Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gillingham 0 Bradford City 0

Match 30/11/917 - Saturday, 26 November 2011 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Bradford City (0) 0
Att. 7,074

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,112

Match Report

Just how frustrating was that!

As much as manager Andy Hessenthaler must be scratching his head in bemusement that Gillingham failed to build on their confidence-boosting FA Cup win over AFC Bournemouth, chairman Paul Scally, who would have been delighted that his cut price ticket initiative produced extra 2,500 people through the gate, will be disappointed that a poor performance and equally poor game would not have encouraged those people to return when the exercise is repeated for the next home game against Bristol Rovers, a week before Christmas when the shops tend to take priority over football.

There has been much reminiscing during the week of the FA Cup tie in 2000 with Bradford City; at a time when Gillingham were enjoying the heights of Championship football and City were a Premiership club. Gillingham won a thrilling game 3-1 that day, sadly 11 years later the two sides were meeting in the bottom tier of the league with the Yorkshire side threatened with being the first ex-Premiership side to lose their Football League status, and a dour 0-0 draw ensued.

How different the game may have been had Jo Kuffour’s acrobatic effort in the second minute found the net rather than a post we are not to know, but having survived the moment, Bradford City frustrated their hosts with stoic defending, time-wasting to the extreme and with 15 minutes remaining might even have stolen the game when they had a goal ruled out for offside.

After Kuffour’s early effort, a tedious first half developed in which, not for the first time this season, a tricky winger, on this occasion Kyle Reid, gave Gillingham’s back line a difficult time. On the half-hour Reid created a headed chance for striker James Hanson that Ross Flitney did brilliantly to parry away, but Hanson should have buried the rebound, only to blaze high over the bar.

The game did open up in the second half with Frank Nouble to the fore in several opportunities for the home side to open the scoring, but it was in the final minute that the best chance fell for Gillingham to nick the points. Curtis Weston crossed into the box and in a mad ten seconds, Andy Frampton, Kuffour and Stefan Payne all shot goalwards but Bantams’ keeper Jon McLaughlin was not to be beaten.

Clean sheets have not been Gillingham’s forte this season and in a week when they were described on teletext as free-scoring, it is sods law that having got one they fail to score themselves.

All very frustrating . . .

Gillingham 3 AFC Bournemouth 2

Match 29/11/916 - Tuesday, 22 November 2011 - FA Cup 1st Rd Replay

Gillingham (1) 3 Weston 20, Richards 72, S Payne 82
AFC Bournemouth (0) 2 Frampton (o.g.) 55, Arter 90
Att. 4,321

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 45/2,067

Match Report

Have this Gillingham team proved to their supporters, but more importantly to themselves, that they have what it takes to make this season a success, primarily with promotion but, as this match provided a passage in the FA Cup, perhaps a cup run in parallel.

AFC Bournemouth have provided League One opposition and Gillingham have proved over the course of two matches that they can compete with clubs at that level, having also acquitted themselves admirably at Championship Brighton in the League Cup earlier in the season.

Both of these FA Cup First Round games have been high on entertainment and provided 11 goals to feast on. Whilst Curtis Weston’s shot from 25 yards into the bottom corner might not have eclipsed Jack Payne’s 35 yard effort at Dean Court, it was still a decent hit from the recalled midfielder who went onto to win the man of the match award for an impressive return to form.

Weston’s goal after 20 minutes was the only goal of a half that Gillingham mostly dominated but still had that worrying fragility at the back that left Ross Flitney to make a good save from Simon Francis just prior to the break and also remind the Gillingham faithful that had travelled to the south coast for the original tie that winger Scott Malone would be a constant source of danger.

It was indeed the shaggy-haired Wolves loanee that skipped past Charlie Lee into acres of space before delivering a cross that Gillingham skipper Andy Frampton could only turn into his own goal on 55 minutes. Bournemouth then enjoyed a period in the ascendancy and Flitney was called upon to make saves from Marc Pugh before the home side restored their lead with 15 minutes remaining.

As I grumbled that Gillingham didn’t look to have a goal in them at that particular point in the game, first Garry Richards popped up at the far post from a Lee cross to slide home his third goal of the season, only for stadium announcer Doug Hudson to credit the goal to Danny Kedwell! Seven minutes later, substitute Stefan Payne collected a pass, turned and shot into the far corner for a lead that appeared unassailable, but then so did Bournemouth’s at Dean Court.

A well taken free kick from ex-Welling player Harry Arter with four minutes of added time to play left Gillingham fans with fingernails to bite as Bournemouth went in search of an equaliser, but their one chance was blazed over by the veteran Steve Fletcher as the home side held out to earn an away tie against Leyton Orient.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Tunbridge Wells 4 Chichester City 1

Match 28/11/915 - Saturday, 19 November 2011 - FA Vase 2nd Round

Tunbridge Wells (1) 4 Spackman 1, Crush 94, McMath 116, 119
Chichester City (0) 1 Lopez 60
After extra time (1-1 at 90 minutues)
Att. 154

Entrance: £3 Senior Citizen
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,022

Match Report

Tunbridge Wells Football Club, completely unfairly, is mostly a last point of call on a Saturday afternoon when away fixtures for Gillingham and Tonbridge are out of reach for whatever reason. This is a bit of a shame because visits to Culverden are always enjoyable and meeting up with old friends stimulates the best in football conversation.

So, the FA Vase tie against Chichester City wasn’t exactly a chore even though the heart and mind might have been down at Truro or Aldershot. Last season, the Wells fell at the last hurdle before the competition went national and this time around will be looking to go one further following their extra time victory against the Sussex League strugglers.

The home side could not have made a better start to this match; I very much doubt I will see a quicker opening goal this season, or a few seasons after that. Makeshift centre forward, Perry Spackman swivelled and sent a shot, possibly taking a deflection, that looped up, completely deceiving the keeper and bouncing down off the underside of the bar to give the Wells the lead after just 18 seconds.

As is quite often the case, the early success actually did Tunbridge Wells no favours. Chichester gathered themselves with great resolve and rather than crumbling fought their way back into the tie. It took until the hour mark before they finally found a well-deserved equaliser.

Tunbridge Wells pressed to complete the tie within the regulation 90 minutes but despite a couple of golden chances they could not avoid extra time. Quick out of the blocks a second time, Drew Crush glanced a firm header into the corner of the net after four minutes of the first period and Chichester’s spirit was finally broken.

Two goals in the final five minutes from Andy McMath ensured the home side’s participation in the third round and provided £1,200 worth of prize money, no small amount for a club for whom the 157 attendance represents a sizeable crowd.

When I was growing up Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells played in the same league and were mighty rivals, sadly those days have gone. Under Martin Larkin, the Wells are moving in the right direction and deserve local support and that includes mine, not just because I haven’t anywhere else to go.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

AFC Bournemouth 3 Gillingham 3

Match 27/11/914 - Saturday, 12 November 2011 - FA Cup 1st Round

AFC Bournemouth (1) 3 Purches 20, Zubar 59, Malone 60
Gillingham (1) 3 Payne J 37, Jackman 71, Kedwell 90
Att. 4,282

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 290/1,996

Match Report

A stirring fight back from Gillingham at League One AFC Bournemouth showed there remains some magic to the FA Cup. A competition, diminished with disinterest by the Premiership and even denigrated by its own association, who choose to arrange England friendlies on the day of the first round of its competition, it is still much-loved in the lower divisions and the first round proper remains the Holy Grail of clubs outside of the Football League.

At 3-1 down with 20 minutes remaining, Gillingham were facing a First Round exit for a second successive season following last season’s embarrassing demise at the hands of Dover Athletic. Whilst that exit was characterised by sheer lack of backbone, if there were shortcomings in this performance, and there certainly were, a lack of character wasn’t among them.

A visit to a club a Division above was never going to be easy and the visitor’s task was made more difficult with the refusal of the parent clubs to allow Jo Kuffour and Frank Nouble to become cup-tied and injuries to goalkeeper Ross Flitney and central defender Garry Richards. On the positive side back from long term absence came Jack Payne.

Gillingham started very brightly, on a carpet of a pitch that was heavily watered before the game (in November, that’s global warming for you!), they passed the ball neatly and with a home defence probably still shell-shocked from conceding six in midweek, they almost allowed Luke Rooney an opportunity following a mix-up after a mere 20 seconds.

Recent weeks have seen Gillingham stung by long range strikes and after 20 minutes they found themselves behind to another of the same. A corner was only cleared as far as the edge of the box and from 20 yards Stephen Purches fired in a shot that cannoned down from the underside of bar and over the line. Buoyed by this success Bournemouth took control of the game and Scott Malone, a loanee from Wolves, was giving Matt Fish a torrid afternoon. The Gillingham full-back had no answer to Malone’s pace and with Chris Whelpdale offering precious little protection the right hand side of the visitors’ back line was hopelessly exposed. Unfortunately the defender was not only being given a runaround by Malone, but was taking vitriolic abuse from an element of the Gillingham support.

At 37 minutes, Gillingham were barely hanging on to their FA Cup lives when Jack Payne fired in a shot from 35 yards that flew over the head of the Cherries’ keeper Darryl Flahavan to the joy and amazement of the Gillingham contingent that amounted to 376. It was a fantastic strike and presented a perfect argument as to why the Elite Player Performance Plan should have got short shrift from the Football League clubs. Jack is nearly 19 and the new rules will not affect any potential transfer fees that might be earned by the club upon his transfer. The maximum amount that a lower Division club would earn under the new EPPP rule is £190,000. If Jack Payne had left Gillingham for that amount then one club has a bargain and the other has been mugged and we all know how that works.

The second half began badly for the visitors and they found themselves two goals adrift on the hour. The first of which was a personal nightmare for stand-in keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, who had to that point had a sound game. A dubious free kick was dropped by the keeper at Stephane Zubar’s feet and the former Plymouth Argyle defender scored from close range.

Worse quickly followed as Wes Thomas was allowed to run half the length of the pitch unchallenged before setting up Malone to crash a shot past Gazzaniga into the roof of the net. The game looked done and dusted for the Gills.

Fortunately, goalkeeping errors were not going to be one-sided and Flahaven offered Gillingham a lifeline with a fumble from a Danny Jackman free kick that allowed the ball to creep into the bottom corner. Andy Hessenthaler had gambled on attacking substitutions with Dennis Oli, Lewis Montrose and Stefan Payne entering the fray and with a minute on the clock remaining it looked as if Payne’s narrow failure to get on the end of a Fish cross might be the final chance. But the never-say-die character emerged and Charlie Lee’s long throw was knocked on by Montrose for Danny Kedwell to bury his shot into the bottom corner before running in celebration to the Gillingham support whose jubilation showed that the FA Cup does really matter.

Special mention must go to Paul Gazzaniga who recovered from his error to keep his side in the game when Bournemouth’s tails were up and Gillingham were left short at the back whilst chasing the game and to Jack Payne who was exceptional considering his two month absence and what a goal to celebrate his return.

In the last three weeks I’ve witnessed enthusiasm for the FA Cup at Redbridge and at Bournemouth, shame on the Association that they belittle the magic of the Cup.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Gillingham 4 Northampton Town 3

Match 26/11/913 - Saturday, 5 November 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (3) 4 Kuffour 10, 30, 45 (pen) Kedwell 90 (pen)
Northampton Town (1) 3 Berinho 35, 60 Langmead 54
Att. 4,704

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,706

Match Report

As the final whistle went on this crazy match several of the Northampton players slumped to the turf in utter despair and whilst pleasure was being taken from an important victory for our favourites it wasn’t hard to understand the dismay of the visitors. They had held the balance of play for much of the game, their speedy forwards had tested the Gillingham back line beyond breaking point and, in fairness, a point was no more than they deserved for their endeavours.

There was a focus on the two centre forwards, the past and present of Gillingham Football Club and strikers as different as chalk and cheese. For the visitors was the unmistakeable figure of Adebayo Akinfenwa, a man whose physique was never meant for that of a footballer, let alone one with the touch that the big man possesses and his counterpart for the home side, Joe Kuffour, a man of small stature, a real livewire.

The initial stages of the game suggested that it might be the game for the big man to remind his previous employers of what they were missing as three chances, a golden one within 90 seconds of the start, fell his way in the opening eight minutes. So it was completely against the run of play when Kuffour guided the ball into the net as a long punt into the box from Matt Lawrence virtually dropped out of the sky. If the Northampton defenders looked around themselves and asked questions how the striker was afforded the time and space it was only a foretaste for an afternoon that defenders on both sides will wish to forget.

Gillingham continued to be hard-pressed by the pace of Chris Arthur, Lewis Young and the very impressive loanee from West Bromwich Albion, Saido Berahino, but on the half-hour the home side doubled their advantage with an outstanding piece of improvisation from Kuffour. Frank Nouble lofted a cross to the far post from where Chris Whelpdale nodded down to Kuffour, who with his back to goal, backheeled the ball into the net from the edge of the six yard box.

The advantage was short-lived when Akinfenwa barrel-chested the ball into the path of Berahino who sped past Andy Frampton and finished clinically. Akinfenwa’s time at Priestfield wasn’t laden with goals, but his contribution for this goal was everything that he will be remembered for.

A penalty on the stroke of half time restored the home side’s two goal lead. Danny Kedwell played a pass to Kuffour who was brought down in the box by Kelvin Langmead. The referee initially waved aside the penalty claim but his attention was drawn to the linesman who had signalled the foul. Kedwell stood aside from his penalty taking duties to allow Kuffour the honour of a first half hat trick which he safely completed.

Kuffour was once again in the thick of the action almost immediately from the outset of the second half but was denied by some last ditched defending before the Cobblers turned the game around in a five minute spell. A long, long punt forward somehow eluded the Gillingham defence finding Langmead with time and space to direct a shot inside Ross Flitney’s left hand post. Five minutes later and a dozy defence allowed a free kick to be simply played back to Berahino who blasted in from just inside the box.

The visitors were now in the ascendancy and when Akinfenwa was sent clear by his strike partner Berahino it seemed that it was written in the script that the big man would return to score the winner, but he wastefully blazed the ball over the bar.

Further chances were spurned by both sides before the unfortunate Langmead conspired to be centre stage one last time. A superb pass inside the defender from Kedwell allowed Nouble a run into the box where a nudge from the defender, who tasted disappointment at Gillingham’s hands in the 2009 play-off final whilst with Shrewsbury, sent the winger to the ground. This time the referee needed no persuading and Kedwell resumed his duties to keep his nerve to dispatch the 91st minute winner from the spot.

Andy Hessenthaler and Gary Johnson would have endured similar sleepless nights following the nightmare defending but for the paying public it made for an enthralling encounter.