Saturday, 28 May 2011

Tonbridge 4 Lowestoft Town 3

Match 68/10/886 - Saturday, 7 May 2011 - Ryman Premier Play-Off Final

Tonbridge (3) 4 Olorunda 12, Walder 22, 44 (pen)
Lowestoft Town (1) 3 Mitchell 31, Cave-Brown 48, Guentchev 77
Att. 2,411

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/9,696

Match Report

It maybe Old Trafford that is labelled the Theatre of Dreams, but for myself and the majority of the record-breaking 2,411 attendance, humble Longmead Stadium took on the title as Tonbridge edged their way to history following a match that will live long in the memory.

Gillingham still harboured play-off dreams of their own and the week had begun with a ticket in hand for their final encounter of the season at champions-elect Chesterfield’s new B2net Stadium, but following Tuesday night’s epic victory over Harrow Borough there was only ever going to be once place for me to spend my Saturday afternoon.

Any normal Saturday at Longmead would have seen me parking my car ten minutes before kick off leaving ample of time to take up my usual position, but on this occasion an hour earlier arrival time left me searching for a place in the car park.

Inside the ground there were plenty of Lowestoft fans that had made the three hour journey down from the Suffolk coast and a friendly bunch they were. Nerves were already quite taut and it was going to be an afternoon where the mobile phone was going to play its part to keep in touch with Gillingham’s fate.

Nothing was more incredible than carbon copy of Tuesday’s first 20 minutes. Tonbridge raced into a two goal lead with goals from Ade Olorunda and Danny Walder, both benefitting from the fortune of deflections. After 12 minutes, following a corner from Lee Browning, a shot from Scott Kinch was deflected into the path of Olorunda who scored from close range. On 22 minutes, exactly the same time as Tuesday, a free kick from Walder was hideously deflected giving the Trawlerboys’ keeper very little chance.

Meanwhile, no goals from Chesterfield, but a goal against Torquay has lifted Gillingham into a play-off position, could it be double delight.

Two goals adrift, Lowestoft were not going to go down without a fight. Lee Worgan was forced to push a shot onto the bar and Jon Heath blocked the rebound. But the Suffolk side were not to be denied when they reduced the deficit in the 31st minute with a close range header.

Torquay equalise at Rotherham and Gills slip back out of the play-off places.

Three minutes remained in the first half at Longmead when Tonbridge are awarded a penalty. Olorunda was allowed to travel across the face of the box before being brought down and Walder kept his cool to score from the spot to give the Angels a 3-1 advantage at the half-time whistle.

The half time scores from League Two are in Gillingham’s favour and their goalless half at Chesterfield continues to reward them with a play-off spot.

The nerves are twisted again at the beginning of the second half at Longmead when Lowestoft once again reduced the deficit to one when Cave-Brown scores from the edge of the six yard box.

The Trawlerboys sensed that at comeback akin to their November exploits when they recovered a three goal deficit to earn a draw when all seemed lost and pile the pressure on their hosts.

Ping goes the mobile; Gillingham have conceded at Chesterfield and are now out of the top seven.

That mobile call seems to signal that this afternoon could go very pear-shaped and the initiative at Longmead has very firmly swung Lowestoft’s way.

Cody McDonald has scored at Chesterfield and with Bury taking the lead at Stevenage, Gillingham move up to the lofty heights of sixth.

In the space of a minute, the apprehension that this afternoon could go wrong becomes very real. Tonbridge, who had been conceding free kicks in dangerous positions for the previous ten minutes, cleared another only as far as Lubo Guentchev, whose shot whistled into the top corner from around 25 yards. Guentchev is the son of the ex-Ipswich player Boncho and a cousin of the British tennis player, Elena Baltacha (just for information!). Whilst the Lowestoft fans and staff were celebrating the mobile buzzes and Chesterfield have retaken the lead and Gillingham are back out of the play-offs, its double despair!

That despair turned to delight in this corner of Kent within three minutes. Lewis Taylor collected a pass from Kinch and waltzed into the Lowestoft box and buried a shot into the bottom corner of the net to the absolute delight of the massed Tonbridge support behind the goal. At this point it almost seems irrelevant to receive a text from the sister-in-law that Gillingham have conceded a third and they are now on their way home.

Five minutes of extra-time added to the drama, Frannie Collin struck a post and at the other end, Lee Worgan comfortably fielded a last gasp effort before the referee signalled the historic ascent of Tonbridge to the Blue Square South.

It was hardly a surprise that pleas for the pitch to be kept clear were not heeded and a mass invasion allowed only an obscured view of the presentation of the trophy. No matter, on the day my heart wept for Gillingham, but I had the massive consolation of having made the right choice and being at Longmead for this momentous occasion.

To my friend that doesn’t get the play-offs . . .

Tonbridge 3 Harrow Borough 2

Match 67/10/885 - Tuesday, 3 May 2011 - Ryman Premier Play-Off SF

Tonbridge (2) 3 Piper 6, Kinch 22, Olorunda 109
Harrow Borough (0) 2 Baptiste 25, 70
(After extra time, 2-2 at 90 minutes)

Att. 1,124

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/9,670

Match Report

I’ve a friend who just doesn’t get the play-offs. He has the opinion that a league is a league and that whoever finishes in the top two or three are promoted and that is that. The fact that he supports a top Premiership club that is never likely to have to endure a play-off match from the comfort of his armchair says it all, but if he could ever be tempted into a season with one of the lesser lights I’m convinced his misguided opinion would change.

Whether it be Gillingham or Tonbridge, joy or despair, the play-offs never cease to thrill, and such was the case on Tuesday night at Longmead Stadium when the play-off for a place in the Ryman Premier League final went the full distance of 120 minutes and was settled with a goal nine minutes from time.

Tonbridge enjoyed home advantage by virtue of their second place finish, but their opponents Harrow Borough had beaten the Angels in both encounters during the league season. A warm day had turned into a slightly chilly evening and the scene was set with 1,124 in attendance to witness the proceedings.

The lack of any meaningful rain over a long period left a pitch that was hard and uneven and not conducive to football that is pleasing on the eye, not that the intense nature of the play-offs lends itself to such anyway.

The home crowd craved an early goal and that is what they got. Chris Piper’s crisp finish from inside the box following an Adrian Stone header gave Tonbridge a sixth minute lead. Better was to follow. Captain Kinch hooked a shot over his shoulder and to the surprise of Harrow keeper, Nicky Jupp, the ball nestled into the far corner of the net, 22 minutes played and two goals to the good, the home crowd were ecstatic.

But their joy was short-lived as within three minutes, Rocky Baptiste, of YouTube fame for the worst miss of all time, touched in a goal following a rare Lee Worgan error.

The second half began with Harrow pressing hard for an equaliser which they finally got with 20 minutes remaining, once again Baptiste getting the final touch with a header from close range. Now memories of last season’s play-off disappointment against Carshalton, when Tonbridge had been two up only to lose 3-2 came flooding back.

A chance each for both sides went begging before the match entered extra time. The first period drifted by as both sets of players were running on very tired legs. One last ounce of energy was found by Ade Olorunda after six minutes of the second period. A through ball from Fraser Logan was chipped goalwards by the striker, the keeper got his fingertips to the shot but the ball looped into the air and behind him. It was now a three yard foot race between Olorunda and the Harrow defenders, with the Tonbridge player winning the chase to stab the ball over the line. It was as if time stood still for a couple of seconds before the noise erupted around Longmead in joyous acclaim.

A last minute booking for Harrow’s John Constable for a dive in the penalty area was the last scare of the night before the referee brought the epic proceedings to a close. Tonbridge are one match from the Blue Square South and Lowestoft stand in their way. Remember back in October, Tonbridge 3-0 up and are pegged back to 3-3, doing it the hard way is going to be the Angels’ review of 2010-11.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Gillingham 2 Macclesfield Town 4

Match 66/10/884 - Saturday, 30 April 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Jackman 43, Martin 71
Macclesfield Town (3) 4 Draper 3, Daniel 7, 17, Sinclair 48
Att. 6,841

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: Sold Out
Mileage: 45/9,644

Match Report

Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong on Saturday. Entering April with four home games remaining against clubs from the lower half of the Division augured well for the promotion aspiration that was still of the automatic variety. But those four games have yielded just two points and three successive away wins have been the means by which the campaign has remained just about on track.

Earlier in the month, Hereford and Morecambe came, parked a bus, and Gillingham lacked the guile to break down their resolute defending. Firstly, Barnet and on Saturday, Macclesfield, came with freedom to seek a win and the home side’s defence frailties were exposed for all to see.

Cheap tickets filled half of the Brian Moore Stand and, must to my annoyance, sold the programmes out prior to my arrival, leaving Priestfield’s biggest crowd of the season ready and willing to roar their favourites into the play-offs. Following Easter Monday’s success at Rotherham, Andy Hessenthaler opted to remain unchanged after making seven changes to the side that was comprehensively beaten by Barnet.

Rather than the Barnet performance being a bump in the road, Saturday became a recurring nightmare. Initially, there was nothing to suggest the way the afternoon was about to unfold. Gillingham started brightly and Cody McDonald had an opportunity but pulled his shot wide. It was misfortune that set in motion the afternoon’s events. Garry Richards looked to send a back pass to Alan Julian but the ball rebounded of fellow central defender Simon King into the path of Ross Draper who kept his composure to strike firmly past the keeper for a third minute lead.

The game was set to go from bad to worse as the Cheshire side doubled their lead within three minutes. Emile Sinclair showed a turn of pace to which Richards had no answer, his cross might not have been meant for Colin Daniel, but once it found its way to him of the right hand side of the box, he likewise carefully picked his shot to stun the Gillingham faithful.

The game was virtually over as a contest after just seventeen minutes when Macclesfield added a third goal. Daniel was allowed to cut in from the right unchallenged and fired home via the right hand upright. Reality was that the day was in tatters, optimism allowed 73 minutes to rescue the situation.

Andy Barcham limped out of the match after half-an-hour to be replaced by Luke Rooney, who injected enthusiasm as much as anything else. Gillingham endeavoured to respond and had chances but it was Macclesfield that went closest again when Sinclair forced Julian into a good save with the keeper needing to make a double save as Tyrone Bennett headed the rebound goalwards.
Gillingham needed a goal back before half time and it duly arrived with a couple of minutes remaining. Joe Martin crossed from the left, Mark Bentley headed back across the face of the goal for Danny Jackman to volley past Jose Veiga in the Macclesfield goal. Hopes had been raised within Priestfield.

These were hopes that were quickly dashed at the beginning on the second half. From a Gillingham attack, Adebayo Akinfenwa delayed a pass and from the interception a long ball out of defence allowed Sinclair to race between the Gills central defensive pairing and lob Julian from the edge of the penalty area.

Simon King, who looked a long way from full fitness, had been replaced at the break by Barry Fuller and it was to be a short stay on the pitch for the Gillingham skipper. A reckless challenge from Tony Diagne ended with Fuller being stretchered from the pitch with what appeared to be a serious injury.

If it wasn’t to be Gillingham’s day, it also applied to leading goalscorer McDonald. He looked certain to score on the hour but his shot didn’t carry enough force and Draper cleared from the line. Gillingham eventually reduced the arrears in the 71st minute when Martin scored with a shot from outside of the box.

The crowd did their best to urge the great escape but, in truth, the home side huffed and puffed their way to the finish and on the break it looked more likely that the visitors were going to inflict more damage.

Results elsewhere dumped Gillingham outside of the play-off places, but at least a defeat for Stevenage and a draw the previous evening for Torquay left a top seven place still a possibility. Stranger things that Gillingham winning at already promoted Chesterfield have happened, but it is a big ask.