Sunday, 30 September 2012

Gillingham 1 Rochdale 2

Match 22/12/975 - Saturday, 29 September 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 1 Kedwell 73 (pen)
Rochdale (1) 2 Tutte 15, Grant 58
Att. 5,874

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,292

Match Report

The presentation of the Manager of the Month Award reflecting Gillingham’s unbeaten start to the season, a sizeable crowd of 5,874, boosted by a one-day ticket offer for a match against mid-table, almost disregarded opposition could only have one outcome, that of SODS LAW.

How many times, over the years, have Gillingham failed to perform in such circumstances, it doesn’t matter who the manager is, what the colour of the shirts the players of the day wear, I can remember more than a few times sods law has had its day.

Rochdale were no mugs, they came into the game off successive victories on the road and, in John Coleman, they have a manager who likes to play the game in the right way, although their time-wasting tactics towards the end ruffled the feathers of a few, frustrated Gillingham supporters.

Gillingham were the architects of their own downfall. A low-key first half performance was compounded by the dismissal of Danny Jackman for a reckless challenge. Unlike the previous home game when 10 men were left to defend a goal lead, this time they were already chasing a deficit.

Rochdale had already given their hosts fair warning with Stuart Nelson making a good double save following a fifth minute free kick before they took the lead after a quarter-of-an-hour. A short corner found Andrew Tutte in an acre of space but some distance from goal but his shot either deceived Nelson with its flight or it took a deflection off Jackman to find the net in the middle of the goal.

There was a response from the home side, Matt Fish ended a good run with a shot into the Rainham End and Deon Burton volleyed over the bar at the far post following Gillingham’s long throw routine. Gillingham’s task became that much more difficult with the 33rd minute dismissal of Jackman. The tackle from my long-distance view looked slightly suspect and television pictures appear to confirm its two-footed nature.

Martin Allen responded by substituting new loan arrival Robbie Findlay for Myles Weston, a confusing substitution in my opinion and started the second half using the remainder of his replacements, Danny Kedwell and Charlie Allen replacing the massively ineffective Lewis Montrose and Burton. The changes contributed to a much-improved second half performance but committed to attack and retrieving their deficit, were always open to the counter attack led by the impressive George Donnelly.

One such counter attack on 58 minutes virtually extinguished any hopes of a Gillingham comeback. Bobby Grant was sent clear and into the box, his first shot was parried by Nelson, but only back to the striker who made no mistake with his second attempt.

In fairness to the home support, they continued to get behind their team and were rewarded on 73 minutes when referee Phillips awarded the home side a penalty. Chris Whelpdale was held at the near post and the resultant spot kick was confidently despatched by Kedwell.

Rochdale should have put the game beyond doubt with 10 minutes remaining when Donnelly faced only by Fish on a breakaway slid across the face of the goal the ball for Grant to sidefoot from about a yard, but his soft touch allowed Nelson to save at his post.

Sods law had its day and Gillingham’s best-ever start to a season is consigned to the history books. The best teams bounce straight back and the real character of this side now has the opportunity to emerge with two upcoming away games, from those we will see what kind of mental strength the manager has installed.

It was good to see nearly 6,000 inside Priestfield for the first time this season. The gate was boosted by a Friday-only offer of family tickets for £28 and a virtual buy-one-get-one-free. Perfectly admirable marketing from the club, but I would have been sorely pissed if I had been a casual supporter and had bought my tickets, unknowing of the offer, on Wednesday or Thursday.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1989-90 season.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dover Athletic 2 Tonbridge 1

Match 21/12/974 - Saturday, 22 September 2012 - FA Cup 2QR

Dover Athletic (2) 2 May 6, Webb 43
Tonbridge (1) 1 Purcell 29
Att. 625

Entrance: £9 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 99/1,247

Match Report

It was 40 years ago that a fresh-faced, 21-year-old went to the Angel Ground on FA Cup First Round day alongside 7,769 others in hope that his Southern League favourites might pull off a giant killing against their illustrious opponents from south London, Charlton Athletic. Sadly, it was to end in disappointment as the Football League side romped to a five-nil victory. Today, the no-longer fresh-faced, disappointment-hardened Tonbridge supporter entered Dover Athletic’s Crabble Ground with little expectancy that the years of hurt might be at an end. Once again, sadly, like so many other seasons in that 40 year cycle, Tonbridge failed to make it past the first hurdle.

With stats like those it is obvious that the FA Cup and Tonbridge [Angels] Football Club are not a good fit and it was so predictable that they would be dealt with a tough draw, down the years Tonbridge have had difficult draws and when they get a soft one, they mess it up. There were good reasons to be optimistic, Dover had failed to win at home this season and Tonbridge had the confidence of their first win last Saturday against Boreham Wood, but after a first minute scramble to clear and a sixth minute goal from Ben May, the usual FA Cup scribble was appearing on the wall.

It was further disappointing that Tonbridge could have erased that writing as the game panned out with an equaliser and plenty of possession that could and should have produced a different result.

Disappointment is a word I’m using a lot in this post, and it is disappointing that the police felt the need to impose segregation on this game for fear of trouble between two sets of supporters that obviously don’t like each other. A group of Dover “supporters” gathered at the corner of the seated enclosure during the second half and the insults and counter insults that followed virtually justified the police’s decision. It was such a distraction that the support that Tonbridge had enjoyed in the first half as good as died at a time when it was most needed.

Tommy Warrilow looked towards the amount of possession as good reason for his side to have merited their place in the hat for the next round but their failure to stretch goalkeeper Mitch Walker during the second half says otherwise. Two poorly defended goals added to the despair. After six minutes, a simple cross into the box allowed an unchallenged May to glance a header into the bottom corner and another cross was headed down by Ian Simpemba to Danny Webb who scored from the edge of the six yard box. In between, George Purcell won out in a challenge with Webb, to score from inside the box to equalise the opening goal.

The second half erred on the side of a non-event, Frannie Collin had an opportunity but poked the shot straight at Walker, whilst with the game stretched Dover had a couple of chances late on to seal the game, substitute Ricky Modeste pulling a shot wide when clean through.

So that’s the FA Cup for another year at qualifying level, Tunbridge Wells fell at the first, Tonbridge fell at their first, it doesn’t auger too well for Gillingham at this rate. How’s that song go: “Forty years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming”, but sadly dreams can turn into nightmares.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Gillingham 1 Southend United 0

Match 20/12/973 - Tuesday, 18 September 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Kedwell 38 (pen)
Southend United (0) 0
Att. 4,968

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,148

Match Report

Gillingham fans raised the roof to acclaim a backs-to-the-wall victory against an in-form Southend United side that had registered three straight wins previous to this encounter. Gillingham showed their mettle with a resilient defensive display following the dismissal of Bradley Dack in the 53rd minute of a first half that had been extended by a lengthy break in play following an injury to the visitor’s goalkeeper, Paul Smith, who fell awkwardly after an aerial challenge from Deon Burton.

Gillingham’s supporters failed to turn out in numbers again, the improvement from Saturday’s attendance being the increased away support, but they rallied to the cause and their noise dragged their favourites over the finishing line for a memorable victory.

The first half might have been long but it was packed with incident and controversy almost from the outset. In the first minute, Charlie Lee inflicted a fair, robust challenge to introduce himself to ex-Gill Sean Clohessy, but it was the Gillingham midfielder that came off worse and needed to be substituted by Bradley Dack on five minutes.

Less than five minutes later, a long ball forward and a high bounce saw Southend’s keeper misjudge the its flight and under pressure from Burton, Smith fell awkwardly prompting the urgent call to the bench for treatment that lasted almost ten minutes before he was stretchered off.

Southend looked a side full of confidence as they pressed forward looking for the opening goal. The very wordy, Britt Assombalonga wasted a good chance when he headed over following a Kevan Hurst free kick and another ex-Gills, Gavin Tomlin, produced a smart stop by Stuart Nelson low down at his near post.

As the half entered its nine minutes of added time, Gillingham took the lead with a Danny Kedwell penalty, awarded after Dack was sent sprawling by John Spicer. From a distance, it looked a bit soft but the Gillingham fans in line with the incident were quick to their feet with their claim. Kedwell’s penalty-taking style of putting his laces through the ball brought about the emphatic result, substitute goalkeeper Daniel Bentley could have enlisted the help of his senior partner and between them they still wouldn’t have stopped it!

The half ended with the dismissal of Dack for a challenge on Mark Phillips. Referee Phil Gibbs adjudged the tackle as reckless and flourished a straight red to the teenager. It seemed a bit on the harsh side, it cannot be contested that Dack caught Phillips but his feet didn’t leave the ground in the manner that is usually associated with straight reds. Phillips meanwhile, could not continue and was substituted at half time.

The Rainham End were already rousing the rest of Priestfield as the second half onslaught of the ten men began. Burton was substituted in favour of another defender; Andy Frampton brought in to shore up the middle of the field. Tomlin had a couple attempts, reasonably comfortably saved by Nelson, to punish his previous employers and crosses rained into the box to be met by the resilient heads of Adam Barrett, Callum Davies and on regular occasions, striker Kedwell.

The intense pressure brought out the best in Priestfield and whilst Southend produced wave after wave of attacks, Nelson was not asked to make anything more than comfortable saves, each one bringing tumultuous acclaim as if they were world-class.

This was the night, more so than the regulation wins over Dagenham, Barnet and Bristol Rovers that Gillingham showed their real credentials for a tilt at promotion. In adversity against very decent opposition they stood the test and everybody inside Priestfield fully appreciated the effort that had gone into the victory. Perhaps those that are not attending matches at Gillingham at present will hear and read about the atmosphere and optimism that is being generated and the turnstiles will start clicking past the 5,000 mark. In his programme notes Mr Scally wrote that some price incentives are in the pipeline in the near future, that will certainly help.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1988-89 season.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gillingham 4 Bristol Rovers 0

Match 19/12/972 - Saturday, 15 September 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (3) 4 Kedwell 5 (pen), 15 Lee 44, Whelpdale 82
Bristol Rovers (0) 0
Att. 4,768

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,103

Match Report

The common theme of the Gillingham postings this season has been the slaying of ghosts by Martin Allen, another bit the dust in this four goal demolition of a woefully poor Bristol Rovers. The Curse of the Manager of the Month award, Gillingham coming into the game unbeaten and Rovers without a win would normally be the recipe for disaster at Priestfield, but at this present time there is no such place for superstition.

Another common thought has been that there is still plenty to come from this Gillingham side and, once again, despite the mauling of the opposition, the home side had a long period in the second half when, with the foot off the pedal, they became a bit complacent and sloppy. But, three goals to the good, it was affordable, if not to the manager who had taken note.

Similar to last week’s win at Barnet, Gillingham took the game by the scruff of the neck within the first quarter hour. Five minutes had ticked by when Danny Kedwell was sent tumbling in the box by Tom Parkes. The Gills leading scorer dusted himself down to leather the penalty past Sam Walker in the Pirates’ goal.

On the quarter hour, Kedwell doubled both his and his sides tally as he backed headed Charlie Lee’s long throw at the near post. Desperate attempts to clear the ball from the line were made by Adam Virgo, but he could only help it into the net. A striker in a rich vein of form is going to claim the goal, his seventh of the season, making him the Football League’s leading goalscorer.

Hands were on heads the length of breadth of Priestfield when Charlie Allen missed from six yards, but those hands were clapping again when the home side added a third just before half-time. An Allen right wing corner found the diving head of Charlie Lee to add the gloss to a fine first half performance.

As said earlier, the foot noticeably came off the pedal in the second half. It was another very warm September day and three goals to the good, why not turn it into a stroll, because the manager says not, that’s why! Bristol Rovers, obviously with their own flea in the ear, made a better fight of it in the second period, but one reasonably comfortable save from Stuart Nelson was their only shot of note. Several crosses into the Gillingham box carried a threat, but the loss to injury in the first half of Matt Harrold deprived Rovers of a cutting edge.

Gillingham carved open a chance on the hour with a move of absolute quality. Substitutes Myles Weston and Ben Strevens combined with Allen to engineer a shot on goal for Weston, that he took too early and straight at Walker, but its conception had been something to savour.

Weston was a lively introduction and his pace finally counted with 10 minutes remaining. He skipped past Wayne Brown down the right wing from where his cross found the diving head of Chris Whelpdale for Gillingham’s fourth goal from close range.

Martin Allen is obviously not going to stand for complacency, so top of the table, three points clear is not going to cloud this manager’s thinking. David Wright has been brought into the squad on a month’s loan from Crystal Palace, another vastly experienced player in the spine of the side, in front of the hugely impressive Adam Barrett, in the centre of defence. Wright was the only change to the side that won at Barnet, previously five or six changes have become the pattern, so perhaps the manager is close to knowing what his first choice eleven might be, subject to availability. But one thing is for sure, if there is a first eleven, none will be resting on their laurels.

Slight disappointing was the attendance of 4,768, of which a little more than 200 had travelled from Bristol. I was hoping that the early season success might have seen the crowd number creep above the 5,000-mark, but perhaps with another home game on Tuesday, people are unable to afford two games in the present economic climate.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1995-96 season.

Friday, 14 September 2012

England 1 Ukraine 1

Match 18/12/971 - Tuesday, 11 September 2012 - World Cup Qualifying

England (1) 1 Lampard 87 (pen)
Ukraine (1) 1 Konoplienka 38
Att. 68,102

Entrance: £55
Programme: £6
Mileage: 155/1,058

Match Report

The FA made an undisguised attempt to tap into the Olympic feel good factor with a programme cover that exclaimed “Let The Games Begin” and a parade of Olympians during the half-time break. In the days leading up to this World Cup Qualifier it was reported that only 55,000 tickets had been sold for a game that was always likely to be against England’s most dangerous opponent in the group. The final take-up was boosted to 68,102 with tickets being offered to the Olympic Games volunteers at discounted prices. Whilst it is obvious, from the flags that adorn Wembley, that many travel to Wembley from outside of the capital, I would guess that a substantial proportion of any Wembley attendance come from London and the South East and would also guess that last night’s lower than usual attendance is as much to do with a bit of post-Olympic belt tightening as it was England’s poor showing at Euro 2012.

After Friday’s 5-0 romp in the opening Qualifier in Moldova, a smooth ride to Rio may well have been envisaged, but Ukraine came to Wembley with an intention to avenge what they perceived as an injustice in Donetsk when England won by a Wayne Rooney goal after a goal of their own was ruled out when it had clearly crossed the line and they ultimately proved to be more than just a bump in the road.

England were forced to rely on a Frank Lampard penalty with three minutes remaining to salvage a point from a game that saw Steven Gerrard sent off for two bookable offences with an overly officious referee from Turkey, Cuneyt Cakir, taking centre stage. He brandished nine yellow cards in a game that was never fractious.

The Ukrainians posed a dangerous threat with the pace of Yevgeni Konoplienka and Andrij Yarmolenko proving a constant problem for a back line that looked uncomfortable without the presence of Scott Parker patrolling in front of them. The Turkish referee’s first intervention came after 11 minutes when Jermain Defoe fired past the Ukranian keeper from 20 yards only to have the goal chalked off for a mysterious offence. It transpired that the referee had determined that Defoe had executed a hand-off on Yarmolenko whilst engineering the space in which to shoot.

The visitors took full advantage of the let-off when, after 39 minutes, Konoplienka seized on a poor clearance from Joleon Lescott to thunder a shot high into the net from 25 yards for superb finish.

England created chances throughout the first half, but each one fell to Tom Cleverley and, pun intended, on the night he was none to clever.

Chasing the game in the second half, Roy Hodgson ended with a three-pronged attack with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge joining Defoe in attack. Welbeck struck a post with eight minutes remaining before a hand ball in the area under pressure from the Manchester United striker offered Lampard the opportunity to salvage the point from the spot.

The most rose-tinted of opinions could point to important players missing such as Rooney, John Terry and Parker. Gerrard was forced to play a very deep-lying role in the absence of the midfield holder thus nullifying his influence further up the field. Both of Gerrard bookings were contentious, the first of leading with an arm and the second for a tackle from behind. As his punishment is to miss the home game against San Marino it should not be particularly costly.

The Road to Rio may prove to be a bumpy one and as the Olympic spirit fades over the coming months the FA might need a bit more imaginative thinking than piggy-backing on another sport’s success to keep the Wembley turnstiles clicking. At £55 paid last night, ticket prices might be a good place to start.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Barnet 1 Gillingham 3

Match 17/12/970 - Saturday, 8 September 2012 - League Two

Barnet (1) 1 Saville 22
Gillingham (3) 3 Payne 10, Kedwell 11, Burton 38
Att. 2,835

Entrance: £13 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 159/903

Match Report

Very few visiting supporters will be bidding a fond farewell to Underhill as Barnet depart their home of 105 years and move boroughs to Harrow and a development on their training facility at The Hive in Edgware at the end of this season. In a very interesting Q & A in the matchday programme, chairman Tony Kleanthous spoke candidly of the borough council’s intransigence, a ground that is an embarrassment and his regret that the shifting of the club from the borough of Barnet is of a consequence of Saracens’ relocation in the borough.

The sloping pitch, the narrow terracing which the chairman described as “nothing more than a concrete step with a tin roof” and using another of the Mr Kleanthous’ descriptions “a dilapidated facility” does nothing to appeal to visiting supporters. In truth, whilst home is where the heart is, there has to be more positives than negatives even for the home support in a move away. But there is the affinity to your home town, let’s not forget the uproar that came with the possibility of Gillingham’s move to Gravesham and even to another borough within the Medway Towns, and Barnet’s supporters anxieties lay with the logistics of getting to Edgware and whether the club would forever retain the name of Barnet Football Club.

It does seem that the carrot of a multi-purpose venue and the lure of Premiership rugby at a redeveloped Barnet Copthall Stadium with Saracens were viewed more favourably than Barnet’s proposal for the same site, although this was approved by the Council’s planning committee but overturned by the Secretary of State.

Martin Allen continues to lay the ghosts of previous administrations with a comfortable away win at the bottom club. Despite wins at Underhill since Mark Stimson’s FA Cup defeat in 2007, memories of that gutless performance always rear their head as the turnstiles click in entry. The one thing that Gillingham have always managed to do at Underhill is click those turnstiles and once again more than a thousand packed out the concrete steps, 1,144 to be precise.

Gillingham took complete control of the game with two goals in a minute. Jack Payne opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a shot from outside of the area. The lead was quickly doubled when Charlie Allen stood up a cross to the near post for Danny Kedwell to head home from close range.

The visitors may have been dominant and their supporters enjoying the right to banter with their counterparts that the game was over but after 22 minutes the home side found a way back with a goal far too straightforward in its making. A corner was won, send the big guy up and head it in was the simplistic plan that was successful. Mark Byrne supplied the corner and Jack Saville the header.

In the 38th minute, Gillingham restored their two goal advantage with a headed goal from Deon Burton. A long throw by Charlie Lee was headed on at the near post and Burton back-headed the ball into the bottom corner, seemingly by his reaction, much to his own surprise. Television viewing of the goal later led me to believe that he had actually meant it.

The second half was a bit of a stalemate as both sides struggled in the intense heat, but Gillingham were never seriously in trouble of losing their advantage.

Old boys in the Barnet side were Curtis Weston and Barry Fuller and I found it disappointing that some of the visiting support found it necessary to abuse them, particularly in the case of Fuller.

So, unless a cup draw deems otherwise, we wave goodbye to Underhill leading the League Two table and with fonder memories than we might have had a couple of years ago.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Billericay Town 3 Tonbridge 3

Match 16/12/969 - Tuesday, 4 September 2012 - Conference South

Billericay Town (2) 3 Green 8, Wild 38, Poole 58 (pen)
Tonbridge (1) 3 Lovell 2, Collin 85 (pen) Judge 90
Att. 469

Entrance: £12
Programme: £2
Mileage: 103/744

Match Report

It might have been hoped that some of the humility and good grace exhibited over the last month by the Olympians and Paralympians might be taken onboard by the nation’s footballers, but the afterglow of a visit to the Games on Sunday was quickly dispelled by an act of shameful irresponsibility. But if you are a Tonbridge supporter reading this and expecting the rest of this posting to be a one-sided assault on Rob Swaine then read no further.

As the game was heading towards its last five minutes and after being clearly second best for the best part of 80 minutes, Tonbridge were handed the lifeline of a penalty which was converted by Frannie Collin. As the tide changed and Tonbridge went in search of an unlikely point, Swaine went to ground, not for the first time, following a challenge from George Purcell. From my vantage point it looked as though he went down very easily and this clearly incensed the majority of Tonbridge fans positioned behind the goal who saw the summoning of the physio to the field as nothing more than time-wasting. They gave the Billericay captain absolute dogs-abuse and when he got to his feet he gestured to them with his back to the referee that he had dived and this served to further wind up the visiting supporters. The abuse continued and when Swaine turned to face his own goal following another clearance he spat in the direction of the Tonbridge supporters. This I saw clearly, in my opinion he did not spit with any venom that was likely to reach any of those behind the goal, I would say it was only a gesture, but he clearly spat. Two wrongs never made a right and the player compounded his irresponsibility by getting into a Twitter row later in the evening when he admitted spitting but denied that it was at the fans whom he labelled as idiots and morons.

Players week-in, week-out get abused and do not respond; clearly with the victory slipping away from Billericay the abuse got to Swaine and the rest is history.

The game could not have started better for Tonbridge, who took the lead after just 90 seconds when Mark Lovell headed into the bottom corner from a left wing cross. Strangely, as the game had kicked off a couple minutes early, the home side found themselves behind before the scheduled start!

That was as good as it got for Tonbridge for the next 80 minutes. Billericay overran Tonbridge’s narrow midfield with Sam Lechmere giving an eye-catching performance. After eight minutes the home side were level following an uncharacteristic error by Lee Worgan. A high cross into the penalty area was dropped by the goalkeeper and Nathan Green headed home. It looked, from the length of the pitch, suspiciously like the ball had been headed from the hands of Worgan, but the keeper did not protest with any great conviction.

The Tonbridge goalkeeper made amends with a series of saves before he was beaten again in the 38th minute. A corner was headed towards goal by Swaine, Worgan made a fine parrying save but only into the path of Chris Wild who scored from close range.

The one-way traffic continued early into the second half with Tonbridge being opened up almost at will. It was no surprise when Billericay doubled their lead in the 58th minute. The hosts were given a penalty from which Glenn Poole converted after a Tonbridge defender had handled a goalbound shot.

The turn in the visitors’ fortunes hinged on the introduction of Nathan Koranteng and Rory Hill adding much needed width in the middle of the field. The big central defenders who had dominated throughout were being pulled out of position and panic set in. I have to admit I’m not sure what happened for the penalty, from the ball bobbling about in the area to the referee pointing at the spot for Collin to convert.

The rumblings of the Swaine dispute were continuing when in the final minute, Koranteng crossed from the left, the ball was headed back across the face of goal and Ben Judge turned it in from close range to the delight of the travelling faithful who probably saw it as rough justice following the spitting incident.

New Lodge has to be among the poorer of the grounds in Conference South. The pitch slopes badly and the floodlights fail to illuminate certain areas of the pitch, around the dugouts in particular. There is a small covered stand on the halfway line alongside the clubhouse in which the posters and programme covers from their Wembley visits in the 1970s take pride of place. The clubhouse is presently shrouded in scaffolding adding to the untidy appearance. On the far side of the ground there is covered seating and standing accommodation that was originally two stands that have been joined together. The overall impression is that the ground has been assembled bit by bit with no thought given to the previous structure or the next one.

Tonbridge slipped into the bottom three with Billericay a point and a couple of places better off.