mystifying decision. The game never got going, mainly because it was always stopped.

The second half, with the effects of the Mars bars wearing off, was a quieter period with some football actually breaking out from behind the whistle and thankfully, the game might be remembered in time for a fabulous strike from Curtis Weston and not the referee.

Gillingham desperately needed to break the run of draws and a fit again Andy Barcham was recalled to the starting line-up to add much needed width. The visitors, Bradford City, with Peter Jackson at the helm for the first time following the resignation of ex-Gillingham manager Peter Taylor, were one big lump of a side. Their central defender, Luke Oliver, omnipresent in the Gillingham area for every set piece was a mountain of a man that shrank his six feet team mates to mere mortals. With such size available, the route one method was an obvious tactic and though it was exploited to the full, when they got on the end of crosses the direction of their headers was wayward.

After 20 minutes of constant whistle and stoppages the referee called the captains together and must have said, “look, I’m having a really shit game, I can’t fake an injury as the fourth official has already done that, so let’s see if we can get to half time and I can ask the others where I’m going wrong. With that he duly booked Kevin Maher, for what? and Fuller for something else mysterious. His worst decision though was the award of a free kick with Barcham sprinting clear and the booking of Bradford’s Lewis Hunt to cover his embarrassment.

As half time approached and all talk during the break to be about the referee, Gillingham found a goal to give us something else to discuss. Jack Payne fed a pass to Weston, who looked to have missed a shooting opportunity as his first touch took him too wide, but he stood up a cross to the far post from where Adebayo Akinfenwa headed home.

The highlight of the game came within a minute of the restart. Weston won the ball on the right hand side, drove forward ten yards and let fly a guided missile that had Bantams’ keeper Lenny Pidgeley grasping at thin air. It was Weston’s third goal in four games and they have all been similar in their execution.

Bradford continued their aerial assault throughout the second half and although Matt Lawrence and Garry Richards stood up well to the challenge, several opportunities were fashioned for the big guys but their heading was way off beam.

At the final whistle, Gillingham were well worth their victory and thanks to Curtis Weston, we will be talking about his goal tonight and not Mr Rushton.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tunbridge Wells 3 Deal Town 2

Match 53/10/871 - Saturday, 27 February 2011 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (1) 3 Ashmore 45, Phillips 50, McMath 58
Deal Town (0) 2 O'Brien 80, Smith 83
Att. 129

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 27/7,920

Match Report

I had taken much delight in informing people that in the absence of a visit to Shrewsbury due to work I was going to watch Tonbridge at Wembley before slipping in the fact that their opponents, Hendon, were ground sharing at the Combined Counties sides’ Vale Park ground. Sadly it wasn’t to happen, a lunchtime postponement due to a waterlogged was at least early enough to stop any wasted travelling time and divert my attention to finding an alternative game. Given the bog of a pitch that has dogged Culverden Stadium for many years, it was a surprise, and great credit to the groundsman, that Tunbridge Wells’ Kent League fixture against Deal Town was still on.

I’ve enjoyed my visits to the Wells for years. True, the football itself can be a little lacking in quality but more often than not a decent game ensues and there is never any shortage of top notch conversation. Saturday brought about a group of guys who I would guess had played the game to a reasonable standard with various local clubs and had a wealth of knowledge.

Whilst enjoying the chinwag, there was a game going on in front of us and Tunbridge Wells conspired to give the watching 129 (boosted by several diverted Tonbridge supporters) a nervous finish as they nearly blew a three goal lead to eventually win by the odd goal in five.

The pitch was still a bog, but it was the type of surface that has brought thrills and spills over the years. When the rain came again during the first half and got heavier, fingers were crossed that we would make it to the finish. The home splashed their way to a three goal lead that could have been double the amount with many good chances going begging before two goals in three minutes in the last ten minutes gave the visitors a sniff of a point that they very nearly exploited.

Some of the trappings that endeared Tunbridge Wells as a homely club have disappeared as they attempt to put the club on a business-like fashion. Gone are the 50p cups of tea in proper china cups, sadly replaced by polystyrene with a £1 asking price. But as I was told, 20 extra people through the gates earning the club just £120 is valuable income that makes a big difference, so the few Tonbridge supporters who enjoyed their afternoon with their neighbours have done the club a good service. Oh, how the Premiership must worry about their next 120 quid.

One novel service was the statistical introduction by the stadium announcer who gave extensive details regarding the history of Tunbridge Wells and Deal fixtures and the clubs. Wonderful stuff for every statto.

The groundsman was well rewarded for his efforts, not only did he get his game through to the finish, he saw his club win, and then proceeded to win both prizes on the bus stop cards. The knowledgeable nodded knowingly . . . FIX!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Hastings United 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 52/10/870 - Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - Ryman Premier

Hastings United (0) 1 Perkins 61
Tonbridge (2) 2 Logan 7, Olorunda 45
Att. 562

Entrance: £9
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 54/7,893

Match Report

Hastings old boys, Fraser Logan and Ade Olorunda scored the goals that put Tonbridge’s promotion push back on course at the Pilot Field, unfortunately for the latter the night ended in the Conquest Hospital as a heavy challenge from the home side’s stalwart defender, Sean Ray left him with teeth hanging by a thread and concussion.

Tonbridge started the game like a runaway train and were as dominant in the first half as any visiting supporter could wish from their side. A couple of early chances went begging before Logan fired home from the edge of the six yard box following good work by Lee Browning.

A youthful Hastings side, one senior citizen remarking that the ages of their players wearing the 8, 9, 10 and 11 shirts collectively failed to reach his total years, were being completely overrun, with Lewis Taylor, in particular, far too strong for the hosts.

Despite their superiority, it took until stoppage time for Tonbridge to double their advantage, Olorunda was on the end of a Ben Judge knock-down to easily score from close range.

The second half looked to be taking the same shape as the first as chances came for Olorunda, Taylor and Browning, but just after the hour, Lewis Perkins scored, cutting in from the right hand side and with it the momentum of the game changed completely.

Whether Tonbridge were disturbed by the apparent seriousness of Olorunda’s injury, he was down for the best part of the eight minutes that were added, Hastings certainly piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser and in the time added, George Porter hit a post.

Overall, Tonbridge deserved their victory for the superiority over the most part of the game, but this youthful Hastings side appeared much better than their lowly league position suggests.

Since my last visit to the Pilot Field, the new floodlights have been installed and some new seats in the Main Stand make it an altogether tidier stadium.