Friday, 29 April 2011

Tonbridge 2 Hastings United 0

Match 65/10/883 - Monday, 25 April 2011 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Walder 14 (pen), Jones 74
Hastings United (0) 0
Att. 817

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/9,599

Match Report

Over the Easter period, both Tonbridge and Gillingham have had similarly varying fortunes and on this I will focus later in the post. Tonbridge’s Easter Monday encounter with their old foes Hastings United was a game that was spoilt by a rock hard pitch that neither side completely came to terms with.

The home side was given the benefit of a soft penalty award after 14 minutes. Sonny Miles was pushed to the ground by a Hastings defender and Danny Walder stepped up to opening the scoring despite the Hastings’ keeper, Seb Barton, getting a hand to the ball.

Although Tonbridge dominated the proceedings, neither goalkeeper was seriously called upon until the 74th minutes when Sam Jones scored from 25 yards with a cracker that found the bottom left hand corner of the net.

The home side turned up the heat and substitute Carl Rook came on to set up a great chance for Adrian Stone which was wastefully sliced wide.

An excellent Bank Holiday turnout of 817 might not have been treated to greatest of games, but apart from the travelling support of relegation-threatened Hastings, they would have been happy to see the Angels sitting pretty in second position going into the last match of the season.

It has been strange the way the Easter period has been a mirror image for both Tonbridge and Gillingham. On Saturday evening there was despair as Tonbridge had lost a vital six-point encounter with Harrow Borough and Gillingham fans had endured a woeful defeat at the hands of Barnet. Tonbridge’s position within the play-off places had only been maintained by virtue of Maidstone’s shock win at Bury Town, whilst Gillingham fell below the dotted line.

What a difference 48 hours can make in this period. At Rotherham, Andy Hessenthaler rang the changes, ditching seven of Saturday’s starting XI and came up trumps as an Andy Barcham goal with a quarter of an hour remaining won the points and moved Gillingham back into the play-off places. Similarly, Tonbridge’s three points leaves everything in their own hands going into their final fixture at Horsham, with home advantage to play for in the one-off semi-finals.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Gillingham 2 Barnet 4

Match 64/10/882 - Saturday, 23 April 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Barcham 28, 80
Barnet (2) 4 Byrne 13, McLeod 45, 50, 70 (pen)
Att. 6,170

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/9,573

Match Report

Andy Barcham’s brace of goals on his 100th start will be a meaningless statistic in years to come as this car crash of a result left a devastating hole in Gillingham’s promotion push. The 16 game unbeaten run was unceremoniously dumped as relegation haunted Barnet turned the league table on its head, even allowing themselves the luxury of a missed penalty.

Whilst Gillingham’s home form has been patchy, personally and I would think many more people, didn’t see this result, and especially this performance, coming. Andy Hessenthaler’s after-match comments might beg to differ from this opinion but my feelings are that he made a big mistake with his team selection. OK, so I’m writing with the benefit of hindsight, but his reason for leaving Kevin Maher on the bench was to save his ageing legs for Rotherham given the Easter schedule of two games in three days. One of football people’s most used clich├ęs is that each game is taken as it comes, perhaps the Gillingham manager should have won this game first and let Rotherham take its course.

The removal of the defensive midfielder left Gillingham’s back line exposed in a manner that we have not witnessed since those early days of the season when conceding sevens and fives at the likes of Accrington Stanley.

Izale McLeod had a field day and had it not been for a decision to take the piss from the penalty spot, when an arrogant attempt to dink the goalkeeper ended with the ball sailing into the Rainham End, he would have ended the day with four goals to his credit.

Hessenthaler made the decision that he would put out a side with an attacking intention in the knowledge that to maintain any hope of automatic promotion maximum points were going to be needed from virtually all of the remaining games, certainly no points could be afforded to be dropped at home. Maher was replaced by Jack Payne and injuries to Joe Martin and Curtis Weston enforced the selection of John Nutter and Luke Rooney.

On a hot day belying its April date, Gillingham were floundering from the outset and they were behind in the 13th minute. A left wing cross was cleared only to Mark Byrne who struck sweetly into the bottom corner. At least the setback had the desired effect to inject some life into the home side. Barcham was lively and in the 29th minute he levelled the score when he pounced after Bees’ keeper Sam Walker had spilt Cody McDonald’s initial effort. Most of Gillingham’s biggest crowd of the season would have expected the hosts to go on from this point and win with ease, little did they know that a nightmare was about to unfold.

Rooney was unfortunate as a well worked free kick saw his shot rebound from a post but in stoppage time at the end of the half Gillingham’s back line went absent when a long cross to the far post was headed across the face of goal by Jude Stirling to the unmarked McLeod who headed home with ease.

If the manager had stern words at half time, they were ineffective. A cross from the right was completely missed by Josh Gowling and McLeod was able to chest the ball into the net from close range leaving the home side with a steep hill to climb. Worse was to follow

As Gillingham’s back line and defensive midfield went into complete meltdown, the visitors had further chances before Matt Lawrence, subject of a lengthy stoppage earlier following a blow to the face, brought down Mark Marshall to concede a penalty that was duly converted by McLeod, sending Julian the wrong way.

Dreamland was being entered by the jubilant, and daresay surprised, 399 Barnet fans as the nightmare continued for the remainder. Josh Gowling, who had his own horror show, wrestled Jack Midson to the ground to offer McLeod a second opportunity from the spot. A supreme display of cockiness by McLeod was justly rewarded with the reminder that he is no Messi despite the Gillingham back four doing their level best to make him appear so.

Barcham scored a consolation with ten minutes remaining; a deserved reward on his milestone appearance but it was far too little, far too late.

Players and management have a dual responsibility to themselves as much as any supporter who has paid his entrance fee. Once they cross the white line players have to show commitment and perform to the best of their ability, Andy Barcham aside, these players totally abdicated their responsibility. Likewise, the manager has to put the correct players on the pitch from the outset. Sorry Andy, but you got this one wrong.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Gillingham 1 Morecambe 1

Match 63/10/881 - Saturday, 16 April 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 88
Morecambe (1) 1 Jeavons (pen) 21
Att. 5,545

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/9,528

Match Report

People around me jumped to their feet with their indignation at the referee’s decision, I was also convinced that an injustice had been dealt on Matt Lawrence, accused of handball and thus conceding the penalty that gave Morecambe a surprise lead. But, after midnight on Saturday evening, television pictures proved that it was indeed the hand of the Gillingham central defender that had handled the ball and not, as most believed, that Phil Jeavons. Manager Andy Hessenthaler had said as much on Radio Kent, but we were a lot closer and facing in the right direction than Hess and we still got it wrong. Perhaps referees are better than we give them credit for?! (And there again, perhaps not.)

From that 21st minute set back following Jeavons’ conversion of the spot kick, Gillingham huffed and puffed their way through a game that was totally one-sided in terms of possession, but a combination of outstanding goalkeeping, not for the first time, from Barry Roche, sterling defending and not enough clear shooting opportunities looked to have consigned the home side to a costly defeat. But with just two minutes remaining on the clock, John Nutter launched one more hopeful cross into the box, this time far enough away from Roche not to allow him a free catch of the ball, and Cody McDonald rose at the far post to steer a header into the opposite corner to preserve a valuable point.

Roche had been Gillingham’s nemesis in the return fixture back in August when a late, but not quite so late, Danny Spiller equaliser rescued a point from the Globe Arena. Today, he made superb saves from Kevin Maher, Adebayo Akinfenwa and McDonald before half-time. Despite the attack against defence nature of the game, the visitors could and should have entered the break with a two goal lead when Danny Carlton had a volley saved by Alan Julian.

The second half was even more one-sided than the first but Morecambe were defending for their lives. This was a wonderful example of English football, Morecambe have very little left to play for this season, but their resilience and their honesty to the game were a credit. Mind you, they did achieve this with an element of bare-faced time wasting that eventually earned a booking for their hero of the hour, keeper Roche.

Second half efforts from McDonald brought the best from the keeper, but a side-footed effort from Spiller was easily handled when the midfielder should really have but his laces through the ball. It appeared a frustrating finish was to be the result until McDonald rose to head home his 25th goal of the season.

With five minutes of added time, the home side went hell for leather to grab all three points and one almighty scramble ensued in which pin ball was played between attack and defence; defence won and Gillingham had to be content with their rescued point.

It was disappointing that several of the games involving the promotion chasers also ended in draws and a missed opportunity had resulted, flip side being that very little ground has been lost. I had thought that to attain automatic promotion, five wins from the last five games was going to be necessary and now with four left and five points adrift of third place, I’m convinced that the play-offs are now the sole objective.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Lincoln City 0 Gillingham 4

Match 62/10/880 - Saturday, 9 April 2011 - League Two

Lincoln City (0) 0
Gillingham (2) 4 Gowling 20, McDonald 41, Hone (o.g.) 59,
Akinfenwa 69

Att. 3,022

Entrance: £13
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 380/9,483

Match Report

It is very easy to devalue the performance of your own side by passing comment on the deficiencies of the opposition, so I will say that Lincoln City were absolutely rubbish and move on.

Such is Lincoln’s form that the lads in the local fish and chip shop were predicting that Gillingham would win by a net full, whilst we were far more cautious and were ready to accept that an odd goal success would be enough; those lads knew their stuff and it wasn’t restricted to a decent piece of haddock!

On the back of last week’s disappointing display against Hereford, Andy Hessenthaler drafted in Josh Gowling into the centre of defence to line up against the side for whom he spent a month on loan earlier in the season and Danny Spiller on the right side of midfield, leaving Jack Payne on the bench.

Another impressive away following from Kent numbering 535 were sheltered from the warm spring sunshine in their block of the Co-Op Stand and were left slightly nervous as the home side started the better with ex-Gill Luke Howell bringing a smart save from Alan Julian from a close range header.

Andy Barcham showed that a return to form was to emerge from this match when he outpaced his defender and brought a save from Imps’ keeper Elliott Parish. Gillingham were already staking their dominance and the power of Adebayo Akinfenwa and pace of Cody McDonald were too much for the confidence-lacking Lincoln back line.

There was a sense that once the visitors made the breakthrough the hosts would fold and that first goal came in the 20th minute and almost inevitably it would be Gowling returning to haunt his former loan club. Kevin Maher’s corner was headed in by the Afro-headed one to the joyous acclaim of the Gillingham support. One way traffic now ensued, with Akinfenwa powering a shot that must have burnt the hands of Parish and McDonald rather wastefully blazing over. Howell wanted to prove something to his ex-employers, forcing Julian once again to save, before McDonald notched his 23rd goal of the season converting Barcham’s pin point cross with a well-placed header.

Barcham was provider once more with a through ball for McDonald to outpace the home defence and shoot goalwards, his effort was turned into his own net by Mark Hone and although the Gills ace marksman took the acclaim of the visiting support, I don’t think it will take the dubious goals panel too long to decide that the goal wasn’t his.

Akinfenwa was absolutely magnificent and it was only fitting that the fourth and final goal was his. He started the move and finished it with a diving header from Barcham’s cross. It gave Gills’ fans the luxury of an Easy, Easy chant and many home fans the opportunity for an early tea.

Sincil Bank is the home of my favourite stand in League Two, if not the whole of the Football League. The Lincolnshire Echo Grandstand, with its colourful seating, straddling the halfway line looks a relic of a bygone age but to my surprise was built as recently as 1987. Outside of the ground, Lincoln Cathedral offers an imposing backdrop and would make for a great photograph if we had been seated in the Echo. The rest of the ground is modern and functional with the Gills fans making great use of the acoustics of the Co-op Community Stand.

Overall, results were not particularly favourable in terms of an automatic promotion place but the win at least edges the Gills back into a play-off position.

Gillingham 0 Hereford United 0

Match 61/10/879 - Saturday, 2 April 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Hereford United (0) 0
Att. 5,709

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/9,103

Match Report

Oh dear, oh dear. Any momentum that was gained from last week’s thrilling last five minutes at Cheltenham was lost in this dreary goalless draw against a Hereford side needing a result to ease their own position at the wrong end of the table.

We will never know what might have been had Cody McDonald converted an opportunity after just two minutes. The game would almost certainly have taken a different course had the home side gone in front so early, forcing Hereford to compromise their defensive plan which involved copious time wasting.

McDonald was sent clear by a long pass from Kevin Maher, Bulls’ goalkeeper Adam Bartlett came a long way from his goal and was lobbed by the ace marksman but his effort was agonisingly inches wide.

The game was also spoilt by overly fussy refereeing by Paul Tierney who booked eight and sent both assistant managers to the stands.

Chances were few and far between for the duration of the match and it was a final minute effort from Adebayo Akinfenwa bringing a plunging save out of Bartlett, who touched the ball round a post, being the best chance since McDonald’s opening effort.

Boos rang round Priestfield at the final whistle, whether it was for the performance of both teams or the referee that had spoilt the match, perhaps a bit of both, but it leaves Gillingham clinging to their play-off spot by their fingertips.

England 1 Ghana 1

Match 60/10/878 - Tuesday, 29 March 2011 - International

England (1) 1 Carroll 43
Ghana (0) 1 Gyan 90
Att. 80,102

Entrance: £20
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/9,058

Match Report

This was Ghana’s night. Their huge following made it the most atmospheric night at Wembley since it opened and a last minute goal from Asamoah Gyan gave the Africans a deserved draw.

The Ghanaians had felt slighted that Fabio Capello had allowed several of his side that appeared at the Millennium on Saturday to return home in favour of taking a look at some of the fringe players in his squad that included ex-Gillingham favourite Matt Jarvis, in the squad for the first time.

We travelled to Wembley with no great expectations but were treated to a highly entertaining game that was adorned with the noise and colour of the mass of Ghanaians that could easily have totalled 30,000.

After an early scare leaving Joe Hart to make a stop with his legs, several chances fell to England who were dominating proceedings. Ashley Young hit the bar from a couple of yards and Stewart Downing missed as the game ebbed and flowed with neither side closing the game down. Ghana were especially loose in defence and eventually England managed to take the lead just prior to the break and it was a first goal in an England shirt for Andy Carroll. A heavy touch from Downing was fortunate to roll into the path of the Liverpool striker whose first time shot from 15 yards rifled into the bottom corner.

The second half saw Ghana dominating proceedings but it took until the time added on before Gyan picked his way past the pedestrian Joleon Lescott to fire past Hart to the delight of the Black Stars fantastic support.

Midway through the half, attention switched from the pitch to the benches as Matt Jarvis was spotted pulling on his England shirt for his debut appearance for the Three Lions. It was a proud moment for Gillingham fans in the crowd, in truth in his 25 minutes on the pitch he was unable to make a significant impression on the game, but his Wolves form has been outstanding and he should have further opportunities.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Cheltenham Town 1 Gillingham 2

Match 59/10/877 - Sunday, 27 March 2011 - League Two

Cheltenham Town (1) 1 Elliott 3
Gillingham (0) 2 McDonald 85, 90
Att. 3,157

Entrance: £14
Programme: £3
Mileage (return journey): 151/8,958

Match Report

With just five minutes remaining, Gills ace marksman Cody McDonald was fetching the ball from the Cheltenham net and racing back to the centre circle. Not for him were the thoughts of relief that a point had been salvaged and the cause of much celebration from the 500-plus Gillingham fans that had made the Sunday journey west.

Cody’s urgency was well founded, within three minutes he had the ball in the net again and the recovery was complete and three points were in the bag. It was a thrilling end to the match and put the gloss on our football weekend that had brought two victories without much in the way of inspiration.

Gillingham once again had a very poor first half; they went behind to an early goal from the big Cheltenham captain Steve Elliott and in general failed to come to terms with a difficult, uneven surface. McDonald had a couple of good chances from which he might have done better and overall the visitors were fortunate to go into the dressing room at the end of the first 45 just a goal behind.

After just three minutes, Matt Lawrence showed his displeasure with Alan Julian after being forced to concede a corner by the keeper’s hesitation and it was to prove costly. The resultant corner was woefully cleared by Joe Martin back to the taker, Danny Andrews, whose second cross was knocked in at close range by Elliott.

Following an amazing chain of events Gillingham were lucky not to go further behind on 40 minutes. Julian raced from his penalty area to clear but, under pressure, only managed to find Robins’ striker Jeff Goulding who lobbed the ball towards the unguarded goal. His effort struck a post and the keeper was able to catch the rebound as he sprinted back to his goal, his next task was to avoid carrying the ball over the line as his momentum threatened, this he managed, holding the ball at arms’ length as his torso crossed the line.

Gillingham were a more potent force in the second half. Akinfenwa wasted a close range header early in the half and following the introduction of Danny Spiller and Luke Rooney they made all of the running in the last 20 minutes of the game. There were near misses aplenty before McDonald finally found the net with five minutes remaining. Barry Fuller crossed; McDonald headed against the bar but reacted quickly to net the rebound with a second header.

The joyous 559 that had travelled down from Kent had little time to settle back into their seats before they were celebrating the winning goal. McDonald played Akinfenwa in on goal but he was forced wide only to stand up the perfect cross for Cody to head home. Spark pandemonium, the weekend had been salvaged in the final five minutes but not before Cheltenham’s Marlon Pack produced a heart-stopping moment with a 30 yard effort that smacked against Julian’s right hand post.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Wales 0 England 2

Match 58/10/876 - Saturday, 26 March 2011 - European Championship
Qualifying Group 12

Wales (0) 0
England (2) 2 Lampard 7 (pen), Bent 14
Att. 68,959

Entrance: £15
Programme: £5
Mileage (to Cardiff and Cheltenham): 265/8,807

Match Report

The delicious Miss Wales may well have belted out the national anthems with everything her lungs could muster, we will never know. Such was the welcome from the hillsides that the booing led to not a note being heard, as England fans responded likewise Land of my Fathers was similarly noteless. Sadly for Wales this was where hostility started and finished as their footballers capitulated without too much of a fight.

The atmosphere was altogether less intense than our meeting in 2005. Gone was the restrictive policing, we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to depart the fan zone and head towards the town where England supporters were walking about in their colours with no hint of trouble.

A week of controversy surrounding the reappointment of John Terry as captain had threatened to derail England’s preparation for their visit to the Millennium Stadium and the Welsh fans attempted to make capital from the situation by booing the skipper from the outset. Terry responded in the manner one would expect, he thrust out his chest and his surge out of defence in the seventh minute led to Ashley Young being upended in the box and Frank Lampard’s penalty conversation settled any concern that the bottom team in the group might draw strength from the home support.

Another seven minutes passed before Darren Bent swept in Young’s cross and the dragon was already slain. The crowd’s hostility subsided into a deathly silence and England’s vast superiority turned the game into nothing more than a training session. Scott Parker was outstanding in a midfield three that excelled as a group, with Jack Wilshire belying his years and Lampard proving that there is life in the old dog yet.

Wales rallied very slightly after half time and had an element of possession but by the time the final whistle sounded they had failed to muster a single shot on target. A rash, unnecessary tackle by Wayne Rooney earned a booking that will keep him out of the next qualifier against Switzerland in June, but this was the only blot on a satisfactory afternoon.

Any threat that Wales might have been able to mount was probably lost a couple of days previous when Gareth Bale was forced to withdraw through injury and the difference in experience between a captain of Terry’s stature and Aaron Ramsey highlighted the gulf between the sides.

One could not help but be impressed by the Millennium Stadium on our visit in 2005 but that was pre-Wembley and these days it pales in comparison, but in fairness to the Welsh Stadium, Wembley benefits from an extra £800 million spend. There are zero food and drink outlets after climbing the staircase to your entrance but once inside the viewing is good even in the corner position that the England fans occupied. The Millennium must also be the home of the most deafening sound system in the world, it rattled the eardrums in a manner that the Welsh succeeded in doing during Miss Wales’ efforts but turned into a whimper within a quarter of an hour.

For England this was a case of Easy, Easy.