Sunday, 30 October 2011

Redbridge 2 Ebbsfleet United 0

Match 25/11/912 - Saturday, 29 October 2011 - FA Cup 4QR

Redbridge (0) 2 Murray 81, Gardner 90
Ebbsfleet United (0) 0
Att. 442

Entrance: £4 Senior Citizen
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 96/1,661
New Ground: 246

Match Report

With Gillingham and Dorchester far afield and never wanting a blank Saturday, I chose to make my way through the tunnel to “tick off a ground” and take in Ebbsfleet’s FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round visit to Ryman North Redbridge.

Ebbsfleet were firm favourites as the club three levels higher than their hosts but the day eventually bore witness to one of the major shocks of the round.

On any normal Saturday the Oakside Stadium would be accommodating around a 100 spectators, but this was FA Cup day with a place in the First Round Proper at stake. When I arrived at the ground I was met by a couple of stewards informing drivers that the car park was full and the need to find alternative parking, at least this was fairly easily done.

Inside the ground it was clear that the visitors from Kent were going to make up the vast majority of the attendance. Oakside is the kind of ramshackle football ground that shouts “FA Cup shock in waiting”, so those visitors should have been pre-warned.

There is only terracing behind one of the goals so the massed ranks of Ebbsfleet supporters had made it theirs for the day. The little seated area along one side with just four rows of seats was quickly filled. I took my place on the opposite side of the pitch were a low covered standing area has a couple of steps of terracing. The match is played out to the rattle of tube trains arriving at Barkingside Tube Station, behind which the ground is situated.

Ebbsfleet made most of the running in the first half but their efforts foundered on the giant rock of centre back and skipper, Glen Golby, who also possessed a long throw that would have been admired by Rory Delap. Ebbsfleet’s inability to deliver any quality into the penalty area was the largest contributor to the goalless scoreline at the break.

Redbridge took confidence from their first half parity and the difference in divisions became less apparent, if it existed at all. With ten minutes remaining, a cross was lofted into the box and burly centre forward Ryan Murray guided a header past Fleet keeper Preston Edwards. Ebbsfleet mounted a final ten minute challenge to gain an equaliser but were left short at the back in time added on when Joe Gardner got onto the end of a free kick to slot, very coolly given the circumstances, into the bottom corner before rushing to the bench for a mass celebration.

As I walked back to the car, my thoughts turned to tomorrow’s draw and although Redbridge should be routine for a club of Gillingham’s level, perhaps still scarred by last season’s debacle against Dover, I came to the conclusion that I would not really relish a return to the Oakfield Stadium in a couple of weeks’ time.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Eastbourne Borough 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 24/11/911 - Tuesday, 25 October 2011 - Conference South

Eastbourne Borough (1) 1 Watson 22
Tonbridge (1) 2 McGlaggon 44, Browning 70
Att. 924

Entrance: £8 Senior Citizen
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 64/1,565
New Ground: 245

Match Report

Tonbridge’s season thus far has been littered with false starts, so it is to be hoped that this confidence-building win at bang in-form Eastbourne Borough might this time be the start of a positive run that will put some breathing space between them and the relegation zone.

Arriving at Priory Lane on the back of a disappointing reversal at Longmead against Basingstoke, Tonbridge took time to settle against their hosts who played some attractive, attacking football in the opening 20 minutes pressurising Tonbridge into giving away the ball too cheaply time and again. So it was no surprise when Ben Watson put the home side in front on 22 minutes. A Matt Crabb cross was only headed to the edge of the box by Sonny Miles and Watson scored from around 12 yards. Appeals for a foul on Miles fell on deaf ears.

Tonbridge had to endure some worrying moments before they started to get a toe hold in the game after half-an-hour. Miles had the ball in the net, but the flag for offside had long since been raised and Bristol Rovers loanee, Kane McLaggon, fired over the bar.

Just before half-time Tonbridge got the equaliser through the perseverance of Ade Olorunda, who managed to get a cross into the six yard box under pressure where McLaggon was able to scramble the ball home from close range to the pleasure of the sizeable Tonbridge contingent in the crowd of 924.

From a half that had seen Tonbridge struggle to contain their hosts they obviously took a lot of confidence from entering the break on even terms. The second half was a much different affair with the Angels making the majority of the running as the rain lashed down.

Several chances came and went before Tonbridge went ahead with 20 minutes remaining. Lee Browning received the ball just inside the Eastbourne half, drove forward unchallenged for 20 yards before unleashing an unstoppable shot from 25 yards that rocketed past Rikki Banks.

It was heart-stopping on the sidelines but Tonbridge saw out the remaining time relatively easily spending most of the time in the home side’s half, Lee Worgan being asked to make a couple of comfortable saves.

Priory Lane was a smashing little ground with cover on all four sides. OK, so it is a bit prefabricated and lacking in character but at this level it is certainly going to be one of the better grounds that Tonbridge visit. We had a quick drink in a large, well furnished clubhouse before entering the ground. The terracing on the uncovered area in which we stood for the first half was a bit on the shallow side making viewing a little obstructed. We moved down the touchline for the second half, and were glad to be under cover as the heavens opened. Along the opposite side of the pitch there is the seating enclosure that covers virtually the full length. Behind the goals there is covered terracing with executive boxes on an upper tier. Executive boxes in non-league football, prawn sandwiches next! Behind the other goal there is covered terracing. A little gem, I would conclude, to go with Lee Browning’s diamond finish.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Gillingham 1 Oxford United 0

Match 23/11/910 - Saturday, 22 October 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 0 Montrose 45
Oxford United (0) 0
Att. 5,819

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,501

Match Report

The inscription on the title page of Andy Bradley and Roger Trigg’s legendary book, Home of the Shouting Men, reads: Gillingham is written in the Domesday Book as Gelingeham. It is thought to have derived its name from the Gilingas, a warrior tribe known as the “shouting men”. In recent times Priestfield has been more the home of the Whispering men and the warrior tribe a collective of librarians.

The visit of Oxford United, and more importantly, referee Gavin Ward brought the Shouting Men back to Priestfield as adversity brought out the best in Gelingeham supporters.

It is a strange phenomenon that new stadiums (or refurbished as in the case of Priestfield) has brought about a change of nature in the people that sit in the seats. Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri recently made the point about the Emirates and my experience of over 20 visits to the new Wembley is that the atmosphere is more like a respectful night at the theatre rather than a passionate sporting arena.

Oxford United arrived as a side in form and as such they were able to afford the luxury of leaving leading scorer Andy Constable on the bench. Gillingham decided not to rush their leading scorer, Danny Kedwell back and stayed with the side that won handsomely at Torquay last Saturday.

The visitors enjoyed the best of the opening half, creating and wasting a host of chances, the best of which saw a good block from Ross Flitney as Robert Hall got clear on goal. It was against the run of play when Gillingham took the lead on the stroke of half time. The lively Jo Kuffour wriggled his way into the box and forced Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke to beat the ball to the safety of the edge of the box from where Lewis Montrose rifled the ball into the top left corner of the net to the delight, and surprise of the Whispering Men.

The first half had seen the now familiar scenario regarding the crowd at Priestfield, the Rainham End were subdued and, around me in the Gordon Road Stand, folk were getting agitated with the home’s lack of authority on the game.

The second half started with a second booking for Joe Martin on 49 minutes. The booking appeared harsh, although general opinion seems to say that Mr Ward got it right. Martin’s first half booking was unfortunate as a loss of footing left him the wrong side of Damian Batt and his subsequent attempt to retrieve the situation saw him bringing down the Oxford full back.

The first sign of adversity galvanised the Priestfield crowd and they rallied behind Gillingham’s ten men as the visitors used their numerical advantage and poured forward in search of an equaliser. A mixture of good goalkeeping, last ditch defending and profligate wastefulness wound the clock down with the home side’s lead intact.

Relief fleetingly appeared as Kuffour put the ball into the net following a breakaway but this was stifled by an offside flag. With two minutes remaining Gillingham’s task became so much harder as Montrose saw red for a rash challenge on Asa Hall. The Oxford staff were off the bench to a man and their reaction might well have influenced the referee. From the distance of the Gordon Road Stand it was difficult to see whether it was a challenge of a straight red and television pictures are hardly more conclusive.

Five agonising minutes were added and Priestfield rocked, the Shouting Men had returned. Gillingham handled the extra time well and didn’t really suffer a scare, to the frustration of the visitors who picked up a further two yellows bringing their total to six, bizarrely Gillingham had no other cards apart from the two reds. The final whistle brought the house down as the fans stayed on to acclaim their favourites for the backs-to-the-wall effort.

Andy Hessenthaler, in his radio interview, almost seemed to brush aside the effect of the fans, choosing to comment that he needed them to be behind his side from the outset. It’s the original chicken and egg scenario, more often than not it takes a spark on the pitch to raise those off it, on this occasion it was adversity. Welcome home, the Shouting Men.

GOSK Dubrovnik 0 NK Omis 2

Match 22/11/909 - Wednesday, 12 October 2011 - Croatia 3 South

GOSK Dubrovnik (0) 0
NK Omis (0) 2 The Number 10
Est. Att. 200

Entrance: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 2/1,456 (from Hotel)
New Ground: 244 (36th Abroad)

Here we are on the Dalmatian Coast in sunny, but sometimes wind-swept, Dubrovnik. We’ve made our start on the old city with its fabulous history and spectacular beauty. But, for a football fan, there comes a time when the sightseeing can take a break because there is a match in town and a ground to tick off.

NK GOSK Dubrovnik play their football at the third level of the Croatian League, a level that is split into four divisions covering each compass point, Dubrovnik being in the south. They are a club that, one would assume from the record books, has seen better days, having previously played at levels higher as recent as 2005 and in 1997 not only finished seventh in the first division but also reached the Quarter Finals of the National Cup losing to Dinamo Zagreb over two legs after holding the capital side to a draw at their now humble stadium.

The opposing side on my visit to the Gradski Stadium, Lapad were NK Omis, a side based 16 miles south-east of Split, the home of Hajduk, the pride of the Dalmatian coast. Dubrovnik had made a decent start to their season and were sitting third in the league, whilst Omis were mid-table.

We had already seen bus stops decorated with the crest of Hajduk in Dubrovnik showing the affection for the club that is sited the best part of a four hour drive away, shades of Manchester United fans leaving Gillingham on a Saturday morning for a home match. We spoke to hotel staff about the Croatian national side’s upcoming European Qualifier against Latvia and was embraced with enthusiastic conversation but when we broached the subject of GOSK we were greeted with shakes of the head.

Not to be discouraged we left our hotel for the 4 o’clock kick off to make the 10 minute walk to ground with some vague directions that appeared relatively simple. When we got to a junction and a decision to turn left or right we were fortunate that a police car was parked, perhaps on the look-out for some of the infamous hooligans that blight Croatian football. We asked the officer in the passenger seat the way and he in turn needed to ask his fellow officer.

One little worry that we had was that the morning’s sightseeing had depleted our wallets of kuna, the local currency, surely it couldn’t be the equivalent of £15 each to gain admission we hoped. Walking towards the ground, it has to be said there was hardly the throng of people that would be associated with Toronto Road at 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon; in fact there was nobody that was obviously making their way to the football.

The ground came into view with a few people sitting along the top of the wall surrounding the ground. On reaching the gate we were taken aback to find that entrance was in fact free! There was a gate, even a table where they might have collected a fee but nobody to take it. Inside the ground at that time were probably no more than 50 people watching as the players of both sides were warming up. We walked towards the half-way line and positioned ourselves up on the same wall alongside a group of young girls, mainly because the wife had taken a liking to a little dog that she got to know was named Lulu.

The Gradski was quite run-down. The terrace on which we were sitting was six substantial steps high and behind the goal from where we had entered there was a similar amount of terracing that led to a sort of club house bar were a few sat and watched. This led to another, shallower, terrace down the length of the pitch leading to the dressing rooms perched atop the terrace behind the far goal. The view beyond this was the beautiful backdrop of the Dalmatian hills. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the stadium, which was essentially no better than Kent League, was the fact that in 2011 it continued to be fenced.

As the match got underway, the attendance had risen to around the 200 mark that observed the proceedings rather than got excited about either side. My own observations as to the standard of the play was initially that it was at a level equal to Ryman South, i.e. Faversham. The weather throughout the summer months is obviously very hot and we had been told that during the previous week temperatures had reached 35degC and this in October! This naturally leads to very hard pitches and a couple of challenges quickly brought the physio to the field.

Immediately noticeable was that passing was almost entirely enacted along the ground and that technically the players were pretty good, time to re-assess the standard upwards to perhaps Ryman Premier, i.e. Margate. Dubrovnik started the game well, looking the part of the higher-placed team, but slowly but surely Omis found their feet and eventually took the lead through their number ten. Sorry, there can be no names as there was no programme and not even a tannoy system, not that I would have understood anyway!

Omis’ number ten was a tall, rangy striker in the mould of a young Tony Cascarino, who was surprisingly good on the ground but caused a bit of derision needing the trainer three times in the opening half hour. It was inevitable that a well worked move ended with our Cas stroking home from inside the six yard box. After Cas had once again showed himself as the class act on show with an excellent strike from about 25 yards before taking another knock that left him a passenger for the last ten minutes, I engaged in conversation with a gentleman that had sat himself alongside me about 20 minutes after the game had begun.

I first asked him about the entrance fee, or lack of it. In good English he explained that they only charged if one of the Premier Croatian sides were in opposition, but for league matches, should they charge nobody would come. How do they survive was my next question. To this he explained that they received funding from the local council and local businesses. They were a community club that had age groups from nine years old to earn their funding, but you wouldn’t bank on Medway, or any other, Council following suit. My friend also explained that the players of Dubrovnik did get paid, albeit a very small amount, which made the lack of an entrance fee even more confusing. I was at the point where I really wanted to pay as the afternoon’s football had been entertaining and the conversation with my Hajduk-loving friend enlightening.

As the Dalmatian sun set and Omis left for Split with the three points we made our way back to our hotel content that we had enjoyed our foray into the lower reaches of Croatian football and not a kuna poorer!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Gillingham 1 Port Vale 1

Match 21/11/908 - Saturday, 8 October 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Kedwell 63 (pen)
Port Vale (1) 1 Richards 33
Att. 4,676

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,454

Match Report

This is a mini posting due to a holiday . . . at last!

Gillingham needed to recover some respect following the embarrassing capitulation at Wimbledon last week and although they failed to collect the maximum points some semblance of pride was restored with a thoroughly decent performance.

Ultimately it took a twice taken penalty from Danny Kedwell to rescue a point but it was no more than Gillingham deserved. Port Vale came into the game as the Division’s leading scorers and with defensive absentees in Andy Frampton and Barry Fuller it was on the cards that the home side would come under a lot of pressure but they coped admirably and in the main took the game to their visitors from Burslem.

Port Vale took a 33rd minute lead when Matt Fish misjudged to cross allowing Tom Pope to head back across the face of the goal for Marc Richards to tap home from close range. It was a bit of a shame for Fish, looking to establish himself following Fuller’s expected season-long absence, who otherwise had a pretty solid game.

The other point worthy of mention in the first half was the continuing good form of Luke Rooney, who is frustrating and exhilarating in equal measures but never ceases to attempt to entertain.

On the hour Gillingham were offered a deserved opportunity of an equaliser when Frank Nouble was brought down on the edge of the box. Priestfield let out a collected groan as Kedwell’s penalty attempt was saved by Stuart Tomlinson. Those groans turned to cheers as the linesman flagged to alert the referee that the keeper had moved from his line. Kedwell kept his nerve and stroked his second attempt into the opposite corner with the keeper diving the same way as his first.

Gillingham made the most of the running in the final half-hour but could not break down a resolute Vale defence, but despite not winning the game, they would have been pleased to hear appreciative applause at the final whistle rather than the negative reception they have received in more recent times.

Off to Dubrovnik, where hopefully a Croatian match might find its way onto the blog pages.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

AFC Wimbledon 3 Gillingham 1

Match 20/11/907 - Saturday, 1 October 2011 - League Two

AFC Wimbledon (3) 3 Jolley 10, 12 Midson 22
Gillingham (0) 1 Lee 67
Att. 4,606

Entrance: £15
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 118/1,409

Match Report

For many of the Gillingham following to Kingsmeadow this would have been their first visit and it will be quickly forgotten as the visitors served up an embarrassing 45 minutes including a horrific 12 minute spell that exposed perhaps more than defensive fragility.

On a blisteringly hot day that was suffocating under the low roof of the John Smith’s Stand as Gillingham withered in the heat they tried the patience of their supporters and for some it was all too much as they vented their fury at their own players and manager with poisonous venom.

Danny Kedwell’s return to his old club was greeted respectfully by his old supporters who prior to kick off hung a banner with a caricature of the striker (below), but this was replaced by another banner once the game commenced. No sentiment remained once the ball is kicked and quite rightly so.

Joe Martin and Barry Fuller remained sidelined, so the reshuffled back line remained from last Saturday’s home win against Burton Albion.

The first ten minutes passed quietly enough with Gillingham enjoying much of the territorial advantage before a crass piece of defending by Matt Lawrence allowed Christian Jolley a free run on goal and a well taken finish. It was a seemingly innocuous ball over the top that left the defender with a simple job of clearing his lines or passing the ball back to goalkeeper Ross Flitney. A serious misjudgement of the flight of the ball allowed Jolley to get beyond him and expertly finish.

AFC Wimbledon quickly doubled their advantage in the 12th minute when Jolley got between the dithering central defenders to convert a Sam Hatton cross with a diving header leaving all sorts of arguments and inquests among the bemused back line.

The afternoon went from bad to worse on 20 minutes with a further episode of horrific defending. Perhaps we see situations as easy to deal with from the terraces when they not, but it seemed the simplest job in the world to see this particular situation to safety. But Garry Richards, Matt Fish and Chris Whelpdale each conspired to eventually present the easiest of chances to Jack Midson who, in truth, couldn’t miss (and didn’t).

By now Gillingham were in complete disarray (was going to say meltdown but in the conditions everybody on and off the pitch had already melted). Andy Hessenthaler decided that enough was enough at the back and Lawrence with withdrawn on 37 minutes. The veteran defender did not take his substitution at all well and his displeasure (in fact it was anger) was there for the entire Gillingham support to witness being situated directly behind the bench.
In fairness to Hessenthaler, the reshuffle that led to Andy Frampton, who was having a torrid time at left back, moving to central defence and Danny Jackman taking the left full back spot did shore up the catastrophic back line.

Hessenthaler’s half time words must have had an effect as well as Gillingham made a far better fist of the second half, albeit that, in the heat, AFCW may well have taken their foot off the pedal. Luke Rooney, although exasperating at times and collecting a fair amount of abuse for being greedy, was the bright spot of the first half and came more to the fore in the second.

Seb Brown, the AFCW keeper, drew the wrath of the visiting support when he fell to the ground, as if he had taken a Hayemaker from Frank Nouble. The referee, Michael Naylor, saw through the Oscar performance of the keeper, but booked Nouble for the offence. Personally, I thought the referee handled this particular situation very well, he saw that Nouble had raised a hand but also recognised that Brown had made a complete meal of the incident.

In any satisfaction can be derived from this game it came about on the hour with the introduction and the subsequent effect that new signing Joe Kuffour had on the game. Gillingham became much more of a threat in the last half hour and might well have allowed the glass half full supporter the opportunity of a little if, buts and maybes.

In the 67th minute, the visitors pulled a goal back with an exquisite strike from Charlie Lee, firing into top right hand corner from 20 yards. From nothing, Gillingham were now on the front foot with Kuffour and Rooney posing questions of the home defence that had not been previously asked. Both were capable of running with the ball and on three occasions Rooney fired across the face of goal, begging for somebody to make a touch. If only, one had been made it could have set up a grandstand finish with Gills having the momentum. Unfortunately, ifs, buts and maybes.

Charlie Lee picked up a fifth booking for the season with five minutes remaining for a challenge that the conspiracy theorist would believe was “bought” to serve the suspension for Tuesday night’s Paint Pot game.

I’ve tried to be fair to both sides in this report mainly because of the vitriol, some of which unacceptable, that was exerted by the visiting support. Twitter messages suggested that Gillingham were downright awful for 90 minutes. They were for 45 and were even worse for 12 of those. AFCW were made to look like Barcelona in that period of the game, they were not, but they looked a decent side, especially in the opening half.

Kingsmeadow is a stadium that looked impressive when I visited as a visiting supporter from Ryman League Tonbridge, unfortunately for Wimbledon they have grown too fast for the stadium. A sell-out crowd of 4,606 is hardly adequate even at League Two level and to be honest I was under the obviously incorrect impression that 6,000 capacities were the minimum criteria for Football League entry. I read in the programme that they are planning to enlarge the stadium which would suggest that their return to the Borough of Merton remains a distant dream. But in their short existence they have had many such dreams and most have materialised, so never say never.

For Gillingham, I don’t know. I left the ground frustrated and angry. After reflection I’ve drawn a few positives from the second half, but without doubt, the back line that started this game need to have a long hard look at themselves because those 12 minutes were completely unacceptable.