Thursday, 26 September 2013

Tunbridge Wells 4 Erith Town 0

Match 25/13/1052 - Tuesday, 24th September 2013 - Southern Counties

Tunbridge Wells (1) 4 Fuller 18,89, Pilbeam 51, Harris 61
Erith Town (0) 0
Att. 278

Entrance: £3.00 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/1,986

Match Report

Tunbridge Wells swept aside the Southern Counties East league leaders Erith Town, in the best performance of any of my teams so far this season. This was an eagerly awaited encounter with Erith enjoying an unbeaten start to the season and also boasting one of the most potent strike forces in Kent League football, with ex-Wells striker Rikki Cable, who has netted seven times already this season, in their ranks.

A large, boisterous crowd (by Kent League standards) was expected and, although the 278 was a little short of the number that I had hoped for, they made a noise worthy of at least another hundred.

On a pristine pitch that looks to be improving as the weeks go by, Tunbridge Wells played a brand of football that was both pleasing on the eye and clinically effective, at times they literally passed their way through their opponents.

Erith Town made a decent start to the game and looked to be revelling themselves in the atmosphere before the home side opened the scoring after 18 minutes. A free kick from the left taken by Jon Pilbeam was touched home at the far post by Joe Fuller.

The Wells should have doubled their advantage soon after when a sparkling move involving Jack Harris and Carl Cornell ended with Ian Parsons having the goal yawning in front of him from inside the six yard box. How he managed to spoon his effort over the bar, only he will know. It was a shame for the newly-recruited youngster from Hawkenbury who later missed another, albeit more difficult opportunity, because he had, in general, a fine game.

A one goal lead at the break against a side with the attacking capabilities of Erith Town is the most slender of margins, but the second half performance from the home side just swept them to one side. Six minutes into the second period a free kick from Cornell rebounded off the wall into the path of Pilbeam whose shot went under the body of Tom Warren.

The game was ended as a contest on the hour with a fine individual goal from Harris, cutting in from the right and unleashing a blistering shot into the bottom corner. "We want four" chanted the Wells faithful, but I suspect on the line what Martin Larkin was seeking was a clean sheet to go with the goals and steadfast performances from Scott Whibley and Andy Boyle completely neutralised the much-vaunted strike force of the visitors.

The crowd did, however, get their fourth goal in the dying minutes of the game, Joe Fuller, who was quite outstanding in midfield, getting on the end of a corner from the diminutive Adam Humphries to double his tally on the night from close range.

Tunbridge Wells are not going to sweep all before them in their pursuit of the league title. Erith have far too many good players to allow this bad day to derail them and Ashford United remain unbeaten, but this Wells side is capable, very capable of producing something special. I visualise some very intriguing and entertaining encounters at the top of the Southern Counties League in the months to come.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Gillingham 0 Bradford City 1

Match 24/13/1051 - Saturday, 21st September 2013 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Bradford City (1) 1 Jones 9
Att. 4,975

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,960

Match Report

On happier days, Gillingham supporters have left Priestfield Stadium to the exit music of Haircut 100's Fantastic Day or U2's Beautiful Day. On Saturday, the music man, as usual, played out the club's anthem The Last Waltz, but it would have been more appropriate had he belted out Yazz's 1988 hit The Only Way Is Up, because from rock bottom of League One, there is now only one direction to travel unless, of course, is it down (from whence we came).

The records are now beginning to tumble in front of Martin Allen's men, this is the worst start to a campaign since 1961/62 season and should Gillingham fail to win at Crewe on Saturday, then it is the worst start ever.

What has gone wrong?

I've no real answers, rumour has it that it is not an entirely happy camp, but that is what it is, rumour. We can draw our own conclusions that the midfield is severely lacking, the centre of defence is too slow and the forwards are just not scoring goals, but why? Is League One that much better, it doesn't appear to be for Bradford City, Rotherham or, to a lesser extent, Port Vale, all of whom came up with us last year. Are we just plain unlucky? Two vital moments went against them against Bradford City, James Hanson was certainly offside in the build up to the goal, but the linesman decided that his forward movement towards the ball was not technically an attempt to become active and, in the second half, Cody McDonald appeared not to be offside when he raced onto a through ball and rounded to keeper only to be denied by the flag of the same linesman. Marginal decisions that have gone against Gillingham, but did they deserve better? Probably not.

The fixture list wasn't kind and some of the defeats along the way have been expected, but once they started having games against the lesser sides of the division then the points needed to roll in, Bradford City at Priestfield had to be earmarked as one such occasion.

The first half performance from Gillingham was truly depressing, with the goal, scored within the first 10 minutes by Gary Jones, or at least claimed by Jones, who took the resultant corner from the attack in which it was claimed that Hanson was offside. Truth is that although Gillingham can feel hard done by with the initial decision it didn't lead directly to a goal and the set piece should have been defended. Whether the ball was touched in at the near post is purely academic.

Kyel Reid and the hugely impressive Nahki Wells were a constant threat and Hanson should have doubled City's advantage before the break when he headed wide unchallenged from two yards after half an hour. Gillingham's only effort on goal was a hooked shot from Adam Barrett that was well saved by John McLaughlin.

The visitor's dominance continued from the outset of the second half, Gillingham getting the better of an official's decision when Leon Legge felled Reid in the penalty area. A golden chance to get back on level terms was spurned by McDonald whose shot on the turn from six yards cleared the bar by some distance after 53 minutes.

One of Gillingham's transfer listed four, Charlie Lee, showed his displeasure at being substituted after 66 minutes. After receiving treatment, the physio indicated with a thumbs up that the combative midfielder was able to continue, but the substitution, bringing on Chris Whelpdale, was made anyway. Lee, walked the perimeter of the pitch back to the dug outs to ringing applause from the Rainham End.

After 72 minutes, McDonald fastened onto Danny Hollands' through ball, rounding the keeper, only to hear the referee's whistle and see the upraised flag before he could slot the ball into the empty goal. In the space of a minute, Wells had two chances to seal the game for Bradford, the first a drive over the bar and the second rattling the woodwork.

The game was seen out by the visitors for their first away win of the season. At the final whistle, there was little derision from the crowd, prompting thoughts that perhaps there is an acceptance of Gillingham's fate this season after just eight games.

Martin Allen made no excuses and that changes to the squad needed to be made which left another song spinning around my head, D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better, the song that worked for Tony Blair.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Coventry City 2 Gillingham 1

Match 23/13/1050 - Sunday, 15th September 2013 - League One

Coventry City (1) 2 Clarke 1, Moussa 83
Gillingham (1) 1 McDonald 10
Att. 2,046

Entrance: £11 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 242/1,915
Matched played at Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

Match Report

It was very doubtful that I was the only Gillingham supporter that walked away from Northampton's Sixfields Stadium just a little bewildered by the turn of events, not necessarily of this match alone, but the early season happenings at Priestfield Stadium.

Of the match itself, Gillingham might have pinched an unlikely point but equally could have walked away with a five or six goal hiding had the Coventry City strike force of Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson not been so wasteful in front of goal coupled with the agility of Stuart Nelson and the belligerence of Adam Barrett.

The evening's social media was busy with opinions that were largely critical of Martin Allen and one wonders whether this was the catalyst for Paul Scally's open letter to supporters on Monday asking the fans to stay with the players during these difficult times.

There is an abundance of rumour and following the surprise transfer-listing of four senior players, Chris Whelpdale, Charlie Lee, Stephen Gregory and Antonio German, gossip quickly went into overdrive. Lee was already suspended following his sending off at Crawley, but the non-appearance in the squad of Whelpdale and German became the subject of much conjecture.

Personally, I'm not alone in thinking that the root of our problems this season has been in midfield and said it on almost every report. Fact that three of the four are midfielders seems to justify that opinion. Whelpdale hasn't been the same player we had on loan initially and Gregory has very few admirers among the paying customers. Although Lee has continued to be transfer-listed since the start of the season, he has probably been Gillingham's best player this season. German hasn't had many opportunities to make any great impression, but the few chances he has had, he has not done himself any favours. So there is justification for Allen's decision, given the known assertion from the chairman that in order to bring in new players, some have to leave.

But I do have an issue with the timing of the announcement. It seemed destructive to team morale for such a call to be made on the Thursday before the weekend fixture. But, that said, the principle positive that could be taken from this latest defeat was the determination of the players in the face of a second half onslaught when the wind blew in the favour of the lodgers from Coventry.

When the fixtures were announced back in June, one of the dates eagerly anticipated was the trip to Coventry and the Ricoh Stadium. But a row between the stadium landlords and the club has left them decamped at the soulless Sixfields with a group of protestors gathering on the hill behind the stadium for a free look as City attack the goal that is visible to them. As the teams turn round for the second half and the City attacks are out of view, the group disband and probably return to the pub.

What they were able to see, with the aid of binoculars I suspect, was a goal for their favourites within the opening minute of the game. Cyrus Christie crossed from the right to the far post where Clarke was able to beat Nelson with a shot that went in off a post. Although the supporters must hate seeing their team play in Northampton this was their 12th goal in a minute more than three matches, just reward for the small numbers that are making the 35 mile trip from Coventry.

It would have been easy for the heads to drop on the Gillingham side following the early setback, but to their credit they stormed back and were on level terms after 10 minutes when Cody McDonald scored against his former club from close range after a corner from Myles Weston was headed on by Leon Legge.

The score remained level at half time thanks to the combined efforts of Nelson, who made fine saves from Wilson and Jordan Clarke and a goal line clearance from the skipper, Barrett. Five minutes from half-time, Gillingham also survived when twice in a matter of seconds, they managed to get bodies in the way of goalbound efforts.

The second half opened with Clarke hitting the bar and Carl Baker striking a post. Frank Moussa brought another fine save out of Nelson as Gillingham were pinned in their own half for long periods. Their only outlet, given that Danny Kedwell was being forced to play as a supplementary defensive midfielder, was the long ball out to McDonald, whose pace was sufficient to keep the home side's back line on their toes.

Seven minutes remained when Allen sacrificed this outlet, substituting the striker for Gregory and this immediately backfired as City scored what was ultimately the winning goal. At the far post, Clarke headed Blair Adams' corner back across the face of goal and Moussa bundled the ball in from close range. Now chasing the game with little time remaining, Akinfenwa was thrown on to find an equaliser, but there was to be no reprieve.

The McDonald substitution had little bearing on the winning goal, but it was nonetheless a contentious decision given that Weston, as a prime example, was making very little impression on the game at that point.

Coventry have now overcome their 10 point deduction at the start of the season to haul themselves out of the bottom four whilst leaving Gillingham firmly rooted with only Notts County below them. Scally has made the rallying call for Saturday's home game against Bradford City as the pressure to find that elusive first win continues to rise. I suspect that another dogged display will not be enough to placate a support that is becoming increasingly frustrated with not only results but the general confusion that appears to surround the club at this present time and the murmurings of discontent will become clearly audible, and not only by the sound of keyboards tapping, should the outcome be defeat. There are no must win games before the end of September, but I guess Saturday is as close as its going to get.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Crawley Town 3 Gillingham 2

Match 22/13/1049 - Saturday, 7th September 2013 - League One

Crawley Town (0) 3 McFadzean 55, Clarke 66,81
Gillingham (0) 2 Kedwell (pen) 46, Legge 69
Att. 3,984

Entrance: £19
Programme: £3
Mileage: 104/1,673

Match Report

Ultimately, from the chairman to the fan, there are the same hopes and wishes for Gillingham’s season, but between now and its conclusion, there will be disagreements about the methods employed to get the club to whatever might be considered success.

Those opinions at present differ between the professional, through the eye of manager Martin Allen and the critical eyes of the club’s supporters. At what point does our present position constitute a worry, or using a more extreme word, crisis? Three successive League draws had seen an improvement in form and confidence and, if you are in the mode of positive thinking, it relates to three games without defeat. Unfortunately, a loss transforms into six games without a win from the opening day of the season and throwing in two cup defeats, the run rises to eight. Crisis or not, you pay your money, you state your opinion.

Personally, I’m not in crisis thinking, but I am worried and my thoughts do not always align themselves with those of the manager. Without question, he has a job to maintain the confidence of his squad going forward, but in so doing, his after match press conferences are becoming that of a repetitious nature that leads to the public not listening because they have heard it all before.

In essence there is nothing wrong with what is being said, but being told that "it was a good performance" after another game that hasn't been won doesn't explain as to why it was lost. What is wrong in saying that Gillingham might have got something out of the game if Billy Clarke hadn't been allowed to wander unchallenged through midfield before cracking home a fierce shot into the top corner?

That said, this was a strange game in which Crawley should have been home and hosed by half-time, quickly found themselves behind in the second before a red card apiece had a major bearing on the ultimate outcome.

The first half will be remembered, not fondly, for a series of saves by Stuart Nelson that kept the visitors in the game as Crawley thoroughly dominated. After half-an-hour of one-way traffic, Allen withdrew Adebayo Akinfenwa much to the big man's indignation. Fact was Gillingham were being over-run and without the agility of Nelson, a cricket score was in the offing. Following the reshuffle which involved Myles Weston being introduced the ship was at least steadied.

The second half was an end-to-end affair in which the two teams traded goals and red cards. In the opening minute Danny Kedwell turned Kyle McFadzean and was brought down to earn a penalty which he duly converted. Gillingham appeared to be on the way to a famous victory when, after 52 minutes, the home side were reduced to 10 men as Gary Alexander was sent off for an apparent stamp on Leon Legge.

Parity, in terms of personnel, was restored within a minute when Charlie Lee was sent off for a second bookable offence. The first half booking right in front of me looked extremely harsh and from the length of the pitch diagonally the second seemed similarly harsh. From the resulting free kick McFadzean was on hand at the far post to smash home an equaliser.

The home side were now back in ascendancy and after 66 minutes a free kick from Nicky Adams hit a post with the livewire Clarke quickest to react and score past the prostrate Nelson.

If heads went down on the terraces, they didn't on the field and within three minutes Gillingham were back on level terms. Bradley Dack crossed low into the box and Legge managed to bundle the ball into the net from close range whilst almost on his knees. He took a knock for his trouble and coupled with the injury inflicted when Alexander was sent off, he needed to be replaced with 15 minute remaining.

The unfamiliar back four of Whelpdale, Devante McKain, Barrett and Martin were being stretched to their limit as Nelson made save after save to preserve the point but he was finally undone with nine minutes remaining when Clarke surged forward and let fly an unstoppable shot from 20 yards for the winning goal.

Clarke's effort was nearly undone in time added when McFadzean deflected a ball onto his own post but on the day Gillingham fell just short.

"A good performance"? It was certainly spirited and one that was heavily influenced by the sending-off of Charlie Lee. But whether we deserved better than the narrow defeat is obviously open to interpretation and whether you need to indulge in a bit of old fashion flannel.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

England 4 Moldova 0

Match 21/13/1048 - Friday, 6th September 2013 - World Cup Qualifier

England (3) 4 Gerrard 12, Lambert 26, Welbeck 45, 50
Moldova (0) 0
Att. 61,607

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/1,569

Match Report

The last Wembley game against the Scots saw the emergence of a comic book character in the shape of Roy of the Rovers being portrayed by Ricky Lambert. This World Cup Qualifier also had a comic character in its midst, this time it could have been the hapless Frank Spencer being acted out by Moldova’s hopeless goalkeeper, Stanislav Namasco.

Namasco, who reportedly was brilliant in Moldova’s last qualifier against Poland, was directly responsible for two of the four goals with question marks against him for a third. We have come to accept that foreign goalkeepers plying their trade in the Premier League prefer to punch the ball clear rather than catch, but Namasco’s quality in dealing with anything aerial into his six yard box was not what you might have expected had you been playing in front of him for the Dog and Duck.

Moldova were so inept that England made light work of the absence of Wayne Rooney, lost to a training ground head wound and Daniel Sturridge. Such was the lack of strikers available to Roy Hodgson, he was able to name Lambert as his centre forward the day before the game.

With England’s most crucial game of the campaign due on Tuesday in Kiev, it also re-opened the debate regarding the relative strength of the national team in relation to the Premier League. The debate had been fuelled by new FA Chairman, Greg Dyke’s rather laughable assertion that England should be looking to win the World Cup in 2022. A banner read, Dyke’s Goals Are Our Goals but why wait until 2022? Unfortunately, unless there is radical thinking within the FA, even this ambition seems beyond reach.

As a humble fan’s opinion, the root of the problem lies with the Premier League and the players the clubs bring in from abroad thus stifling the progress of English-born young players. It is not the Van Persie’s or Ozil’s that need to be cut from the rotas, they bring a quality that our kids should be able to learn from, but the players that turn up from the likes of Costa Rica or Panama with the necessary amount of caps to obtain a work permit. A more stringent criterion for the awarding of a work permit for those outside of EU law would open up places in the Premier League for our own to develop. This is actually within the FA’s jurisdiction although the final decision is with the Home Office.

Change is for tomorrow, today was putting Moldova away before attention turned to Ukraine. An early goal was the requirement to alleviate any building of pressure and it came after just 12 minutes. An early foray had already exposed Namasco’s shortcomings before Danny Welbeck and Frank Lampard combined to set up Steven Gerrard for a drive from 20 yards.

Namasco’s first comedy moment came on 26 minutes when after a period of England onslaught, Theo Walcott’s shot to the near post was parried across the face of the goal by the keeper to Lambert who headed home at the far post.

Worse was to come from our Moldovian comedian on the stroke of half time. A long ball over the top from Lambert saw him rushing from his goal to close down Welbeck, however, he then appeared to actually get out of the way of the Manchester United striker who was able to drift past him and dribble to ball into an empty net.

The same pairing produced a fourth early in the second half, Welbeck exquisitely lifting the ball over the prostrate keeper who was doing his best to make sure that the ball didn’t hit his head.

England duly declared, Welbeck had picked up a needless, though harsh booking, ruling him out of the Ukraine game, so Lambert was withdrawn to preserve his fitness along with Jack Wilshere and, at half time, Ashley Cole who was also sitting on a yellow card from a previous qualifier.

Lambert’s reason for withdrawal takes us back to the argument surrounding the lack of depth to England’s squad and Hodgson goes into the crucial qualifier with only Jermaine Defoe, far from a regular starter at Tottenham, as a partner for the Southampton striker.

It was another night for comic book characters, my fervent hope for Tuesday evening is that Roy Hodgson isn’t fulfilling the role of Desperate Dan.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Whitstable Town 0 Tunbridge Wells 2

Match 20/13/1047 - Tuesday, 3rd September 2013 - FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay

Whitstable Town (0) 0
Tunbridge Wells (2) 2 Fuller (pen) 14, Boyle 23
Att. 184

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 74/1,469

Match Report

In my diary, Tuesday 3 September 2013, is going to be highlighted with a big red ring as the day that I believe Tunbridge Wells Football Club can look back and realise that if there were any doubts that the club, and the town, can sustain Ryman League football, then they can be cast aside as the club is ready, on and off the pitch to make that step forward.

Whilst there may have been a few nerves among the Tunbridge Wells supporters during a second half in which Ryman League Whitstable threw everything they could muster at their Kent League (old habits die hard!) visitors, it has to be said that over the course of the 90 minutes, the game was won with relative comfort.

Whitstable’s supporters will quite rightfully point to the fine game that Chris Oladogba produced, making at least five good saves of note apart from his general good handling of crosses into the box, but I can a remember a manager once replying to an interviewer who said that it was his goalkeeper that had won the game with the answer that he is part of the team.

Proof that the club have harnessed the support from last season’s Wembley visit and this season’s early form was that on Saturday, 414 attended the first game at Culverden, whereas, albeit Tuesday night attendance figures tend to be lower, only 184 were at the Belmont for the replay and a conservative estimate would be that forty or so of those came from Tunbridge Wells. The attendances at Culverden this season would suggest that they would be in the top three figures of Ryman South if they were sustained.

I missed the first game, but I understand that a fine goalkeeping display from Whitstable’s Luke Watkins coupled with a penalty miss from Joe Fuller were the principal contributors to this game going to a replay.

Oladogba was called upon to make an early save, but with 14 minutes on the clock, Fuller was given his opportunity to atone for Saturday’s miss when the referee pointed to the spot after Jason Bourne was brought down. Fuller sent Watkins the wrong way, showing great confidence stepping forward once more.

Tunbridge Wells’ travelling faithful were given a further lift 10 minutes later when a corner from the right was firmly planted into the net by the head of Andy Boyle to double the advantage. The Wells had further opportunities to put the game beyond the reach of the home side, but were great value for their two goal half-time lead.

Whitstable’s player-manager, Nicky Southall, responded by making all three of his substitutions during the half time break, one of which was his own withdrawal.

This brought a spirited response from the Oysterman and Oladogba was asked to rise the occasion and this he did with wonderful effect. Three times in the opening 20 minutes he made saves, stretching to tip over the bar efforts from Jordan Wells, Scott Heard and a free kick from a dangerous position by Steve Hafner.

A sparkling run from Lee Radford ended with a shot just wide and, on his last appearance before his emigration to Australia, Josh Stanford was causing the home side all sorts of problems as the Wells counter attacked with frightening pace.

In the time added on, with the visiting supporters baying for the final whistle, Oladogba once again thwarted the home side to earn himself a clean sheet to go with an upcoming First Qualifying Round encounter with Eastbourne Town.

This was my first visit to the Belmont for a good number of years and whilst, nothing much on the face of it has changed, it is still a very tidy little ground with its small grandstand straddling the half way line and its covered terracing behind one goal.

There are a long nine months before May and the word if is going to be used many times, but on the evidence of this FA Cup weekend, there are very good reasons to believe.