Sunday, 25 March 2012

Havant and Waterlooville 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 56/11/943 - Saturday, 24 March 2012 - Conference South

Havant & Waterlooville (0) 1 Nanetti 69
Tonbridge (1) 1 Browning 90+2
Att. 708

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 202/4,388
New Ground: 248

Match Report

The sun shone down on Tonbridge Angels at Havant, and many would say that the sun has shone on them for the most part of their inaugural season in Conference South. This hard-earned point at Westleigh Park takes their total to 52, retains their position at eighth place, both of which were beyond most people’s expectations back in August.

This wasn’t one of Tonbridge’s better performances and it took a 25-yard strike from Lee Browning in time added-on to rescue a point against relegation-threatened Havant and Waterlooville who had been reduced to 10 men with the sending off of Oliver Palmer on 63 minutes.

There was a strong Tonbridge presence enjoying the spring sunshine outside the home club’s Westleigh pub before the game and they were the set of supporter’s that celebrated the draw at the end of the match. The Havant support was infuriated by a refereeing decision that turned away a penalty appeal in the dying seconds, from a distance it was certainly a shout that I have seen given, but the referee chose to book Christian Nanetti for diving.

Tonbridge started brightly, a Chris Piper shot clipped the bar on its way over and Miguel Suarez headed wide when he had time to bring the ball under control and shoot. The visitors suffered a setback on 11 minutes when Jon Heath had to be withdrawn following a knock in the opening minutes, Robbie Kember replacing him at full back.

The game settled into an even contest before Tonbridge had an assault on the Havant goal on 25 minutes that should have yielded the opening goal. Frannie Collin shot low and hard forcing Hawks’ goalkeeper, Lyall Beasely into a parrying save into the path of Suarez. As the giant centre forward closed in, the keeper dived at his feet to smother his toe-poked effort.

Havant finished the half with greater attacking intention with, firstly, Scott Jones making the most of an Ollie Schultz error to cross across the face of goal, Palmer failing narrowly to get a touch and Lee Worgan gathered a well struck shot from Scott Ramsey. In between Palmer picked up an unnecessary yellow card for petulantly throwing the ball into the ground after not getting a decision to his liking.

The first half had been one in which Tonbridge had failed to utilise the width that is offered by Rory Hill and Nathan Korantang and far too often resorted to the long high ball to Suarez, of which he won most but the understanding between him and Collin seemed off colour. The start of the second half saw Tonbridge get the lively Korantang more on the ball and his pace was often too much for the Hawks’ back line.

The game appeared to turn in the visitors’ favour when Palmer was sent off for a late challenge on Danny Walder after 73 minutes. The Havant youngster has apparently attracted the attention of Chelsea, unfortunately he will need to adjust his temperament to find his way into their ranks as this was a completely senseless sending off. Walder had long since hooked the ball back to his goalkeeper before Palmer clattered in to earn a second yellow to add to his needless first half card.

Havant’s 10 men fought their way back into the game and when Chris Arthur seized on a mistake from Kember, he powered forward, rounded Worgan and crossed for Nanetti to poke home from close range, it was a classic counter attack that had left the Angels short at the back. Tonbridge suffered at the hands of Havant’s renewed confidence and Worgan had to be at his best to save with his legs from Jones.

With 15 minutes to go, Tommy Warrilow went for broke, substituting Kember for Joe Benjamin and going three at the back. It eventually paid dividends in time added-on. Collin’s free kick was only cleared to the edge of the box from where Browning fired into the top corner to the delight of the visiting support.

Time added-on proved to be the most dramatic period of the game. Havant had the penalty appeal that much infuriated their fans when Nanetti took his tumble in the box and Tonbridge might well have stolen the points in the very last attack of the game when Schultz crashed a header against the bar from a corner kick. The game ended honours even and fairly so.

Westleigh Park is a nice stadium with cover on all four sides. There is a main stand that I would estimate holds around the 500 mark seated and there is fairly shallow terracing on the other three sides. It is aesthetically not pleasing on the eye, but very functional at this level, in fact I would say it is precisely what Tonbridge require along their uncovered, unterraced side at Longmead.

Tonbridge’s ambitions for the season are chasing seventh place and perhaps overhauling old foes Dover, one might happen, one probably will not. The Hawks continue their relegation tussle and I wish them well, as my day in the Hampshire sunshine was most enjoyable.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Tonbridge 3 Truro City 0

Match 55/11/942 - Saturday, 17 March 2012 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 3 Collin 40 Suarez 50 Browning 85
Truro City (0) 0
Att. 639

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/4,186

Match Report

That’ll be the Day usually focuses on my day at football, but because of the unique nature of this fixture, today this blog becomes That’ll be their Day.

As Truro City’s supporters embarked on their 600 mile-plus round trip to Longmead for a first-ever time, Tonbridge fans had already made the reverse visit back in November when they descended on the Cornish town in numbers, many making a weekend of it. For them it carried a novelty factor, for the Truro travelling support today was no novelty, it happens every other week.

To put into perspective their geographical isolation, their local derby is against Weston-super-Mare, a round trip of over 200 miles. Next Saturday, Tonbridge visit Havant and Waterlooville, which is roughly an equivalent distance, could we imagine that fixture as local, I think not.

I met up with a group of Truro supporters in the George and Dragon before the game to talk with them about their experiences in this, as it is for Tonbridge, their first season in Blue Square South. My opening question was met with some laughter, though it was simple enough, how has your season been? Where do you want to start, the threat of liquidation, a transfer embargo, a date at the High Court, and some football thrown in for good measure, it has had it all, this was the reason for their laughter.

Not being a proper journalist, I explained that it was more the personal experiences that I was looking for, and to this Steve relates that it has been a blast. He recounted that every trip has been an experience, everywhere they have pitched up they have been treated with kindness and friendships have been forged along the way with tales of bangers and mash at Chelmsford and drinking the clubhouse dry at Welling. It is what football should be about, it is what non-league football is about.

Their stories might have been about famous victories and more than a few beers along the way, but sadly it is a season that will ultimately be clouded by a tragic accident. On the return journey from their encounter with Dover, a car carrying three Truro supporters was involved in an accident and one of the club’s most stalwart supporters, Gillian Alderman, lost her life. It was with tears welling in his eyes that Steve commented that the sadness put into perspective the wins and the losses, or the financial problems of the club, Truro City will always live to fight another day. It was also a story that brought great satisfaction that the football family comes together in the face of tragedy with Welling and Havant supporters organising a collection at their fixture and raising a £140 for the families. The football family once again came together this weekend as the Fabrice Muamba situation brought them together as one. Ivor's own story was one of sadness, having lost his wife a year ago, he was thankful to his fellow Truro supporters for the support that had been given during this time, once more showing the value of the football family. Referring back to the accident, the news that the other two people in the car, Bob Fagan and John Salisbury, who had left hospital in the week was at least reason to be cheerful.

JP’s day had started when they left Truro at 7 a.m. TISA have an account with a local car hire company whereby they hire a seven-seater car at a competitive rate, a very friendly car hire company I would have to say! The seven of them throw around £20 each into the kitty for the hire and the petrol and if there is any excess then it goes into a pot for the Truro Independent Supporters Association (TISA). In the wake of the financial problems, it might be that sometime in the future, TISA’s funds will be called upon and when I touched on Kevin Heaney’s chairmanship of the club, it was apparent that there is a divergence of opinion of the man.

From a completely outsider’s point of view collected from the many column inches that have been written about Truro’s plight and Heaney’s courtship with Plymouth Argyle, personally I would have felt a little betrayed by his pursuit of the League Two club. Steve gave a far more conciliatory viewpoint although his friend, JP appeared to differ.

Steve felt that Heaney always had Truro’s future at heart when he negotiated with the administrator for the purchase of Argyle. The rules of the Football League do not allow for one person to be in ownership of two clubs, even if one is outside of the Football League. It is Steve’s contention that their chairman never wanted to own the footballing side of the Plymouth Argyle, his intention was the purchase of Home Park and then to lease it back to the club, therefore earning money that could be put into the coffers of Truro City. It was a purely business interest, but once again from an outsider’s view, business deals of this nature in football are universally greeted with scepticism from the fans.

We touched on the envy, jealousy, call it what you will, that has followed Truro’s rise through the lower reaches of the football pyramid to their position within the Conference set up today. These Truro supporters readily accept that as it has been funded by a wealthy man that sort of animosity was inevitable and, to a degree, understandable. A point that was strongly made was that while rivals might point at expensive signings that have won Truro titles, Barry Hayles apart, a player that is on significant wages according to rumour, the team is entirely made up of West Country players. Once again their geographic isolation makes it difficult to recruit players from anywhere else.

Steve also made the remark that this season the fans have also had to make an adjustment and that was to losing football matches something they had not been used to in recent years. They had started the season with the same success as previous terms with three straight victories, two of which against clubs that have subsequently been part of the group chasing champions-elect Woking, Chelmsford City and Dover Athletic. Four straight defeats followed, leaving those fans staring at the reality that this season would probably be one of consolidation, and once the financial difficulties surfaced they were looking into a far greater abyss. Thankfully the tax man was ultimately paid off at the eleventh hour and whilst the transfer embargo remains in place, it appears that the club has stabilised. For us, as Tonbridge fans, consolidation in Blue Square South was always the ambition, but when you’ve had the success that Truro have had in recent years, it is understandable that JP’s expectations were much higher.

Travel and cash fatigue unfortunately cut Truro’s numbers at Longmead, but those that made the trip proved to be an enthusiastic bunch that loudly showed their support despite their side producing a tired looking performance. Their right back, Barry McConnell, perhaps summed up their travel weariness when having launched a clearance out of the ground answered a heckle with the comment, “Give us break mate, I’ve been up since five”!

The game itself proved to be a rather one-sided affair. Tonbridge’s recent good run of form has now lifted them to a lofty eighth place in the table, whilst the Truro supporters will be looking just a little anxiously over their shoulders sitting six points above the dreaded dotted line.

The home side dominated the first half albeit that it took most of it to find the opening goal. Rory Hill, who was a constant thorn in the side of the visitors, threaded a delightful pass through to Frannie Collin, and the Division’s leading goalscorer doesn’t pass up chances of this nature, slotting the ball past the Truro ‘keeper Oliver Chenoweth.

The goal bred confidence in the Tonbridge ranks and their passing became a delight to watch. After five minutes of the second half, one such move opened up another scoring attempt for Collin, whose goalbound effort was parried by Chenoweth but only into the path of Miguel Suarez who side-footed home from close range. With the game now completely in their control, the home side showed a level of performance that hasn’t been witnessed, at least by me, this season. A wonderful build up involving Chris Piper, Lee Browning and Hill opened up an opportunity for Nathan Korantheng who blasted inches over the top as Tonbridge threatened to run riot.

Barry Hayles, who, one has to say, looked as if he has enjoyed a few Cornish pasties in his time at Treyew Road and the towering Aaron Pugh, were introduced to rescue at least a consolation for the Truro faithful. The game was wrapped up five minutes from time when Browning and Collin interchanged passes before the former was left with a tap in for the third.

So the Cornishmen (and women) were left to trudge their way home, at least comforted by the knowledge that this would be their last journey this season to Kent and that their next trip to Staines is a mere 240-odd miles. Thanks to Steve and his wife, JP and Ivor for their indulgence in the George and Dragon, they have given me the impetus to make the trek to Cornwall next season to renew their acquaintance; perhaps I can persuade the wife to revisit the county of our honeymoon for a romantic weekend to Treyew Road!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Staines Town 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 54/11/941 - Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - Conference South

Staines Town (1) 1 Wheeler 22
Tonbridge (1) 1 Schultz 27
Att. 228

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £3.00 (2 progs, one for the postponed fixture)
Mileage: 136/4,160

Match Report

Tonbridge supporters got a bit of a result from tonight’s game at Staines . . . the game was actually played. Two previous postponements of this particular fixture, two wasted journeys previously made, so my success rate of games watched at Staines rises to 50%.

Victories in the last two games at Basingstoke and at home to Maidenhead have ensured mid-table safety for Tonbridge in their first Blue Square South season, so the first objective has been achieved. The focus is already swung towards next season with manager Tommy Warrilow signing a new contract and six of this term’s squad are contracted to the club for 2012-13. For Staines the game carried a whole lot more significance, they are desperately fighting relegation and the 1-1 final score line will have to be seen as two points lost rather than one gained.

It wasn’t the best of games, but it was one where the attacking impetus ebbed from one side to the other. Tonbridge began brightly and in the first 20 minutes efforts from Nathan Korantheng, Chris Piper and Miguel Suarez occupied Staines’ keeper Danny Potter, a recent arrival from Newport County. It was, therefore, slightly against the run of the play when Staines took a lead on 22 minutes. David Wheeler picked up a loose ball in midifield and from 25 yards unleashed a shot that flew into the top corner. It was a superb strike, but in truth, I have to imagine it as I was distracted by the mobile phone, lifting my head to see it whistle past Lee Worgan.

The lead lasted five minutes as Ollie Schultz converted a near post corner from Korantheng from the edge of the six yard box for a second goal in successive games. Tonbridge had a bit of a purple patch from that point before the home side finished the half strongly and created a good chance just before the break when Mark Nwokeji combined with Ali Chaaban, whose shot was cleared from the line by Lee Browning.

The second half was once again ebb and flow. Tonbridge had a lot of the early part of the half with Schultz seemingly able to desert his defensive duties and have a couple of decent efforts on goal. Into the last minutes and the impetus switched to the home side, Nwokeji forced Worgan to save with his legs and five minutes from time Chaaban saw a fierce effort blocked by Schultz.

In the final minute of time added on, Tonbridge held onto their point with some desperate defending. Chaaban and Nwokeji, a constant threat all evening, combined to create a chance for the latter that was cleared to the relative safety of a corner, from which Jake Goodman was able to get a shot on goal but to which Worgan was equal.

Tonbridge will be far happier with the point than the home side who remain in the bottom four. Staines would also have been very disappointed with the poor attendance of just 228, of which it was estimated around 70 would have travelled from Tonbridge.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Gillingham 3 Crewe Alexandra 4

Match 53/11/940 - Saturday, 10 March 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 3 Payne 48 Whelpdale 67 Miller 73
Barnet (1) 1 Powell 27,53 Leitch-Smith 52 Clayton 90+5
Att. 5,428

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/4,024

Match Report

Some fans can go years without witnessing a seven-goal thriller, but for Gillingham supporters this season, they are just a matter of course. This 4-3 defeat by Crewe Alexandra was their fourth of the season ending with this score line and to this they can add a 6-1, 5-2 and a 5-4. If you just want goals from your football, then Gillingham are the side to watch home or away.

Crewe Alexandra won this game in, perhaps, the cruellest of fashions, with a goal 20 seconds from the end of the five added minutes. It was cruel inasmuch that from 3-1 down, the home side had fought back to 3-3, and had survived the remaining 15 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of Danny Spiller for a reckless challenge. But the dispassionate among the 5,428 attendance would almost certainly have come to the conclusion that the Railwaymen had been the better side and were fully deserving of the three points.

There was another aspect from this game that I will take into the future. Every so often, you spot a player and literally drool at their potential. Yesterday, a future star became apparent in Crewe’s Nick Powell. Already capped by England at Under -16 and 17 levels, if this lad doesn’t make it big in the game then the 50 years I’ve been watching have been wasted, because I haven’t learnt a thing. 17-year-old Powell scored a stunning first goal, made the second, added the third and was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. Sad for Alex that they won’t be able to hold on to him for much longer, but that has long been the mandate for the Cheshire club.

Gillingham came into the game buoyed by four straight wins but suffering a horrendous injury and sickness list. Strikers Jo Kuffour and Gavin Tomlin continued to be unavailable, whilst Danny Kedwell was only fit enough to take his place on the bench. Jordan Obita was sick and Garry Richards was obviously missing following his broken leg in Tuesday’s game. Taking their place upfront were Gillingham’s only options, Dennis Oli, following his 45 minute positive impression against Barnet and the 17-year-old Ashley Miller.

Unfortunately, Oli was unable to make the same impression as the home side laboured through the first half, the highlight of which was the stunning strike from Powell. 25 yards from goal, far out on the right hand side, the youngster angled a drive into the top corner, leaving Paulo Gazzaniga helpless. The applause from the home fans was testament to the quality of the strike. Take a bow, young man.

Gillingham’s lack of an attacking threat brought about a necessary half-time change with Kedwell introduced in favour of Oliver Lee. The change brought about a very different game and a breathless second half. It took just three minutes for Kedwell to have an influence, crossing for Jack Payne to equalise from close range, but this was just the first of three goals in five minutes. Within three minutes, Crewe regained their lead, Powell crossed for Ajay Leitch-Smith to score despite the best efforts of Gazzaniga who managed to push his first effort against a post. A minute later the game appeared over as a contest when Powell hooked in despite the close attention of Simon King.

But Gillingham are the comeback kings at present and after 67 minutes, Chris Whelpdale fired in after the Crewe defence had only managed to clear Charlie Lee’s long throw to the edge of their box. Six minutes later and the comeback was complete when Steve Phillips parried Kedwell’s header into the path of Gillingham’s own emerging teenager, Ashley Miller, who finished from close range for his first senior goal.

Lee, who had picked up his 15th booking for the season, was withdrawn, presumably to ensure against the prospect of going down to 10 men in favour of Danny Spiller, so it was all the more ironic that the returning midfielder was shown red for his flying tackle on 80 minutes. Crewe sensed their opportunity and pressed forward for a winner, Gillingham held on grimly, so it was a bitter pill to take when, with just 20 seconds left on the clock, a cross from Byron Moore was given the faintest of headed touches by another 17-year-old, Max Clayton, to seal the points for the visitors.

There was so much youth on show on both sides that it resembled the school’s half-time shoot out. Gillingham can take great heart from the performances of their own kids, but this day belonged to Nick Powell. One day lad, you will walk out at Wembley in a full England international shirt and I will say, “I told you so”, but that’s not being that wise, a blind man would recognise this talent.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Gillingham 3 Barnet 1

Match 52/11/939 - Tuesday, 6 March 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 3 Oli 47 Obita 76 Lee 87
Barnet (1) 1 Kamdjo 38
Att. 3,751

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,979

Match Report

It was a good goal, is wasn’t a great goal, but it supplied one of the “Moments of the Season”. A half-time scoreline of a goal down to those bogey men from Barnet and with Danny Kedwell, obviously struggling and only half-fit, Dennis Oli was introduced as a second half substitute. Poor Diesel, subject of much mirth among the fans, told by Andy Hessenthaler that he has no future at the club; expectations could not have been any lower. A chance for him to put himself in the shop window, I was told; only if it’s a Charity Shop was my reply. 90 seconds later and a ball over the top from Chris Whelpdale saw Dangerous Dennis galloping into the right hand channel to the edge of the box, as the goalkeeper came to narrow the angle, our Super Hero placed his shot across the face of Liam O’Brien and into the far corner. Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Oli, Oli. It wasn’t only the joy of the equalising goal that had us falling over in laughter!

Sickness and injury had left Gillingham massively short of options prior to kick off. Jo Kuffour and Gavin Tomlin were absent and Kedwell was suffering from sickness and injury and never looked capable of making the 90 minutes. Drafted in alongside him was 17-year-old Ashley Miller, whilst Simon King was also sick and Garry Richards was brought in to partner Connor Essam; 18-year-old loanee Jordan Obita, from Reading, was also making his full debut.

Izale McLeod has long been a thorn in the side of Gillingham having scored countless times against them, Pele he isn’t, we just make him look that good. This time McLeod made a much different impression on the game. A long punt downfield was made in the direction of the Barnet striker and Richards, as the ball cleared the pair, the Gillingham centre half was left on the ground in agony. What happened nobody seems to know, Richards himself accuses McLeod of “doing him” countered by McLeod saying it was accidental. Richards suffered a spiral fracture of the left leg and will miss the rest of the season.

O’Brien made two great saves in the space of a minute on 18 minutes. Charlie Lee, who had had two sighters, brought out the best in the keeper, who touched his shot around for a corner from which, Whelpdale’s header was also brilliantly saved.

On the half-hour it appeared that McLeod had his usual goal when he stroked home from close range following Gazzaniga’s parry of Sam Deering’s shot, only for the linesman to flag it offside. Eight minutes later, Barnet took the lead. An over hit cross from left was retrieved on the right and a cross to the near post was met by Clovis Kamdjo to fire in from close range.

Whether the Richards incident had affected McLeod, only he can know, but his 45th minute substitution was almost as bizarre as he appeared to just walk off the pitch and sit down on the bench. It’s a long running rumour that, despite his wonderful scoring record, McLeod has a lousy attitude and this seems borne out by his withdrawal.

Kedwell was obviously labouring and his substitution brought about the Oli moment. Dennis might not have been man of the match, but he was man of the 45 minutes he was on the pitch with a thoroughly professional performance considering his dubious future at Priestfield.

On 75 minutes, Oli foraging down the right channel once more, crossed for Miller to force O’Brien into a parrying save from which Obita was on hand to tuck home from close range.

Oli’s night was complete when he had a hand in Gillingham’s third goal in the 87th minute. He broke through the middle of the pitch before, characteristically, getting the ball caught between his feet, luckily the ball fell to Danny Jackman who sent Lee into the box from the right hand side. Lee’s finish was pure class; he stepped inside his marking defender, took his time, steadied and placed an outside of the foot shot into the left hand corner to the acclaim of the Rainham End.

Charlie Lee’s disciplinary record leaves a lot to be desired but, that left aside, he has all the qualities to become a Gillingham legend. His competitive nature, which leads, of course, to the cautions and now with four goals in three games, is much appreciated by the Gillingham faithful.

Four wins on the spin have propelled Gillingham back into the play-off picture and the never-say-die spirit of successive comeback wins at home has the fans believing again, so much so, they even believe in Dennis Oli!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tonbridge 0 Dartford 1

Match 51/11/938 - Saturday, 3 March 2012 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 0
Dartford (1) 1 Champion 18
Att. 1,139

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,934

Match Report

An absorbing encounter, in front of a bumper derby day crowd of 1,139 was ultimately won by high-flying Dartford but Tonbridge ran their visitors close and, to my mind, deserved a point from the match.

Tonbridge welcomed to the club central defender Olly Shultz from Dover and after a naturally nervous opening few minutes he settled well into a central defensive pairing with the evergreen Ben Judge, Sonny Miles switching to right back.

After an bright opening ten minutes for the home side, Dartford started showing their championship potential and took the lead on 18 minutes. It was a disappointing goal for Tommy Warrilow’s men to concede; a Jon Wallis corner was met by an unchallenged header from Tom Champion into the far corner. Two goals in the previous Saturday’s defeat at Farnborough were conceded in similar fashion and the manager will despair that the same problem would surface again.

Tonbridge had enough of the second half to suggest that a point would have been a fair result but resilient defending and the lack of a little fortune with the ball failing to drop in the right place in the box would deny them the reward.

Woking’s home defeat leaves Dartford with a better than outside chance of catching them at the top of Conference South and they will be glad to have come away from a testing encounter at Longmead with maximum points.

England 2 Holland 3

Match 50/11/937 - Wednesday, 29 February 2012 - International

England (0) 2 Cahill 85 Young 90
Holland (0) 3 Robben 57,90+3 Huntelaar 58
Att. 76,283

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6.00
Mileage: 100/3,908

Match Report

England moved into the time after Fabio Capello and, presumably, before Harry Redknapp with Stuart Pearce leading a relatively young England side into this largely one-sided friendly international against Holland. Capello, who had resigned in the wake of the row surrounding John Terry’s removal from the captaincy following alleged racial comments towards Anton Ferdinand, has left England in a void in the run-up to this summer’s European Championship.
Pearce was asked to step into the breach and chose Scott Parker to captain the side and shorn of strikers, Danny Welbeck and Steven Gerrard were initially chosen to spearhead the attack. Gerrard was only to last half-an-hour before being replaced by Daniel Sturridge, making it an even more youthful front line.

In the week previous, an agreement between European clubs and their governing body was struck whereby the number of international dates will be cut from 12 to nine, in effect this will end the mid-season friendly matches that cause so much consternation from the top club managers and stupor that was induced by the first half of this match would have had the paying public nodding their heads, or nodding off, in agreement.

So slow was the play, and the Dutch were more guilty than the home nation, that at one point I thought the game had been brought to a halt by the referee for a free kick, in fact he hadn’t, it was just that nobody on the field was actually moving!

At least the second half brought goals and a virtuoso performance from Arjen Robben, to give the 76,000 crowd some value for their money. Robben picked up a loose ball inside his own half on 57 minutes, he ran 40 yards in open space before a clever off-the-ball run from Klass Jan Huntelaar dragged Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill away, leaving Robben to power into the box and finish with aplomb past Joe Hart.

The game was seemingly over as a contest a minute later when Dirk Kuyt crossed for Huntelaar to head home. A sickening clash of heads with Smalling was encountered in the process of scoring and both players were forced from the pitch after a long stoppage, Smalling appeared unconscious with a gaping cut to the head, whilst Huntelaar suffered a loss of teeth.

Holland took their foot off the pedal again with their two goal lead and, as a result, England were allowed to fight their way back into the game. Sturridge should have scored before a through ball found the unlikely figure of Cahill who angled a shot into the far corner to reduce the deficit. Ashley Young then expertly lifted the ball over the diving body of Dutch keeper, Maarten Stekenlenburg from an incisive pass by his Manchester United teammate Phil Jones to draw the host’s level.

But the final word went to Robben, who curled in a shot from inside the area that took a deflection off Cahill’s shoulder to wrong foot Hart and deny England a draw that would have been flattering to say the least.

Let’s not forget the youthful nature of the England side against world top three opposition. There were encouraging performances from Sturridge, Adam Johnson for the hour that he was on the pitch, Welbeck and a typical hard working performance from Captain Parker.

The English FA cannot be seen to give up this summer’s championship as a lost cause, but we all know that just getting out of the group is going to be an achievement. Recent success at the younger levels have shown that there is talent coming through to replace the failed golden generation, I hope that the youngsters that featured in Stuart Pearce’s interim side, are allowed to experience a senior tournament under Capello’s successor and maybe the future will be brighter than this result may suggest.

Gillingham 5 Hereford United 4

Match 49/11/936 - Tuesday, 28 February 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 5 Whelpdale 45 Kedwell 46, Lee 81, 88 Tomlin 90+3
Hereford United (2) 4 Purdie 2 (pen) Barkhuisen 7,70 Evans 80
Att. 3,784

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,808

Match Report

As people were making their way back up Toronto Road following this match, shaking their heads, the same words were continually overheard, crazy, crazy . . . mental.

This was one for the supporters to enjoy and for the managers to loathe. Such was the level of defensive incompetence any scoreline imaginable was possible. As it finally transpired, the Gillingham faithful went home buoyed by an injury time winner and a double comeback whilst a measure of sympathy should be spared for the 45 Hereford fans that must have travelled the 190 miles home just a little shell shocked.

Whilst I use the word “enjoy” in reference to the Gillingham support, it has to be said that for long periods of this game their heads were buried in their hands in sheer despair. Successive clean sheets had led to a guarded optimism that the defensive shortcomings that had contributed to the losing run since the turn of the year were behind them, but within 10 minutes of the start of this game, the doubts had resurfaced to great effect.

Jack Evans, the teenager that has made an encouraging start to his senior career with two polished performances, was given a torrid opening period by another teenager, Tom Barkhuizen, a loanee from Blackpool. Just 75 seconds had elapsed when the Hereford striker was brought down by Evans to concede a penalty from which Rob Purdie converted. Five minutes later, Barkhuizen once more skipped past Evans and from an acute angle shot past Paulo Gazzaniga to double the Bulls’ advantage.

If you are going to go two goals down, leaving yourselves 80-plus minutes to retrieve the situation is preferable, and with Hereford not showing any greater level of defensive competence than Gillingham there was always the optimistic thought that a comeback was on the cards.

On 33 minutes, Evans played a great through ball to Gavin Tomlin to finish only to see his celebration cut short by the linesman’s flag, but the seeds of hope were well and truly sown. These were given fresh impetus in the minute before half time when Danny Jackman’s cross from the left was met with a volley from Chris Whelpdale to reduce the deficit to 2-1 at the half time whistle.

Charlie Lee replaced Evans at half time, the youngster suffering a groin strain, and within the first minute of the second half, Lee’s long throw was hooked in by Danny Kedwell and the comeback to parity was complete. The momentum was now with the home side and the expectation was that they would go on to win the game, but the defensive nightmares were about to resurface. After 70 minutes, Will Evans shot from 25 yards was only parried by Gazzaniga leaving Barkhuizen to gobble up the rebound. Gillingham’s match destiny looked all but up when, with 10 minutes remaining, a right wing cross from ex-Gill Delroy Facey found Evans unmarked at the far post to head the Bulls into a seemingly unassailable lead.

The next ten minutes was time that will live long, if not forever, in the memory and, from which, Charlie Lee will become a legend. In the first attack following Hereford’s fourth goal, he cut in from the right and from the edge of the box placed a shot in off the post, 3-4. Two minutes remained when Lee again powered into the box and shot fiercely between the goalkeeper and the near post to tie the scores at 4-4. Settle for a point now, I most certainly was in the camp that would.

But the drama had far from ended. As the clock ticked to its 90th minute, Barkhuizen was sent clear and as he attempted to go round the keeper, the Argentinean stuck out a leg and brought him down. Personally, with no covering defender, I thought he was about to be sent off, but the referee chose to show a yellow card. How important was that decision when the 20-year-old stopper brought off a brilliant save, diving to his right to push the ball away.

And then in the third of the four added minutes, Jo Kuffour broke away and into the box and with a cluster of players either trying to clear the ball to safety or force it into the net, the ball popped up for Tomlin to scissor kick from waist high into the net to cue delirious scenes at the Rainham End.

Out of a match, that at its outset had mundane written all over it, had come a spectacle that will become one of life’s “I was there when” moments. It had the lot, defensive incompetence at its upmost, a double comeback from two down, Gazza’s penalty save when he probably should not have been on the pitch, Lee’s magnificent 45 minutes and Tomlin’s last gasp winner. It was breathless, but most of all it was crazy, crazy . . . mental.