Saturday, 28 January 2012

Tunbridge Wells 6 Fisher 1

Match 43/11/930 - Saturday, 28 January 2012 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (3) 6 McMath 4,48 Harris 25, Rook 33,66, Clarke 87
Fisher (1) 1 Wadmore 38
Att. 157

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/3,576

Match Report

Fisher goalkeeper, Joe Hagan, doesn’t know me from Adam, which is probably a good thing because had he, I’m sure he would see me as a vision of the Grim Reaper. To my knowledge I’ve only seen Joe play once before, standing in for Lee Worgan in Tonbridge’s pre-season friendly with Brentford which resulted in him picking the ball out of the net eleven times. Today, it was kept to a mere six, but with a couple of hit posts, a penalty miss and a couple of striking howlers, eleven might well have been reached again. Not that Joe was in any way to blame as his Fisher team mates in front of him defended like drains.

This was the game after the game before for Tunbridge Wells. Last week’s FA Vase elimination at the hands of St Ives, Cambridge was a disappointment for the club on the field, but off it was considered a great success. 404 people paid at the gate with upwards of 170 visiting supporters making the most of the bar facilities providing much needed revenue. An attendance for today’s Kent League match was a long way down at 157 but still constitutes a better than average turn-out.

Fisher are a club reborn from the ashes of Fisher Athletic, who back in 1987 were playing their football in the Conference and did so until 1991. From 2004, under the ambitious chairmanship of Sami Muduroglu, they were seen as the “money team” of non-league football and won promotion back to Conference South, finishing fourth in 2008. I have a fond memory of this period when in 2005, Tonbridge won an FA Cup tie at Champion Hill as underdogs. However, as with too many non-league clubs, the success was founded on debt and the club sank in May 2009 when they were wound up in the High Court. Fisher were reformed by a supporters trust following the winding-up.

Their old home at Surrey Docks, Rotherhithe still exists but football is no longer played there and in their new existence they continue to play at Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill.

Today’s game was very much one-way traffic following an early goal by Andy McMath converting Jon Pilbeam’s cross. By the half-hour mark, the unfortunate Hagan had seen the ball bounce of his posts twice and two more goals from Jack Harris and Ryan Rook as the Wells threatened to run riot. Fisher pulled a goal back before half time when a clear hand ball was missed by the referee, allowing Adam Wadmore to offer the Fish hope.

Fisher’s defence frailties were completely exposed in the second half as McMath and Rook completed doubles and Gary Clarke added a sixth.

For Tunbridge Wells, there is life after the FA Vase, as they continue their unlikely pursuit of Herne Bay but for Fisher, mere existence is something to cherish and one day a return to Bermondsey might be a reality, and may I say to Joe Hagan, best of luck if I’m in attendance at one of your games in the future!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Gillingham 3 AFC Wimbledon 4

Match 42/11/929 - Saturday, 21 January 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 3 Tomlin 4, 62 Kuffour 54
AFC Wimbledon (0) 4 L Moore 60, Richards (o.g.) 73, Midson 80 (pen), 89
Att. 6,236

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,350

Match Report

It would be easy to use this medium to launch into a rant about the shortcomings of Gillingham in this particular match, there were plenty and time will come later to report on them, but before then let me give a massive amount of credit to AFC Wimbledon. Since they demolished their hosts with an overwhelming first half display back in October they have hit a wall and their form has been poor, tumbling them from a top three position into the lower reaches of mid-table.

They were also missing their top scorer, Christian Jolley, through suspension and fell behind in just four minutes to a goal from Gillingham debutant Gavin Tomlin. It was a setback that could have swept their style of football off course but they continued to please the eye with a passing game that could only be admired. Falling 3-1 behind to a sucker goal having just found their way back into the match after an hour should have spelt the end of their challenge, but they fought their way back to produce a stunning finish to the game that would have delighted their 1,163 travelling supporters.

Having given out the credit, it is time to hand out the stick. Gillingham were not woeful for 90 minutes, but for those last 20 minutes they were unforgivable and their defending, using Andy Hessenthaler’s word, but also mine at the time, criminal. The manager now threatens to “bring in the kids” if those youngsters had made up the back line perhaps there would have been an excuse but this was an experienced set up that should have been able to see out the game to a successful conclusion.

But what of Hessenthaler’s role in this debacle? After last week’s ineffectual attacking performance at Shrewsbury he felt the need to bring into the side two newly signed strikers who were supposedly no more than 70 per cent fit and, as stated pre-match, unlikely to last the full 90 minutes. As it turned out, alongside the ever hard-grafting Danny Kedwell, they were causing havoc with their pace and were linking as if they had played as a trio for years rather than minutes. When Joe Kuffour was first substituted on 70 minutes and the score 3-1, it didn’t appear that the striker was labouring and, although I could not observe from my own seat, those that could commented that his body language was not that of a man who wanted to leave the field of play. At 3-3 and with five minutes of regular time remaining, Gavin Tomlin was also withdrawn; he had taken a slight knock earlier but once again didn’t appear to be unduly struggling. From the point of Kuffour’s substitution, the momentum completely shifted to the visitors who were good enough to exploit it to the full.

If we had hoped that a new partnership would blossom between Kuffour and Tomlin, nobody could have guessed that it would gel with such immediacy. Four minutes had elapsed when a Tomlin received a Danny Jackman pass, outpaced his marker and his shot from the edge of the box evaded the AFCW keeper, Seb Brown, who might consider that he should have saved it. Wimbledon recovered from the setback with a tempo and passing game that should have brought a reward before half time but it was Gillingham that went into the break with the advantage.

After eight minutes of the second half a brilliant through ball from Tomlin sent Kuffour on his way and he coolly slotted past Brown from the edge of the box to double the lead. On the hour, and in the space of a couple of minutes, Wimbledon deservedly found a way back into the game when a George Moncur pass found Gillingham’s right side devoid of personnel allowing Luke Moore a run on goal with the ex-Ebbsfleet striker beating Ross Flitney from eight yards only to see their route back foundering on the attacking potency of the home side’s front trio. Kedwell fed Kuffour down the right hand side and his near post cross was met with a header from Tomlin into the far corner to restore the two goal advantage.

I cannot believe that anybody in the 6,236 attendance at Priestfield envisaged a way back into the game for Wimbledon but on 73 minutes the dopiest of defending gave them hope. A short corner found Gillingham’s defenders sleeping in the box, Sam Hatton took full advantage and his cross was diverted into his own goal by Garry Richards.

With Kuffour gone and Kedwell now playing alone upfront the home side reverted to type and the ball over the top was aimless and Wimbledon were more than ready to seize their opportunity. Once again, crass defending, this time with Matt Lawrence laying hands on Jack Midson in the box to concede a soft penalty from which Midson himself converted to level the score line.

Two minutes of regular time remained when Gareth Gwillim swept in a left wing cross to the near post from where, was it a Joe Martin own goal or Midson with his second, no matter, the ball thundered into the net to complete an incredible fight back by the Dons. Five minutes were added offering the home side time to salvage a point but they were a spent force and nothing materialised to end the game to a chorus of boos and an awful lot of angry people making their way home with much of the blame heaped on the manager’s shoulders.

To the neutral this was a seven goal extravaganza, to the home fans it was bewildering quite how this game got away from their side but for the visitors, this will probably end as one of the highlights of their inaugural season in the Football League.

Did the result centre on the withdrawal of Kuffour, quite possibly. But, I think players themselves have to take some responsibility when a patent failure to do the jobs that they are paid for resulted in this major setback in their quest for automatic promotion. Neither full back can be judged to have covered themselves with glory when three of the four goals came from areas where a cross was delivered unopposed and Lawrence’s foul for the penalty was mostly about the lack of pace in his 38 year-old legs, prompting Hessenthaler to announce his recall of Connor Essam from his loan spell at Dartford. The manager’s choice of team at Accrington on Saturday is going to be his most interesting of the season thus far.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Staines Town P Tonbridge P

Tuesday, 17 January 2012 - Conference South

Staines Town P
Tonbridge P

Wasted Mileage: 136/3,315

Lightning might not strike twice but Jack Frost certainly can. Three years ago, the same journey was made on a day when Kent was snow covered and, despite assurances from the home club that the pitch had been deemed fit for the game to go ahead, I was met at the gate with the news that there had been a postponement after all.

All the same checks had been made before departing for this particular fixture, once again a pitch inspection had been made at 16:00 and passed by a local referee only for the match official to declare that a strip in front of a stand was too dangerous and decided that match could not go ahead.

A pint in the local pub was a small compensation and in there we met a Staines director who told us that the pitch was perfectly playable, in his opinion, and that the offending strip would be quickly cut up by the player's studs.

I jokingly asked the director if he could ensure that this fixture next season was given a August date as two out of three visits here to see no football is a percentage record that I would like to lower in the future.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ebbsfleet United 3 Chester 2

Match 41/11/928 - Saturday, 14 January 2012 - FA Trophy 2nd Round

Ebbsfleet United (1) 3 Willock 26, Mambo 55, Shakes 64
Chester (0) 2 McNeill 61 Rainford 72
Att. 1,387

Entrance: £7 Senior Citizen
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 65/3,179

Match Report

On the first cold afternoon of the season, Ebbsfleet and Chester richly entertained an attendance of 1,387 that had been swelled by a huge and highly vocal contingent from Cheshire.

It surprises me that in the five-plus years that I’ve been penning this blog I haven’t been to Stonebridge Road, given that I’ve been there many times previously. I like Stonebridge Road, formerly the home of Gravesend & Northfleet, and to old purists such as myself, will always be the home of Gravesend & Northfleet. The Chester vocalists may have sung, “Ebbsfleet’s a shithole, there’s holes in the roof”, but I prefer to refer to it as character. Since I last visited, the crumbling terrace of the Plough End has been replaced with seating, but everything else is much the same, except perhaps there are more holes in the roof of the Stonebridge Road stand.

It was an FA Trophy Round Two tie that brought the Cheshire faithful to Kent, and a boisterous, noisy lot they were! It is a strange phenomenon of modern day football that clubs fall by the wayside for mostly financial reasons and their rebirth is greeted with support of significantly greater fervour. Chester is one such club, alongside the likes of AFCs Wimbledon, Halifax and Telford.

The original club, Chester City (it was noted that their fans still sang, “Play Up City”), was beset by financial problems for 12 years before it was finally dissolved in March 2010, ironically its last match in January of that year was against Ebbsfleet. Much of their later troubles were under the stewardship of Stephen Vaughan, who failed the FA’s fit and proper person test following his involvement in a £500,000 VAT fraud at rugby league club Wigan Vikings, and was sent to prison for 15 months in 2011 for the assault of a police officer. After a failure to fulfil fixtures, Chester was expelled from the Conference and their record expunged.

From the debris, Chester were reformed as a supporter-owned club and began life at the start of the 2010-11 season in the Northern Premier League Division One North which they won at the first attempt and now lead the Northern Premier League by three points.

Ebbsfleet themselves are no strangers to financial uncertainty and whilst many would have the opinion that the MyFC template hasn’t really worked with its decreasing membership numbers, it is now in its fourth year of ownership. In its original form, MyFC had 32,000 members and paid £700,000 for its takeover but those numbers have now fallen to just 3,500 with the obvious decrease in available revenue. At the end of 2011, the club announced that it needed £50,000 to see it through to the end of the season and indeed there were bucket collections at the ground today.

In the wake of these difficulties, Liam Daish goes about his job as manager of the club, continually rebuilding sides that have to be torn apart to either provide funds or because of lack of funds. I’ve always held an admiration for the way in which Daish fronts up Radio Kent every week, win or lose with a refreshing honesty. After a year outside of the Conference, this season they are back, and whilst it continues to be a struggle as one of the lowest budgeted clubs, they are holding their own just below the mid-table mark.

As for this highly entertaining Trophy encounter, Chester made all the early running but fell behind to a sucker punch of a goal on 26 minutes. Michael West floated a corner to the near post from where Callum Willock converted with a close range header. It was far too simple and the confidence seemed to drain away from Chester almost immediately and they found themselves under pressure for the remainder of the half as Ebbsfleet held the ascendancy.

Chester’s resolve was seemingly broken early in the second half when Yado Mambo rose head and shoulders above the defence to head home West’s free kick after 55 minutes. But Chester did have more to give to the game and eight minutes later they were back in it when Matt McNeil’s diving header crept inside the post to give the Chester faithful the desire to up their own tempo.

These were frantic minutes as only three more elapsed before Ebbsfleet had restored their two goal advantage. A 20 yard shot from West was too hot to handle for John Danby and Ricky Shakes was on hand to gobble up the rebound, game safe . . . none of it.

Eighteen minutes remained when John Rainford’s shot took a deflection and wrong footed Preston Edwards to set up a barnstorming finish which featured attack and counter attack by both sides, until Ebbsfleet finally wound down the clock to earn their place in the last 16.

The match wasn’t attended strictly as a neutral, as I’m always going to show favour to the Kent side (perhaps even Maidstone!) but when you are less than committed to one team or the other a decent match is needed to make it enjoyable and this game was thoroughly enjoyable. Despite being two divisions lower, Chester gave a good account of themselves and their fans were great value, whilst Ebbsfleet deserved their win.

Hopefully it is not another five years before I return to Stonebridge Road by which time the £100,000 they “won” by having the worst loos in football would have been spent on brand new toilet facilities replacing the open air, pee against a wall box currently enjoyed(!) by the gents. Perhaps the Chester fans should have sang “Ebbsfleet’s a piss hole, they haven’t a roof”!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Gillingham 1 Stoke City 3

Match 40/11/927 - Saturday, 7 January 2012 - FA Cup 3rd Round

Gillingham (1) 1 Kedwell 16
Stoke City (2) 3 Walters 34, Jerome 44, Huth 47
Att. 9,872

Entrance: £24
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,114

Match Report

This was a FA Cup Third Round tie that rather slipped under the radar of the national press and television. It was as likely to produce an upset as Bristol Rovers v Aston Villa or Peterborough v Sunderland and the Birmingham v Wolves encounter was less than appealing to those outside of the Midlands; throw in the ingredients of the soap opera that was Pulis v Scally and it is surprising that it was largely ignored.

Tony Pulis walked the touchline to the dug-outs to a reception that must have stuck in the throat of the Gillingham chairman. Applause rang from all four sides of the stadium and the Stoke manager strayed 20 yards onto the pitch to acknowledge the acclaim. Whether Gillingham fans were fondly remembering his time at Priestfield that ended with his sacking after the 1999 play-off against Manchester City or whether they were taking sides in the dispute is for each and every home supporter to know their own reason, but as receptions for returning employees go, it was one of the most heartfelt I’ve known.

Pulis left Priestfield not only with a place in the Fourth Round but also holding much of the dignified high ground as Scally’s pre-match interview and programme notes left no doubt that there would be not reconciliation, no forgiveness and a ban on Pulis from entering anything other than the away dressing room and the dug-outs will only be perceived as petty.

The “most evil and despicable person [Scally] has ever worked with” has a team that has the character of the Gillingham side that he managed. As the teams lined up for the customary handshakes it appeared that the little people of Lilliput had been set in a scene from Land of the Giants, Stoke City were positively huge. Their physicality, especially at set pieces, always left the feeling they were less susceptible to an upset than some of the fancy-dan Premiership sides that might not have fancied a day out with fourth division terriers snapping around their heels.

Ultimately, that was the way the game worked out. Gillingham manfully tried, but could not withstand the aerial assault delivered from Rory Delap throw-ins and high crosses into the box, but for half-an-hour home supporters were dreaming as their favourites not only matched their illustrious opponents, but had the temerity to grab the opening goal after 16 minutes.

A cross from Danny Jackman was headed on by Chris Whelpdale leaving Danny Kedwell at the far post to tuck the ball home from close range to raise the roof at a sold-out Priestfield. The goal reaffirmed the belief with which Gillingham had begun the game and a run from centre defence, skipping a couple of challenges like a creative midfielder, from Matt Lawrence brought the house down.

Sadly it was not to last and the home side will rue a soft goal that allowed the Potters back into the match on 34 minutes. Gillingham failed to clear their lines and Cameron Jerome and Jon Walters combined to leave the Irishman to fire a shot under the body of Ross Flitney, who might have done better in his attempt to save what was a half-hit effort.

Gillingham desperately needed to get to the break on level terms but almost inevitably fell behind to the Delap missile thrower with a minute left on the clock. The long-throw was met by a Ryan Shawcross header that cannoned back off the bar with Jerome reacting quickest to lift a shot high into the net for a half-time lead that was felt to be undeserved.

The game was ended as a contest three minutes into the second half as once more Gillingham succumbed to the aerial advantage that Stoke clearly enjoyed. A corner from Wilson Palacios was met with a soaring header from Robert Huth, who was literally head and shoulders above any challenge as his header powered in from around the penalty spot.

Embarrassment might well have followed but Gillingham dug in, perhaps with the aid of the foot coming off the pedal from their visitors, and continued to make a game of it throughout an entertaining second period. Danny Kedwell was replaced by Dennis Oli, as it was later revealed he had broken a rib, whilst Luke Rooney and Stefan Payne were also introduced as Andy Hessenthaler made a positive attempt to retrieve the game.

Rooney brought a save from Begovic and Jackman was denied a penalty appeal as referee Mark Halsey failed to redeem himself in the eyes of Gillingham fans for his bad timekeeping of 1999.

At the final whistle, Gillingham had given their supporters much to be proud of, I cannot help but think that Paul Scally did less so. As Ronan Keating once sang “you say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Friday, 6 January 2012

Gillingham 1 Aldershot 0

Match 39/11/926 - Monday, 2 January 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Jackman 46
Aldershot (0) 0
Att. 5,432

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,069

Match Report

Gillingham recovered from their New Year hangover and the disappointing defeat at Dagenham to win a hard-fought three points against Aldershot. Over the Christmas period they have probably got the point’s total that could have been reasonably expected. From two away games they won the one they expected to lose and lost the one they expected to win and added the home win to round off the festive season.

The opening half of this encounter was a turgid affair with the only incidents of note being a booking for Joe Martin after just 40 seconds and two opportunities for Gillingham defenders Matt Lawrence and Andy Frampton that were spurned. Martin’s booking was to eventually culminate in his sending off following a second yellow on the hour mark. It could be argued that a referee leaves himself nowhere to go if he brandishes the card so early and for the defender’s first challenge, but it was a foul that would have earned a card later in the game, so in my opinion the referee called it right.

Gillingham came quickly out of the blocks in the second half and were ahead in the first minute in a move that took on the guise of a gentleman’s excuse me. Lewis Montrose set up a chance for Curtis Weston who decided he could not find a clear shooting opportunity so passed it onto Danny Kedwell, who also tried to fashion a shot but decided it wasn’t for him, so one final pass went to Danny Jackman who found the space and the angle to tuck a shot past Shots keeper, Ross Worner.

Jermaine McGlashan, who I can remember from his non-league days, tormented Martin all afternoon, before the defender saw red for a challenge on the bye-line leaving Gillingham to mount a rearguard action for the last half-hour. This they did relatively comfortably, Ross Flitney had to make two routine saves, but a block made by Lawrence in time added on not only won the game for the home side but also greatly contributed to his man of the match award.

Gillingham go into the New Year handily placed inside the play-off positions, but this game was a reminder of the early season struggle with Kedwell playing alone upfront. Hopefully, Joe Kuffour will return either as a permanent signing or another loan spell, if not then somebody else is desperately needed to support Kedwell.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Tonbridge 1 Bromley 1

Match 38/11/925 - Sunday, 1 January 2012 - Confeerence South

Tonbridge (0) 1 Henry 77
Bromley (0) 1 Rhule 81
Att. 905

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,024

Match Report

Midway through the second half with a break in the play due to an injury the referee took the opportunity to roll the ball along the sodden turf and toss it in the air to see whether it would bounce. It failed dismally to pass the bounce test but rolled far enough to convince the official that despite the fact it continued to throw it down the game could continue.

The referee, Mr Ryan Atkins, used a great deal of common sense during the game allowing for the conditions when a couple of mistimed challenge occurred and with the game poised at 0-0 it must have been tempting to bring it to a halt at that particular point.

Both struggled manfully with the conditions and produced an entertaining game with everything considered, splashing their way through pools of water reminiscent of the iconic Tom Finney picture of many moons ago. Another worthy mention was the attendance of 905 who could easily have chosen an afternoon watching an old black and white movie rather than face the elements.

The Tonbridge element in the crowd was mighty pleased with the referee’s decision when Chris Henry fired them into a 77th minute lead with a low shot into the bottom left corner from 20 yards. Unfortunately the lead lasted just four minutes when two Bromley substitutes combined for the equaliser. Ibra Sekajja cut the ball back from the bye-line for Aaron Rhule to tuck the ball home from close range.

Nathan Koranteng made his debut for Tonbridge following his signing from Borehamwood and made a decent impression, once again taking in account it wasn't the conditions for a ball carrying winger. It was a game for defenders to dig in, judge their tackles carefully and for this Sonny Miles was a good choice as man of the match.

As we enter the New Year, a rough estimate would be that four more wins should be enough to secure Tonbridge’s status in Blue Square South, but an eight game winless run needs arresting sooner rather than later.