Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gillingham 2 Torquay United 0

Match 48/11/935 - Saturday, 25 February 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 2 King 51, Kedwell 90+4 (pen)
Torquay United (0) 0
Att. 4,865

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,763

Match Report

The King is Back, Long Live the King.

Simon King, who has had to endure the best part of three years of injury hell, has now played three games in the space of eight days and has contributed greatly to successive clean sheets at Priestfield. Gillingham finally put their eight game run without a win behind them with a well-deserved win over play-off chasing Torquay United and it was Simon King who set them on their way with a 51st minute headed goal.

In normal circumstances it would have been no surprise that Andy Hessenthaler opted for an unchanged side following Tuesday’s improved performance against Rotherham, but doubts will always be raised about King’s capacity to play games in quick succession, but play he did and was the undoubted man of the match, not just for his goal but his resolute defending alongside teenager Connor Essam, who also produced another worthy performance.

So Gillingham’s season, for whom obituary notices had been penned, not least in this column, has new life breathed into it. Dare we believe that they can be in contention in April, on the strength of this performance, we should.

The youngsters have brought a new enthusiasm to the side and lifted the morale on the terraces. Their performances were not faultless, but that is what you get with youth, sometimes their judgement can be questioned. But when you watch Paulo Gazzaniga’s victorious celebrations in front of the Rainham End, the mood quickly becomes infectious.

The home side so nearly started the game in the worst possible manner. Danny Stevens got inside Jack Evans and curled a shot to the far corner that struck the woodwork before being cleared to safety. The first half was very watchable with both sides carving out chances, Tomlin was the chief threat for Gillingham, whilst ex-Gill Rene Howe was a difficult customer, but being well contained by King and Essam.

The second half began with a chance at both ends in the opening minute. Joe Kuffour narrowly failed to get on to the end of a Tomlin cross and at the other end, Howe capitalised on a mistake by King, but was stopped from getting his shot away by a superbly timed tackle from Essam.

Gillingham took the lead following a Danny Jackman corner that was headed on by Danny Kedwell and met with a diving header from King that beat Gulls’ keeper, Bobby Olejnik. It was three years ago that the central defender last saw his name on the score sheet and his delight was shared by all but the 236 Torquay supporters that had made the long trip from the West Country.

Sensing a long-awaited win, the home crowd rose to the occasion and Gillingham had several chances to seal the game before suffering a final five minutes anxiety attack. Firstly, Gazzaniga was booked for a challenge outside of his area, from which Kevin Nicholson’s free kick whistled across the face of the goal and Taiwo Atieno should have buried a header in time added on, but steered it wide of the post.

Gillingham fans were finally put out of their misery with the virtual last kick of the match. Tomlin, once more weaved his magic into the box where he was brought down by Torquay defender. It was a clear penalty that appeared to have been turned away by the referee but awarded after the intervention of the linesman. Joe Oastler was given his marching orders, but it was seemingly Brian Saah that had committed to offence. Kedwell struck his penalty firmly to Olejnik’s right to secure the three points.

Tuesday night’s match against Hereford United will come around very quickly for Simon King, can he play a fourth match in just 10 days, our best wishes go with him as a player that deserves a break and three more points against relegation-threatened opposition would further the newly-found optimism around Priestfield.

Gillingham 0 Rotherham United 0

Match 47/11/934 - Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Rotherham United (0) 0
Att. 3,248

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,718

Match Report

The rot has been stopped, it was an improvement, it was a clean sheet and the newly introduced youngsters all acquitted themselves admirably, all positive conclusions to be drawn.

However, it was another game without winning, a run now totalling seven games, and the deficit between Gillingham and the play-off places widened a little more.

But the most disturbing statistic of the night was the attendance of 3,248, the lowest since 1995, the worst of the Scally era. We are now down to the hard-core support with I suspect even a few season ticket holders giving this re-arranged game a swerve. Saturday attendances tend to hold up better and this weekend’s visit from Torquay United is also a game covered by the Sun offer, but I really fear that Tuesday night’s match against Hereford United, who are probably going to struggle to match Rotherham’s massed ranks of 57, might well see the gate tumble below the 3,000 mark.

Andy Hessenthaler felt that the previous weekend’s defeat at Port Vale had shown sufficient promise for him to name an unchanged side. Simon King was fit enough to play a second match in three days and youngsters Jack Evans and Connor Essam retained their places in a completely changed back four from the last home game. Evans went on to win the man of the match award, King would have been my pick and Essam, along with Paulo Gazzaniga between the sticks, did very little wrong.

Gillingham had the best of the chances in the first half hour. Joe Kuffour shot into the side netting, Curtis Weston spurned a golden chance on 18 minutes and on the half hour, Evans showed his confidence with the well hit drive from 30 yards that cleared the cross bar, but not by much.

However, it was Rotherham that had the ball in the net after 37 minutes. Danny Harrison’s header appeared to be goalbound until Lewis Grabban inexplicably touched the ball over the line with his hand, to not only disallow the goal but earn him a booking for his trouble.

Gillingham began the second half in the ascendancy forcing several corners but as the half wore on it was the visitors that finished the stronger. At the final whistle it had been a valiant effort from the back four to preserve their clean sheet and the man of the match award could have gone to any one of them.

One might guess that it is going to take a lot more than a goalless draw to entice the less committed back to Priestfield this season and despite the improvement in performance there was little to suggest that Gillingham are about to embark on a winning run that will put them back among the play-off hopefuls. It will be interesting to see how this team might evolve over the coming couple of months with a couple more youngsters waiting in the wings for their chance, but that alone will not be enough to fill an empty seat near you.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Tonbridge 3 Weston-super-Mare 0

Match 46/11/933 - Saturday, 18 February 2012 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 3 Collin 51,71 Main 90+2
Weston-super-Mare (0) 0
Att. 642

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,673

Match Report

As I walked away from Longmead this afternoon, the steady rain had saturated my jeans to the point that they were sticking to my legs, I was cold but I was happy and that is the major difference at present between visits to Tonbridge and visits to Gillingham.

Both sit in similar positions in the table, neither are likely to get sucked into a relegation battle and whilst the management at both clubs may make positive noises, it is unlikely that either will challenge for a play-off place. Expectation is the reason for the difference in emotion; consolidation in Blue Square South was the principle ambition for most levelled-headed Tonbridge supporters, so much more was expected from Gillingham. Tonbridge have delivered, Gillingham have not.

It was not the rain but a strong cross-field wind that make the playing conditions difficult in a first half that failed to deflect attention from the cold and the rain. Tonbridge had a couple of reasonable penalty shouts turned away, after 10 minutes Frannie Collin was felled in the area and this was quickly followed by an appeal for hand ball both of which failed to convince the referee. When the first 45 minutes had elapsed it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that it had been dull, in fact, very dull.

The second period was a far more entertaining affair with chances aplenty for both sides. Weston-super-Mare opened with a good chance wasted after Ben Judge was caught in possession before Tonbridge took the lead on 51 minutes. This goal was the inspiration of a fellow Angels supporter, Tim Balsdon. Tonbridge were awarded a free kick some distance from the goal, upwards of 40 yards. Tim’s opinion was that a shot was in order given the conditions, swirling wind, wet ball, it was just worth a punt and that is exactly what happened. Collin struck the ball hard and true, it flew directly at WsM’s keeper, Lloyd Irish, who allowed the ball to squirm from his hands and into the net. Poor goalkeeping, great punditry!

Weston-super-Mare went in search of an equaliser and chance after chance went begging by reason of bad finishing and some last-ditch defending. The visitors paid for the profligacy after 73 minutes when Collin showed why he is such a highly rated striker. Rory Hill and Chris Piper carved open a chance for Collin to drive an angled shot into the bottom left hand corner from 20 yards.

Frannie Collin was withdrawn with five minutes remaining and he must have privately cursed his manager for depriving him of a hat-trick when Sonny Miles was brought down in the box to allow Collin’s replacement, Jon Main, to score from the spot.

Gillingham slumped to a sixth successive defeat at Port Vale, but my afternoon’s drenching had been worthwhile.

Gillingham 1 Southend United 2

Match 45/11/932 - Monday, 13 February 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Tomlin 85
Southend United (2) 2 Dickinson 10 Martin (o.g.) 30
Att. 4,441

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,647

Match Report

It is said that James Patterson can write a full length novel in just 10 days, should the American author have enough knowledge about English football to pen a mere 100 words about this match, he would be struggling with writer’s block.

Gillingham have now suffered four successive League defeats and are plunging into mid-table obscurity with the thought that this season could be written off in mid-February. The points deficit between them and a play-off place might appear to be well within reach, but the lasting impression from this defeat is that this season is heading in only one direction, south.

Southend went to the top of the table on the strength of their win, but my overall impression of them was of a side that are not particularly attractive on the eye, very direct but good at what they do.

Following the defensive debacle at Accrington, changes were spoken about but none materialised and two shocking bits of defending embarrassed the club in front of the Sky cameras. After 10 minutes, ex-Gillingham full back Sean Clohessy crossed into the box and after the ball was nodded on, Liam Dickinson had the freedom of Priestfield to slot past Paulo Gazzaniga from close range. On the half-hour, Dave Martin was allowed to run half the length of the pitch unchallenged before his low cross was turned into the net by Joe Martin under pressure from Kane Ferdinand.

It was a half in which Gillingham had contributed absolutely nothing and the jeers that accompanied the half time whistle were fully justified. Hessenthaler replaced the frankly awful Matt Lawrence with Jack Evans and Jack Payne, on the bench as not considered fully fit, replaced Lewis Montrose. Lawrence’s lack of pace is hopelessly exposed at full back, a Millwall supporter tells me he was a liability in that position at 28 years old, so at 38, need I say more.

Gillingham made a much better fist of the second half largely because of the efforts of Jack Payne. The back line looked marginally more comfortable with him patrolling in front of them and it was mainly from his creativity that the forwards got a little extra service.

From a game of mind-numbing mediocrity came with a moment of magic from Gavin Tomlin. Five minutes remained when he received a pass from Curtis Weston, the on-loan winger cut in from the right with four defenders queuing to stop him in his tracks. He rode a couple of challenges, weaved his way through all four before unleashing an unstoppable angled shot high into the roof of the net from a couple of yards inside the box. It was completely out of character for the game and was undeserving of the tag of a consolation goal, but, of course, that is what it was.

The arrival of the Sky cameras contributed to Gillingham’s lowest home League attendance of the season as punters opted for the warmth of their armchairs despite the slight rise in temperature following the harsh cold snap. If this season is about to lose its interest then those fans might well be spending a few more match days parked in front of the box and on the evidence of this game, nobody will blame them.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

William Tomkinson 1921-2012

My Dad died on Tuesday, 7th February 2012. William “Bill” Tomkinson not only gave me life, he gave me football.

He took me to my first-ever game at Tonbridge (those days without the Angels), principally to see Charlie “Cannonball” Fleming, an ex-Sunderland centre forward, on his way to retirement via Bath City, and this led to my own life-long affiliation with Tonbridge Football Club.

In 1958, he always swore that he took me to see the Busby Babes in their last game on English soil, the legendary game that finished 5-4 to Manchester United, his own lifetime passion, having been born in Stockport in 1921. I can remember that he went to that game but I’ve never been convinced that I went with him, but how I would love that to be true.

For Christmas 1965, Mum and Dad bought me tickets for all the games played at Wembley during the 1966 World Cup, including the Final, another memory to be cherished which needs no explaining.

I was able to start repaying my debts of gratitude to him in 1968, when I was able to get him (and myself) a ticket for the European Cup Final win against Benfica at Wembley.

After Mum died and wishing to involve him we started taking him to Gillingham, he enjoyed it of sorts, but always complained they kicked the ball in the air too much, nothing much has changed there then! But I’ll never forget the hug that followed our Wembley win in 2000.

Rest in Peace Dad, if you see Big Duncan Edwards in Heaven’s Stadium, tell him he’s still the Greatest and raise a glass, but not too many, with Georgie Best.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tonbridge 2 Dartford 4

Match 44/11/931 - Tuesday, 31 January 2012 - Kent Senior Cup

Tonbridge (1) 2 Piper 12, Korenteng 47
Dartford (0) 4 Pallen 53 Graham 66, 110 Burns 113
After extra time, score at 90 minutes: 2-2
Att. 380

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,602

Match Report

It has to be sods law that on a night of absolutely freezing temperature the game you have braved the cold to watch goes into extra time and isn’t it strange that, despite two pairs of socks, the cold that was starting to attack the toes hurts all the more as the team you support goes 4-2 down.

This was a Kent Senior Cup Quarter Final with an extra incentive, that of a semi-final date at home to League One leaders Charlton Athletic. Kent, London Borough of Greenwich, with a London SE7 postcode, all issues that have been well discussed in the build-up to the game, but suffice to say that the competition is all the better for Charlton, Gillingham and perhaps Millwall next year participating. Over 900 people attended Charlton’s previous round encounter at Margate, albeit that they are using a largely reserve side, so the prize on offer was well worth having.

Dartford are a very strong side and on the night fought back from two goals down to force the game into the extra time that nobody wanted and then have the quality on the bench to make the difference to win the tie. They made six changes from the side that thrashed Thurrock on Saturday to maintain their challenge on Woking’s perceived runaway lead at the top of Conference South, whilst Tonbridge happily (well I am) embedded in mid-table fielded as strong a side as they could muster in search of some silverware from the season’s endeavours.

The first half was an even encounter with Tonbridge taking an early lead through Chris Piper and both sides had opportunities to add to the half time scoreline. Tonbridge lost Joe Benjamin after half-an-hour and their threat from the flanks diminished significantly. Tim Olorunda was drafted into a full back position with the ensuing reshuffle from which he looked uncomfortable throughout, especially faced with Richard Graham who could easily have been thought of as the man of the match.

Tonbridge’s goal came from a surging run through the middle of the pitch by Piper who laid the ball down the left to Ade Olorunda whose cross was only partially cleared back to Piper who drove home from inside the box.

The second half began with further success for the home side after just two minutes. Piper picked out Nathan Korenteng with a fine pass into the box and the winger fired low into the bottom corner to double the advantage. Tonight was only the second time I’ve seen Korenteng and he looks a great signing.

If only Tonbridge could have held that two goal lead into the last 20 minutes the game might well have had a different conclusion but within five minutes Dartford had regained a foothold in the game. Graham was allowed to get in a cross from the left and Jack Pallen scored from close range following Ryan Hayes’ knock back into the centre of the goal.

Tonbridge became further disjointed when Ade Olorunda was forced from the field to be substituted by the returning Jon Main, who had been out of action since September. Dartford levelled the scoreline after 66 minutes, Graham firing high into the net from close range after Lee Burns had crossed from the right.

At this point, Dartford were in such ascendancy it was strongly felt that they would go on to win the game in regulation time, but as time elapsed, Tonbridge also had opportunities to take the tie. Main shot wide from a great position on the edge of the box; top scorer Frannie Collin also shot high and wide having appeared to have done the hard work in creating the opportunity with some deft footwork.

Dartford manager, Tony Burman, used the strength of his squad from the bench with automatic first team selections Danny Harris, Jon Wallis and Elliott Bradbrook introduced to the fray. The extra quality and fresh legs determined the outcome to the game. In the second period of extra time and with 10 minutes remaining, Graham converted a cross from the right from close range with give the Darts the lead for a first time and three minutes later Wallis set up Burns to seal the victory. Two goals adrift and Jack Frost biting at the toes was reason enough to call it a night.

Good luck to Dartford in their pursuit of Woking, it would be nice to see another Kent club in Conference National and with all due respect to our friends from SE7, it would be better if a Kent club won the Senior Cup but we certainly thank them for their participation giving the competition a much needed lift.