Sunday, 29 April 2012

Boreham Wood 4 Tonbridge 2

Match 63/11/950 - Saturday, 28 April 2012 - Conference South

Boreham Wood (2) 4 Montgomery 8, Jones 45, T. Olorunda 78 (o.g.), Effiong 81
Tonbridge (1) 2 Piper 18, Collin 66
Att. 275

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 136/4,789
New Ground: 249

Match Report

This last game of Tonbridge’s inaugural season in Conference South took on the title of an alternative play-off match for eighth place, but they came across a Boreham Wood side that with the benefit of home advantage had a little bit more desire to end the season with a flourish.

Tonbridge and Gillingham’s season have followed a similar path, although Gillingham have a game to play and could finish anywhere between eighth and eleventh, at present both sit in ninth position and the reason both have missed out on play-off places is that despite scoring plenty of goals they have conceded in equal measure. So it was with this visit to Boreham Wood, Tonbridge enjoyed their fair share of the possession but gave the ball away far too often and were caught on the counter attack to the tune of four goals, could have been more, but then could have scored more themselves.

The Wood looked a very capable side with a strong back line, which says a lot for Tonbridge that they punctured it twice, and a sharp attack which included Omer Riza, an experienced, well-travelled striker who began life as an apprentice at Arsenal, played at the top level in Turkey before returning to England to eventually arrive at a Histon side that made it to the Conference in 2010.

The home side were quick out of the blocks and ahead in eight minutes. Following a scenario that became a feature of the game, Tonbridge lost the ball in midfield and two passes left Graeme Montgomery with the task of beating Lee Worgan from 10 yards which he did with ease. Tonbridge were level within 10 minutes after a weak clearance to the edge of the box saw Chris Piper score from 18 yards.

Tonbridge found a bit of momentum and had a goal chalked off for offside before a fine counter attack ended with full back Mark Jones finishing off a move with a shot into the bottom corner from inside the penalty area.

The visitors equalised 20 minutes into the second half when Frannie Collin converted with a close range header for his 29th goal of the season before two quick goals ended Tonbridge’s resistance. A cross from the left was turned into his own net by Tim Olorunda on 78 minutes and three minutes later substitute Inih Effiong benefited from Tonbridge once again losing the ball in a dangerous area to wrap the game up for the home side.

Frannie Collin crashed a shot against the bar to deny himself a 30th goal of a season where he has ended as the League’s leading goalscorer by a country mile.

Meadow Park was a tidy stadium with a fair sized main seated stand along one length of the pitch whilst on the other was a terraced covered enclosure which once more, as Tonbridge supporters, we look on with envy as being perfect for our needs. Nothing fancy, only three steps high, but perfectly fit for purpose. Behind both goals was uncovered terracing. The pitch looked in really good condition considering it was the last game of the season and had a week’s worth of persistent rain on it, but there is an alarming slope into one corner where the level must fall about two feet in the space of just 15 yards or so.

Boreham Wood take the coveted eighth spot and in doing so on such meagre attendances that is to be admired. The attendance of just 275 was their third highest of the season and at a bare minimum at least the 75 was made up of visiting supporters. Tonbridge ended the season within the top ten and back in August the vast majority would have taken that with pleasure.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Gillingham 3 Swindon Town 1

Match 62/11/949 - Saturday, 21 April 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 3 Kedwell 26 Whelpdale 57,90+5 (pen)
Swindon Town (0) 1 McCormick 80
Att. 6,390

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/4,653

Match Report

Gillingham produced their best home performance of the season to win the best game of the season against, ultimately the best team in the Division. Results elsewhere, leave Gillingham’s quest for a play-off spot hanging by a thread, which makes the victory over arch rivals Swindon all the more frustrating.

This week was season ticket renewal time and it was with a certain amount of reluctance that the button was pushed to remove £342.50 from my wallet. Encouragement was needed following a frustrating season and the home side delivered with a performance that defied recent form.

Swindon Town will eventually be crowned champions, with Crawley and Torquay dropping points they were ensured promotion, but their 1,245 travelling support were made to wait for their title-winning celebration.

This match had endured a strange build-up. At one point it appeared that it would be staged behind closed doors as a dispute between the home club and Kent Police led to Medway Council issuing a prohibition notice forbidding the attendance of the paying public. The dispute that echoed the one that had led to a similar notice being issued prior to the Stoke City FA Cup tie was ultimately resolved, to the satisfaction of the Police but not to that of chairman Paul Scally, suggesting that this particular dispute will surface again sometime in the future. Meanwhile, the champions-elect were embroiled in their own internal dispute as a number of players were disciplined by manager Paulo Di Canio following a night out to celebrate the birth of a team mates’ baby prior to their midweek defeat at Aldershot. The exclusion of Luke Rooney denied Gillingham fans the opportunity of offering him a “warm welcome”.

Gillingham spent the first 20 minutes of the game chasing shadows as Swindon gave every indication that they would be celebrating the title come five o’clock. Their slick passing game was to be admired as they piled pressure on a Gillingham defence not known for their resilience in recent weeks. But, today they stayed strong with Connor Essam’s young legs complementing Andy Frampton’s old head to restrict the visitors to a John Bostock free kick into the side netting during the opening stages.

So, with Bostock and Matt Ritchie running through Gillingham’s midfield almost at will, it was somewhat surprising that the home took the lead on 26 minutes. There was nothing subtle about the goal, a long throw from the right by Charlie Lee to the near post, from where a looping header by Danny Kedwell sailed over the stranded Swindon ‘keeper, Phil Smith, into the far corner. It was much against the run of play, but from that moment Gillingham found a confidence that, bar a nervy last ten minutes, led to a well-deserved victory.

There was a lot to admire in this performance. Apart from the central defensive pairing that made last ditch tackles and got their heads onto virtually everything thrown at them, there were outstanding displays from both full backs, Matt Fish and Joe Martin, both of which have endured justifiable criticism this season. In centre midfield, Lewis Montrose came through a torrid first half in which he laboured against the strength and pace of Bostock, to play an instrumental part in the strong second half showing, whilst Chris Whelpdale was pure quality, at last we are seeing the player we witnessed during his loan spell last year.

An unlikely surge upfield from Fish ended with a shot from the edge of the box that was saved by Smith before a 20-yard strike from Montrose crashed against the bar with the keeper helpless.

A triumph of persistence doubled Gillingham’s lead seven minutes into the second half. Firstly Montrose won a tackle leaving Whelpdale to ride a couple of challenges before delicately, deliciously chipping the ball over the keeper into the far corner to the rapturous acclaim of the Rainham End.

Whelpdale struck a post before Swindon found a way back into the match with ten minutes remaining. Alan McCormick played one-two that allowed him to run unchallenged and strike from the edge of the box to set up a nervy finish that wasn’t helped when the referee indicated five extra minutes to be played. With no trainer having been on the pitch, it appeared that Mark Halsey’s Wembley watch had been borrowed.

By now the Swindon contingent were celebrating anyway. News of results elsewhere had filtered through and they were responding to the arms aloft theatrics of Di Canio on the touchline. They were not to be quietened by a last kick of the match penalty, awarded after a trip on Curtis Weston, and converted by Whelpdale to wrap up a convincing 3-1 victory for the home side.

The unlikely chase for a play-off spot continues at Northampton next Saturday, with Gillingham knowing that nothing less than another win will be good enough whilst keeping fingers crossed that Crewe and Oxford suffer reversals in their last two matches. That we are looking for favours elsewhere is so frustrating given the quality of this performance.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Beckenham Town 3 Tunbridge Wells 0

Match 61/11/948 - Saturday, 14 April 2012 - Kent League

Beckenham Town (2) 3 Curran 25, Turner 36 (pen) Fofana 60
Tunbridge Wells (0) 0
Att. 65

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.00
Mileage: 78/4,608

Match Report

Beckenham was not where I expected to be at the beginning of the week, but it was a decent place to end up. Not a new ground, having been once before in 1992 when Tonbridge were finally emerging from their time in the Kent League, but new to That’ll be the Day.

Tunbridge Wells’ remarkable win at champions-elect Herne Bay on Bank Holiday Monday had opened up a realistic chance of finishing runners-up in the Kent League but were surprisingly swept aside by a Beckenham Town side that, on the day, showed why they have scored a lot of goals this season. The small crowd of just 65 was boosted by 20 or more that had travelled from Tunbridge Wells.

Tunbridge Wells enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and it was something of a surprise when the home side went ahead in the 28th minute through Nick Curran, but once ahead Beckenham dominated the game with the Wells struggling to contain the pace of Elstrom Die and Ben Slade.

A soft penalty, hotly disputed by the visitors, converted by Jamie Turner before half time gave the visitors an uphill struggle in the second half.

Once again, the Wells held the upper hand in the early exchanges of the second half but, on the hour, a daisy-cutter of a shot from Malik Fofana somehow found its way past Dean Nash, much to the amusement of his team mates who obviously could not believe what they had seen.

The Wells huffed and puffed in their attempt to mount a comeback, but despite a couple of efforts that went close they were comprehensively beaten and deservedly so.

Eden Park Avenue hasn’t changed a lot in the intervening 20 years between visits although there appears to be the on-going erection of a longer covered enclosure than the four “bus shelter” types that occupy a couple of positions behind one goal, and one on each of the sidelines. Straddling the half-way line is a small seated stand that would sit around fifty people. The changing rooms and clubhouse are combined in a cricket pavilion type structure.

Elsewhere, at my destinations that might have been, Gillingham’s threadbare mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs remain with a goalless draw at Oxford, whilst Tonbridge also gained a point at Weston-super-Mare.

And here is Beckenham's all-seated, two seater cantilever standAnd here it is . . . full!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gillingham 1 Dagenham & Redbridge 2

Match 60/11/947 - Easter Monday, 9 April 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Vine 58
Dagenham & Redbridge (1) 2 Woodall 38, Green 73
Att. 5,773

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/4,530

Match Report

The producers of television’s soap operas have a technique that is called “the hook”. It is the last scene of the episode and it is written to leave the viewer wanting to know the outcome and therefore tuning in again next time. Gillingham, by default, exercised their own version of the hook this Easter weekend. Following their draw at Bristol Rovers, it was my judgement that play-off hopes had been extinguished and because of that I would make the choice to turn my back on the season ticket in favour of visiting Woking, champions-elect of Conference South, for Tonbridge’s game.

But, on Good Friday evening, the hook was exercised and Oxford’s defeat at Northampton left Gillingham just three points adrift and still realistically in with a chance. Loyalty told my heart that Priestfield was the place to be on Monday and my head listened. Why oh why, could I not have followed my instincts as my reward for patience that has been running on empty for weeks was a truly appalling performance that coupled with results elsewhere has finally put to bed that misguided optimism.

I cannot believe that footballers go into any match, especially at this point in the season, with a “don’t care” attitude, but something didn’t click with the home side and the result was a performance where they were second best to a Dagenham side, for whom the three points virtually assures their Football League status for next season. The East London side were sharper, made better choices and thoroughly deserved their success.

This season has been a complete enigma. On one hand, nobody has scored more goals than Gillingham and for that reason alone it would indicate an entertaining season, but in truth, it has been far from that. Too many times three goals have not been enough to stave off defeat as inept defending has cost them dear, and this game was no different. On this occasion, question marks would be levelled against the young goalkeeper, who could have done better for both goals.

Neither side coped with the blustery conditions and the standard of football was poor to say the least. In the 38th minute Gillingham produced their best moment as Jack Payne broke clear and into the box but overran the ball allowing Daggers’ keeper Chris Lewington to smother at his feet. From the goalkeeper’s hands in a direct move, Abu Ogogo broke down the right, got inside Joe Martin to crack in a shot that Paulo Gazzaniga failed to hold and Brian Woodall was on hand to tap in the rebound to the delight of the 300-odd visiting fans.

It was no surprise that the half-time whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos and Gillingham’s reaction was positive at the beginning of the second half.

Dagenham opened with an effort from Josh Parker that was well saved, one-handed by Gazzaniga before Chris Whelpdale lobbed the goalkeeper only to see his effort was cleared from in front of the line. On 58 minutes, Rowan Vine levelled the score with a fine goal. The striker, on loan from QPR, got free down the left hand side and from the edge of the box curled a shot into the far corner. It was a great strike and should have given Gillingham the lift to complete the victory but it was the visitors that responded the better.

Dominic Green gave the home side due warning when he had a shot saved by Gazzaniga before, in the 73rd minute, showing a good turn of pace, he cut inside Danny Jackman, leaving Payne trailing in his wake, before planting a shot, that skipped off the wet turf and over the sprawling dive of the young keeper.

Gillingham had no response and the final whistle effectively sounded the end of a thoroughly frustrating season. There have been worse seasons than this one, there have been far worse times for the club, but this term began with high expectations and they have been far from fulfilled. Where Gillingham go now is entirely in the hands of chairman Paul Scally. Andy Hessenthaler has failed to fulfil the remit and the vast majority have lost patience and want change. My own opinion has changed in these last few weeks, I didn’t want to listen to my head because my heart wanted Hess to succeed, but the penny has dropped and with season ticket purchase pending, a fresh start is needed to convince myself and many others that it is going to be money well-spent. Whether the chairman can put his loyalty to Hess to one side to make that fresh start is going to be the hook that draws the punters back for another tilt at getting out of the bottom tier in August.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Tonbridge 2 Dover Athletic 3

Match 59/11/946 - Saturday, 7 April 2012 - Conference South

Tonbridge (2) 2 T Olorunda 9, Collin 28 (pen)
Dover Athletic (2) 3 Dixon 15, Bricknell 25, Huke 88
Att. 940

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/4,485

Match Report

As Shane Huke rose high above a static Tonbridge defence to power a header into the net two minutes from the end of a pulsating Kent derby, new life was breathed into Dover Athletic’s play-off challenge whilst expunging the home side’s more modest ambition of finishing above their bitterest of rivals.

As the season enters its final straight, for Tonbridge the wear and tear is beginning to show and the bench that a couple of months ago looked quite strong was now threadbare with a couple of teenagers making up the numbers. Olly Schultz was unable to play as a term of his transfer from Dover last month and when Ben Judge was forced from the field with 20 minutes remaining the lack of height at the centre of defence became the telling factor in allowing Huke his unchallenged header.

Dover’s own poor form, albeit principally at Crabble, contributed to a smaller than usual following from the coast, but the attendance still amounted to a respectable 940. Unfortunately, this is a fixture with a bit of history and there was a fracas in the bar at half-time that needed a police presence to maintain order. Having not been in the bar, it is not for me to apportion blame.

The first half-hour of the game was a breathless, totally captivating period. Four goals, some do or die defending and good goalkeeping. Tonbridge took the lead on nine minutes; a Rory Hill corner was smacked against the bar from a Sonny Miles header and makeshift central defender Tim Olorunda was on hand to stab the ball over the line from close range.

The lead was not to last long, after 15 minutes Terry Dixon forced the ball home after his initial header had been brilliantly parried by Lee Worgan. A ball that looked to being going out was chased down by Donovan Simmonds and from his cross Dixon got his opportunity.

Dover went ahead on 25 minutes with a converted penalty by Billy Bricknell. Lee Browning lost the ball in midfield and a single pass from Simmonds sent Bricknell through on goal. Worgan, plunging at the striker’s feet, brought him down to earn a yellow card and concede the penalty.

Once again, albeit in reverse order, the lead was not to last as Tonbridge were themselves awarded a penalty a couple of minutes later. Frannie Collin weaved his way past Dover’s 17-year-old debutant Lloyd Harrington before the youngster stretched out a leg to bring the Tonbridge goal machine to the ground. Collin got up to convert the penalty and regain parity.

Although there were no more goals, until the winner, the game continued to ebb and flow through an absorbing second period. Worgan made good stops to thwart Bricknell and Dixon and there were last ditch blocks made by Olorunda and Judge whilst at the other end, Jaimez-Ruiz made saves from Chris Piper and Collin.

Ten minutes remained when a fine diagonal pass from Collin was collected by Hill who cut inside and cracked a shot against the crossbar with the goalkeeper well beaten. That was to be Tonbridge’s chance to win the game, but when Dover got there’s they took it. Barry Cogan swung in a corner from the right and Huke powered in his header to win the game to the delight of the travelling contingent who were fully aware that a point from this game was not going to be enough.

Tonbridge’s poor record this season in Kent derbies sadly continues, in eight games this season they have failed to win any and managed just four draws. It is much to their credit that they have kept the season alive until four games from the end, but it will now become a test of their character to see the season out without it drifting aimlessly away with patched-up players running on empty.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tunbridge Wells 0 Herne Bay 2

Match 58/11/945 - Tuesday, 3 April 2012 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (0) 0
Herne Bay (0) 2 Baverstock 55, Jenner 58
Att. 205

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/4,459

Match Report

Herne Bay bounced back from their FA Vase disappointment to move five points clear at the top of the Kent League with a resilient display at Tunbridge Wells. Saturday had brought heartbreak for the East Kent club as they fell at the semi-final stage of the national competition at West Auckland, losing 2-1 on the day and 4-3 on aggregate. Herne Bay’s Vase exploits have seen their lead at the top of the Kent League eroded as their games in hand piled up.

Herne Bay’s first half display failed to win many admirers among the Tunbridge Wells faithful as a series of heavy challenges earned bookings in an competitive contest. A couple of poor challenges from Ashley Baverstock and Tom Parker were allowed to go unpunished before the referee finally lost patience and booked Parker as the cumulative total rose.

Tunbridge Wells made a good fist of the first half and chances for Andy Irvine who had a shot deflected wide of the post and saw Bay keeper Dan Eason acrobatically save from a 20th minute effort. On the half hour the home side should have taken the lead when Ryan Rook volleyed wide of the near post after good work from Lewis Mingle.

Two goalkeeping errors in a short time effectively ended the Wells’ resistance early in the second half. Dean Nash, who according to the Wells support has had a great season and could be voted player of the year, made two horrendous errors in the matter of three minutes. On 55 minutes, a long overhit punt forward carried into the box and Nash came to collect under no real pressure but he inexplicably dropped the ball at the feet of Baverstock who had the simple task of rolling to ball into an open goal.

Three minutes later and a free kick from Michael Jenner, conceivably 40 yards from goal, was hopelessly misjudged by the 19-year-old keeper who allowed the ball to sail past him into the top corner. Nash will certainly have better days, but all around there was sympathy rather than criticism for the youngster. Indeed, he went someway to making amends with a good low save from Rhys Lawson and another from Simon Austin.

Herne Bay showed all the attributes of a championship winning side, they weathered a first half under pressure, drew the sting from the home side and then delivered their own knock-out blow. Kent League sides, in the shape of Whistable, Faversham and Hythe, have all acquitted themselves well on their entry to the Ryman League and there will be every expectation that the Bay will do equally well.

Tunbridge Wells’ next home game sees the celebration of the 125th anniversary with free entry offered to all. There is one thing that I will not be sorry to see the back of in their anniversary year and that is their blue and black stripes, sorry but it just looks wrong, roll on next season and a return to the red and white.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Gillingham 2 Macclesfield Town 0

Match 57/11/944 - Saturday, 31 March 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 2 Fish 51, Whelpdale 85
Macclesfield Town (0) 0
Att. 4,562

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/4,433

Match Report

The air at Priestfield was thick with apathy. Gillingham’s mid-week defeat at Burton Albion had evidently been met by the travelling support with a stunned silence and it appeared that the vow of silence had carried itself into this fixture against relegation-threatened Macclesfield Town.

In a dire first half that epitomised an end-of-season game for a club with nowhere to go, the Rainham End failed, or their players failed to raise them, from their slumbers to the point where the only noise, albeit whispers, came from the 39 travelling fans.

Macclesfield are in the bottom two for a reason, they cannot score goals. The lowest scoring team in the Division wasted a series of chances in the first half as defensive weakness, especially in the full back positions shouted loudly. Matt Smith was allowed successive free headers in the box, the first of which was directed at Paulo Gazzaniga and the second wastefully high, wide and not very handsome. Macclesfield were a big side and the home side struggled with their physical presence throughout this drudge of a half.

In fairness, Gillingham had their moments, Chris Whelpdale thumped in a 25 yard shot that was parried by Macclesfield keeper Richard O’Donnell, the rebound falling agonisingly a couple of yards away from the lurking Jo Kuffour.

The second half couldn’t have been any worse and thankfully it wasn’t. An early chance fell to Kuffour but he was only able to hook the ball into the arms of O’Donnell before the home side took the lead from a most unlikely source. Matt Fish, a target for the boo boys for much of the season, was on the end of a fine move that involved Whelpdale, followed by an incisive pass from Lewis Montrose who found the full back in space, 10 yards out, to slot coolly past O’Donnell for his first goal for the club.

Macclesfield’s response was instant and Gazzaniga made an impressive save to thwart Tony Diagne’s downward header followed by the wasteful Smith blazing high once more.

Andy Hessenthaler introduced Rowan Vine for the out-of-sorts, but with after-match knowledge, seemingly unfit Kuffour, and he announced himself with a powerful shot from 30 yards that stung the hands of O’Donnell before Gillingham wrapped up the points with another beautifully crafted goal with five minutes remaining. Danny Kedwell, who had an impressive return to the side, sent Danny Spiller galloping down the left hand side, whose superb cross was powered home by a diving header from Whelpdale.

It was one of those strange contradictions that a game of mediocrity was settled by two outstanding goals.

Spiller thought he had a third when he headed the ball into the net after Joe Martin’s shot had rebounded from the bar, but a linesman’s flag ruled the goal out, presumably for offside.

So where there was no hope, results at Crewe, drawing at home to Northampton with our old friend Bayo scoring the Cobbler’s equaliser; Oxford’s surprise home defeat to Morecambe and Cheltenham's defeat at Southend on Friday evening, new life was breathed into this stuttering campaign. Four points adrift there is very little room for even the slightest of setbacks, but the season is still alive . . . just.