Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Welling United 2 Newport County 0

Match 35/12/988 - Saturday, 24 November 2012 - FA Trophy 2R

Welling United (1) 2 Healy 36, Martin 60
Newport County (0) 0
Att. 441

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 76/2,225

Match Report

For the first time this season (and with the weather we have been having, I would imagine not the last) a postponed game forced me to change direction from my original destination. The postponement of Tunbridge Wells’ Kent League fixture against Deal Town came as no surprise as their previous home game had suffered the same fate as a result of a waterlogged pitch.

The choice was made therefore to go to Welling to watch the FA Trophy match against Newport County, dubbed by Tonbridge fans as Kinch v Minsh, two former Longmead favourites. That personal encounter was something of a damp squib as Scott Kinch only made the Welling bench and was not used, whilst Lee Minshull was substituted after an hour. Also on the Welling bench was another Tonbridge, and I think I can use the word legend, Jon Main. The Park View Road pitch didn’t look the best, but was perfectly playable.

Newport County came into the game, third in the Conference, but in a poor vein of form having lost four of their previous five games. But they settled into the task in the early stages and Welling goalkeeper Sam Mott was forced to make a couple of good saves. But having survived their early scares, Welling took the game to their Welsh opponents and were worth their lead on 36 minutes when player-manager Jamie Day delivered the perfect cross for Joe Healy to rise at the far post and score with a free header.

There was a long delay in the closing minutes of the first half when Fraser Franks collided with his own goalkeeper and was stretchered off and subsequently an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. He tweeted later that evening that it was originally thought he had punctured a lung, but, thankfully, it was just bruised.

On the hour, Day produced a carbon copy of his first half cross and this time it was Franks’ replacement Ben Martin that profited at the far post. Ex-Gillingham goalkeeper, Alan Julian, had no chance with either of the goals, but for several fine saves from him, the score could have been quite embarrassing for the Conference high-flyers.

Certainly, this can be considered to be a Trophy upset, but truth was that Newport County were very disappointing and this must have been a really frustrating afternoon for the sizeable Welsh following that had braved the atrocious conditions both at the game and en-route.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gillingham 2 Exeter City 3

Match 34/12/987 - Tuesday, 20 November 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Whelpdale 4, Jackman 79
Exeter City (0) 3 Gow 27, Cureton 54, 86
Att. 6,851

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,149

Match Report

Sometimes in life you just have to settle for what you have got. A wistful look in the estate agents’ window might allow you to dream about the four-bedroom detached house in a quiet cul-de-sac but the reality is, do you really want the mortgage that goes with it? Or perhaps it’s the shining new car on the garage forecourt that takes your eye, but your slightly high mileage vehicle is still fit for purpose. Truth is, a glass half empty is exactly what it says it is half a glass and more often than not, it is better than nothing at all.

Gillingham’s willingness to throw caution to the wind (and the rain, on a torrid night) was admirable, but once Danny Jackman’s bolt from the blue had rescued the game, then a little pragmatism would not have gone a miss. They chased the game with wild abandon, they failed to heed a warning when Stuart Nelson saved Jamie Cureton’s penalty, but still they left the back door open to concede defeat to an Exeter side, that ranked among the best we have seen at Priestfield this season.

Gillingham got off to the best possible start, hitting the woodwork in the opening minute and following a superb through pass from Lewis Montrose, Chris Whelpdale was able to steer the ball over the advancing Grecian keeper, Artur Krysiak for the opening goal after four minutes.

Exeter recovered well from the setback and whilst referee Deadman’s award of a free kick against Charlie Lee on 27 minutes might have been debatable there was no doubting of the quality of Alan Gow’s beautifully flighted free kick to level the score. The home side created several chances before the break, Lee twice saw headers hacked away from the line whilst Ben Strevens and Deon Burton failed to test the keeper with shots that went close.

In the 57th minute, a corner for the visitors found its way to the far post where the 37-year-old predator, Cureton was lurking to smash the ball into the roof of the net. It was now a necessary evil for the home side to have to throw bodies forward and while chances fell to Myles Weston and Callum Davies, their vulnerability to the counter attack was all too apparent.

Eleven minutes remained when Gillingham got their salvation in the form of Jackman’s thunderbolt from 25 yards into the top corner. The Rainham End roared their appreciation and urged the home side forward for a winner and any sense of defending what they had was lost in the excitement.

Into the last five minutes and when Romain Vincelot brought down Jimmy Keohane on the edge of the box it appeared that all was lost, but Nelson made a fine save from Cureton’s penalty, but was the lesson learnt, sadly not. Just a minute later, Cureton made amends when he converted Liam Sercombe’s cross with a free header from close range and Gillingham’s folly of throwing everything in search of the three points was at an end.

Martin Allen’s side should not be criticised; they showed ambition and a bucket load of endeavour but, almost without doubt, they are going to find themselves in situations like this one again and if next time they emerge with just half-a-glass, they might realise that this is not an empty glass.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1981-82 season.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Gillingham 2 Morecambe 1

Match 33/12/986 - Saturday, 17 November 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Montrose 37, Burton 90+3
Morecambe (0) 1 Redshaw 59
Att. 5,402

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,104

Match Report

It was one of the abiding memories of the London Olympics. Mo Farah had bided his time on the shoulders of various front runners for 9,600 metres of the 10,000 metres and at the sound of the bell he made his kick for home. The American, Galen Rupp and Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele attempted to stay with Farah, but 90 metres from the line he strode clear and the gold medal was his. There were front runners that had done much of the donkey work for a large part of the race, but the pressure of leading the pack was too much and they faded away and with it their medal chances.

The thought crossed my mind on Saturday, that the football season is the equivalent of the track’s longest race and the longer you stay at the front the pressure grows match by match as you look over your shoulder at the team that is seemingly content to wait until the home straight before making their move. Football, of course, isn’t like a athletics race at all, the odd game cannot be lost just so you can stay in second place, but the pressure of being the front runner is just the same.

For three months, Gillingham have led the table and have largely swept aside the majority of the sides put before them, but I sensed that the pressure of being the front-runner is beginning to manifest itself. Adam Barrett touched on it in an interview and following the game, Martin Allen also commented that being at the top is something that everybody at the club, chairman to fan, needs to learn how to handle.

The first half was one of domination by the league leaders. In the very first minute, Matt Fish forced Barry Roche to tip the ball over the bar and further chances came for Ben Strevens and Barratt. On the half hour, Gillingham did everything but score in a hectic moment for the Shrimps back line. Danny Kedwell claimed a penalty for holding that only resulted in a corner, from which Barrett had successive attempts that were cleared from the line.

The goal finally arrived on 37 minutes. A free kick from the right by Danny Jackman was weakly punched to the penalty spot by Roche, who was helpless as Lewis Montrose drove the ball past him into the centre of the goal.

The second half was an entirely different affair and Kevin Ellison and Izak Reid stretched Stuart Nelson before the Shrimps equalised with 20 minutes remaining. Callum Davies lost out in a tussle on the edge of the box and when Nelson left his line to face Ellison, the veteran striker fed a pass across the face of goal for Jack Redshaw to tap into an open net from a yard to the delight of the hardy band of 21 Morecambe supporters that had made the long trip south.

Kedwell and Charlie Allen went close before the game entered its time added and the classic finale to a game that perhaps didn’t quite deserve the stunning quality of Deon Burton’s finish. Fish lifted a long, almost desperate cross, into the box that Burton took on his chest, on the turn and volleyed home from around the penalty spot. It was pure class. Ellison, who had wound up the crowd with some gesturing following the visitor’s equaliser was left staring into space, head in hands as the point that Morecambe had worked hard to attain, disappeared.

Just like Mo Farah, when it came to the finish, Gillingham had enough to get over line when the pressure was at its most intense, but unlike a 10,000 metre final, you have to get over that line more than once in the course of a season.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1979-80 season.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Maidstone United 2 Tonbridge 3

Match 32/12/985 - Tuesday, 13 November 2012 - Kent Senior Cup

Maidstone United (0) 2 T. Olorunda 46, Waugh 85
Tonbridge (2) 3 Gayle 22, Lovell 40, Muggeridge 65
Att. 1,102

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £0.50
Mileage: 18/2,059

Match Report

Frankly, over 1,100 for a Kent Senior Cup tie is ridiculous, but that is the pulling power of the Gallagher Stadium at the present time. Maidstone United are back in the town, they are successful and, it seems, everybody (from the Stones substantial fanbase to the stadium-ticking groundhoppers) wants a piece of the action.

The group of Tonbridge supporters amongst which I watched the game agreed that if this fixture had been played at Longmead, a little over the 300 mark was the best that could have been hoped for.

And it seems that visitors are coming away with a little more "like" than Maidstone United have previously engendered. I’ve steered clear of “love” and “hate” as words too emotive and, for all that is good about an evening at the Gallagher, I was not prepared to put aside 50 years of dislike to embark on any love-in. My good friend, and legendary Gillingham supporter, The Binman might have written in a recent programme that it was becoming “less and less easy to loathe them” after a cheery welcome and a good atmosphere generated by enthusiastic fans, but I wasn’t prepared to be swayed so easily. But, for the reasons he stated, it was hard to loathe them. A couple of very likeable supporters stood alongside our group explained the club's future development plans, what it had been like in exile at Sittingbourne and Ashford and the level-headedness of the new owners. Even, my attempt to burst the bubble with the opinion that Maidstone must not repeat previous mistakes of chasing the dream without the proper foundation was met with total agreement.

The fact is, with the huge attendances that are descending on James Whatman Way, they have every opportunity to emulate the progress that has been made by Dartford since their return to their home town with the building of Princes Park.

All this, despite the fact it was one of the lesser competitions and, as the higher league opposition, Tonbridge were expected to win, it was still with a certain smugness that I left the stadium after the game, having put one over them.

In truth, Tonbridge showed their superior quality and could, and should, have won a lot more comfortably than they eventually did. Both sides were under-strength, but it was apparent that the Conference South club's depth was significantly stronger. They cruised into a two-goal half-time lead through a 20 yard shot from Aaron Gayle and a free header from close range converted by Mark Lovell and the lead should have been significantly greater such was their dominance.

The first minute of the second half changed the complexion of the game, when ex-Angel Tim Olorunda crashed home a shot from six yards following a corner to buoy the home crowd and Tonbridge had to withstand a period of pressure before a 35 yard scorcher from Henry Muggeridge restored the two goal advantage. The swagger returned to the Angels and further chances to put the game to bed came and went before, with five minutes remaining, Alex Waugh struck, with the ball coming down off the underside of the bar and deemed to have crossed the line. This gave the home side renewed momentum, but this was lost when a very poor challenge from Ade Olorunda on Sonny Miles earned a straight red card. Maidstone still mounted a challenge in the time added on and it was not without great relief that the final whistle blew to allow me my smug walk back to the car.

Such is their fan base, I’ve no doubt that Maidstone can pass Tonbridge on their way back to the higher reaches, possibly even to the Football League. But, even if I’ve learnt not to loathe them, could I love them, absolutely not a snowball in hell’s chance.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Tonbridge 2 Hitchin Town 1

Match 31/12/984 - Saturday, 10 November 2012 - FA Trophy 3QR

Tonbridge (2) 2 Purcell 3, Piper 35
Hitchin Town (0) 1 Frendo 28 (pen)
Att. 513

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,041

Match Report

Tommy Warrilow celebrated five years as manager of Tonbridge Angels with something not synonymous of his reign at Longmead, a cup victory. Warrilow’s time at the club, in league terms, has been largely upwardly mobile, but his cup record has been largely through the door marked exit.

A draw against lower league opposition has certainly not been a free pass into the next round in previous seasons, so this Third Qualifying Round tie against Southern Premier League, Hitchin Town was not to be considered a gimme.

Prior to the game beginning a minute’s applause was observed for Ken Jarrett, a club stalwart since the very beginning in 1948. I didn’t know Ken personally, but like just about everybody else who follows the club, knew of Ken. A former club secretary, vice chairman and director, Ken was typical of the people found up-and-down the country who are the mainstay of non-league football, those that give freely of their time and effort to maintain a local football club that we can visit when Saturday comes.

Tonbridge opened the game at a canter and were a goal to the good within three minutes. Ross Treleaven’s direct pass through the heart of the visiting defence found George Purcell, who advanced on the keeper, who despite making a semi-block of the shot, saw the ball loop over his body and into the empty net.

The early goal on appeared to engender complacency into the Tonbridge ranks as the Hertfordshire team found their feet. After several sorties on the home goal, Hitchen were eventually, deservedly, on level terms after the awarding of a 28th minute penalty which leading scorer, John Frendo, converted. Ben Judge committed the foul on the edge of the penalty area and received a booking which was to prove costly later in the game.

The home side was not behind for long. Chris Piper, who had an outstanding afternoon, cut in from the left, executed a turn that left his marker on his backside and shot calmly into past Hitchen keeper Martin Bennett.

In the 52nd minute Tonbridge were reduced to 10 men when Judge was sent off after being beaten for pace by Stewart King and then tripping the Hitchen forward. The dismissal shook Tonbridge out of their complacency, their possession of the ball improved and they took control of the game. Raiding down the left hand side, the impressive Henry Muggeridge found himself in shooting positions on three occasions, one of which looped onto the bar. The young left back is a fine acquisition, he has been outstanding in every game I’ve seen him play and I’m only left to scratch my head as to why he is not playing above Conference South level.

The team’s equality in terms of personnel was levelled at 10-a-side when after melee Hitchen’s Louis Lee was sent off after raising his hands to Tom Davis and pushing him to the ground. Tonbridge safely saw the game out with no real alarms and Monday brings the tantalising prospect of a Trophy draw with Tonbridge in the hat and that is a bit of a novelty for Tommy Warrilow!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Gillingham 0 Cheltenham Town 0

Match 30/12/983 - Tuesday, 6 November 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (0) 0
Cheltenham Town (0) 0
Att. 6,096

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/2,015

Match Report

If there were any among the 6,000-plus crowd at Priestfield Stadium, or the wider world, that were naïve enough to think that game in, game out Gillingham would spend the rest of the season turning over their visitors four goals at a time, then last night was a wake-up call. Cheltenham Town arrived in Kent in third place, in a good run of form and, most especially in the first 45 minutes, lived up to their credentials as promotion contenders.

Although only 109 supporters followed their favourites from Gloucestershire, their invective against their former manager, Martin Allen, was clearly audible. A pre-match blog from a Cheltenham journalist made it apparent that there was going to be no love lost from the away terrace and with their singing of “Martin Allen, you ruined our club” they made their point heard.

Allen’s team selection saw Andy Frampton return at left back in direct opposition with the tricky Jermaine McGlashan. Frampton, even in his dreams, was never going to win a foot race against the speedy McGlashan and with the full back Sido Jombati getting forward to double the trouble, Gillingham were facing a severe threat down the Cheltenham right hand side.

Stuart Nelson needed to be at his best with saves from Russ Penn and Kaid Mohamed, while Callum Davies and Adam Barrett were called upon to make chance saving tackles and blocks. The home side made the odd foray on the opposition goal but in general it was Cheltenham that were calling the shots. On 35 minutes, Mohamed was stopped in his tracks by a sliding tackle from Davies that, if there was one, would earn tackle of season with immediate effect. Had he not made the tackle, the on-form striker would have been through on goal with options.

Five minutes before the break chances were spurned at both ends of the pitch. Firstly, Penn headed wastefully over the bar before at the other end Town keeper, Scott Brown could only parry a fierce shot from Jack Payne into the path of Danny Kedwell, who somehow managed to crash a shot against the bar from very close range.

The Cheltenham fans might not value Allen as a manager, but his team talk may well have had a bearing on the second half transformation. Those visiting fans spent the entire half peering into the distance as the second half was played out in front of the Rainham End. But they will also be appreciative of the fact that whilst in the opening period their side showed good quality on the front foot, the second was one of great resilience at the back with the giant central defenders, Darren Carter and Steve Elliott standing firm.

The referee became a frustrating official as McGlashan got a ticking off for a poor challenge on Davies and Carter trod a very fine line following a caution. Perhaps recognising the official’s inconsistency, Allen decided to replace Payne, who was on a booking, with striker Deon Burton.

Despite their dominance, real chances were at a premium. Barrett forced Brown into a save and a series of free kicks on the edge of the box failed to beat the wall. Perhaps, it was a lack of concentration after a long period of inactivity but when Nelson spilled a McGlashan cross at his right hand post there was a timely reminder of the threat the visitors held.

Gillingham’s second chance of note came on 75 minutes when Deon Burton steered a diving header wide of the post and from that point the visitors restricted their hosts to half chances falling to Barrett and Kedwell.

As it turned out, with none of the chasing pack able to capitalise, each one drawing their fixture, the point can be considered a good one and if it did nothing else it served as a gentle reminder that Gillingham are not the only decent side in the division.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1999-2000 season.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Gillingham 4 Scunthorpe United 0

Match 29/12/982 - Saturday, 3 November 2012 - FA Cup First Round

Gillingham (0) 4 Fish 59, Burton 65, Kedwell (pen) 76, Birchall 90+3
Scunthorpe United (0) 0
Att. 4,017

Entrance: £15
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,970

Match Report

If I could have script-written this FA Cup First Round tie, then Adam Birchall, back from his loan spell at Dartford and sitting on the bench, would have been brought on to score the winning goal. It didn’t quite pan out that way; when Birchall was introduced with eleven minutes remaining, bringing to an end his 16 month wait for a League appearance, Gillingham were three goals to the good and their place in Round Two assured. In time added on, his tap-in from a yard won’t win goal of the season, but will probably be the most emotional goal, for both players and supporters, scored this season. I don’t mind admitting it brought a lump to my throat as the striker celebrated with wild abandon.

Martin Allen might have wished to play down Gillingham’s role as favourites for this tie with a Scunthorpe side a division higher, but I don’t think this thumping will register as any sort of upset. Sitting in the bottom four, only of couple of wins all season and despite the installation of Brian Laws as their new manager, the Lincolnshire club must have arrived at Priestfield fearing the worst.

Allen, perhaps with Gillingham’s match on Tuesday against Cheltenham in mind (even at this stage of the season it has the ring of a six-pointer), once more rang the changes with the likes of Danny Kedwell rested to the bench and Tom Flanagan to the stands.

Gillingham fans were still reeling with the shock of Martin Allen’s red trousers (part of red, white and blue day) when Stuart Nelson was forced into an early save from Mike Grella, significantly, when the game reached its conclusion this was the only real save the Gills’ keeper was asked to make.

The League One side were the more positive in the first quarter of the game, but once the home side had survived that period they then asked practically all of the questions. Myles Weston had an afternoon of threat and frustration as his pace was too much for the Iron defence but the final product was lacking. The half ended in deadlock despite Matt Fish and Chris Whelpdale going close. Andy Barcham, making his first appearance back at Priestfield with Scunthorpe, was almost anonymous.

The thought of a midweek replay at Glanford Park among a heavy schedule of travelling in the coming weeks was the subject of concern during the half-time period but those worries were dispelled in a scintillating second half display. From the outset the game became one way traffic and Adam Barrett and Charlie Lee saw efforts saved before Gillingham finally took the lead on the hour. Iron keeper Sam Slocombe did well to parry a Whelpdale shot but only into the path of Fish who squeezed the ball home from a tight angle.

The lead was quickly doubled when Weston found Deon Burton at the far post who directed his header back across the face of the goal into the opposite corner.

The visitors were being overrun at this point and, with 15 minutes remaining, Danny Jackman surging into the penalty area was brought down for as uncontentious penalty as you would wish to see. Kedwell, on for Burton, leathered the ball home from the spot in his usual style and Gillingham’s name was in the hat for the next round.

All that was left was for Birchall to add the most delicious of icing to the cake. He came on for Weston and was almost immediately involved in a well-worked move that might have produced a goal for the diminutive striker. But that moment came on 93 minutes, Slocombe was only able to parry Kedwell’s header to the far post where Birchall was lurking to tap the ball into the bottom corner. Sixteen months of rehabilitation and concern for his future was washed away in a moment of joyous celebration that was embraced by the entire Gillingham family. Perhaps it wasn’t quite a “not a dry eye in the house” moment but I’m sure there were many more than just me who wiped away a tear in recognition of, hopefully, the final chapter in one man’s endeavour to resurrect his career from the debris of a pre-season friendly at Welling.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1971-72 season.