Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tonbridge 2 Chelmsford City 1

Match 19/13/1046 - Monday, 26th August 2013 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 2 Muggeridge 39, Browning 83
Chelmsford City (0) 1 Brayley (pen) 90+3
Att. 510

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,395

Match Report

After viewing a couple of encouraging pre-season games, my first league visit to Tonbridge this season had been preceded by a three defeats, the third of which was a 5-1 hammering at early season pacemakers, Bromley. My companions at Longmead told me of woeful performances and overweight, unfit players leaving me fearing the worst from the visit of Chelmsford City, a club, who in my recent memory always seem to give the Angels a bit of a tonking.

In the Chelmsford side there was Tommy Forecast, last season's back-up goalkeeper to Stuart Nelson at Gillingham, Tom Derry, a youngster that was brought to Gillingham from Charlton in the summer and loaned out to the Essex side and Tom Davis, the midfielder that had an inauspicious season at Tonbridge last term.

Following the Bromley debacle, Nathaniel Pinney and Phillip Appiah were dropped to the bench with Luke Blewden pairing up with Mikel Suarez in attack. Chris Piper was asked to play right back allowing Henry Muggeridge to player further forward.

Blewden played with the enthusiasm that endears players to supporters even if they do lack a little quality. In the middle of the defence, Sonny Miles and Gary Borrowdale snuffed out the considerable threat of Derry and Jeff Goulding.

Both sides created a couple of chances in a first half that was evenly balanced, Tonbridge's best efforts came from two Jon Heath headers whilst Clark Masters did well to turn away a Goulding header. The breakthrough came on 39 minutes when Muggeridge cut inside from the right and struck from 20 yards into the bottom corner.

Chelmsford obviously took a flea in the ear during the half time break from Dean Holdsworth and put the Tonbridge back line under pressure from the outset, but the home side stood firm with Piper a revelation in his new role.

Seven minutes remained when Tonbridge extended their lead. Blewden hit a cross beyond the far post from where Nathan Green did exceptionally well to keep the move alive with a header back across goal to Lee Browning who shot low into the net.

It was deep into time added when the final piece of drama unfolded. Masters did well to save an initial effort from Mark Hughes but the follow-up shot was thwarted by the hands of Miles, who conceded the penalty and earned a red card for his trouble. The spot kick was successfully converted by Bertie Brayley, but it was too little, too late for the visitors.

So, pulling away from the Longmead car park, I was unexpectedly reflecting on very satisfactory Bank Holiday Monday entertainment and how fortunes can change with the fickle finger of fate. An injury to Garry Elphick forced Tommy Warrilow to play Miles in his best position in the centre of defence and Piper slotted into Miles' vacated position with great effect. Upfront, Blewden showed with whole-hearted endeavour that he is not at Longmead to understudy Pinney or anybody else whilst the reshuffle also pushed Green and Muggeridge further forward. Out of a difficult start, Warrilow might just have stumbled on the right formula.

Swindon Town 2 Gillingham 2

Match 18/13/1045 - Saturday, 24th August 2013 - League One

Swindon Town (1) 2 Byrne 12, Thompson 70
Gillingham (1) 2 Kedwell 18, McDonald 85
Att. 7,520

Entrance: £19 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 272/1,369

Match Report

It was a sorry set of statistics to take into any fixture, no win at the County Ground for 31 years and not even a point since 1987. Despite the slight lift of confidence brought about by the spirited draw against Brentford, hopes were not high that the Swindon bogey could be laid to rest.

The rivalry that has existed between the clubs since the infamous clashes of 1979 has generated an atmosphere that has not been conducive to a pleasant visit in the past, but on this occasion, it appeared that some of the heat is beginning to finally subside from this fixture.

Ex-Newcastle United striker, Nile Ranger, the subject of a charge of rape to which he has pleaded not guilty in his initial court appearance, was a sitting target for abuse and this deflected the majority of the customary "banter" between the two sets of supporters.

The day had begun badly with a painful journey around the M25 that added the best part of an hour to the journey, it picked up with the best fish and chips consumed within the vicinity of a football ground for some while and ended happily with a well-earned point from another improved performance.

Martin Allen kept faith with the team that had performed admirably against Brentford and had an early chance to open the scoring when Adebayo Akinfenwa shot narrowly wide of the right hand post but it was the hosts that took the lead after 12 minutes.

Swindon employed an out-and-out winger in Alex Pritchard and positioned Jay McEveley almost as wide behind him. This twin threat curtailed Michael Harriman's adventurous nature from full back and he required continual help to counter the threat. Pritchard was the initial provider for the goal, with Nathan Byrne bundling the ball into the net from close range following a cross.

Any thoughts that the long throw into the box routine that worked well in League Two might be a bit agricultural for the division above were dispelled when Chris Whelpdale hurled a throw to the near post and Danny Kedwell rose highest to glance the ball past Wes Foderingham. It was simple, effective and surprising that it worked.

Gillingham were struggling to contain the wing play that was being serviced from midfield by Ryan Harley and Stuart Nelson was called upon a trio of times to make saves before on the half-hour a fierce free kick from Charlie Lee was spilt by Foderingham, who recovered to smother Kedwell's attempt from the rebound.

For much of the opening 25 minutes of the second half, Gillingham more than held their own, although Harley was continuing to be difficult to contain and from his cross in the 69th minute Nathan Thompson scored at the far post to give the home side a barely deserved lead.

Cody McDonald was introduced for Akinfenwa straight away and he injected pace to the front line. Five minutes from the end, a Swindon attack was broken up by a long clearance from Leon Legge and McDonald raced clear of Grant Hall before steadying himself in the box to shoot past Foderingham to the absolute delight of the 452 travelling supporters.

At the final whistle, there was further evidence that the animosity is not considered such a threat when, on leaving the ground, we were not greeted with the ring of police of previous years. It was a quiet, untroubled walk back to the car with an inner satisfaction from another improved performance and whilst it is still 31 years since victory was tasted at the County Ground, at least the other sorry statistic was consigned to the bin.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Tunbridge Wells 3 Beckenham Town 1

Match 17/13/1044 - Tuesday, 20th August 2013 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (1) 3 Stanford 38, Fuller (pen) 86, Harris 90
Beckenham Town (0) 1 Turner 55
Att. 241

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/1,197

Match Report

One of the little pleasures of non-league football is meeting people that have associations with the game without necessarily supporting either club involved. One such person that I have a passing acquaintance with is a referee’s assessor, one of those normally faceless people in the stand that give the official you thought was worth one out of ten, an eight. As he passed by to his preferred viewing position he joked that he had brought two pens, he may well have needed them.

It is somewhat disappointing to be walking away from the ground having witnessed an outstanding player performance that the main topic of conversation was the contribution of the referee. Before this sounds like another episode of referee-bashing, opinion was divided on Michael Marsh’s handling of several key decisions.

The referee’s assessor was scribbling in his notebook as early as the 20th minute when Jake Britnell got goal-side of Perry Spackman, who gave him a tug on the shoulder to bring him down. The question for the referee was whether there were covering defenders and after consultation with his linesman his decision was a red card. Tunbridge Wells’s supporters quite obviously disagreed, but the referee has taken the advice available to him and made his decision and that has to be respected, and in fairness, Spackman voiced no argument.

Mr Marsh’s next key decision came very quickly when Jack Harris, through on goal was brought down from behind by Malik Fofana. From a viewing position the length of the pitch away, it looked a clear penalty and could well have been another red card, but the referee gave the decision to the defender. On the walk back to the car after the match, I had a conversation with someone better placed on the sidelines, he felt that it was a penalty, but it could have been that Fofana just got a touch on the ball.

The Wells made light of their personnel disadvantage and took the lead on 38 minutes. Seth Johnson, who impressively goes about his business doing the dirty work in midfield, swung a free kick into the box and Josh Stanford lashed home after the ball ran loose in the box. Stanford had an outstanding evening and his is going to be sorely missed when he leaves for Australia next month.

Beckenham, who looked a lot better than their early season form has suggested, equalised in the 55th minute. Their most impressive player, Jamie Turner, collected the ball in midfield, strode forward a couple of paces and thumped a 30 yard shot past Chris Oladogba, who had no chance.

The referee forced himself back into centre stage with 20 minutes remaining. Harris went down in midfield under a challenge from Adam Wadmore and the official brandished an immediate red card. Later reports were that it was for a stamping offence, at the time it looked a fairly innocuous challenge and one in which Harris might well have inflicted on himself. I would love to see what the referee’s assessor made of that one. I’ll ask him next time!

With the game at 10-aside and stretched, the superior quality of the home side finally told but not before Mr Marsh had a further say in proceedings with four minutes remaining. Tunbridge Wells were awarded a penalty when Stanford’s cross was handled by James Marshall, a correct decision in my opinion. Joe Fuller converted from the spot to give the Wells the lead.

Time still remained for the referee to show a second yellow card to Beckenham’s Joe Jackson for a lunge on Johnson, who had to be helped from the field before Harris was sent clear and tucked home a good finish to round off the evening’s entertainment.

The next time I see the Kent FA’s assessor it might well be to ask him if he has brought three pens and plenty of room in his notebook!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Gillingham 1 Brentford 1

Match 16/13/1043 - Saturday, 17th August 2013 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Akinfenwa 40
Brentford (0) 1 El Alagui 90+4
Att. 6,225

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/1,171

Match Report

Glass half full or half empty? Draw the positives or highlight the negatives? Where Gillingham Football Club are concerned I’m not the eternal optimist, but that doesn’t make me a complete pessimist. The 95th minute of this game was a complete sickener, whether Gillingham deserved to win the game or otherwise is another argument, but to have the win snatched away with just 10 seconds of time added to play was a total kick in the whotsits. When the last minute goal in the opening game of the season is added into the equation, the feeling is that Lady Luck will look kindly upon us at some time in the future.

This has been a tough opening part to the season. Our eyes have been opened to the strength of the division and the need to maintain concentration for 90 minutes and beyond. That said, many will argue, with justification that we have deserved little more than we have achieved in the opening three league games. Brentford, last season’s beaten play-off finalists, came to Priestfield as one of pre-season’s favourites for promotion this season and like all three opponents previously, exposed Gillingham’s lack of a driving force in midfield, this time made more difficult with the loss through injury of Amine Linganzi.

In perspective, this was a much improved performance from last Saturday’s chastening experience at Wolves, but it couldn’t get any worse. The central defensive pairing of Adam Barrett and Leon Legge taken apart at Molineux were more than a match for Clayton Donaldson and the much-vaunted Will Grigg. Michael Harriman, has learnt in the course of a week that his job is principally to defend and despite his willingness to get forward was pretty much always the right side of the ball when the visitors attacked.

Whilst offering the now usual criticism of an inadequate midfield, from that emerged my man of the match in the shape of Charlie Lee, why he remains on the transfer list defeats me.

The first half leant marginally in Brentford’s favour with Adam Forshaw ruling the roost in midfield. A sweet move on 38 minutes ended with Donaldson heading into the net only to see it ruled out for offside. Gillingham took full advantage of their reprieve within a couple of minutes. A long cross to the far post from Joe Martin appeared to have been over-hit but Danny Kedwell kept it alive heading back to Adebayo Akinfenwa who shot into the bottom corner. The first goal of the season had finally arrived, 310 minutes in, and was greeted rapturously by a home support that had stayed with their team despite the difficulties.

The Bees mounted a second half comeback and Forshaw struck a post early in the half and Donaldson had an effort in the final five minutes also hit a post following a deflection. In between the home side defence showed great resolution as not too many chances were created by the visitors. Four minutes of time added were shown and these had all but elapsed when a disputable free kick was awarded by the tiresome Gavin Ward. The kick was launched into the box, Harlee Dean headed back across the face of goal where Farid El Alagui hooked the ball into the net to the joyous acclaim of the 1,144 Brentford fans behind that goal.

Amazingly, there remained time for Mr Ward to shroud himself in yet more controversy. Straight from the restart, Cody McDonald swept forward and into the box and tumbled to the ground under a challenge. As a supporter, I was out of my seat, it was a penalty. Of course, I couldn't really see whether it was or it wasn't, but the injustice that had been dealt was enough to justify the claim. Brentford defenders accused the Gillingham striker of diving and pushing and shoving ensued whilst Mr Ward waved away the penalty claim.

So, drawing the positives, I was among those who feared Gillingham would end August without a point, they won’t and this was an admirable display given the huge dent that Gillingham’s confidence would have taken last week. What’s the betting on a last minute winner at Swindon next week, with Lady Luck shining this time on Gillingham.

Friday, 16 August 2013

England 3 Scotland 2

Match 15/13/1042 - Wednesday, 14th August 2013 - International

England (1) 3 Walcott 29, Wellbeck 53, Lambert 70
Scotland (1) 2 Morrison 11, Miller 49
Att. 80,485

Entrance: £40
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/1,126

Match Report

As much as I looked forward to the first England v Scotland game since 1999, there was an apprehension that it could be a night when trouble was never going to be far away and the football would end up as a sideshow, I need not have worried.

The Tartan Army were magnificent and they brought out the best in England's support. Wembley has so often resembled a funeral parlour and the England team has done little to engender an atmosphere, but this meeting of the Auld Enemy created an electric atmosphere and, on the pitch, a cracking match ensued.

Scotland came to Wembley as underdogs but played their part in a game that produced the ultimate Roy of the Rovers story as England twice behind, finally put the game to bed with a Ricky Lambert winner with 20 minutes remaining.

Officially there were 20,000 Scots inside Wembley, but almost without doubt, many of the general sale tickets had fallen into the hands of the tartan hordes and some estimates were that they made up half of the 80,000 crowd.

The walk to Wembley passed an area where a couple of pubs are usually the domain of England fans but the Scots were heavy in evidence. There was plenty of alcohol being consumed but the mood was jovial and not in the least threatening. As we approached the stadium concourse, it became apparent that there was a line that wasn't to be crossed with alcohol being consumed and it was amusing to watch the Scottish women pulling rank with their menfolk and ordering the consumption or the disposal of their cans.

Our seats were an experiment, having enjoyed the view from the lower tier behind the goal at the FA Vase Final, we decided to give them a go for an England match. At first we thought we had struck lucky, but once the game started and nobody sat down in front of us, we became aware that we were in for a night on our feet, something that happened the last time Scotland came to Wembley in 1999.

What we lost in the comfort of sitting in our seats we gained in being in the thick of the atmosphere. Much as the England fans tried to drown out Flower of Scotland, the anthem came through load and clear and once God Save The Queen received similar treatment the scene was set for 90 minutes of passionate support.

First to celebrate were the Tartan Army as Joe Hart made a complete hash of a shot from James Morrison. A combination of Danny Wellbeck and Theo Walcott failed to clear the ball to safety and the 20 yard shot from the West Bromwich Albion striker went through the hands of the England goalkeeper.

After 29 minutes in which the tackles belied any notion that this was a friendly, a wonderful pass from Tom Cleverley sent Walcott through on goal cutting in from the right hand side. The Arsenal winger turned inside to create a better angle and scored between Allan McGregor and his near post to very briefly silence the Scottish support.

The half-time break saw the pre-ordained departure of Jack Wilshere, whilst on the night he, as with Wayne Rooney, looked a little rusty, there is no doubt that the future of England's midfield is in Wilshere's hands.

Four minutes into the second half and the Scots were roaring once more and with good reason. Kenny Miller, who at 34 years of age, now plies his trade in the MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps, received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the box with Gary Cahill for close company. A dummy to his right and a turn to the left opened a yard of space and a crisp shot into the bottom corner gave Hart no chance.

The Scots joy was to last just four minutes. A Steven Gerrard free kick cleared the head of Russell Martin but found Wellbeck, who scored with a firm header into the bottom corner.

When Kyle Walker hacked down James Forrest, a minor fracas ensued, just to emphasise the "this is no friendly" point.

With the clock on 67 minutes, three minutes of a Roy of the Rovers storyline were created. Ricky Lambert, the journeyman striker that had once put the lids on jars of beetroot before leading the line at Macclesfield, Stockport County, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers, was given his first England appearance at the expense of Rooney. Two minutes later, with his first touch in international football, he rose the highest to meet a Leighton Baines corner and thunder a header into the net. Among previous scoring debutants, Nat Lofthouse would have been proud of the bullet header, but even the Lion of Vienna took longer than a couple of minutes.

Scotland were now broken on the field, substitutions led to them losing their shape, but whilst they now struggled to contain England, Flower of Scotland still reverberated around the stadium.

Lambert went on to waste a couple of chances in the closing minutes to prove that Roy of the Rovers stories really do belong in a comic book, hitting the post and tamely shooting straight at McGregor.

But the night belonged to Lambert, England took the spoils, but most of all this grand old fixture was the winner. This game brought back some memories that I didn't particularly want to revisit, but replaced them with a game to put alongside the Euro 96 fixture and place the unlikely character of Ricky Lambert alongside that of Paul Gascoigne.

A return fixture at Hampden Park? Bring it on!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Cray Valley (PM) 1 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 14/13/1041 - Tuesday, 13th August 2013 - Southern Counties East

Cray Valley (PM) (0) 1 Springett 60
Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Spackman 85
Att. 80

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: Included in entrance
Mileage: 66/1,026
New Ground: 256

Match Report

This was a game that will fall into the "No quarter asked and no quarter given" category as two teams, both with aspirations of winning the Southern Counties East Football League this season, fought a feisty encounter.

Cray Valley (PM) will be feeling the greater aggrieved of the two, having had two men sent off and hotly disputing Tunbridge Wells' equalising goal with only five minutes left on the clock, but the home side were victims of their own making.

Midway through the first half, Cray's livewire centre forward, Adam Marsh tangled with Perry Spackman and, despite the protestations that contact had barely been made, a raised hand generally means a card of some sort, and on this occasion a yellow sufficed. Treading a fine line, a few minutes later, Marsh impeded the taking of a free kick and the referee brandished the red card to the furious striker.

Cray had enjoyed the better of the first half, the two strikers, diminutive in height, but quick and a real handful are going to cause headaches for most of the defences at this level. Unfortunately, the only headache that is caused, is to your own manager when you are going to spend an hour or so on the sidelines.

Against the run of play, Jack Harris was brought down in the area and the referee duly awarded the spot kick. Tom Davey, appearing to be the reluctant taker, shot wide of the target to reprieve the home side.

On the hour, a cross lofted into the box was met with a glancing header from Steve Springett to give the 10 men of Cray a deserved lead.

Despite the appeals from the Cray management team on the sidelines to keep out of the referee's face, they continued to harangue the official and when Josh Stanford was upended, the offender was shown a second yellow card to reduce the home side to nine men.

Tunbridge Wells now had to gamble and Spackman was sent forward in a desperate attempt to retrieve something from the game and with five minutes remaining they got their reward in a controversial manner. A corner appeared to be dropped by goalkeeper, Bobby Sturgeon, under pressure from Spackman and the ball ended up in the net. Furious protestations ensued as the Cray Valley players felt that the makeshift centre forward had pulled at the arm of the keeper causing the fumble but the referee was unmoved.

The points were shared at the final whistle of this feisty match and one would suspect that when these teams meet again in October at Culverden another spicy, very watchable encounter will ensue.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 Gillingham 0

Match 13/13/1040 - Saturday, 10th August 2013 - League One

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3) 4 Griffiths 5, 68 (pen), Evans 24,
Sako 31

Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 19,102

Entrance: £22
Programme: £3
Mileage: 416/960

Match Report

We arrived in our many hundreds; we admired the majestic two-tier Stan Cullis stand that towers over the rest of the Molineux stadium, a structure that has been completed since Gillingham's last visit. We cast our eyes to our left where the Jack Harris stand appears to have a dress code, wear the old gold or don't sit here. We respectfully played our part in the tribute to a Wolves legend, David Wagstaffe, who had died in the week previous and we waited patiently while the kick off was delayed in order to ease congestion at the home turnstiles. We did all this because we were essentially tourists, mere sightseers.

Prior to kick-off, Martin Allen took the relatively unusual course of conducting the warm-up, until he brought it to a halt and we watched on as he appeared to be telling his players to just to relax on the grass and soak up the atmosphere and take in the surroundings. This is what the slog through League Two was for, in fact for the next few minutes, be a tourist.

It set the tone for an opening half hour in which Wolverhampton Wanderers demolished Gillingham. Only four minutes had elapsed, when a long cross towards the edge of the box from Sam Ricketts was collected by Leigh Griffiths. The Gillingham central defenders stood off like visitors to the National Portrait Gallery, as the striker controlled and swept the ball into the bottom corner leaving Stuart Nelson no chance.

Amine Linganzi fired a shot into the side netting after a quarter hour to briefly raise the spirits of the visiting support before the home side doubled their advantage after 24 minutes of relentless pressure. Griffiths' shot was blocked but as the ball looped up, Lee Evans took a touch before coolly lobbing the ball into the bottom corner.

Stuart Nelson had long before been the only figure standing between Gillingham and total humiliation but on the half hour he could only look on in bewilderment as a cross from Zeli Ismail across the face of goal, found a totally unmarked Bakary Sako at the far post who, from 10 yards, made no mistake.

The defending had been only marginally less comical than the red trousers of Martin Allen which brought the chant of "Santa, Santa, what's the score" from the massed ranks of the north stand.

Danny Kedwell shot narrowly over before Nelson was asked for more heroics to deny Griffiths once more.

The second half was never going to be anything other than the restoration of some pride and, perhaps getting on the score sheet for the first time this season. Kedwell's goal-bound shot brought claims for a penalty after the ball appeared to strike the hand of Evans, but these were waived aside and Chris Whelpdale, at least brought a save out of Carl Ikeme.

A hideous challenge from Leon Legge on Evans after 68 minutes allowed Griffiths to convert a spot kick for Wolves' fourth goal. Thankfully the last 20 minutes were spent watching Wolves wastefully spurn to opportunity to heap further embarrassment on Gillingham and their suffering support.

There was obviously dismay among the Gillingham faithful and with good reason. We all knew there were deficiences in midfield, but had hoped that the back line that had been so resolute last season would be strong enough for this division. On this occasion they found wanting, but it is highly unlikely they will meet such quality many times during the course of the season. Even when Wolves visit Priestfield, they are likely to be significantly weaker with the expected departure of Kevin Doyle, rumoured to be on his way to Celtic for £1.5 million and Sako, with perhaps Fulham as his destination for a fee upwards of £2 million. It is reported that Wolves need to offload both, as individually their wages are £45,000 a week; I would imagine Gillingham's entire starting eleven would be hard pressed to earn that amount collectively.

Nevertheless, regardless of the opposition we are to face with budgets that dwarf our own and magnificent stadiums that are a reminder of where these clubs were positioned in the not too distant past, we have to arrive as competitors not just sightseers.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Gillingham 0 Bristol City 2

Match 12/13/1039 - Tuesday, 6th August 2013 - Capital One Cup 1R

Gillingham (0) 0
Bristol City (1) 2 Baldock 21, Wynter 67
Att. 2,585

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2
Mileage: 45/544

Match Report

Don't panic Mr Mainwaring, exclaimed Corporal Jones when, in the much-loved 1970s sitcom Dad's Army, the aged member of the Home Guard scurried around like a headless chicken. The unnecessary and unwarranted boos that greeted the final whistle of this Capital One First Round tie suggests there are a few Corporal Jones in our midst, but two defeats at the start of the season is not the equivalent of the Germans marching through the high street of Walmington-on-Sea.

The draw had thrown together two serial failures in Round One of this competition. In the last four years, only once had either team progressed to the second round and that was last season when Gillingham won through. . . at Bristol City. Perfect symmetry seemed an almost inevitable conclusion.

A seat on the bench for Saturday's League opener assured a place in the team with the exception of the reserve goalkeeper as Martin Allen rotated his squad to give everybody available an early season run-out. The day had opened badly with the news that Matt Fish, who went down injured in just the third minute of Saturday's game had suffered a serious cruciate injury that will sideline him for a minimum of six months. In his place, Michael Harriman, a 20-year-old full back from Queen's Park Rangers was drafted in on a 28 day loan.

Bristol City won the game with a goal in each half with a degree of comfort which, at least suggested, that they would be one of the clubs in and around the play-off places at the end of the season. The Robins passed their way through a Gillingham midfield that was woefully poor and does leave something for Corporal Jones to worry about.

The visitors broke the deadlock in the 21st when the impressive Jay Emmanuel-Thomas weaved his way past Harriman to lay on a plate a close range opportunity for Sam Baldock. In fairness to Harriman, this was about the only time he was left wanting, and his speed and willingness to get forward was a welcome sight in the wake of Fish's long term absence.

Adebayo Akinfenwa should have equalised immediately but steered his header over the bar, a similar opportunity was also spurned later in the half as the Big Man made a disappointing return to competitive action at Priestfield.

Overrun in midfield, Gillingham were thankful for the reflexes of Stuart Nelson and good fortune to keep their goal intact in the early part of the second half. Jordan Wynter headed against the bar after Nelson had made a fine save when it seemed easier to score.

The ineffective partnership of Akinfenwa and Antonio German was withdrawn on the hour and replaced with Cody McDonald and Danny Kedwell and the subsequent introduction of Myles Weston sparked the home side into positive action but not before the visitors finally doubled their advantage. Emmanuel-Thomas' shot took a wicked deflection off Adam Barrett to fall kindly into the path of Wynter to fire past Nelson.

I'm not going to panic, Mr Mainwaring, but I fear there is, if not a doomsday, a serious impending scenario. The rest of August's fixtures are against teams that are expected to be among the challengers for promotion come the end of the season. It is not unreasonable to fear that we could enter September still on zero points and the opening two matches of that month are tricky away games and from there the pressure is going to really build. The difference in quality between the two divisions is significant, in fact, it appears to me to be a wider gap than when we last came up and we know that ended in tears.

This can be turned around, but not with the wafer-thin squad that we possess at this moment in time. Some quality in midfield needs to be brought in via the loan market, what we saw of Harriman leads me to believe there must be some 20-year-olds not quite cutting it in the Championship that are capable of doing a job in League One, they just have to be unearthed and we have to believe that Martin Allen and his management team are up to that particular task.

I'm hopeful that Linganzi will find his feet, pretty sure Weston, who had a good 25 minutes in this match, and Whelpdale can be influential, but honestly believe we need that one central midfielder that creates something out of nothing, because if we have somebody that can supply the bullets, surely there is a combination up front that can supply the finish.

We're all doomed! . . . far from it, Private Frazer.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Gillingham 0 Colchester United 1

Match 11/13/1038 - Saturday, 3rd August 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Colchester United (0) 1 Bond 89
Att. 6,792

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/499

Match Report

It’s the time of the season when football supporters embark on the game of predictions; those they make are laced with optimism, wishes and hopes. I’m no different, so these were mine and those opinions were not changed by the result of this opening game against Colchester United.

Gillingham will be fine; they won’t pull up any trees and may well have to settle for the rather sterile season of consolidation with a mid-table finish, probably lower mid-table I would guess, say 15th. I am very concerned at the thinness of the squad, the back four is exactly that, four plus one in reserve and should they suffer injuries or when the suspensions inevitably kick in then, unless this area is strengthened before the end of August, they are going to be struggling. There seems to be a similar lack of numbers in midfield and, during pre-season, this was an area in which performances have been less than impressive. There is an abundance of talent to choose from upfront, but without the service it doesn’t matter who you play.

I have a wish for the season and that is, with the higher grade, will come a better quality of football and I hope that Gillingham make their contribution towards this and not too much time is spent admiring the opposition.

Martin Allen’s first team selection of the season brought a surprise in the inclusion of transfer-listed Charlie Lee, whose departure had been expected during the summer, especially with the interest of Southend to the fore. The chosen strike pairing was Danny Kedwell and Cody McDonald.

It is to be hoped that these postings do not become a series of what-might-have-been and tales of misfortune, but on this opening day, Gillingham can justifiably look back and feel that a certain amount of injustice was administered. Throughout the game, Colchester played the more attractive football on the eye, but for the large part of the game, it was Gillingham’s more direct style that produced the actual chances.

The first misfortune to inflict the home side was the worry that I expressed at the outset, when Matt Fish went down after just three minutes and Stephen Butcher was introduced for his debut. The youngster endured some difficult moments in the first half with Freddie Sears often getting goal-side of him, but as the home side picked up the tempo in the second period his performance showed a marked improvement.

Danny Kedwell blasted a shot across the face of goal before seeing a 30 yard effort touched against the angle of bar and post by the visiting keeper, Sam Walker. The striker, celebrating his 30th birthday, was Gillingham’s foremost attacking player and his knock-down offered another opportunity which Adam Barrett lashed into the side netting. The half ended with Lee bringing the best out of Walker at the near post.

That is not to say that the visitors had not had chances of their own and Nelson was also called to action making good saves from Jabo Ibhere and Craig Eastmond.

An early second half chance fell to McDonald following an error from ex-Gillingham loanee, David Wright, but the striker delayed his shot and was stopped in his tracks by Colchester’s skipper Brian Wilson.

Gillingham made substitutions, Myles Weston and Adebayo Akinfenwa entering the fray at the expense of McDonald and Lee and the game began to open up with chances at both ends. Nelson made a good save to deny Marcus Bean and comfortably collected a header from Alex Gilbey whilst Walker saved from Amine Linganzi and was relieved to see a 20 yard drive from Joe Martin narrowly clear the crossbar.

Gillingham were denied the point they deserved when in the final minute of normal time, Chris Whelpdale was caught in possession and the resultant pass sent Drey Wright clear to cross from the left and substitute Andrew Bond scored from the centre of the goal with what might well have been his first touch of the game.

This was a performance from Gillingham that would have won nine out of ten matches in the division below last season and, bearing mind that Colchester are considered one of the favourites for relegation, that is the measure of the difference in class they face. I stand by my prediction; I saw enough this afternoon to suggest Gillingham will be okay but the lack of choice on the team sheet is something that will need to be addressed.