Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gillingham 1 York City 1

Match 46/12/999 - Saturday, 26 January 2013 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 McDonald 85
York City (1) 1 Lee (o.g.) 17
Att. 4,893

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,602

Match Report

Welcome Back! An unscheduled winter break convinced me that Arsene and his Premier mates might like a scheduled mid-season break, but for it’s not for me, one enforced boring Saturday is one too many in a season. Quite how anybody with an interest in the game can suffer Soccer Saturday, despite the enthusiasm of Jeff Stelling, on a weekly basis earns my respect.

Busting a gut to get back to football, perhaps with Gillingham’s recent form, Priestfield was not the best place to satisfy that lust for entertainment. What is going on with the home form? Since they beat Scunthorpe in an early November FA Cup tie with a third successive four goal salvo, seven games have yielded just six points (a win and three draws) whilst five unbeaten away games have produced three wins and two draws.

All around me people were scratching their heads at Martin Allen’s team selection. Matt Fish, undeniably the most improved player at the club and arguably a contender for player of the year, was inexplicably omitted and two defensive midfielders, Andy Frampton and Steven Gregory were included in a midfield that cried out for some creativity. Charlie Allen, fast becoming the object of abuse from certain sections of the home support, is woefully out of form yet retains his place. It was not surprising that the returning prodigal son, Cody McDonald, took his place on the bench given his inactivity at Coventry and Danny Kedwell and Adam Birchall was the favoured striking partnership at the expense of Deon Burton. The team selected was certainly one of Mad Dog’s stranger choices, and there have been some strange ones.

York City arrived as a team in 15th place in the table, with an average set of recent results behind them and looked ripe to get Gillingham’s home form back on track. However, they turned out to be a side that was small in stature and one that had the ability to pass their way through a pedestrian midfield in much the same way that Barnet had done on Boxing Day. Michael Potts and Scott Kerr were particularly impressive in an energetic manner that was everything that the Gillingham midfield was not.

Gillingham fell behind, in what became a shambolic first half performance, on 17 minutes in what was thought at the time as somewhat fortunate circumstances. Patrick McLaughlin appeared to almost scuff a corner to the near post from where Charlie Lee sliced a clearance past his own goalkeeper. I say, at the time, because on two further occasions, McLaughlin produced similar corners that caused all sorts of confusion in the Gillingham penalty area.

Martin Allen, at least recognising the deficiencies in the original selection, replaced Frampton with Myles Weston to add a threat from the left hand side. Weston forced a corner four minutes before the break from which Adam Barratt brought an instinctive save from Michael Ingham to deny a close range header.

A second substitution was made at the break when Fish replaced the ineffective Charlie Allen and the full back’s marauding down the right hand side highlighted the folly in his omission. Gillingham might have gone further behind in the first attack of the half when Stuart Nelson pushed away Matt Blair’s shot before Leon Legge planted a free header over the bar for the home side.

The home crowd rose to welcome home Cody McDonald as he became Gillingham’s final substitution on 55 minutes replacing Adam Birchall, who had very little joy from his time spent watching long hoofed passes sail over his head. Once again, York spurned opportunities to double their advantage when Chris Smith headed against a post and Potts and Kerr brought out the best of Gills’ defensive capabilities.

A clash of heads between Lee and York’s Lanre Oyebanjo brought about a lengthy stoppage that forced both players from the field. Oyebanjo was eventually substituted but with Gillingham having used their substitutions, a woozy Lee re-entered the game; once more went off but only to return again to complete the game and earn the man of the match award in a game of very mixed personal fortunes.

Five minutes remained when McDonald made his hero’s return. Weston crossed from the right and the striker buried a header from six yards to the delight of the Rainham End, with whom he celebrated. McDonald could have earned legendary status with another header that Ingham did well to save before the visitors spurned a final opportunity to grab all three points when Blair wastefully shot wide after being sent clear.

Three home games on the spin was seen as the opportunity to reclaim top spot and even put a little bit of daylight between themselves and Port Vale, but the sequence might be seen as more of a blessing in disguise for the present leaders than a Gillingham side, for whom, Priestfield is far from home, sweet home.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1962-63 season.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Gillingham 1 Port Vale 2

Match 45/12/998 - Saturday, 12 January 2013 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Kedwell 21
Port Vale (2) 2 Pope 3, Hughes 20
Att. 8,392

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/3,557

Match Report

Port Vale took Gillingham’s place at the summit of League Two with a thoroughly professional performance in which resilient defending was complimented by two early goals, a template recognisable from several Gillingham away performances this season.

The week had been spent calling the game “a six pointer” with top hosting second. As it was, the result didn’t feel like a six point loss; had Gillingham won the game and gone five points clear with a game in hand, the feeling would have been quite different. Somewhat biased? Perhaps, but the resultant table doesn’t suggest it.

Earlier in the week, Martin Allen made a last minute bid to sign Lee Hughes who had already had transfer talks with Port Vale. The striker decided to honour the deal made with the Burslem club and, naturally enough, scored against his suitors.

Hughes, without any doubt, will score at hatful of goals at League Two level and, quite possibly, in tandem with the prolific Tom Pope, will be the addition that propels Vale to promotion as champions. That, in any almost any other player, would be enough to satisfy the support, but in the case of Lee Hughes and the stigma he brings to a club, I wonder if there are more than a few Vale fans that have some misgivings. Easily interpreted as sour grapes, but I would not want him attached to Gillingham Football Club.

In August 2004, Hughes was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving for which he received a sentence of six years’ imprisonment. The previous November he lost control of his Mercedes and the resultant crash with another car led to the death of a father-of-four and serious injuries to the other two occupants. Hughes left the scene of the crash and failed to report the accident, it was 36 hours later when he turned himself into the police. On leaving prison having served three years of his sentence, he professed that “his mistakes would live with him for the rest of his life and that he would never forgive himself.” In 2012, he was found guilty of common assault.

A player with such a catalogue of misdemeanours is going to bring with him a lot of baggage that is going to be seized upon by opposition supporters up and down the country and at Gillingham it was no different. From his announcement on the team sheet through to every touch of the ball, the chant was “murderer” to which he arrogantly played the part of the orchestral conductor. To face up to such abuse takes a very single-minded character and the way in which he coped was, in many ways, admirable, but would I want to have to listen to that being directed at one of my club’s players on every away trip . . . even if it costs us the championship, the answer is firmly no.

I can understand Martin Allen’s desire to get him to the club. Gillingham need a striker of his quality, he has pace, is as strong as an ox and a proven goalscorer. Allen, having worked with him at Notts County would know all of his strengths and more, but I stand by my viewpoint and, likewise, I would never want Marlon King to return to the club.

Gillingham’s recent home form has been poor, whilst successive wins on the road at Southend and Bristol Rovers retained their position at the top of the table. A near sell-out crowd in the home areas of Priestfield, producing a vibrant atmosphere, were stunned as the visitors opened the scoring through Pope and, on 20 minutes, doubled their advantage with a goal that Hughes will seek to claim. A powerful shot from Danny Kedwell, a minute later, kept the crowd’s noise levels high despite the deficit, in a frantic opening period.

Less than four minutes of the game had elapsed when a long cross from the left by Adam Yates found Pope in a one-on-one aerial battle with Adam Barrett which the 25 goal leading scorer won, looping a header back across the face of Stuart Nelson and into the far corner of the net.

Gillingham responded well and Myles Weston, who enjoyed a good opening spell, drew a fine save from Chris Neal at the near post. The referee, who did little to endear himself to the home support, awarded a very debateable free kick to Port Vale on the right that was delivered to the far post and the head of Pope, who directed it back across the face of goal for Hughes to bundle a header home. The goal has been variously credited to own goals by either Barrett or Nelson, but Hughes will claim, and probably be awarded it.

Straight from the kick off, Kedwell’s rasping shot brought the home side back into the game and with seven minutes remaining in the half, much to the delight of his detractors, Hughes found his way into the referee’s notebook for persistent foul play.

The second half was a one-way onslaught of the Vale goal, but to their credit the visitors offered up very little in the way of clear shooting opportunities to the hosts. Substitute Adam Birchall had a shot cleared from the line and Kedwell needed a first-time finish rather than trying to take a second touch as Gillingham desperately sought an equaliser in the last 20 minutes. Another substitute, Charlie Lee brought an instinctive save from Neal with a close range header and it was suspected that this was to not to be Gillingham’s day. This was nearly confirmed in time added when Ben Williamson got clear as Gillingham pressed everybody forward but he shot wastefully wide.

Port Vales's sizeable support, numbering 716, were left to celebrate a magnificent victory. Clinical in front of goal in the first 20 minutes and then resilient in defence they did enough, despite a spirited second half from their hosts, to deserve the points, but whether they are able to sit comfortably in their seats at Vale Park with Lee Hughes on the pitch in their colours is a matter only they can decide.

The classic programme covers that are being replicated for this centenary season today came from the 1974-75 season.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Tonbridge 1 Havant & Waterlooville 0

Match 44/12/997 - Tuesday, 8 January 2013 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 1 Collin 23 (pen)
Havant & Waterlooville (0) 0
Att. 397

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/3,512

Match Report

This was one of those games whereby on arriving home, the television text needed to be consulted just to confirm that the result was actually as you had seen it. Havant and Waterlooville didn’t exactly batter Tonbridge, but the result in the home side’s favour was due to a resilient defensive display including another fine individual performance from their goalkeeper, Lee Worgan.

The story of Tonbridge’s season has been one of consistently inconsistent. Early season it was a matter of too many draws, one win in seven or unbeaten in five was generally down to drawn games, presently the pattern is win one, lose one. The league table suggests that this is general throughout the majority of the division, the last play-off position is just four points out of Tonbridge’s reach, but looking over their shoulder, a relegation spot is a mere five points away. This win, leapfrogging their visitors in the process, moved them up four places, such is the mid-table congestion.

Tonbridge paraded their new signing, Nathan Green arriving from Billericay, employing him as a left winger and in general he had a satisfying debut. The other recent signing, David Ijaha has added the physical presence, already nicknamed Tank by supporters, to the centre of midfield and it was through the spine of the team that the win was built.

Havant looked dangerous throughout the match, they have in their ranks the division’s leading scorer in Ollie Palmer and the left-sided pairing of Sahr Kabba and Chris Arthur presented a constant threat.

The game was ultimately settled by a penalty, awarded after an inexplicable handball by Ed Harris, converted by Frannie Collin, restored to his position leading the line and looking the better for it. Either side of the goal it was a case of steadfast defending from Ollie Schulz and Gary Elphick with Tom Davis and Ijaha patrolling the central midfield area in front of them.

The first of Worgan’s saves came on 20 minutes when he tipped over the bar a shot from outside of the area by Arthur and a couple of minutes later a clear shooting opportunity was wastefully blasted over the bar.

The visitors’ profligacy in front of goal was punished when Collin scored from the spot on 23 minutes.

Between the goal and half-time Worgan was called on to make saves from Harris, Palmer and Kabba as the right side of Tonbridge’s defence was exposed by the pace and ability of Arthur and Kabba.

The second half was nowhere near as one way. Although Havant continued to make and waste chances, Tonbridge were much more of a threat, albeit on the counter attack. It is to the credit of Schulz and Elphick that Palmer was limited to just a couple of chances the best of which was turned away by Worgan.

Tonbridge thought the game had been made safe with a second goal, ten minutes from time. Green swung in a free kick from the right and Mark Lovell’s glancing header found the corner of the net. Initially given by the referee, his attention was drawn to a linesman’s flag and eventually ruled out, for what remains a mystery. Tonbridge saw the game out with just one more scare when Harris put a header wide and, if anything, finished the game on the front foot.

Manager Tommy Warrilow, in a Kentishfootball interview, seems to have an impression that Tonbridge fans in general are unappreciative of where they are sat in Conference South and are not particularly enjoying the experience. The impression that I get from the people I watch my football with is completely different. They understand that this is a difficult league and the second season is, more often than not, harder than the first and consequently they are fully appreciative of where the club is positioned at this present time. Even on the forum, which has got to Warrilow in the past, the members criticising are in the minority. If I had the opportunity to put a point of view to Tommy it would be “if you don’t like what you read, don’t read it.”

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Tunbridge Wells 5 Greenwich Borough 1

Match 43/12/996 - Saturday, 5 January 2013 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (2) 5 Irvine 32, 40,67 Pilbeam 83 Spackman 86
Greenwich Borough (1) 1 Ryan 36
Att. 158

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/3,486

It was the wife’s upcoming birthday and, like most men, the buying of even a card had been left to the last minute. As my chosen fixture for the day was Tunbridge Wells’ Kent League game against Greenwich Borough, I gave myself enough time to drop into town to pick up the said item. At the entrance of the Royal Victoria Shopping Centre, perhaps waiting for a partner or having a crafty fag, there was a bloke wearing a Brighton & Hove Albion bench coat. On the way from home I had been listening to the commentary of Brighton’s cup tie against Newcastle and my thoughts immediately were, if you are a supporter, why aren’t you there? Of course, this was rather unfair, there could be a thousand reasons why he wasn’t there and he might have been to every other match this season, but somehow I didn’t think so. One of the principle reasons may well have been cost, the cheapest seat at Brighton this season costs £28, the highest in the Championship. So, rather than loitering outside of a shopping centre mate, get yourself down to Culverden Stadium where you can watch four-and-a-half games for the price of one at the Amex and that’s before factoring in travelling costs and as for the person in the Liverpool shirt . . .

One of the reasons for making this point is that thoughts are turning towards Tunbridge Wells’ upcoming FA Vase last 32 tie against the holders of the trophy, Dunston UTS and speculating on just how many people might turn up on 19 January. From a purely footballing point of view this was a wonderful draw that commands the attention of the fans of the non-league game, but from a logistical point of view it takes on a whole different outlook.

Dunston UPS, hailing from Tyne and Wear, face a 625 mile round trip to Kent and a look at the competition rules show that this presents a problem not only for those making the long journey. Rule 23 sets out the criteria and the amount of expense that can be claimed by the travelling club. Their coach travel can be reclaimed at an amount of not more than £3 per mile, which equates to £1,875. Dunston are advertising a supporters’ club coach to the game on their website at a price of £30 per seat dependant on a full coach, presumably 50. So, although a discount might be obtained, it could be estimated that not a lot of change out of £1,500 is to be had.

If the visiting club has to leave its headquarters before 8 a.m. on the day of the match, then they are entitled to claim hotel expenses. As Dunston’s supporters’ club coach is due to leave a 6 a.m., it can be expected that the players’ coach is leaving at much the same time, so 20 people at a maximum of £50 per head can be claimed. A room for two people in the cheap as chips Travelodge is £47 per night, added to the coach travel means that Dunston’s expenses are £2,000 before we get into areas such as match officials expenses.

If we take the supposition that one in four people through the turnstile pay the concessionary price then approximately 375 people need to pay at the gate to pay the visitors’ expenses alone. If Dunston were to claim the full amount to which they are entitled then, using the same premise, the attendance needs to rise to something nearer 450.

Last season to celebrate their 125th anniversary Tunbridge Wells offered free admission to their match against Corinthian and this attracted an attendance of 340, so I would suggest that this is, at the present time, something of a ceiling and if the coach-load from Dunston are added then 390 would represent a figure that is just about, or not quite enough, the amount needed to cover the expenses.

If all this reads rather gloomy, it should be added that any deficit incurred is borne equally by both clubs and Tunbridge Wells at least have the proceeds from the bar and food sales to fall back on.

All this leads me back to the chap stood outside the Victoria Centre, your local club needs you and the game against Dunston would be a great place to start.

On the field, Tunbridge Wells appear ready for the challenge of the FA Vase holders. They brushed aside Greenwich Borough with a hat trick from Andy Irvine taking centre stage. Two powerful headers and the finishing touch to a magnificent team goal made up his trio and late goals from Jon Pilbeam and Perry Spackman made up the nap hand.

Off the pitch, we pray to the weather gods to be kind in the coming fortnight. A pitch inspection allowed a home fixture to go ahead for the first time for almost two months following postponements due to waterlogging and whilst it played better than could be expected, it is not going to take too much of the wet stuff to give the groundsman a real headache and as he’s my mate, let’s pray for some unseasonal dry days.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Dover Athletic 0 Tonbridge 1

Match 42/12/995 - Tuesday, 1 January 2013 - Conference South

Dover Athletic (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 1 Ijaha 90+2
Att. 1,102

Entrance: £9 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 99/3,460

Match Report

What a difference a couple of days can make, or more importantly a couple of players. Tonbridge put behind them their woeful home performance against Bromley with a hard-earned victory at arch-rivals Dover and in the process completed their first double over the Whites in 26 years. The Tonbridge midfield that was so poor against Bromley was strengthened with the inclusion of new signing David Ijaha and the return of Tom Davis and Lee Browning.

One of the charms of non-league football is the non-segregation of supporters and it is shame that this fixture has been blighted by bad behaviour in the recent past and, therefore, necessitates the imposition of segregation. Dover’s method of segregation involves the lengthiest and most arduous of detours away from the main entrance for the visiting supporters, “the walk of shame” as it was dubbed by one supporter. I can only presume that some arrangements must have been made for the elderly or infirm, because for them, it would have been mission impossible.

The result of the animosity is the sweetest of victories for whoever gains the spoils and, in the space of a week, Tonbridge supporters were able to celebrate on both occasions. The opening 20 minutes were evenly contested with Dover rattling the bar through Ben May and Tonbridge actually having the ball in the net only for this writer to see his eccentric celebration cut short by a linesman’s flag.

One of the major problems of segregation is the restriction of a position behind the goal and Crabble is a ground where the far goal seems even further away than usual, perhaps it is the slope that gives this perception. Consequently, when an almighty scramble ensued in the Tonbridge area with the ball coming back off the inside of a post and then the follow-up shot being stopped on the line by Sonny Miles, who injured himself in the process, it was head-in-hands stuff but not quite knowing just how desperate the defending needed to be.

The second half was played with Tonbridge kicking into the distance, but easy to see was the fine diving save needed by Mitch Walker to deny Ijaha. We then got treated, certainly not the right word, to another scramble in the Tonbridge area, but this time viewed at close range. Once again the woodwork was rattled by May after Moses Ademola had rounded Lee Worgan, but bodies were thrown in front of the ball to eventually shepherd it to safety.

Into the last 20 minutes and it was Tonbridge that stepped up and finished much the stronger, whilst I was spouting the old defensive “if I’m I willing to take a draw on the way in, I’ll take it on the way out”, there were signs that the home side had faded and it was now their turn to be holding on. Into five minutes of added time and two moments that will live in memory for the rest of the season. Ijaha rifled a loose ball into the net from 12 yards to silence the season’s best Crabble attendance and then, with breath held, a last kick of the match free kick from Dover’s Daryl McMahon clipped the crossbar on its way over and the points were ours.

The long trudge back to the car only served to prove the pointlessness of the segregation as we walked straight into the body of the Dover support coming in the opposite direction. If they, or us, wanted to start a fight then the segregation would only have served to identify who was who from the direction in which they were walking. A couple of Dover supporters offered their congratulations, perhaps recognising three old duffers that are not exactly going to cause mayhem, whatever the result. It is a real shame on both clubs that the small minority are not going to allow the rivalry between these clubs to be any less than bitter and that the gross inconvenience of segregation will continue in the meantime.