Monday, 30 December 2013

Gillingham 2 Walsall 2

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

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonbridge 2 Eastbourne Borough 1

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

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Gillingham 1 Leyton Orient 2

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

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ebbsfleet United 2 Sutton United 0

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

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Gillingham 2 Peterborough United 2

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

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 13 December 2013

Cambodia and Thailand

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

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

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

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

Who needs pictures of sun-kissed beaches!