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.