Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dagenham and Redbridge 2 Gillingham 1

Match 37/11/924 - Friday, 30 December 2011 - League Two

Dagenham & Redbridge (1) 2 Bingham 22, Woodall 64
Gillingham (1) 1 Kedwell 6
Att. 3,120

Entrance: £19
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 92/2,998

Match Report

It is Pantomime season and in the space of three days the players of Gillingham Football Club have gone from the Principal Boys to the Ugly Sisters.

On a wet night, Chris Lewington, in the Daggers goal, played the part of Fairy Godmother after just six minutes, losing control of a slippery ball, allowing Danny Kedwell to drive the ball home after the keeper lost the ball a second time at the feet of Chris Whelpdale.

Whelpdale, slippery balls, no don’t go there!

Then after 15 minutes of one-sided action, in which the visitors scored, hit a post direct from a Danny Jackman corner and Lewington redeeming himself with a decent save from Kedwell and tipping over a Garry Richards header, just like the genie in Aladdin, Gillingham disappeared in a puff of smoke, barely to be seen again.

At this point I should confess to a foot in mouth moment, never to be repeated should I heed the lesson. Such was Gillingham’s domination of the opening period, I uttered the words “if we continue like this, it will be done and dusted by half-time”. Fateful words as no sooner said than Dagenham found an equaliser with their first real attempt on goal. Billy Bingham latched onto a loose ball on the left hand side of the box and sweetly half-volleyed past Ross Flitney.

Gillingham ended the half having huffed and puffed their way to a couple more half chances, including a goal line clearance from a Kedwell header, but the purple patch of the opening 15 minutes had disappeared almost without trace.

The home side were in the ascendancy when Brian Woodall gave them a 64th minute lead. A neat move opened up the chance for the Daggers man to curl a shot beyond Flitney into the far corner in front of the massed ranks of dismayed Gillingham fans.

Searching for an equaliser, Hessenthaler made strange substitutions, withdrawing Joe Martin for Lewis Montrose and, unless an injury demanded, bizarrely replacing Kedwell with Dennis Oli. But it was to no avail; Gillingham never looked like retrieving the deficit and 1,302 disappointed fans returned over the Bridge scratching their heads as to why a performance like that followed the highs of Crawley.

Since our last visit, on a freezing Boxing Day in 2008, Dagenham have replaced the open terrace on which we stood with a smart new stand. The Traditional Builders’ Stand is easily the best in the stadium, so it is strange that they give it over to visiting supporters. Seeing the couple of hundred home fans behind the opposite goal, on an open terrace, in the rain, is a bit like giving up your comfy armchair to a total stranger!

So into 2012, perhaps a New Year’s wish is that when we reflect on the Pantomime season in May we might be able to answer the question as to where the other 23 sides are positioned in the Division with the cry, “They’re behind you”.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tunbridge Wells 2 Sevenoaks Town 0

Match 36/11/923 - Tuesday, 27 December 2011 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (1) 2 Irvine 41,55
Sevenoaks Town (0) 0
Att. 262

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/2,906

Match Report

Christmas is obviously a time when families get together, eat too much, possibly drink too much and almost certainly spend too much time in front of the television. So when it comes to Boxing Day and beyond, the vast majority want to get away from the sofa and get a bit of fresh air and what better way to do it than to take in a football match. It appears that the gentile folk of Tunbridge Wells were of the same mind as a whopping 262 descended on Culverden Stadium to take in their local derby with Sevenoaks Town. That number might not sound too many to the uninitiated of Kent League football, but represents double the usual attendance.

Any normal home game that I visit, I am able to find a parking space within the car park but as soon as I arrived and saw the number of cars already parked on the road outside of the gates, I knew not to bother progressing down the drive.

Tunbridge Wells is not really a football town, in truth it is not a sporting town. The achievements of the local clubs go largely unrecognised but there is something brewing at Culverden that is deserving of that recognition. In three weeks’ time, Cambridgeshire outfit St Ives Town will be the visitors for a FA Vase 4th Round tie and it is reported that they could be bringing as many as 200 supporters with them, hopefully some of the new faces from yesterday will return and an attendance approaching 400 could be achieved.

Vase success apart, manager Martin Larkin has built a side that should be challenging towards the top end of the Kent League when the fixture backlog is completed. Sadly for the Wells, Herne Bay are the runaway leaders and it looks although a seismic shift is needed to shake them from the summit.

On a heavy pitch, Sevenoaks Town belied their lowly position in the table in the early stages and were more than a match for their hosts. It took until five minutes before half time for Tunbridge Wells to establish a lead when a cross was headed home by Andy Irvine.

A second half mix up between goalkeeper and centre half allowed Irvine to double his tally and secure the points for the home side to send the spectators back to their sofas and left-over turkey happy with their afternoon in the fresh air.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Crawley Town 1 Gillingham 2

Match 35/11/922 - Monday, 26 December 2011 - League Two

Crawley Town (1) 1 Tubbs 34 (pen)
Gillingham (0) 2 Kuffour 50,52
Att. 4,255

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 105/2,880
New Ground: 247

Match Report

Every club that leaves the Conference for the Football League departs the non-league scene with the best wishes of that fraternity, except one . . . Crawley Town.

Crawley supporters point to jealousy, similar to the green-eye that blighted Chelsea in years gone by and Manchester City of today. But those clubs were transparent as to where there money was sourced, two very rich men who were willing to use their clubs as boys toys, but Crawley are different, where does the wealth that took them from administration on two occasions to the Football League come from, the Football Association like the rest of us, would like to know. So far, despite the fair and proper person’s rule, Crawley’s mysterious backers remain unmasked.

But, it seems that it is not jealousy of wealth that tarnished their success in non-league it is the actions of a single man . . . Steve Evans, their buffoon of a manager and a man with a past as shady as the mysterious Crawley backers.

In 2006, Evans and the former chairman of Boston United, Pat Malkinson, were given suspended prison sentences after pleading guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue between 1997 and 2002. Evans’ QC said that the manager was a different person to the “bombastic” character that managed Boston from 1998, if that remains the case 10 years on, he still knows how to rub people up the wrong way.

The bitterness that followed Crawley’s defeat to Gillingham manifested itself as the floodlights were turned off as the visiting players were going through their warming-down and his after-match comments were those of a bitter man that not only does not like losing but cannot take losing.

Evans said: “The best team lost today . . . There will be parties in Gillingham tonight; it’s as if they have won the World Cup.” Excuse me, Mr Evans, whilst not dwelling on our past, we have been to the Championship and beaten the likes of Leeds United, Charlton Athletic and reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup, they were reasons for street parties, not beating a Fourth Division team in front of a Football League record crowd of just 4,255.

Twitter on Boxing Day evening was absolutely addictive as Gillingham fans, and supporters of erstwhile non-league opponents of Crawley, reacted to Evans’ comments. For those of you that don’t do Twitter a hash tag can get a comment “trending”, #steveevansisaknob became a trend. A female Wimbledon supporter, under the title afcw_alice posted, Glad you Football League fans are starting to realise what a vile man we have had to put up with for the past few years.

It is all quite sad really because Crawley Town as a club yesterday were warm and welcoming. Their stewards were polite and helpful and on leaving the stadium their fans were fine; one even shook hands on our victory.

Let’s give Mr Evans some latitude; he was probably right when he said that the best team lost, however bitter he sounded. Despite going down to 10 men following the sending off of Claude Davis after just 18 minutes, the league leaders on a record of 15 games without defeat, continued to take the game to their visitors with their front two, Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett a real handful.

In the opening stages of the game, Danny Kedwell was hauled to the ground by Pablo Mills, despite admitting to blue tinted glasses, it looked a nailed-on penalty but referee Darren Sheldrake waved away the appeals.

Davis’ dismissal was fully justified, a loose back pass was seized upon by Joe Kuffour and when the striker got clear of the giant defender, given Kuffour’s later opportunism, would almost certainly have scored had it not been for the clumsy challenge that earned the red card.

Gillingham failed dismally to take capitalise on their man advantage and quite frankly were pretty poor in a first half which ended with the home side with taking a 34th minute lead from the penalty spot after Matt Lawrence had needlessly pushed Kyle McFadzean in the back, allowing Tubbs to convert.

Midway through the half, there was an altercation on the touchline which evidently is going to be referred to the Football Association in the form of complaint against the coaching staff of Gillingham, pot kettle black.

The game was quickly turned on its head in two minutes early in the second half. Chris Whelpdale swung in a cross to the far post where Kuffour got in front of his marker to turn the ball in from close range. Two minutes later and the celebrating Gills following, a record for the Broadfield Stadium of 1,301, were delirious as Kuffour doubled his tally. Thirty-five yards from goal he took a pass from Luke Rooney to run at defenders already nervous of the damage he had caused with his pace, as they backed off he picked his spot with a low shot into the far corner past the despairing Scott Shearer.

Now needing to chase the game and a man light Crawley should have been ripe for picking off with counter attacking football, but Gillingham retreated and put their fans through 30 minutes of torture as the home side sought to salvage something from the game. One horror moment saw the ball inch past the post with Ross Flitney helpless following a Lawrence deflection, but it was the same defender that came to Flitney’s rescue on the stroke of the 90 minutes, beaten by Tubbs header, but Lawrence cleared from the line.

Luke Rooney’s return to first team action ended with a second yellow card in time added on, as the clock was finally wound down.

Broadfield Stadium just about meets the Football League criteria, but needs developing as they progress through the Divisions. Plans are being processed to develop the east side of the ground that at this time houses a couple of steps of uncovered standing. At present the Stadium is dominated by the West Stand which is a modern, functional structure running two-thirds of the length of the pitch. Behind both goals are covered terraced areas.

For my final paragraph I will return to Twitter and a late night posting from Matt Lawrence, who on the back of our World Cup Final winning match against Brazil went to bed with the Jules Rimet Trophy and we should also remember that next season we will be able to stitch a single gold star above our badge. For that, Mr Steve Evans, we thank you.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Gillingham 4 Bristol Rovers 1

Match 34/11/921 - Saturday, 17 December 2011 - League Two

Gillingham (2) 4 Montrose 8, Kedwell 45,74 (2 pens) Jackman 70
Bristol Rovers (0) 1 Carayol 49
Att. 7,750

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,775

Match Report

At the end of a week in which a seat at Priestfield Stadium was the hottest ticket in town, Gillingham finally proved in front of a big crowd that they can be box office.

Many season ticket holders experienced a week of frustration as they attempted to acquire their seats for the upcoming FA Cup tie against Stoke City. The club admitted that it had made a mistake linking the reduced price tickets for Saturday’s League Two fixture against Bristol Rovers with the cup game which culminated in the ticket office being besieged and the phone lines impenetrable. The new online ticketing service supposedly held up well but suffered from customers failing to input correctly as the majority were using it for the first time.

In front of the season’s best 7,750 Gillingham produced their most convincing home performance of the season with some fine individual performances. Danny Jackman was outstanding alongside Lewis Montrose, while Frank Nouble signed off his loan spell in fine style. Bristol Rovers had some useful attackers on show but, apart from a 20 minute spell after half time, Garry Richards marshalled a back line that kept them relatively quiet.

In the past Rovers giant keeper Scott Bevan, formerly with Torquay, has proved difficult to beat, but after just eight minutes a stooping header from Montrose into the bottom corner gave Gillingham an early lead.

Charlie Lee was able to make his Christmas plans midway through the half when a reckless challenge saw him receive his tenth yellow card of the season and a two match ban.

Gillingham increased their lead in time added on with a penalty from Danny Kedwell after Montrose had been brought down.

Bristol Rovers enjoyed their best period of the game immediately after half time and after 51 minutes Mustapha Carayol seized on poor control from Lee and waltzed into the penalty area to beat Ross Flitney from 12 yards. Flitney was called into action again before Gillingham restored their two goal advantage with 20 minutes remaining. Nouble powered into the box and unleashed a shot that Bevan could only beat away to Jackman who returned the ball with interest past the keeper.

The game ended as a contest four minutes later when Cian Bolger, on as a first half substitute, brought down Curtis Weston as he shaped to shoot and was shown the red card. Danny Kedwell confidently took the opportunity to seal the game from the spot to send home those that had acquired their tickets in anticipation of bigger fish to come happy whilst the more committed among us have a busy Christmas period to come including the visit to the Gatwick Galacticos and their much loved manager.

I leave the final paragraph of this posting to say farewell to the Medway News and Standard. In my early days following Gillingham, long before the internet, I would drive literally miles out of my way to pick up both papers. It is a sad consequence of the internet and its ability to deliver instant news that local papers have suffered and in the case of the News gone forever. I've dozens of old copies in my loft and they won't be heading to the recycling at any time in the future.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Macclesfield Town 0 Gillingham 0

Match 33/11/920 - Saturday, 10 December 2011 - League Two

Macclesfield Town (0) 0
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 1,724

Entrance: £14 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 506/2,730

Match Report

Thirteen-and-a-quarter hours of my life I’m not going to get back.

A brief glance at the text of the banner of this blog tells you I should not have been at Macclesfield yesterday. Far outside of my boundaries with fuel remaining at its prohibitive levels, another circumstance convinced me that this was a trip worth making, how wrong can you be?

I’ve a keen interest in family history and the paternal side of my family was largely based in the Macclesfield area at the turn of the 20th century and I recently discovered the whereabouts of my grandmother’s resting place at Macclesfield Cemetery, so we decided to combine Gillingham’s visit to Moss Lane with a trip to the cemetery. Armed with a map of the cemetery, that is 68 acres of vastness, a plot number and a grave number (how wonderful is the internet to supply all that information) we set out to fulfil this part of the day. Sadly, it didn’t go to plan, whether the grave never had a headstone or it has been flattened due to neglect, we were unable to find it, much to our disappointment.

Time for fish and chips and a stop off at the Mill Street Chippie, which on previous visits to Moss Lane had served up some of the best fish and chips on the League Two circuit. Unfortunately, our extended search at the cemetery had taken us past closing time at the chippie and we were left hungry. It became all the more frustrating later that evening reading on Twitter that the Gillingham players had used Mill Street for their post-match fish supper, with the journo singing the praises of his fish supper.

And on to the match . . . well the non-event that was the League Two encounter between two sides so damn awful they didn’t deserve the patronage of the paltry attendance of 1,724, at least 200 of which had a four hour journey home to reflect on the wasteful nature of the day.

Gillingham deserved to win the match by virtue of the fact they were the least shit of the two sides, hardly an accolade, Macclesfield were nothing short of shocking. Jose Veiga, in the Silkmen’s goal was called upon to make two second half saves of note from Curtis Weston and another from Danny Jackman, whilst Ross Flitney was untroubled and probably as bored as the rest of us. And not to bore the rest of you, there was absolutely nothing else worthy of mention.

It was cold; snow had covered the pitch earlier in the day but had been cleared by a bunch of willing volunteers, bet you wished you hadn’t bothered chaps!

Taking the positive, it was an away point against a side that has a pretty good home record, but that remained small compensation for a day of total frustration.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Leyton Orient 0 Gillingham 1

Match 32/11/919 - Saturday, 3 December 2011 - FA Cup 2nd Round

Leyton Orient (0) 0
Gillingham (1) 1 Weston 45
Att. 3,763

Entrance: £20
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 116/2,254

Match Report

Writing this column on a Sunday afternoon gives me the benefit of knowing the reward for Gillingham’s heroic efforts at Brisbane Road, home of League One Leyton Orient, more of that at the end of this posting. And whilst we are lauding the on-field performance of the boys in blue, let’s acknowledge the contribution of the 1,400 strong away support that made up almost 50 per cent of yesterday’s attendance. They sang their hearts out and without them the Matchroom stadium would have been little more than a morgue, not that the home side gave their supporters anything to cheer for long periods.

Without the availability of his loan players Andy Hessenthaler made the surprising choice of starting Stefan Payne alongside Danny Kedwell and, with Matt Lawrence missing through suspension, Charlie Lee was asked to reprise his role as emergency right back.

A minute’s applause prior to kick off was observed in memory of Gary Speed, a death that shook the football world a week ago. The referee’s whistle to end the applause served for Gills fans to up the decibels level in encouragement for the underdogs.

The opening exchanges appeared to be a private dialogue between Gillingham fans making appeals for handball and referee Phil Gibbs turning them down. A Curtis Weston shot was clearly blocked with the hand of an Orient defender, Mr Gibbs making the arguable decision that it was ball to hand. The second was far more controversial. Kedwell and ex-Gillingham defender Ben Chorley rose to meet a Lee cross, Kedwell won the header and ball struck Chorley’s hand that was at least head high, ball to hand this time, not with his hand that high. The visiting fans appealed loudly, once again to no avail in the eyes of the referee.

Gillingham’s deserved reward for a half of high endeavour came on the stroke of half time. A quick bit of thinking from Charlie Lee caught the home defence napping as his long throw found Weston inside the six yard box leaving the midfielder to hook the ball into the far corner of the net to the delight of the blue contingent.

Early in the second half Lee repeated the trick but Kedwell’s shot flew over the bar before the striker was involved in a bizarre incident on 56 minutes. A sliced clearance by O’s keeper Ben Alnwick fell invitingly at the feet of Kedwell, but with the ball spinning like a top, the Gillingham man failed to get a clean contact on his shot allowing Alnwick to redeem himself with a smothering save.

The last 20 minutes of the game became the time when the home side threw caution to the wind and for the first time Gillingham came under continuous pressure. Jamie Cureton had a chance, Lee Cook fired a free kick over the bar from a dangerous position and the referee turned away a penalty appeal after Stephen Dawson went down theatrically in the box.

For the first time the Gillingham fans noise was more in desperation than encouragement as the clock ticked into time added on. Then came a moment that was viewed in slow motion, but was over in a second, and we knew that this was to be our day. A corner was not properly dealt with and the ball fell to the QPR loanee Cook, whose well struck shot smacked against the crossbar and was cleared to safety to the relief of all concerned of a Kentish allegiance with the final whistle quickly following.

Since my last visit to Brisbane Road, the previous journey having been curtailed by the A12 gridlock, the empty space between the apartment blocks has been filled by the North Stand. It is a simple, unappealing structure but a damn sight better than the open space of previous visits. Behind the South Stand more apartments have been erected, doubtless these have produced lifesaving funds for the club and they have been well designed not to detract from the look of the stadium, unlike the main stand which I frankly find an absurd structure in the context of a football arena, with its office block dwarfing the seating below.

Back to Sunday afternoon and the reward came in the shape of a Third Round visit from Premiership Stoke City, with the added interest of a return to Priestfield for Tony Pulis and his back room team figuring Adrian Pennock and Mark O’Connor among their numbers. Mama Sidibe will probably not feature as he has only recently returned to fitness following a serious achilles injury, while Peter Crouch might like to reconsider his reference to Gillingham supporters as hillbillies before facing their wrath on January 7th. Duelling banjos anyone?

Tonbridge 1 Bishops Stortford 2

Match 31/11/918 - Tuesday, 29 November 2011 - FA Trophy 3QR Replay

Tonbridge (1) 1 Browning 8
Bishops Stortford (1) 2 Subuola 29 Gayle 75
Att. 274

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/2,138

Match Report

An FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round exit for Tonbridge comes as very little surprise as their record in this particular competition is pretty poor. Since Tommy Warrilow took charge in 2008 there have been defeats in the Trophy at the point of entry twice, whilst the year he took over from Tony Dolby he also lost at his first hurdle. The draw on most occasions has been unkind, but on this occasion having done what might have been considered the hard part and bringing Conference North side Bishop’s Stortford back to Longmead, there was an opportunity to progress with Ryman Premier club Carshalton the hosts awaiting the winners of this replay.

Tonbridge started well, were a goal to the good in seven minutes, quickly saw another chance go by and then their challenge evaporated to the dismay of the paltry attendance of 274, perhaps the stayaways knew something we didn’t.

It all looked fine and dandy after seven minutes when a ball over the top from Scott Kinch found Frannie Collin in space on the left hand side who then stood up the perfect cross for Lee Browning to head home from close range. Within two minutes of the goal, Collin was sent clear again but the pace of the Bishop’s Dave Adepipe was enough to deny the striker a clear run on goal.

The early inroads conspired to produce complacency and slowly the visitors gained a foothold in the game before their equaliser in the 29th minute. Adepipe slipped a pass to Danny Subuola whose shot from 20 yards found the bottom right hand corner of Lee Worgan’s net.

The game sprang to life after 25 minutes of the second half when a Danny Walder shot was beaten away by young Spurs’ loanee keeper Jordan Archer, in the resulting melee Kinch had two attempts to force the ball home but the Bishops stood firm. Whilst Tonbridge were in ascendancy with regards to possession they were getting regularly caught on the break by their visitors and Worgan was forced to make a diving save at his near post. The warning signs were not observed and when three successive corners were conceded it culminated in Dwight Gayle heading in from close range.

Tonbridge finally mustered a grandstand finish but on the night Archer, already a Scotland Under-18 international, showed that he is a fine prospect and repelled Collin with a fine save.

Tonbridge and cup competitions do not sit easily with one another and the £4,000 prize money on offer last night would have been useful money to fund some second half of the season strengthening that might well be needed when the Bristol Rovers loan pair return to their parent club.