Sunday, 30 December 2012

Tonbridge 0 Bromley 3

Match 41/12/994 - Saturday, 29 December 2012 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 0
Bromley (2) 3 Jones 12, Rhule 42, Pigott 58
Att. 682

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,361

Match Report

Accusing looks are being the made at The Hat. Back in late October, following Gillingham’s 1-0 win at AFC Wimbledon, my old hat got mislaid and since then a series of hats have been used to break a cycle of poor results, but none of them have worked to any great degree. A new hat, a replica of the one lost, was bought for Christmas, but so far, whilst it has warmed the head, it has presided over two defeats without a goal being scored. My old gardening hat managed a win at Rotherham, I think the tatty old bit of headgear is about to earn a recall. Mind you, if the old hat was lost at Wimbledon, picked up and worn by a fan of theirs, then their luck is no better with the Dons slipping to the foot of the table.

The surprise postponement on Friday of Gillingham’s home game against Northampton at least had the compensation of a first look at Tonbridge for the best part of six weeks. Following their Boxing Day win over arch-rivals Dover Athletic, I arrived at Longmead high on optimism for a game against a bottom three side, Bromley. I left thoroughly disappointed following what can only be described as a quite abysmal performance.

Tonbridge did well to get this fixture on and following the Gillingham postponement, I didn’t think this game would have a prayer and was to be the subject of a 10 a.m. pitch inspection, but a strong wind and a temporary cessation of the never-ending deluge rendered even the inspection unnecessary.

It is hard to consider how good Bromley were on the day as Tonbridge were so poor. But impressive performances from Sanchez Ming at right back and their loanee from Charlton, Joe Pigott caught the eye.

It took the home side 87 minutes to stretch Bromley goalkeeper, Joe Welch, into his first diving save of the match and in time added on their clearest shooting opportunity of the match was ballooned over by Henry Muggeridge.

Tonbridge can be thankful that they emerged from this game just the three goals in arrears. Bromley missed a penalty after 17 minutes when the score was 1-0, Danny Waldren’s spot kick saved by Lee Worgan diving to his left and after an hour Pigott rounded Worgan only to see his shot cleared from the line by Ollie Schulz.

After a bright start from both teams with Schulz heading wide for the Angels, Bromley opened the scoring with a swift counter-attack on 12 minutes. A well-crafted passing movement ended with Pigott crossing for Mike Jones to score from close range. The penalty gave the visitors the chance to double their advantage when Gary Elphick handled in the box only for Waldren’s miss to offer Tonbridge a lifeline.

Worgan was a busy man as Bromley continued to carve out chances but Tonbridge should have levelled the score just prior to half time when Mark Lovell tamely headed Danny Walder’s cross into the arms of Welch from an unmarked position just a couple of yards from goal. The miss was to prove costly. A swift break allowed winger Aaron Rhule to cut in from the right and curl a shot into the top corner from 20 yards.

Tonbridge started the second half a lot brighter and had several attempts on the Bromley goal that failed to test Welch to any great degree. The game was over as a contest on 58 minutes when Pigott cut in from the right to plant a well struck shot into the top corner. Quickly following was Pigott’s one-on-one chance to wrap the game up following a woeful back pass from Walder as the visitors began to look capable of inflicting considerable embarrassment on Tommy Warrilow’s men.

As the visitors pushed forward, Tonbridge enjoyed their best period in the game having some joy with counter attacks but the chances were wasted with Welch barely being called into action.

Conference South is a tight division from where Tonbridge’s win against Dover propelled them six places up the table and a defeat next match sends them almost back where they came from. Warrilow’s use of Frannie Collin has to be questionable. The goals have dried up from last year’s Golden Boot winner but the position he is being asked to play is not, and never will, get the best out of him.

So the tatty old gardening hat will satisfy superstition at Dover on New Year’s Day, if Tonbridge can produce a result from that difficult trip, then it is going to see a lot more of the grass at football grounds than in my own back garden.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Gillingham 0 Barnet 1

Match 40/12/993 - Wednesday, 26 December 2012 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Barnet (1) 1 Hyde 19
Att. 7,448

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,335

Match Report

When I started That’ll Be The Day it was intended only as a means of recording each football match I attended, result, scorers, attendance, that sort of thing. Thankfully, a few other people liked to read my scribbling and over the six years this has developed into quite a few people, consequently I now feel a sense of responsibility to produce something whatever the quality of the game. But when you have seen a game so devoid of quality, so lacking in passion from the team you support, then it becomes really difficult to find the appropriate words. This blog was never intended as a series of match reports, Fred crossed to Bert, who headed in sort of thing, more a musing of what it is like to follow a club through the good times and bad.

This season, with Gillingham, has been mostly those of good times. Martin Allen has led the club to the top of the table for the last three months and had the long-suffering fan base been offered a two point lead at Christmas back in August then nobody would not complained. So what exactly have we got to moan about?

A Boxing defeat against a Barnet side that has occupied one of the relegation positions for the most part of the season and a side that was comfortably beaten at Underhill back in September begs questions rather than a match report that merely states that the home club was beaten by a Jake Hyde goal after 20 minutes.

Questions about Martin Allen’s team selection; why do Gillingham almost always fail to produce a good performance in front of better than average home attendances and where has the form that took them to the top of the table disappeared?

Refer back to the posting following Gillingham’s FA Cup defeat at Preston North End when I reported that there were a few rumblings of discontent regarding the manager’s rotation policy. Those whisperings haven’t actually reached a crescendo, but reading message boards, listening to people, more and more of the fans do not understand why certain players are being left out of the side. Why is the grossly ineffective Lewis Montrose being chosen in front of Jack Payne; why was Danny Kedwell left on the bench and why is Danny Jackman being completely ignored? Are all three on their way out of the club come the January transfer window?

A first half performance as woeful as the low points of the Stimson and Hessenthaler eras was only improved with a triple substitution on the hour that raised the tempo of Gillingham’s display and brought a subdued crowd to a degree of life. In the middle of the field, Barnet’s Edgar Davids belied his 39 years, he won the ball, he distributed the ball, nothing fancy just effective, exactly what was missing from the Gillingham midfield that was devoid of any of those qualities. Twenty minutes elapsed when a misplaced pass from Romain Vincelot was intercepted by Davids, Jake Hyde strode forward from the pass and, with the Gillingham central defenders backing off, struck a 20 yard shot into the centre of the goal past a stranded Stuart Nelson.

Upfront, nothing was sticking with Deon Burton and Myles Weston, a job that if Kedwell’s goals from open play are questioned, he does well. Weston is not a 90 minute striker, he can make an impact from the bench against tiring defenders or he needs to be played to his strength from the wing.

Further questions towards the original team selection can be raised following the introduction of Payne and Chris Whelpdale into the midfield which stimulated a much-improved, if fruitless, improvement in the last 30 minutes. Gillingham mounted an onslaught on the Barnet goal, but the visitors defended well, if a bit haphazardly at times and goalkeeper Graham Stack was not called upon to make anything other than routine saves. Charlie Allen, a disappointment in midfield, selfishly shot when Adam Birchall was in a much better position and Birchall just failed to get onto the end of a cross close to goal being the closest the home side came to getting an equaliser.

So this was another disappointment in front of a large crowd. In November and December, positive initiatives were made to get more customers through the doors with good results. A Tuesday evening fixture against Exeter City, cheaper tickets managed to get nearly 7,000 through the gate and a gung-ho performance brought defeat and over 8,500 saw a frustrating draw against Fleetwood. The Christmas period managed to entice 7,500 full-paying customers for this fixture, but once more the occasion got the better of the team. Why, I guess there are authoritative figures at the club puzzled by the same question.

Back in early November, Gillingham steam-rollered League One Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup to record their third successive four goal haul at Priestfield, since then form has stuttered and it is mostly due to results elsewhere that their position at the head of the table has been maintained. Suspensions that are just one game away for several players is probably going to mean that a more consistent team selection is not going to happen in the coming games, but with further strengthening promised during the transfer window, it is to be hoped (and desired by many supporters) that the strongest team is identified and largely played in the second half of a season that has promised much and is still in Martin Allen’s own hands to deliver.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1994-95 season.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Maidstone United 2 Worthing 2

Match 39/12/992 - Saturday, 22 December 2012 - Ryman League South

Maidstone United (0) 2 King 69, Olorunda, A. 85
Worthing (1) 2 Brotherton 3, Daniel 55
Att. 1,765

Entrance: £7 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 18/3,290

Match Report

Maidstone United, or more appropriately their owners, were able to cock a snook at the sceptics of 3G pitches as matches fell by the wayside following a couple of days of sustained rain leading to waterlogged pitches up and down the country.

In Kent, only one other game, at Erith Town, survived the deluge. In my two previous visits this season to the Gallagher, on much drier conditions, I have been impressed by the way the pitch has played with a natural bounce and true surface. Despite the monsoon conditions prior to kick off and the sustained rain during the match, the pitch played exactly the same with absolutely no lying water. Not knowing how these pitches are drained, quite where all the water goes, I’ve no idea, only to say that a walk along the towpath to the ground was interrupted at points where the Medway had broken its banks.

With the game at Erith the only footballing competition for the paying customer, it was inevitable that, despite the distraction of Christmas shopping, a large crowd would be in evidence. As it was, 1,765 was the given attendance, a phenomenal number for a Ryman League South game and the best so far for a competitive game at the Gallagher.

The game itself was a long way short of a classic, but for the supporters of the home club the draw supplied another point towards their championship quest from a two goal deficit. The visitors, Worthing, are edging themselves towards the play-off positions and on the coach back to the Sussex coast, the players and management must have been kicking themselves for allowing the three points to slip from their grasp.

After three minutes, the third of successive corners found its way to the far side of the box, from where Jamie Brotherton found the bottom corner of the net with the aid of a deflection off Gillingham loanee, Alex Brown. Maidstone looked a long way short of a top-of-the-table team throughout a half in which they offered very little in the way of an attacking threat.

Alex Flisher was introduced as a second half substitute and immediately Maidstone’s attacking intentions were increased. But, as the Stones pushed forward, Worthing were continually catching them on the break and ten minutes into the half they doubled their advantage with Matt Daniel converting with an tap-in after Deren Ibrahim had pushed an initial shot onto the underside of the bar. The Rebels had several opportunities to put the game to bed before Stuart King lobbed in from the edge of the box to offer the home side a lifeline with 20 minutes remaining.

Maidstone manager, Jay Saunders, threw caution to the wind in an effort to salvage something from the game and when Ade Olorunda was introduced he had four strikers on the pitch and with five minutes remaining his ambition was rewarded when the ex-Tonbridge striker scored from close range to earn the point.

No winner emerged from the game, but the real winner was the artificial surface that had delivered a game of football where grass up-and-down the land had failed.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Gillingham 2 Fleetwood Town 2

Match 38/12/991 - Saturday, 15 December 2012 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 2 Lee 42, Weston 65
Fleetwood Town (2) 2 Brown 20, Goodall 28
Att. 8,571

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,272

Match Report

There was a good deal of head-scratching and a minor moral outrage on the opening day of December when Micky Mellon was relieved of his duties as the manager of Fleetwood Town. The man who had overseen the final couple of stages of the club’s meteoric rise from the North West Counties League to the Football League in seven years was dismissed after a run of three defeats that culminated with a cup exit at the hands of Aldershot. From the outside with the club sitting on the fringes of the play-off places, it looked a knee-jerk decision by chairman Andy Pilley, who has reportedly sunk £10 million into the club to fund their (his) ambition of Football League membership and Mellon’s squad that the new manager, Graham Alexander, has inherited, today gave an accomplished display that further begged questions regarding his sacking.

After last week’s hard-earned three points at Rotherham, Martin Allen fielded an unchanged side. A ticket offer boosted the crowd to 8,571 but there was a subdued atmosphere as the game quietly took shape in the opening 20 minutes. Both sides created a half chance before the Lancashire club took the lead when Junior Brown was unmarked at the far post to convert a cross from David Ball.

Steven Gillespie, whose initial shot had set up the opening goal, was then booked after a bizarre incident with Gillingham goalkeeper, Stuart Nelson, who collected an overhit pass but was then wrestled to the ground by the Cod Army striker with a head lock for no apparent reason.

Gillingham found themselves two goals in arrears on 28 minutes following a goal completely at odds with last week’s well-organised defensive display. A straightforward corner into the box from Barry Goodall was met with a powerful, but unchallenged header, from Alan Goodall from the edge of the six yard box, much to the dismay of the completely sold-out Rainham End.

After a lacklustre opening period, the shock of going two behind at least provoked a positive response from the home side. Romain Vincelot, in the side despite last week’s loss of consciousness at Rotherham, pulled a shot wide before Charlie Lee netted the all-important third goal of the match to halve the deficit. A corner was headed on by Danny Kedwell and Lee swept the ball home from close range to set the comeback in motion.

Martin Allen’s introduction of Myles Weston for the second half in place of Deon Burton completely changed the nature of the game. Gillingham went far more direct than in the previous half and although it wasn’t pretty, it did place Fleetwood under considerable pressure as Weston continually got behind their back four with his pace. Twenty-five minutes remained when Vincelot nodded on Lee’s long throw and Weston tucked home from just a couple of yards to level the score.

With the big crowd now finding their voice, there were nervous reminders of the gung-ho nature of the last home game against Exeter and when keeper Nelson was robbed of the ball by Gillespie, who rolled a shot towards an open goal wide, thoughts of preservation of the point gained were uppermost in the mind.

Gillingham exerted considerable pressure in the remaining 20 minutes but Fleetwood expertly extinguished the momentum generated by the comeback leaving the draw as a result that could be interpreted as a point earned by either club.

Micky Mellon will enter the Christmas period as an unemployed football club manager and, on today’s viewing of the first-ever meeting between these two clubs, that seems more than a little unfair.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1984-85 season.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rotherham United 1 Gillingham 2

Match 37/12/990 - Saturday, 8 December 2012 - League Two

Rotherham United (0) 1 Taylor 69
Gillingham (1) 2 Burton 10,57
Att. 8,029

Entrance: £13 Senior
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 428/3,227
New Ground: 252

Match Report

They love a pie in South Yorkshire and in Rotherham, the home of the Pukka Pie, stood on the touchline the ever-expanding waistline of the loathsome Steve Evans appeared to be testament of the consumption of a truck of load of the savouries since his departure from the quiche of Crawley.

Pukka was the watchword of a Gillingham performance that required, and got, pukka resilience, pukka strength from pukka men who stood up and were counted when the going got tough, and boy, did it get tough.

The reaction of Martin Allen and the colossal Adam Barrett at the final whistle as they ran the length and breadth of the field to celebrate in front of a travelling army who had more than played their part in this magnificent rear guard action. Gillingham needed to be immense, Gillingham were immense.

In a smash and grab of three points, Deon Burton, the subject of hostility from the home support with reference to his acrimonious departure to arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday back in 2006, was the ace predator taking maximum advantage of the couple of chances that came his way.

A second half blow to the head for Romain Vincelot extended the half for 11 agonising minutes that was further lengthened by a couple more before referee Andy Haines brought an end to proceedings to ensure a jubilant celebration for the fans who recognised the battling performance that had been put before them and revelled in the fact that one had been put over the fat Scotsman.

Jack Payne was among the changes made and the team had a look of the side that knew that a battle was about to ensue. Ten minutes of a one-sided assault on the visitors’ goal had elapsed when Gillingham won a throw on the right hand touchline. Charlie Lee sent his trade mark long throw into the Millers’ penalty area, Danny Kedwell headed on and Burton was able to tuck the ball home from close range in virtually Gills’ first attack.

The home side responded and Stuart Nelson was forced to parry away a shot from Michael O’Connor with Matt Fish shepherding the ball to safety and on 23 minutes Daniel Nardiello threaded a fine pass through to O’Connor who was one-on-one with Nelson whom he rounded but then fell over his own feet as he attempted to direct the ball into the net from an acute angle.

Nelson made another good stop from Jason Taylor; Nardiello could only find the side-netting and Kari Arnasan failed to get a touch in front of goal as the one-way assault continued until the break. A Payne shot well clear of the bar offering the only respite just prior to the half-time whistle.

The home element New York Stadium crowd were hushed into silence just before the hour mark and once again it was Burton the forced their taunts back down their throats with his second goal. Receiving a pass into the box, Burton had plenty to do to shrug off the attentions of two defenders before rolling the ball past Andy Warrington, a goalkeeper who looked 40 twenty years ago but continues to defy the sands of time.

I couldn’t have been the only Gillingham fan that was watching with some disbelief at the two goal lead given the nature of the game. Nelson excelled again to push over the bar a header from Alex Revell before an arrow of a shot from Taylor left the Gills’ keeper helpless as it found the top corner. Buoyed by the goal, the home side ratcheted up the pressure if that was even possible.

Vincelot was laid out on 75 minutes following a challenge by Rotherham’s goalscorer Taylor who received a booking. In my opinion, if it wasn’t deliberate then he didn’t deserve a booking, but as the referee decided that the challenge was illegal then the force with which he felled the Frenchman should have resulted in a red card. It was red or nothing. Such was the length of the stoppage that both team’s fitness trainers took to the pitch to keep their player’s muscles loose.

Jack O’Connell bounced a header onto the top of the crossbar as the Gills’ fans nerves reached breaking point screaming at the referee to put to an end their agony. There was still time for Lewis Montrose to make a last ditch challenge to deny Lee Frecklington before finally the last whistle sounded to the approval of the noisy, boisterous visitors.

This was the type of performance that wins promotions, perhaps even championships. Rotherham supporters might point to some cynical time-wasting that brought bookings for Nelson and Lee but it was a professional seeing out of a game to its conclusion. This was a win of great significance against the form side of the division at a time when Gillingham’s form has, at best, been patchy. Martin Allen’s delight was fully apparent, whilst this particular writer glowed with pride all the way home.

The New York Stadium, named after the area in which it is situated that previously housed a foundry that made fire hydrants for New York City. A glance to the right as you walk towards the new 12,000 capacity stadium and the floodlights of the old Millmoor ground are in view.

Driving away in the darkness of the evening and the brightly lit frontage is a colourful vision in an area that is rather run-down. Inside the stadium the seating offered plenty of leg room and whilst the climb to your seat is a steep one the rake at least offers an unobstructed view.

After last week’s iconic floodlight pylons at Deepdale, this week’s offering was a bit funky (or rather odd). Strangely, there were only two positioned on the Bob Bennett Stand, whereas the lighting on the opposite side was single lights positioned on the roof of the stand. After the atmosphere-less reside at the Don Valley, it must be heaven for the Millers’ fans to be housed in this shiny new stadium that generates a huge atmosphere.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Preston North End 2 Gillingham 0

Match 36/12/989 - Saturday, 1 December 2012 - FA Cup 2R

Preston North End (2) 2 Monakana 12, Beavon 38
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 5,271

Entrance: £5 Senior (Season's Bargain!)
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 574/2,799

Match Report

Before we proceed with the day’s events at Preston North End’s Deepdale, I’ll indulge in that pointless exercise of ifs, buts and maybes. If only Deon Burton had converted a penalty awarded just 20 seconds into the second half then given the pressure that Gillingham exerted in the following 45 minutes then quite possibly they could have recovered the half-time deficit and if only Callum Davies had Row Z the ball instead of attempting to play his way out of trouble, then a single goal deficit would have given his side a fighting chance in the second period. But, as Gillingham pressed forward in search of a goal, it has to be said that Preston rattled the bar and had a couple of close range near misses as they caught the visitors short at the back on the counter attack.

Coming to the maybe, I am beginning to hear the odd murmur of discontent about Martin Allen’s rotation policy. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Gillingham gave their League One hosts a decent game and following their second half revival, it is hard not to at least consider what might have been had Chris Whelpdale and Charlie Lee not been left on the bench from the outset. On the other hand, it is far too simplistic to assume that had Danny Kedwell been on the pitch at the time, the penalty would have been converted. Personally, I find it just a little sad that a club of Gillingham’s standing feel they can use the FA Cup to field a weakened side, although I recognise that Martin Allen would dispute that his side was weakened. As I’m writing with the knowledge that the reward for winning this tie was a trip to Millwall, I’m sure there will be a lot of Gillingham fans happy to have avoided that particular trip, but how gutted would we have been had one of the big fish emerged from the velvet bag with Preston.

The puddles on the pavements were still iced over as we walked to the ground and the wind was bitingly cold. Gillingham, were themselves caught cold and were under pressure from the outset and it was no surprise when they slipped behind on 12 minutes. A free kick from the right following a pretty cynical challenge by Adam Barrett was headed into the centre of the area from where a weak clearing header found Jeffrey Monakana who, with the aid of a deflection, scored from around the penalty spot.

The visitors endured a difficult opening 20 minutes before they got into the game when North End’s German goalkeeper, Thosten Stuckmann made an acrobatic save from Romain Vincelot. On the half hour Monakana, who gave an eye-catching display, set up a chance for Stuart Beavon and his well hit shot was equally well saved by Gills’ Tommy Forecast, deputising in goal for the suspended Stuart Nelson.

As it was being considered that getting to half-time with just a single goal deficit would not be such a mountain to climb, Callum Davies made the type of mistake on the edge of his box that, perhaps, a player of greater experience would not have made. With time to clear the ball from the edge of the box, he dwelt too long and by the time he decided to return the ball to his keeper, the onrushing Lee Holmes had robbed him of the ball, Forecast came from his line but the ball rebounded off him into the path of Beavon who had the easiest of tasks to slot the ball into the empty net.

Half-time changes were made by Allen; Whelpdale and Lee were introduced for Joe Martin and Davies, paying instant dividend. Whelpdale’s shot was charged down with the hands of Joe Welsh and, the much unloved, Trevor Kettle pointed to the spot. In Kedwell’s absence, Burton took the responsibility but his spot kick rebounded off the right hand post to the despair of the sizeable following stationed behind that goal.

The miss sparked the game into life and a much better half ensued than the first that had been played in an almost funereal atmosphere, save for the Gills support and the constant beating of a drum from a home supporter. In the next five minutes the always dangerous Monakana was brought down on the edge of the box with no foul given by Mr Kettle, quickly followed by another set up for Beavon to smash the ball against a post.

But Gillingham were now giving as good as they got and Stuckmann was forced to make two very good saves from Burton and Adam Birchall, but the League One side professionally saw out the last 20 minutes without too much in the way for further alarm to seal their place in the third round draw.

Deepdale is now a fine stadium, far removed from the plastic pitch and derelict stands that I first visited in 1988 when a 5-0 defeat on a Tuesday night left me questioning my sanity at making such a trip. The final relic of that old stadium in which we sat for the first leg of the play-offs in 1999 has now disappeared with a new stand, which is obviously only the bottom tier of something much grander to come in the future.

Their iconic floodlight pylons made for a good picture from the outside of the ground, as well as inside.

Our old adversary, Sean Gregan, once the midfield general was now reduced to the drawing of the half-time lottery and despite the fact that he managed to draw a Gillingham supporter out of the hat, probably elbowed, tripped and generally muscled his way home with the smuggest of grins.

Another year of cup ties comes to an end . . . didn’t fancy The Den anyway.