Monday, 30 December 2013

Gillingham 2 Walsall 2

Match 47/13/1074 - Sunday, 29th December 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 McDonald 46, 90+2
Walsall (0) 2 Sawyers 61, Gray 90
Att. 5,394

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,000

Match Report

It’s an old cliché, much over-used, but football sometimes really is “a funny old game”. After two much-enjoyed games over the festive period, I was due a turkey and out of a game that had very little to commend it, came a goal that will live long in the memory and a quite unbelievable finish to the match.

Despite the disappointment of the loss to Leyton Orient on Boxing Day, there were plenty of positives to take into this fixture with Walsall, who sat quite handily outside of the play-off places at the start of play. Peter Taylor, preferred leading scorer, Danny Kedwell in attack to Adebayo Akinfenwa despite the need for Kedwell to have a hernia operation and Akinfenwa’s three goals in two games deputising for the striker.

The first half was a lesson in ball possession for Gillingham as Walsall passed the ball to death with Sam Mantom conducting affairs from deep midfield like the quarter back in an American football team, or the conductor of an orchestra. In front of him, Romaine Sawyers was collecting his passes and weaving patterns that the home defence struggled to contain. But in fairness, for all their possession, 68% in the first half, the visitors failed to test Stuart Nelson with anything other than routine saves and the best chance of the half fell to Kedwell, who failed to get his feet sorted out at the far post and managed only to find the side netting from Cody McDonald’s cross.

It was thought, at least hoped, that the second half would provide a greater source of entertainment at least from a Gillingham point of view and within a minute we were all staring at the pitch in utter disbelief at what we had just witnessed. From a yard outside of the box, McDonald executed an overhead kick that flew into the top corner past the despairing dive of the Walsall goalkeeper, Richard O’Donnell. As much as the Gillingham fans celebrated, the Walsall defenders just looked on in total shock.

Five minutes later with their tails up, Chris Whelpdale lobbed O’Donnell only to see the ball come back from the crossbar before the visitors equalised on 61 minutes. An overhit cross from the left saw Joe Martin fail to clear and the recycled cross found Sawyers in space in the box and although his initial attempt was blocked by Leon Legge, his second effort found the net.

Both sides had chances, with an Adam Barrett header being cleared from the line before the seeming 90th minute jinx struck once more for Gillingham as they failed to clear a Walsall attack and Julian Gray was on hand to cut in from the left of the six yard box and fire home what appeared to be the winning goal.

But this game was not done. Two of the three minutes of added time had expired when a pass through the centre saw McDonald scampering away from his marker. The striker was felled on the edge of the box, but instead of staying on the ground, he got to his feet the quickest and touched the ball into the net to the delight of the Rainham End.

In an amazing climax, McDonald was sent clear once more, but this time the trailing leg of O’Donnell was enough the divert the ball to safety to bring to an end a breathless final five minutes.

All this goes to highlight that live sport, sometimes dull in the extreme, continually serves up the unexpected, as Greavsie would say, oh don’t go there!

Tonbridge 2 Eastbourne Borough 1

Match 46/13/1073 - Saturday, 28th December 2013 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 2 Lovell 33, 83 (pen)
Eastbourne Borough (0) 1 Lok 80
Att. 608

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/4,955

Match Report

If anybody had asked me on Christmas Day (they didn’t) where I was going for football on Saturday, then, whilst it was my game of choice, Tonbridge was the last place I expected to be.

The storm that had battered Kent at the beginning of this Christmas week, had left Tonbridge High Street under water for the first time in years and footage shown on the news programmes showed shoppers with their bags held high as they waded through waist high water. Sainsbury’s, on which the old Angel Ground was built, saw their car park turned into a massive lake with torrents of water rushing into the underground space.

Longmead Stadium was also affected and a quarter of the pitch was submerged plus structural damage to the fencing. Given the situation, there was very little hope of the encounter with Eastbourne Borough going ahead. But, the weather relented for a couple of days, the water receded and an army of volunteers set to work in an ultimately successful attempt to get the match on.

To these people we can but offer our thanks, because in the light of their efforts, a great game of football ensued and those people were also richly rewarded with three precious points for their favourites.

Beginning the day in the bottom three, with Eastbourne Borough riding high in the play-off positions, these three points were as unexpected as the match being played itself.

In a game that supplied wonderful entertainment, superbly refereed by Mr Lloyd Wood of Dagenham, Tonbridge had some outstanding performers through the spine of the team. They rode an element of luck; they got the rub of the green from a couple of decisions, but ultimately just about edged a thrilling encounter.

The opening five minutes might have seen the home side out of the game as three times Lewis Carey produced saves that should have seen the Angels fall behind and, on the stroke of half time, the save he made from Jamie Taylor deserved a national audience. From six yards, the goalkeeper was going the wrong way before he turned his body and managed to palm the ball away from the inside of his right hand post.

Once the early storm had been weathered (no pun intended!), the hosts fought their way back into the game and created chances of their own with Shamir Goodwin proving a constant threat to the visitors and on 33 minutes they opened the scoring. A well-rehearsed corner kick routine saw Chris Piper cross across the face of the goal, with Mark Lovell arriving at the far post to score from close range, despite the protestations of the Borough defence looking for an offside decision.

Piper, it has to be said, was fortunate to find Mr Wood full of the joys of Christmas. The Tonbridge full-back had picked up a yellow card and taken a couple of talking-to’s from the official. Manager Tommy Warrilow took the sensible decision to move Piper into midfield for a period of time, taking the heat out of the situation. Piper was culpable for a couple of less than advised challenges but there were Eastbourne players that were undoubtedly looking to get him sent off.

Eastbourne showed the pedigree that has taken them to lofty heights in Conference South as they opened the second half very much on the front foot looking for an equaliser. Sonny Miles, outstanding in the centre of the defence, was forced into a goal line clearance after 67 minutes to once again deny Taylor.

One last foul was enough for Warrilow to call time on Piper’s afternoon with 20 minutes remaining to preserve Tonbridge’s full complement on the pitch.

Tonbridge had a period in the ascendancy, Dominic Green struck the bar before, with 10 minutes remaining, and Eastbourne got a deserved equaliser. A cross into the box wasn’t cleared and the ball fell to substitute Darren Lok who scored from six yards.

If we, on the sidelines, were going to be satisfied with a point, those on the pitch were not and three minutes later, a series of shots and saves in the Eastbourne penalty area ended with the Borough defender, Sam Cole, committing a deliberate hand ball for which he saw red and offered the Tonbridge the chance to re-establish their lead from the penalty spot. Lovell maintained his composure whilst the process of the sending off was completed to send Craig Ross the wrong way, stroking the ball into the bottom left hand corner.

Three precious points were celebrated at the final whistle and manager Warrilow was quick to pay tribute to the Tonbridge people that had given their time to get the stadium and pitch fit for play, to them I also, can only offer my thanks.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Gillingham 1 Leyton Orient 2

Match 45/13/1072 - Thursday, 26th December 2013 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Akinfenwa 3
Leyton Orient (0) 2 Bartley 70, Lasimant 90
Att. 8,613

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,929

Match Report

The first game of the Festive period saw Gillingham endulge in the true spirit of Christmas, whereby it is better to give than receive. They played the perfect hosts and gifted their visitor's two goals and allowed Leyton Orient to return to East London with three points and retain their position at the summit of the League One table.

After taking an early lead through Adebayo Akinfenwa's third goal in two games, his strike partner Cody McDonald became Orient's Secret Santa and good chances to put the game beyond their reach were frustratingly wasted. It is a reflection of Peter Taylor's tenure so far that back-to-back victories have eluded him and this was once more the fact following Friday's well-earned win at Tranmere.

The storms that brought havoc with fallen trees and flooding to Kent on Christmas Eve led to a slightly elongated journey to bypass the areas that suffered the worst of the flooding but the actual playing surface at Priestfield looked in good condition, if a little soft.

The injury problems that have also been a feature of Taylor's time show no signs of abating and Myles Weston, who picked up a hamstring injury at Tranmere was missing, whilst Danny Kedwell was only fit enough to take a place on the bench following the cancellation of a hernia operation.

Gillingham could not have asked for a better start and, within the first three minutes, McDonald had firstly struck the bar with a header and this was followed by Akinfenwa scoring with a looping header from a Jake Hessenthaler corner.

Hessenthaler and Bradley Dack have been beneficiaries of the injury problems and both are giving performances that are going to make it hard for those missing at present to regain their places when they return to fitness.

Leyton Orient slowly gained a foothold in the game and they were offered the opportunity to gain parity on the scoreboard when they were awarded a penalty following a foul by Leon Legge on ex-Gillingham striker Kevin Lisbie. Stuart Nelson dived low to his right to push Elliott Omozusi's spot kick to safety. Somebody will tell me the true statistic, but I cannot personally remember when Nelson last saved a penalty, so it was easy to believe that this might well be Gillingham's day.

Gillingham should have extended their lead early in the second half when a beautiful through pass from Hessenthaler sent McDonald clear one-on-one with the keeper, but cutting in from the left hand side, but he pulled his shot wide of the post.

Akinfenwa's lack of games forced his substitution on the hour and with his removal the momentum of the game changed completely and, after 70 minutes, Orient found their equalising goal. A corner from the left was met by a firm header from Marvin Bartley, who had made a late, unchallenged run into the box. It was criminal defending that would have brought nothing but despair to the Gillingham management team.

The balance of power shifted entirely with the goal and the league leaders laid seige on the Gillingham goal in search of a winner. Legge managed to clear the ball from the line before, as the clock ticked into the time added on, the O's skipper, Nathan Clarke, launched a huge cross into the penalty area. As the ball dropped out of the sky, Nelson flapped and failed to make a connection and from close range, Yohann Lasimant was on hand to nod the ball home to delight the 898 visiting fans behind the goal.

For the second game in succession, Gillingham had been denied points with a goal beyond the 90 minute mark bringing their fitness into question, this being the unfortunate result of losing players to injury that are being replaced by players coming back from injury that are not completely match fit or others that just have not had enough game time. Akinfenwa is a case in point, he was a handful when he was on the pitch, but the attack became toothless once he had departed and it is a worry that he doesn't have the fitness to get beyond the hour mark.

For the neutral taking in a breath of fresh air on Boxing Day, this would have provided some very decent entertainment but for Gillingham fans this was yet another example of their infuriatingly consistent inconsistency.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ebbsfleet United 2 Sutton United 0

Match 44/13/1071 - Saturday, 21st December 2013 - Conference South

Ebbsfleet United (1) 2 Bricknell 12, 62
Sutton United (0) 0
Att. 774

Entrance: £8
Programme: £3
Mileage: 62/4,884

Match Report

For the first time in this 2013-14 season the weather took a big bite out of the fixture list. My original destination was to be Tonbridge’s home game against Maidenhead, with Tunbridge Wells’ fixture at Deal as the back-up.
The overnight rain was torrential and, whilst there was to be a morning inspection at Longmead, there was no hope of the fixture going ahead.
I drew up a list of six fixtures with the hope that one of them would survive the downpour and number four on my list, Ebbsfleet’s clash with Sutton United came through.

This was my first visit to Stonebridge Road since the club came from the near-bankruptcy situation under the ownership of MyFC to the comparative wealth of the Kuwaiti-backed KEH Sports. Liam Daish, who departed Ebbsfleet after eight years of make do and mend, deserves sympathy that on his departure, the new manager, Steve Brown, was offered veritable riches and plundered the transfer market, and his old club Dover in particular, for talent that Daish could only dream of.

Stonebridge Road also has had a spruce up with the incoming investment. New roofs to the Liam Daish Stand (how ironic) and the stand behind the goal, brought welcome shelter from the incessant rain that lashed the ground on the back of a very stiff wind. One surprising status quo, considering that before the takeover a competition to find the worst toilets in football had won the club £100,000 to build a new facility, was that the sniper’s block that serves as the gents was still standing albeit with new stainless steel troughs and sinks. It is characterful; well that is what I tell myself.

What was personally important was that the investment that had been made in a new drainage system had paid dividends and it was because of this that this game was able to proceed.

Ebbsfleet and their visitor’s both occupied top five positions before the start of play and a well contested game was in prospect. Unfortunately the weather conditions prevailed and the game did not quite reach the heights expected.

Ebbsfleet were in search of a ninth straight win that would set a new club record and they got off to the best of starts when, after 12 minutes in which Sutton had made the early running, they took the lead through a flicked header by Billy Bricknell. A cross from the right was unconverted, but the ball was recycled by Anthony Cook whose cross, although slightly behind the striker, was turned into the net at the far post.

Cook was a player that I’ve heard quite a bit about in recent weeks, and he gave the type of curate egg of a performance that I’ve been described. His running with the ball was both exciting and frustrating as too often there wasn’t an end result. In the first half, he was sent clear but his shot cleared the bar, whilst a second half free kick crashed against the crossbar from 25 yards.

Before Ebbsfleet tied up the game just past the hour mark, Sutton were guilty of two glaring misses of Christmas blooper proportions. With a couple of minutes of the first half remaining, the visitors put together a move that cut through the Ebbsfleet defence and ended with Damian Scannell crossing the ball across the face of goal from where the unmarked Charlie Clough was guilty of shooting high and wide from less than six yards. Moments prior to the home side’s second goal, they were once again opened up by a fine Sutton move that saw Dale Binns cut the ball back to Dean Sinclair who then conspired to turn the ball wide of the right hand post from inches rather than yards.

Sutton paid dearly for their profligacy when a long ball out of defence deceived, perhaps with the aid of the wind, the central defender leaving Bricknell in the clear to coolly slide the ball under the onrushing Tom Lovelock. The goal drained away the challenge of Sutton and the home side were able to see out the final half-hour with only addition to the scoreline likely to be their own.

It is good to see that a grand old club like Ebbsfleet (Gravesend) are enjoying the good times, record breaking times, after several years struggling with non-competitive budgets in the Conference National. There is a very good chance that they will return to the top of the non-league pyramid at the end of this season and it will be interesting to see what sort of resources their Kuwaiti benefactors are able to contribute to avoid the desperate struggle with which Liam Daish had to contend.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Gillingham 2 Peterborough United 2

Match 43/13/1070 - Saturday, 14th December 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Martin 50, McDonald 67
Peterborough United (1) 2 Assombalonga 10, 90+7
Att. 6,949

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/4,822

Match Report

Returning to the daily trudge of life, work, household chores, etc., is the downside to any holiday, however, there is, of course, football and although Gillingham’s form has been found wanting whilst I was away, there was an eager anticipation of returning to Priestfield and the visit of Peterborough United was an attractive proposition.

One of the reflections I had whilst lying on a sunbed in Thailand, keeping abreast of England’s lame attempt to retain the Ashes in Australia on the iPad, was how life in terms of communication has changed. Back in 1987, we were on holiday in (bit of name-dropping here!) the Seychelles. With no internet or texting in those days and with television in the hotels only showing local stations there was little chance of finding out the result of a game such as Gillingham’s. In the middle of the week following a Saturday fixture, we were in the capital, Victoria, and I happened upon a shop that was selling English Sunday papers. As the papers were selling at about 10 times their cover price, I thought a sneaky look at the results page would suffice to find out how the boys back home had fared. As I came out of the shop, my wife said “how did they get on”. Err, I think they won, 1-0 I suspect, it actually says in the paper they won 10-0 but that has got to be a misprint. That was the famous victory against Chesterfield.

With Gillingham losing three out of four, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells both exiting their national cup competitions, whilst I was away, I mused that perhaps the ignorance of those days was better than the immediacy of today when you can know, wherever you are in the world, when Gillingham have a corner at the same time as those sat in their seats at Priestfield.

So, with form in mind, whilst I was looking forward to the game, I had very little expectancy of a positive result and even feared a bit of a hiding from a free-scoring Posh side that sat healthily in the play-off positions in the table. The first half lived up to those low expectations and despite starting the game well, with Jake Hessenthaler, on his home debut, setting up Bradley Dack with a chance that United’s keeper Robert Olejnik did well to palm to safety, Gillingham fell behind to a Britt Assombalonga goal after Stuart Nelson could only parry a shot from Michael Bostwick into the path of the free-scoring striker. The Congolese striker with 15 goals to his name prior to this fixture is living proof of the ability that is available in this division if you have a £1 million-plus to throw at one player alone. It should not be forgotten that another million pound striker, Tyrone Bennett, was only warming the Posh bench.

For much of the half, Gillingham were given a bit of a run-around and when they were forced into a double substitution due to injuries to Chris Whelpdale and Danny Hollands before the break, it wasn’t hard to be a little sceptical as to their second half chances.

But that wasn’t the way it turned out. The home side came out with plenty of spirit, witness Myles Weston tackling back as a case in point, and within five minutes of the restart they were back on level terms following a beautifully curled free kick into top right hand corner from the edge of the box by Joe Martin.

Assombalonga proved that he is only human when he blasted a good opportunity wide as the game ebbed and flowed in an entertaining manner. Twenty minutes remained when Gillingham deservedly went in front. A poor corner from Weston was returned to him and his long looping cross to the far post found Cody McDonald unmarked to place a header into the top corner.

With the game turned on its head, Peterborough threw caution to the wind and the proverbial kitchen sink at the opponents. A long stoppage, three minutes from time, ensued when referee Tim Robinson was, as the announcer pronounced, “relieved by the fourth official” and the subsequent eight minutes that were shown brought a collective groan from the Priestfield faithful.

Nelson saved at point blank range from Bennett as the game entered the time added on, but the game should have been ended as a contest moments later when McDonald sped past the last defender and one-on-one with the Olejnik, he lost out as his low shot was beaten away by the on-rushing goalkeeper.

With seven of the eight minutes having elapsed, Gillingham, and their fans, suffered severe heartbreak as a corner found its way through a packed penalty area to Assombalonga who back-heeled it across the line from close range. Whilst it was a devastating blow, the fair minded will draw the conclusion that Peterborough deserved their point and the vast majority would have taken a draw from the outset.

So, great though holidays are, it was good to be back in the cut and thrust of a damn good contest and with Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells also winning, I almost believe I’m suddenly a lucky charm!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Cambodia and Thailand

Like most people, I like to show off my holiday snaps and here are a few of mine . . .

The Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, where the back of the main stand is a little more impressive than the front!

The Lambert Stadium, Phnom Penh, home to the National Defense Ministry. There was a game in progress, but was unable to find anybody with sufficient English to tell me who the teams involved actually were. In fact they were far more interested with a Kick Boxing session that was going on behind the stand.

And finally, the Surakul Stadium in Phuket, Thailand, home to FC Phuket.

Who needs pictures of sun-kissed beaches!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

England 0 Germany 1

Match 42/13/1069 - Tuesday, 19th November 2013 - International

England (0) 0
Germany (1) 1 Merteseker
Att. 85,950

Entrance: £40
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/4,777

Three games in quick succession and whilst there was a real high at Bramall Lane, the next two brought lows, and this one brought a particular trough.

I can live with the fact that, frankly, England are not very good. As football supporters, whether it be your club side or the national side, you have to learn to treat the impostors of victory and defeat the same and move on to the next celebration or disappointment. But Wembley has a side to it that is becoming, sorry has become, unpalatable, the behaviour of the people around you.

I hoped that an incident with a thug at the Wales game two years ago was just a one-off, wrong place, wrong time, etc., but another incident leaves me wondering whether these situations are so rife at Wembley they are almost unavoidable.

The FA assure us that these are rare occurrences, sadly we know otherwise.

The match itself no longer had any relevance, England failed to register a shot on goal and Per Merteseker headed home the winner, all that I wanted was to get away from a stadium that once held such magic.

Brackley Town 1 Gillingham 0

Match 41/13/1068 - Monday, 18th November 2013 - FA Cup 1R Replay

Brackley Town (1) 1 Walker 21
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 1,772

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 260/4,677
New Ground: 257

Match Report

Following in the footsteps of Maidstone United, Welling United, Burscough and Dover, Brackley Town can now be added to the list of non-league clubs that have heaped embarrassment on Gillingham Football Club.

If Gillingham had been playing a League 2 club and gone out in the circumstances of this match, then most of the disconsolate 200 or so visiting fans leaving St James Park could justifiably claim that "we were unlucky". Four times the ball struck the woodwork and Bradley Dack had a perfectly good goal chalked off, but the opposition were part-timers and luck should not have to play a part and let's face it, Brackley more than deserved their rub of the green for their performance at Priestfield.

With his predecessor, Martin Allen, looking down from the BT Sports commentary box, Peter Taylor, his hand forced somewhat by injury and suspension, chose a team that had a very different look to the one that had performed so admirably at Sheffield United on Saturday. Chris Whelpdale and Cody McDonald were rested and Adebayo Akinfenwa and Antonio German were given rare starts to lead the attack. Certainly, I was not in the minority in wishing that the manager had chosen to go strong from the outset and withdraw players if and when the game was won. I can understand the desire to safeguard McDonald, with the injury to Danny Kedwell perhaps being longer than just this game, but the selection smacked of paying lip-service to the FA Cup and I think that this does a disservice to both the fans and the club itself.

Ultimately, a shot from 25 yards that took a deflection from one of the outstanding performers of the initial tie, Glenn Walker, was enough to seal a place in the second round for the Calor Gas Southern Premier League side. A poor clearance from Leon Legge, led to Charlie Lee being dispossessed in midfield and the winger crashed home for a 21st minute lead.

From that point it was a case of what might have been for the visitors. When Myles Weston was fed the ball, his pace was too hot for the Brackley back line to handle, but, almost without exception the cross was found wanting and when the ball was delivered there was nobody on the end to finish.

Back in 2005, the FA Cup tie at Burscough had that feel about it, that Gillingham were an accident about to happen. A club on the descent, a manager under pressure, a filthy day weather-wise producing a heavy pitch, all the ingredients for a shock. This game never had that same sense of foreboding, despite the early lead for the non-leaguers, until the final few minutes when the desire appeared to evaporate, I felt that somehow, whether it be a lucky break or all the way to penalties, Gillingham were going to escape with some dignity intact. It just didn't happen.

Perhaps I should have expected as much when four minutes from the break, Dack got on the end of a Akinfenwa header to the far post, only to see his effort erroneously chalked off for offside.

Brackley's young goalkeeper, Alastair Worby, who prior to the game had been seen as the possible weak link, must have touched wood for luck at the second half as he watched the ball cannon off the woodwork on four occasions, but he earned his good fortune with a series of saves.

There were a couple of intervening moments when the home side could have put the Gillingham fans out of their misery when Steve Diggin brought a save from Stuart Nelson and Walker pulled a couple of shots wide of the post.

I doubt there were many of the Gillingham fans around at the finish to watch the obligatory pitch invasion; they were left to troop back to their cars, shaking their heads as to how and why their club's Wembley ambitions had been ended for another year.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sheffield United 1 Gillingham 2

Match 40/13/1067 - Saturday, 16th November 2013 - League One

Sheffield United (1) 1 Porter 16
Gillingham (1) 2 Kedwell 8, McDonald 47
Att. 16,560

Entrance: £12.50 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 460/4,437

Match Report

Desire has been a forgotten watchword at Priestfield Stadium in recent weeks. As I walked away from Bramall Lane, high on the excitement of a memorable victory at one of this Division’s major stadiums, I quickly reflected that whether this was due to the installation of Peter Taylor as a permanent manager or not, the desire that swept Gillingham to last season’s League Two championship had returned.

It took desire for Danny Kedwell to close down the advancing Sheffield United goalkeeper, George Long as he attempted to clear a back pass that rebounded off the Gillingham striker and into the empty net leaving the goalscorer to hobble away from the celebrations. It also took desire, early in the second half, for Cody McDonald to put his head in where it hurts as the ball came back from the crossbar to re-establish the visitors lead. And in a frantic last quarter hour, plus five minutes added time, it took desire as Adam Barrett, in particular, got his head to every cross that was thrown into the box as the Blades sought to salvage something from the afternoon.

From the derision of successive home games the 600-odd Gillingham fans were never wavering in their desire to support their club as their voices rose above the 16,000 fans of this once mighty club.

Two new faces were quickly added to the squad on Taylor’s appointment and both made significant contributions on their debuts. Craig Fagan, known to Taylor from his days as Hull City manager, was a constant threat to the Sheffield United backline and was fully worthy of the standing ovation given by the Gillingham fans on his substitution after 78 minutes. The 19-year-old full back, Elliott Hewitt, drafted in on loan from Ipswich Town, was the man clearing from the line when a header from Neill Collins after 15 minutes was goalbound at the right hand post.

Following Kedwell’s 8th minute opener, Gillingham suffered three successive blows that threatened to derail the afternoon’s endeavours. Steven Gregory, who had an effective first quarter-hour sweeping in front of the back four, was hurt in a challenge, necessitating his substitution by Bradley Dack, before the home side found the net with a Chris Porter header at the near post after a period of sustained pressure. Kedwell was immediately substituted by McDonald having failed to shake off the knock sustained in the scoring of his ninth goal of the season.

The opening of the second half could not have been better as Gillingham kicked in the direction of their own support. After a couple of minutes, Fagan crossed to the edge of the area from where John Mousinho looped a header onto the crossbar, in amongst the feet attempting to make a clearance from the rebound, McDonald dived, to head into the net and restore their lead.

The frustrated Bramall Lane support urged their team forward with the age-old chant of “Attack, Attack”, but a series of woeful finishes and a Gillingham defence superbly marshalled by their skipper, Barrett, repelled their better efforts as Stuart Nelson was not really asked to make a meaningful save.

The added time, for which we were so grateful last Saturday, seemed like an eternity as the home fans voiced their displeasure when Nelson sought recovery time from injury following an almighty scramble in front of their goal following a free kick thrown into the box.

If Gillingham can show the same desire at Brackley in Monday’s FA Cup replay, a Second Round visit to Macclesfield surely awaits, despite the probable absence of their talisman Kedwell and the ineligibility of Fagan and Hewitt. Peter Taylor’s new contract is through to the end of the season, and whilst Sheffield United looked every inch a team that that is in their rightful position in the relegation spots of the division, this was a start to his permanent tenure that was as much as our hearts could have desired.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Gillingham 1 Brackley Town 1

Match 39/13/1066 - Saturday, 9th November 2013 - FA Cup 1R

Gillingham (0) 1 Dack 90+6
Brackley Town (0) 1 Martin (o.g.) 67
Att. 3,004

Entrance: £15
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 45/2,977

Match Report

The moment the fourth official raised the board showing six minutes to be added at the end of the game, I uttered the first words all afternoon that hadn’t been a grumble, “that’s a real lifeline.” And so it was, Gillingham’s threadbare hopes of staying in the FA Cup were given a breath of life by virtue of the very man that was holding up the board, the original referee, was the reason that the extra time was allocated. Mr Lee Collins retired from his role in the middle to hand over to Barry Holderness directly after Brackley Town had shocked Priestfield Stadium to its very core in the 67th minute when Joe Martin, under pressure, inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net to give the Conference North side a surprising, but well deserved lead.

The illuminated board acted like an alarm clock, awakening the hosts from their slumbers and for the first time in the game, the part-timers were put under serious pressure. The relatively small Priestfield crowd were exasperated with their own team’s woeful performance and with the time-wasting from, in particular, Brackley’s keeper, Billy Turley, but sensed their opportunity. In the very last of those minutes, Adebayo Akinfenwa sent a header across the face of goal and at the far post, his fellow substitute, Bradley Dack was on hand to sweep the ball into an unguarded net. Time still remained for Akinfenwa to prod a shot goalwards which Turley fumbled it away for a corner.

The final whistle brought a chorus of cheers and boos, either of which could have reflected the embarrassment or the avoidance of. Fair play to Brackley, from the fourth minute when a speculative lob from Steve Diggin dipped onto the bar through to those final minutes when they laid bodies on the line to protect their lead, they matched their League One opponents, but for the second week on the trot, Gillingham were truly shocking, an embarrassment that must put at least the thought in the mind of Paul Scally that Peter Taylor isn’t the man for the vacant managerial position. On that point we will see in the coming week, I still think Taylor is a shoe-in but he, himself, must wonder at the size of the task that he or anybody else faces to put this team back together again.

The first half of this First Round encounter was another horror story following last week’s terrible opening half performance against Carlisle. As with that game, Gillingham went through the entire half without troubling Turley with a single shot on target.

On the hour Turley was forced into his first meaningful save when Danny Kedwell forced the keeper to turn away a drive at the near post, but with that chance gone, Taylor chose to make a triple substitution, one of which the bizarre decision to withdraw central defender Callum Davies and to send Gills’ leading scorer back into defence to replace him. Whether this was instrumental in the Brackley goal, who knows, but a cross from the left by Glenn Walker, who had shown a decent turn of pace and purpose all afternoon, was headed goalwards at the near post by ex-Gillingham player, Gary Mulligan; in a despairing effort to stop the ball arriving at Diggin’s feet, Joe Martin turned the ball into his own net to delight the 231 visiting supporters who had been sensibly housed at the far end of the Gordon Road Stand.

The game might well have been put out of Gillingham’s reach as Stuart Nelson was forced to touch over the bar Walker’s free kick and as the minutes ticked away, Nelson fumbled a shot but recovered to save the follow-up at his post. In between, Gillingham had had a couple of scrambles in the Brackley penalty area when the non-leaguers were literally throwing their bodies in front of the ball to protect their lead.

This continued for the entire six minutes before Dack’s last gasp intervention spared Gills’ blushes.

I celebrated along with everybody else as the ball finally hit the back of the Brackley net, but when the final whistle went I could only concur with the thoughts that we had played our get out of jail card and that we barely deserved our place in the Second Round draw. Those Brackley fans must have had such mixed feelings, gutted at the final whistle, but after a quick reflection, they could only have been very proud of their team’s efforts and who could blame them if they held the opinion that they had nothing to fear in next week’s replay.

Peter Taylor’s after-match interview reflected on the poor performance but, confusingly, he praised the player’s desire and determination which, in my humble opinion was the attribute most lacking. If only that desire had been shown for the first 90 minutes rather than the six added on, then I’m certain that League One quality would have ultimately held sway. We will soon know whether Taylor has impressed on the chairman that he is the man to reinvigorate that desire because the rest of us remain to be convinced.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Gillingham Youth 1 Brentford Youth 3

Match 38/13/1065 - Tuesday, 5th November 2013 - FA Youth Cup 1R

Gillingham (0) 1 Freiter 57
Brentford (0) 3 Moore 67, 89 Senior 80
Att. 300-ish

Entrance: £4
Programme: Free
Mileage: 45/2,932

Match Report

It would be good, on occasions, to be able to look into a crystal ball and see what the future holds for our senior football clubs, the FA Youth Cup offers that opportunity and for an hour what we witnessed from the youngsters of Gillingham was pleasantly encouraging.

The FA Youth Cup 1st Round tie was played out at Priestfield Stadium to a backdrop of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations being acted out in the back gardens of the local residents. During the first half, several enormous bangs made me, and no doubt many others, jump as we attempted to focus on our own entertainment being served up. It was a bit like watching football in a war zone, I’m sure fireworks were not so loud when I was a child.

I’m not particularly well versed in the structure of Academy football, but my understanding was that the visitors, Brentford, although in the same division as Gillingham in senior football, are a step higher in the categorisation of Academies.

There were a trio of players on show that have made appearances for the first team under Martin Allen, Mahlon Romeo, Michael Freiter and Sam Muggleton have all taken their place on the bench in the last year. Muggleton came on as substitute in this game, and those that saw him on his first team appearance would remember the huge throw in that he possesses.

In a tight first half, Gillingham probably edged it in terms of the better chances. The Bees’ keeper made two good saves from Freiter and Mitchell Dickenson might well have done better when he headed over from a corner.

The second half began with another good heading opportunity from a corner, this time spurned by Josh Staunton. But the home side were not to be denied, and just short of the hour, a ball over the top allowed Freiter to get behind the Bees back line and from just inside the box and with the keeper narrowing down the angle, the Gills striker coolly lobbed him to give the hosts a fully deserved lead.

I think the Brentford side may well have been just that little bit older through the side as they responded from the set back and got stronger throughout the last half-hour. Their captain, Montell Moore, rifled in a powerful shot from 25 yards. With ten minutes remaining, a defence splitting pass sent Courtenay Senior clear to shoot past Gills’ keeper Luke Nalder and the evening was wrapped up when Moore claimed his second having been sent clear.

This was a good insight into where the club sits in terms of its young prospects and as I said it was largely encouraging. They definitely ran out of legs in the final stages and I’m making the assumption that the visitors were older and therefore stronger, but Freiter, Dickenson and Blanchard caught the eye, whilst Nalder made some good saves.

If nothing else, it was a far more enjoyable evening than Saturday afternoon had been with the seniors!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gillingham 1 Carlisle United 0

Match 37/13/1064 - Saturday, 2nd November 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Kedwell 63 (pen)
Carlisle United (0) 0
Att. 5,697

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00 (and lost!)
Mileage: 45/2,888

Match Report

An hour of pure tedium had passed when Gillingham mounted their first sustained attack on the Carlisle United goal; an Adam Barratt header was palmed away by the Cumbrian’s keeper Mark Gillespie, quickly followed by the custodian saving from underneath his crossbar. As the ball dropped to Danny Hollands, his feet were taken from under him by Danny Livesey, to send him tumbling to the deck. Danny Kedwell made it a tale of three Danny’s as his spot kick was put away in his customary fashion, a thumping drive leaving Gillespie with no chance.

A betting man at this point wouldn’t be getting odds from the bookies as to Peter Taylor’s future. Barring a disaster in next week’s FA Cup tie against Conference North club, Brackley Town, the manager’s post is all but his for the taking.

Taylor has steadied the ship, there is a hint that the style may become more attractive, but to take it forward the interim manager needs the full title confirmed. Only Mr Scally knows if there is a household name that has thrown his hat into the ring as a viable alternative but there is not so much as a whisper that anybody else’s name is in the frame.

A short burst of rainfall at the beginning of the match left certain sympathy for the 260 Carlisle fans seated in the roofless Brian Moore Stand. They didn’t deserve a soaking for their efforts of a 700 mile round trip and they, and everybody else, didn’t deserve the first half that was put in front of them. It can be easily described as . . . Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The half-time whistle brought a chorus of boos, of which, later, Taylor admitted if he had paid, he would have booed the loudest.

The second half, from such a low baseline, was an improvement. Cody McDonald and Steven Gregory were introduced from the outset and whilst the tempo increased the level of competence failed to scale new heights. A single effort on goal from Adam Barrett was the only shot on target before the intervention of the Danny’s on 63 minutes.

The game took a strange turn at this point. From one that had barely seemed to raise the interest of the participants there were suddenly two red cards that set up a big finish. Twelve minutes remained when the referee’s attention was brought by the linesman’s flag and the visitor’s centre forward, Lee Miller, was given his marching orders for an elbow on Barrett. The personnel imbalance only lasted for three minutes before a lunging tackle by Leon Legge brought him second yellow card and his dismissal.

Kedwell slotted into the central defensive position and more than did his part in repelling the late charge from the visitors, who arguably might have deserved a point, but never stretched Stuart Nelson into any meaningful save. Kedwell, meanwhile, is flourishing under the stewardship of Taylor, a third man-of-the-match award on the spin, six goals in his last six games, the striker is one that surely will favour the appointment.

In the final moments, McDonald was sent clear and was tripped as he tried to round the keeper. The striker was too honest and attempted to stay on his feet allowing Gillespie to smother his effort, had he gone down it would almost certainly have been a second penalty.

Peter Taylor will not be a universally popular choice, some people fear a second coming will not be as successful as his first spell, but most consider the appointment is now a done deal, we just await the puff of white smoke from above the Medway Stand.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Tonbridge 3 Whitehawk 1

Match 36/13/1063 - Saturday, 26th October 2013 - Conference South

Tonbridge (2) 3 Pinney 32, Goodwin 34, Green (pen) 79
Whitehawk (0) 1 Taylor 85
Att. 376

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/2,843

Match Report

Turning right off the drive I ruefully reflected that had I been turning left I could, and almost certainly should, have been making my way towards Chatham Town for a FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie. Radio Kent constantly reminded me of what I was missing on the journey over to Tonbridge, the final qualifying round is a big deal for the local non-league clubs and for Chatham this was to be their first appearance at this stage for 80 years. St Albans City would be arriving at Maidstone Road as clear favourites, as would Tonbridge had they emerged victorious from the previous round. But, it was not to be, so a Conference South fixture against Whitehawk was the consolation prize.

In search of new firepower, Tommy Warrilow drafted in, on a month’s loan, a young striker from the Development Squad at Brighton and Hove Albion, Shamir Goodwin. The youngster was paired with Nathaniel Pinney as Warrilow sought to end a run of five League games without a win.

On a day when a stiff wind was always going to make playing conditions difficult, Tonbridge opened well with some crisp, on the floor, passing. Goodwin immediately impressed with his direct running at defenders and Pinney brought an early save out of Chris Winterton.

Whitehawk, playing with the benefit of the wind behind them, had very little to offer in the first half in which they over hit passes and the odd shot from distance that didn’t trouble Clark Masters in the Tonbridge goal.

In the Whitehawk ranks, managed by ex-Gill Darren Freeman, was another ex-Priestfield favourite, Matty Lawrence, whose Shaggy-look has been replaced with a slightly shorter version, but despite his 39 years, looked comfortable at this level of the game.

Tonbridge opened the scoring after 32 minutes with a goal of pure simplicity. Nathan Green was released down the right wing from where he delivered a perfect cross to the near post for Pinney to plant a firm header into the roof of the net.

Within a couple of minutes the new strike pairing were both on the score sheet. Goodwin cut in from the right and thundered in a shot off the underside of the crossbar.

The second half became increasingly scrappy as the wind intensified. Whitehawk offered a little more, but their shooting was wayward and from distance. The game was ended as a contest on 79 minutes in a bitter-sweet moment for Jon Heath. Goodwin initially brought a good parrying save from Winterton, who made another good stop from the follow-up shot by Pinney. The whistle blew as Heath crashed in the second rebound only to find that the referee had awarded a penalty for a trip on Pinney as he made his attempt on goal, had it stood it would have been Heath’s first goal for the club. Green successfully buried the spot kick to seal the points.

Whitehawk managed a consolation goal five minutes from time through ex-Angel Lewis Taylor and added a little more pressure in the remaining time, but the home side eased through for a very welcome victory.

Meanwhile, down at Maidstone Road, St Albans City beat their hosts Chatham Town to enter tomorrow’s First Round Draw. What’s the odds they come out of the hat with Gillingham?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Gillingham 2 Notts County 1

Match 35/13/1062 - Tuesday, 22nd October 2013 - League One

Gillingham (2) 2 Whelpdale 24, Kedwell 29
Notts County (1) 1 McGregor 80
Att. 5,161

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,817

Match Report

“There were some good bits and some disappointing bits,” so said Peter Taylor in his first post-match press conference after the defeat against Preston North End. Wind-on three days and he could probably have repeated the same words despite this time gaining three valuable points against fellow strugglers Notts County.

After a turgid opening 20 minutes or so, Gillingham found themselves two goals to the good within the space of five minutes. One of my mentioned good bits from the Preston game was Stuart Nelson's distribution from his hands and with 24 minutes played he threw the ball towards Myles Weston on the half-way line. The throw was well directed but, unfortunately, it looked headed for a County defender, however, a slip allowed Weston to surge forward and cross to Chris Whelpdale who brought the ball under control off his chest and fire in a shot from the edge of the box.

Whelpdale then turned provider as a long kick out was headed on by the midfielder to Danny Kedwell who brushed aside the attention of his marker to smash a rising shot past goalkeeper, Bartosz Bialkowski.

Notts County were a side small in stature but also very talented and in Jamal Campbell-Ryce they had a lively winger with more than a few tricks in his repertoire and an on-loan Celtic striker, Callum McGregor that had already presented Gillingham with a problem or two. Within a couple of minutes of Kedwell's goal, Campbell-Ryce served notice that the Nottingham side were not out of this match when he cut inside and thumped a shot against the host's crossbar.

The early period of the second belonged to Gillingham and County were well served by Bialkowski who made saves from Lee and a flying save from Whelpdale as the home side sought the killer third goal.

On 66 minutes, Notts County manager, Chris Kiwomya made the strange substitution removing Campbell-Ryce from the action. A ripple of applause from the home support grew into a full ovation and the diminuntive appeared almost a little embarrassed as he acknowledged the reception. Kiwomya was not afforded the same sympathy as the Rainham End launched into a chorus of "You Don't Know What You're Doing!"

McGregor, meanwhile stayed as the centre of the action and with ten minutes remaining he set off on a run from just inside his own half and from 25 yards lashed a shot beyond the dive of Nelson who could do nothing but admire the finish.

This led to a nervy final ten minutes plus the time added on in which County searched for an equaliser. Gillingham were guilty of some time wasting in their quest to run down the clock and when the ball disappeared down the player's tunnel it was left to Danny Haynes to retrieve the ball and bring it back to the six yard box for Nelson to take the goal kick.

The good bits were a return to form from Whelpdale, a second successive man of the match performance from Kedwell and some green shoots that the Taylor style is going to be easier on the eye given time. It was disappointing that Gillingham were scratching around at the finish making hard work of what could have been a comfortable night, but, whoever is the manager, when have they ever made it easy on themselves?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Gillingham 1 Preston North End 2

Match 34/13/1061 - Saturday, 19th October 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Kedwell 75
Preston North End (0) 2 Keane 47, Brownhill 52
Att. 7,054

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/2,772

Match Report

Six days have elapsed since I received a text carrying the news that Martin Allen had been sacked, I replied with an expletive and then started to consider the rights and wrongs of the move. In that time, thousands of tweets have been expended on the subject, the vast majority of which portrayed bitter disappointment at Allen's dismissal.

I was undoubtedly shocked by the timing of the dismissal, but wasn't, and shouldn't have been, surprised by the announcement. Rumours had begun to circulate amongst supporters at Crawley in September. I emphasise the word RUMOUR. The word was that all was not well behind the scenes and that the manager and the chairman had fallen out. Mr Scally in subsequent interviews has stated that the dressing room wasn’t good but no made word of any disagreement between the two of them.

The bizarre transfer-listing of four players and then their removal from the list was another twist that just gave further legs to the rumour mill. And the interviews, oh dear those bloody interviews. Twelve months ago we were chortling behind our hands at some of his statements, they were seen as a breath of fresh air in some ways, at the end I know that I’m not alone in finding each one rather embarrassing and cringeworthy.

Peter Taylor had been seen at Gillingham games and once again, the rumour was that he was the man in waiting for the job. All rumours, but so much of it has transpired.

So shocked, but not surprised. Personally, I felt that any manager that had earned his club a promotion deserved a lot more time at the start of a new season at a higher level than Allen was given. It was a bad start, but like the vast majority of Twitter users posting on the subject, I think he probably would have turned it around. But for all that, there is one abiding reason why I’m not sad that Martin Allen has left the club, I didn’t like his style of football and memories of Peter Taylor’s spell 13 years ago give me hope that there will be a change for the better in terms of style.

Rome wasn’t built in a day though, so it was always going to be too much to ask that three training sessions and there would be a bright new dawn. There were a few encouraging signs, Stuart Nelson rolled the ball out to a full back more times in the course of one half than he has for the rest of the season and although the midfield continued to struggle, they at least tried to play the ball on the ground.

Taylor might well have wished for a slightly easier re-introduction than Preston North End. In Kevin Davies and Stuart Beavon they have an experienced, robust strike force that cause problems for defenders up and down the country. Davies ruffles feathers, angers opposing supporters with the odd flailing arm, but how you would want him in your team, while Beavon, brought into league football by Taylor at Wycombe, is quality.

Most of the chances in the first half fell to Preston, the best of which saw tricky winger, Chris Humphrey bring out a decent parrying save from Nelson.

Having done well to get to the break all-square, some dozy defending quickly undid the hard work at the start of the second half. A throw-in sent Keith Keane clear, unchallenged and his shot from the right hand side of the box found the far corner of the net.

Before Gillingham could clear the heads they found themselves two down. A swift counter-attack ended with Beavon squaring the ball to Josh Brownhill who had the easiest of finishes.

Gillingham responded with substitutions, Myles Weston and Antonio German being introduced and with 15 minutes remaining they gave themselves the opportunity of a grandstand finish. A Chris Whelpdale free kick was met by the head of Danny Kedwell, who steered it into the far corner.

Unfortunately, Preston were pretty adept at winding down the clock and they comfortably saw the game out despite the hosts’ best efforts.

This is the dawn of another new era, we’ve had far too many new dawns over the last eight years and although Taylor is introduced as the interim manager, it’s not a brain surgeon’s guess that he has the job to lose. The club needs stability and Taylor is a safe pair of hands that can offer a little bit of the style that is felt lacking. It might even be a bit dull without the Mad Dog!

Monday, 21 October 2013

England 2 Poland 0

Match 33/13/1060 - Tuesday, 15th October 2013 - World Cup Qualifying

England (1) 2 Rooney 41, Gerrard 88
Poland (0) 0
Att. 85,186

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6.00
Mileage: 160/2,727

Match Report

There is something unbecoming of a 62 year old man turning on the exit stairs to take one last look at the England team taking the acclaim of their supporters and bellowing "We Love Yer, Woy". But such was the unbridled joy, or was it sheer relief, following Steven Gerrard's 88th minute clincher of a place in next year's Brazilian World Cup Finals, that any slight political incorrectness was going to be washed away in the tide of emotion.

What a night, one of those that Wembley has seen all too few of since its reopening, one that was given a massive contribution by the amazing Polish support that in turn brought out the best from their English counterparts. Poland arrived for the final game of their disappointing campaign with nothing to lose and a freedom to express themselves and any team with Robert Lewandowski in its ranks are to be respected.

The no-hopers of San Marino left England with clarity of mind; only a win would see them avoid the perils of the play-offs where the likes of France and Portugal laid in wait.

The colour and vibrancy of the Polish support surfaced with the singing (or whistling at) of the national anthems. Vivid red flares were burning bright as the visiting anthem was played, how they manage to smuggle these things past security beats me.

England carried the momentum from their Friday victory over Montenegro with them in the opening half, the hand brake removed they were asked to go for broke and the three pronged attack alongside Andros Townsend who continued his sparkling arrival on the international scene. Poland’s failing in this campaign has centred on their failure to defend but on this occasion, subjected to intense pressure from their hosts, they threw bodies in front of everything England could muster and when clear shooting opportunities presented themselves, England found Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny in top form.

Although Poland, aware of threat that Townsend had presented, doubled up with defenders facing him, the winger brought the first save from Szczesny who could only parry his shot into the path of Danny Welbck, but the striker failed to get a good contact on the return. Townsend cracked a shot against the crossbar, Daniel Sturridge just failed to get the ball out from under his feet and Welbeck also stumbled as he went through one on one with the Polish keeper. But all the while this was happening Poland still carried a significant threat on the counter-attack. Direct from an England corner, a frighteningly quick move ended with Lewandowski clear on the right hand side of the box, as Joe Hart narrowed the angle, the Borussia Dortmund striker steered his shot wide of the far wide. It was a heart-stopping moment; Lewandowski doesn’t normally miss from close range.

If England can afford to lose one of their first choice players it is Ashley Cole because there is a wafer thin difference in quality between him and his deputy, Leighton Baines. After 41 quite thrilling, but nerve wracking minutes, Baines crossed perfectly from the left and Rooney rose the highest to plant a firm header into the right hand corner of the net. Rooney’s protective headband had fallen from his head moments earlier and Szczesny was left to do the polite thing and return it to the goalscorer.

The second half progressed in much the same vein. England continued to press on but Poland were striking fear into the England support whenever they counter-attacked. It was never going to be a night for breathing easily and when Lewandowski broke free again, the onrushing Hart managed to get a touch on the striker’s clipped shot before it was cleared to safety, breath was being held once again.

Two minutes remained when Wembley was finally offered the opportunity to indulge in a bit of pre-Rio carnival atmosphere. James Milner, on as a substitute to bolster the midfield, knocked the ball forward to Steven Gerrard, who rode the challenge Kamil Glik to prod the ball past Szczesny to set up the joyous celebrations.

In a campaign that, at times had been torturous, with Hodgson’s cautious approach bringing much press criticism, the manager went bold and over two memorable Wembley occasions, England produced their two best performances. Whether England can continue to play in this fashion come the Finals is another question, would they be able to attack Germany, for instance, in the same manner, I would like to think that Hodgson would see it as a situation in which they had nothing to lose in approaching the game with the same attitude.

For the next six months, Hodgson must watch on, helplessly, as his players are at the mercy of their Premiership managers. How much game are his young players going to get is going to be crucial in the run up to Brazil almost as much as the fear that a major injury, that always seems to happen, is going to be inflicted on one of his key players.

But for now, it is time to celebrate, however unbecoming it might be for the older man.

Friday, 18 October 2013

St Albans City 2 Tonbridge 1

Match 32/13/1059 - Saturday, 12th October 2013 - FA Cup 3QR

St Albans City (1) 2 Frendo 7, Nwokeji 73
Tonbridge (1) 1 Lovell 43
Att. 607

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 160/2,567

Match Report

The high of England's World Cup win over Montenegro was quickly replaced by despondency following Tonbridge's abject display in the FA Cup at Clarence Road, St Albans. It is a long time since I left a football ground quite as disappointed as on this occasion and the grim faces among the healthy travelling contingent told a similar story.

It is hard to comprehend how a team collectively just fails to turn up in the manner that Tonbridge Angels did for this tie. Were the opposition under-estimated? Was there complacency given the lower status of the hosts? For whatever reason, the fact was that Tonbridge started lethargically and never really shook themselves out of their comatose state.

The financial implications may well be felt at the club for the remainder of the season and whilst Tonbridge, or any other club, should not be budgeting for a cup run the amount of money on offer would make for a far more healthy balance sheet at the year end. The last round victory brought a cheque for £4,500 and this would have risen to £7,500 had they progressed. A favourable draw in the last qualifying round would have netted a possible £12,500 plus the gate receipts and it is easy to see that something approaching the £20,000 mark has been lost.

Whilst lamenting the woeful nature of the Tonbridge performance it should not be overlooked that St Albans played much better than their mid-table, Southern Premier League position would suggest. There was a 15-20 minute spell in which the visitors began to resemble a Conference South side which showed that if that momentum had been carried forward for a longer period then there was every possibility that their name would be, at the very least, in the hat for Monday's draw.

St Albans just looked like a team that wanted the prize that little bit more; they were a yard quicker and most second balls fell at their feet and it wasn't all a question of good fortune. When they needed to put bodies in front of the ball, they protected their goalkeeper and when it came to the counter attack, Tonbridge seemingly had no answer to their pace.

Once Tonbridge had got off to the worst possible start, the game was going to be uphill front that point on. Mark Nwokeji outpaced Ryan Watts to a ball that the full back always seemed favourite to get to first, once past he crossed to his strike partner John Frendo who composed himself before shooting past Clark Masters to open the scoring.

Tonbridge responded relatively well and the wingers were proving to be good outlet, however, time and again, frustratingly, the cross failed to clear the first defender.

As if to prove a point, with five minutes of the half remaining, Watts delivered the perfect cross and Mark Lovell was in the right place to plant the easiest of headers into the net for an equaliser that was barely deserved.

Buoyed by their equaliser and one would hope a rocket of a half-time team talk from Tommy Warrilow it was hoped that a Tonbridge with more urgency and a bit more craft would emerge for the second half and take the cup tie by the throat. Sadly, if anything matters got worse.

In the entire 45 minutes they created one chance of note, a 25 shot that cannoned back off the goalkeeper's chest to Lovell who put the rebound wide, whilst the home side's pace in counter attack was a constant threat.

A swift breakaway on 73 minutes ended with Nwokeji receiving a pass on the right side of the box and from an unchallenged position he shot past Masters. It was a head in hands moment for all those on sidelines who found it difficult to comprehend the time and space that the St Albans player, who was a deserved man of the match, had to pick his spot.

I'm a mere supporter of the club, my time and money is spent on days like this and I'm bitterly disappointed, but you have to feel for the people whose efforts keep the club alive on an almost daily basis. They deserved so much better than this performance and one can only hope that the players are conscious of the fact that on this occasion they let a lot of people down.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

England 4 Montenegro 1

Match 31/13/1058 - Friday, 11th October 2013 - World Cup Qualifying

England (0) 4 Rooney 48, Boskovic (o.g.) 62, Townsend 78,
Sturridge 90 (pen)

Montenegro (0) 1 Damjanovic 71
Att. 83,807

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6.00
Mileage: 160/2,407

Match Report

The observant of you will notice that the next three entries have been posted rather late so if I drift into the benefit of hindsight, you’ll have to forgive me. This was the start of a big three games in my season, three games that would, to a certain extent, shape the season to come.

England’s task was almost crystal clear, two wins, over Montenegro and then in the final qualifier at Wembley against Poland would ensure that they reached the World Cup Finals in Brazil, a draw in the Poland v Ukraine game in Kharkiv would offer a slightly easier passage, but by half time at Wembley we knew that a 64th minute winner from Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko had denied this route.

Montenegro arrived at Wembley still harbouring dreams of their own and having three draws in three games against England to their credit, this was never going to be a gimme.

The criticism that had surrounded England’s performance in the Ukraine when they employed an ultra-cautious game plan that yielded a priceless goalless draw had also confirmed a character type on Roy Hodgson that would not suggest a bold team selection in the first of the Wembley double-header. But bold was the selection that saw Jack Wilshere relegated to the bench along with the much safer option of James Milner in order to employ a three pronged attack in Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, whilst also adding the pace of Tottenham’s Andros Townsend for a first start.

The evening had started badly, a wet Friday on the M25 always spells trouble with a capital T and this one was all that and more. Eventually the kick off was missed and six minutes had elapsed before we were in our seats.

The game reached half time with plenty of anxious faces among the England support. The goalless scoreline barely reflected the one-sided nature of the game; chances had come and gone for England thwarted by the Montenegran keeper, Vukasin Poleksic who was drafted in as the first choice goalkeeper was injured. Meanwhile, a couple of route one attacks had found England’s central defensive pairing a little wanting adding to the nervousness surrounding Wembley.

The first half had also seen a taste of what Andros Townsend is about and his direct running with the ball at his feet had been the highlight of the opening 45 minutes. Within a couple of minutes of the start of the second half, Townsend was once again terrorising his full back and his cross into the box was weakly headed clear to the feet of Welbeck whose shot was parried by Poleksic but only as far as Rooney who finished smartly under pressure. The relief around Wembley was tangible.

England fans were beginning to celebrate an important step on the road to Brazil when just after the hour mark, Branko Boskovic diverted the ball into his own net to double the home nation’s advantage. England, of course, would not be England if they didn’t conspire to do things the hard way and following a 25 yard shot from Stevan Jovetic that crashed against the crossbar the Montenegrans reduced the arrears with 18 minutes remaining when a shot from range was diverted into the net by Dejan Damjanovic. Wembley was on edge once more.

But the star of the show was about to have his final say on proceedings. Townsend ran at the defence, cutting inside to unleash a 25 yard shot that went in off a post to crown a personally glorious debut. The 22-year-old was substituted with ten minutes remaining allowing him to take the full ovation of a thankful Wembley crowd.

Sturridge was brought down in the box in the closing minute and Rooney stood aside from his penalty taking duties to allow the Liverpool striker round off the scoring and place an emphatic scoreline on the board.

The group situation had demanded that England approached this game on the front foot and cautious Roy became bold Roy and was richly rewarded. The same modus operandi needs to be taken forward to Tuesday when 20,000 Poles are going to make home turf a hostile environment for Roy’s Boys whose are one win from becoming the Boys in Brazil.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Chatham Town 4 Ramsgate 1

Match 30/13/1057 - Tuesday, 8th October 2013 - Ryman League Cup

Chatham Town (0) 4 May 71, 74, 81 Alderman 90
Ramsgate (1) 1 Millbank 42
Att. 108

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1.00
Mileage: 32/2,247

This was a match to occupy a Tuesday night, a bit of a blog-hop as I haven't been to Chatham Town for quite literally donkey's years. In fact, so long that I was convinced I knew exactly where the ground was but ended up asking for directions. As it turned out, a pleasantly warm evening was spent talking football with a fellow Gillingham and England supporter whilst watching a decent match.

One has to have a great deal of sympathy with Chatham Town, they could almost be labelled Kent's forgotten club. They have been marooned in Ryman League North for some years and miss out on both the revenue and the attention that the numerous Kent derbies would bring. So the visit of a fellow Kent side for this League Cup tie was welcome.

As the match unfolded, with Ramsgate taking the lead after the home side had had two first half goals disallowed, the game became the Alfie May show. A nippy, little winger was shown the yellow card for petulence, but then took his attitude in the right direction with a match winning hat-trick, the third of which was a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box that warranted a bigger stage and a larger audience.

Since my last visit, goodness knows when, the structure behind the goal that houses the changing rooms, tea bars has been built and adds to the tidy ground. The wooden stand with its bench seats are a lovely throw-back to the good old days.

I enjoyed my visit and I'm guessing it will not be so long before I return.