Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Peter Taylor sacked

As of lunchtime on New Year's Eve, Peter Taylor was no longer the manager of Gillingham Football Club.

After a phone conversation with Paul Scally, the chairman made the decision that it was time for a change and Taylor was relieved of his duties.

Mr Scally, who had previously backed his man after the defeat by Chesterfield just prior to Christmas, and also stated that at the outset of this morning's conversation he had no intention of sacking Taylor, made reference to what he called "huge adverse public response and serious abuse."

Taylor had been in charge for 14 months and took over at a time when Gillingham were bottom of League One after a poor start under Martin Allen. Taylor was never universally accepted by Gillingham supporters, many of whom were not happy with the dismissal of Allen. Taylor guided the club to safety by the end of the season and overhauled the squad in the summer with the introduction of several younger players. Few of those signings have been what could be considered a success, John Egan being the exception.

Taylor's perceived negative style of football, heavily weighted defensively even at home has brought much criticism and, for my part, has been painful watching. Words such as turgid have been widely used, and it hard not to agree with those opinions.

Andy Hessenthaler takes over as the interim manager for the trip to Port Vale, but despite his legendary status, it is hard to see him as the way forward having now been a part of this particular regime.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Gillingham 1 Bristol City 3

Match 52/14/1161 - Sunday, 28th December 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 47
Bristol City (1) 3 Flint 34 Smith 44 Wagstaffe 55
Att. 6,216

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 52/3,814

Match Report

There are occasions when a game has so little redeeming features that you can only have the utmost of respect for the “proper” journalists who can put together 500-plus words when they barely have any raw material to work from.

Gillingham’s match against league leaders Bristol City is one such instance. Prior to kick-off, it didn’t take a football genius to realise that despite City being short of their two principle goalscorers in Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard, they should have more than enough ability in the squad to maintain their position at the top of the table.

Football can be very exciting when matches don’t go to form, but they can be equally quite boring when the expected manifests itself.

Cody McDonald raised the level of excitement with an individual goal a couple of minutes into the second period to half the deficit but those hopes were quickly extinguished within eight minutes when Scott Wagstaff restored Bristol City’s two goal advantage.

When there is little to write about, it can be quite interesting to gauge the feelings of Gillingham supporters through the window of social media and they are not a happy bunch. Two successive away wins have kept the club above the relegation line but a home form that reads one league win in seven games can only lead to discontent with Peter Taylor taking the brunt of the criticism. At the last home game he was subjected to abuse, and whilst none was reported after this game, I cannot imagine there was not the odd disgruntled voice directed at him.

Taylor opted to go with five at the back including playing Jake Hessenthaler at right back, for home matches this is perceived as negative by many supporters. The three in the middle were initially matched up with three from Bristol City, but as Gillingham sank deeper and deeper towards their own penalty area, the visiting full backs were virtually redundant and pressed on into midfield leaving Gillingham hopelessly outnumbered in that area.

Bristol City finally took the lead after 34 minutes of largely one-way traffic. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had a goal ruled out and Luke Freeman and Marlon Pack brought saves before a corner from Freeman was headed across the face of goal by Aden Flint for Matt Smith to head in from close range.

A second, killer goal came a couple of minutes prior to the break when Greg Cunningham was allowed to run unchallenged down the left hand side before delivering a cross that, it would nice to say evaded the Gillingham defenders, but truth is none of them barely raised an effort to intercept it, leaving Smith to tap home.

McDonald’s run from the inside right channel to the edge of the box and finish with a crisp shot into the far corner raised spirits and hopes of a comeback but when Freeman deftly back-heeled into the path of Wagstaff who finished with a fine curling shot into the top corner, the game was over.

Loud voices of derision rang around Priestfield and the inquest on Taylor was about to begin once more on social media. As this is to be published a couple of days after the event, all is now irrelevant because, as of lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, Peter Taylor was no longer the manager of Gillingham Football Club.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Tonbridge 2 Margate 2

Match 51/14/1160 - Saturday, 27th December 2014 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Okojie 45, Carey (pen) 71
Margate (1) 2 Moss 15, Bull 90+3
Att. 610

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 36/3,762

Match Report

As I switched on the car engine and prepared for the drive home I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, in truth I could barely believe what I had witnessed. Three hours previously, I hadn’t expected to watch the most entertaining game I’ve seen this season with just about every element of drama the game can offer.

As I pulled out of the Longmead car park, formulating in my head how I would write up the afternoon’s events, one thing was at the forefront of my mind . . . I was immensely proud of my Tonbridge club.

The thrilling, heartbreaking climax to this game was set up in the opening minutes. The Ryman Premier League leaders, Margate, with all their wealth borne of a sugar daddy that other supporters loathe until their club is the beneficiary, should not have been in need of a helping hand on their way to an expected three points to keep their noses in front of Maidstone at the summit of the table.

But a helping hand was offered after just three minutes when the Tonbridge Angels centre half, Laurence Ball, was shown a red card for a professional foul as Jamie Taylor bore down on goal. At first look, from a distance of 50 yards, it looked a straightforward decision for the referee, but doubt has since been cast whether Taylor was offside in the first place and also to amount of contact Ball actually made. But red it was, and what was always going to be an uphill struggle became just a little steeper.

As Tonbridge struggled to reorganise, Taylor clipped the bar before, in the 17th minute, Ryan Moss looped a header over Tom Hadler for the opening goal. It was a goal that you felt the young keeper could have done better with, but that is probably the first goal that he can be criticised for since his arrival.

One suspected that this would be the beginning of potential hammering for the Angels and those thoughts were further compounded when after 25 minutes, Jerrome Sobers went down injured and the physio quickly signaled that his game was over. A man light, no recognised centre half, this game could only have one conclusion.

Margate dominated, but the makeshift defence were standing their ground and limiting the visitors to just the odd moment that sent the heart fluttering. Then, as the clock ticked to the last minute of the first half and out of nowhere, Dee Okojie receiving the ball 25 yards from goal, produced the most delightful chip over the head of Nikki Bull, who was little more than a yard off his line, for an unexpected equaliser that must have changed the drift of Steve McKimm’s half-time talk as he sprinted towards the dressing room.

The early part of the second half took its expected course with Margate continuing to dominate, but signs were there that the pace of Marvin Williams was presenting them with problems and as their possession wasn’t really leading to chances let along goals, the more frustrated they became. All of a sudden the referee was brandishing yellow cards and it was the visitors that were receiving them.

After 71 minutes, the Tonbridge support was pinching themselves in disbelief as their side took the lead. Williams was sent clear, leaving Lewis Taylor in his wake before the former Tonbridge favourite clipped his feet for a penalty which was confidently converted by Lee Carey. The only regret was there was the best part of 20 minutes remaining and a siege on the Tonbridge goal was a certainty.

And so it was, but once again the chances were limited, a header that drifted wide and Hadler made a plunging save at his near post, but overall Tonbridge looked quite sure footed with their central defensive pairing of Tom Parkinson, a midfielder and Charlie Slocombe, a full back repelling all that was thrown at them.

The game entered its time added on period of four minutes and more than three of those had elapsed when Margate won a corner. Up came goalkeeper Bull and the corner from the right was cleared only to produce another corner from the left. This time the delivery required a positive clearance but the ball only found its way to the feet of Bull who produced a shot of a seasoned striker before running to the visiting supporters in a celebration reminiscent of Jimmy Glass.

In the cold light of reflection, would we have taken a point before a ball was kicked, probably; would we have taken a point after Ball’s sending off, most definitely. But to be denied victory so late and in such bizarre circumstances was heartbreaking.

These are the afternoons that make football the game it is. Unexpected, unpredictable and thrilling.

Colchester United 1 Gillingham 2

Match 50/14/1159 - Boxing Day, 26th December 2014 - League One

Colchester United (0) 1 Szmodics 51
Gillingham (2) 2 Martin 25, Dack 34
Att. 4,544

Entrance: £16 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 162/3,726

Match Report

Somewhere in the bowels of your digital television menu an obscure movie channel will be showing The Great Escape. Steve McQueen will, once again, clear the fence on a motor cycle and Dickie Attenborough will be there masterminding the plot. Gillingham enacted their own version of the storyline on Boxing Day at the Weston Homes Community Stadium with Stuart Nelson cast in the role of hero with the unlikely compatriot of the linesman who carried the red and orange flag.

Having rode their luck in the opening minutes, Gillingham grew into the game and by half-time had established a two goal lead before being pegged back early in the second period, but going on to survive an onslaught on their goal that resembled that of another feature film, The Alamo.

Christmas has brought with it a blast of winter and a bitter wind that cut through however many layers of clothing with which you chose to protect yourself.

Colchester United’s out-of-town stadium retains the irritatingly expensive problem of parking, of which £6 for a space with a 15 minute walk has to be considered excessive. The parking fee was at least offset with a senior ticket £6 below the match price for adults and the welcome sight of a hot cup of tea for a princely quid!

Just five minutes had elapsed when Gavin Massey skipped past the challenge of John Egan, thankfully restored to the centre of the defence, before unleashing a shot the came back off the underside of the bar before being hoofed to safety.

After 25 minutes in which the visitors had been principally on the back foot, Gillingham fashioned an opening goal. Cody McDonald was set free down the right to cross in the general direction of the centre of the goal. Colchester’s Kasper Gorkss’ header did nothing more than loop the ball into the path of an unmarked Joe Martin whose clinical volley found the bottom corner. Quite how the Gillingham full back found so much space will be a matter of much consternation to the United management team.

One became two ten minutes later with once again McDonald the provider. A combination of passes between McDonald and Bradley opened the Colchester defence and although McDonald lost his footing after the first pass he got back up to dink a cross to the near post for Dack to convert.

It would be amiss to mention that, having slightly criticised Dack following the last home game, the youngster showed was Gillingham are missing with his usual energetic display.
Massey, who was the livewire of the home attack, brought a good save from Nelson, turning over the bar a well hit shot just prior to the break.

Gillingham were forced into a half-time substitution when Dack made way for Amine Linganzi and with it any control in the midfield was lost.

Linganzi proved to be particularly ineffective in the second half and I hope, for the lad’s sake that he is one of the players that Peter Taylor has earmarked to be moved out of Priestfield in the January transfer window. A combination of injury and poor form has not allowed Gillingham fans to see any of the expected potential and in this 45 minutes where he just tracked the ball without getting anywhere near it, his confidence looks absolutely shot.

Colchester quickly halved the deficit when ex-Gill Sean Clohessy crossed to the near post where a combination of Gillingham debutant Harry Lennon and the home side’s Sammie Szmodics forced the ball over the line setting up a siege that few of the 680 travelling fans would believe could be fought off.

Freddie Sears had the ball in the Gillingham net within 10 minutes, but the celebration was cut short with the sight of the red and yellow flag before the ever-dangerous Massey brought another good save from Nelson.

In the midst of the second half one-way traffic, McDonald appeared to have restored Gillingham’s two goal cushion but Trevor Kettle ruled out the goal for what could only have been the lightest of a push by the striker.

Nelson produced a blinding low, diving save to deny Sears before the game entered into the four minutes of added time. With less than one of those minutes remaining, Sears managed to steer a header over the line for what appeared to be a heart breaking equaliser before attention was,once again drawn to the red and yellow flag raised high to the joy of the travelling support.

The Great Escape was complete. League leaders Bristol City are next up in Sunday’s Priestfield fixture, now somewhere I should be able to find Mission Impossible.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Gillingham 2 Chesterfield 3

Match 49/14/1158 - Saturday, 20th December 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 McDonald 59, Egan 61
Chesterfield (1) 3 Clucas 22, Legge (o.g.) 54, Ryan 69
Att. 6,841

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 52/3,564

Match Report

Tis the season to be jolly . . .

Gillingham did their level best to enter into the spirit of the festive season with a ticket offer of just £10 for adults, the players throwing gifts to the crowd and a Christmas card on the turnstiles for everybody that wished to take one. Their generosity was extended, via a fragile defensive performance and a last kick of the match miss from Cody McDonald, to the gift of three points to the visitors who returned to Derbyshire fully deserving of their victory.

The afternoon culminated with a less than jolly 6,500 leaving Priestfield in a downcast mood, but not before venting their spleen with manager Peter Taylor bearing the brunt of the criticism, some of which was of an extremely hostile nature.

Taylor has to make his own decisions of course, that is what he is paid for. The few that offended Taylor are a small minority and some people are able to form their opinions from good judgement, some were even decent players in their day (that doesn’t apply to me!). I’ve a problem with Max Ehmer, at this moment in time. Taylor has brought him to the club on loan from Queens Park Rangers and no doubt has an obligation to play him but, in my humble opinion, his inclusion has been at considerable expense. John Egan, has been Gillingham’s best player this season and will, almost without question with no other obvious contender, be crowned Player of the Year in May. He has earned these accolades as a central defender, so why waste that talent playing him at right back to accommodate Ehmer. The German has an unfortunate body language that makes his style look casual, in fact it looks lazy and when he ducked under Jimmy Ryan’s shot for Chesterfield’s winning goal, then his commitment to the cause could also be brought into question.

Taylor’s team selection has irritated me continually this season, but just occasionally a player produces a performance or lack of one that makes you think perhaps he has it right and I’ve been wrong all along. Bradley Dack, is my for instance. I like Dack’s energy; he’s good on the ball and has an eye for a goal, so why has he sat on the bench so many times this season? Perhaps his performance in this game explains Taylor’s thinking. Whilst Dack was his usual effervescent self, he failed to influence the game and was eventually substituted when Gillingham were chasing the game from two down. In fairness, his lack of influence wasn’t singular in a midfield that created very little from the centre of the park.

Gillingham, you would think, would have been buoyed by the sight of Chesterfield’s team sheet. Eoin Doyle, 19 goals this season, was declared unfit and only took his place on the bench because Paul Cook’s squad was so thin in numbers that he was among just four substitutes.

The home side could have gone behind in the opening five minutes when a header from Armand Gnanduillet was cleared from the line by Brennan Dickenson with Stuart Nelson a helpless bystander.

The visitor’s admirable ambition, given their problematic team selection, was finally rewarded after 22 minutes. Ryan swept the ball to Sam Clucas in acres of space wide on the left wing, the full back opted to try his luck from 20 yards with an angled shot that found the far corner, appearing to take a deflection off Egan, who had attempted to close down the initial space given.

Taylor opted to make early second half substitutions, Dack and Dickenson were replaced by McDonald and Jermain McGlashen, but within a minute of their appearance, the visitors doubled their lead. Tendayi Darikwa, who had looked mightily impressive going forward from his right back position, drove a hard, low cross towards the far post in the direction of Gnanduillet and was left to celebrate as Leon Legge inadvertently turned the ball into his own net for the third time this season. Gillingham have now conceded six own goals, even three would seem unlucky, six appears careless.

How often do we witness a poor Gillingham performance when a big crowd has assembled on the back of a ticket offer, almost always is the answer. But at least the home support were treated to a spirited comeback from their favourites. Five minutes after Chesterfield’s second, Doug Loft hoisted a pinpoint cross to the edge of the six yard box from where McDonald was able to steer a relatively unchallenged header past Tommy Lee.

Two minutes later and the home crowd were in full voice as Loft sent in another cross, this time to the far angle of the six yard box, to be met with a diving header from Egan into the bottom corner.

With half-an-hour remaining and the momentum entirely with the home side, Gillingham should have been expected to complete the comeback with a winning goal. But the culminating moment to 15 exhilarating minutes fell to Chesterfield. A ball into the box was miscontrolled; a half-hearted clearance found the dropping ball met with a sweet volley from Ryan, and with Ehmer ducking underneath the ball, it was to nestle in the corner.

Gillingham showed no sign of retrieving the situation in the remaining 20 minutes, until in the last seconds of four added minutes, a long clearance from Nelson was headed on by Danny Kedwell and it seemed a foregone conclusion that McDonald would save the day, the ball inexplicably at the time, went wide of the mark but later it was shown that it was the fingertips of Lee that had preserved the points for the Spireites.

The festive period is underway; Gillingham have exercised the spirit of giving. We can only hope that on Boxing Day they can deliver a knock-out punch.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Dulwich Hamlet 2 Tonbridge 0

Match 48/14/1157 - Tuesday, 9th December 2014 - Ryman Premier

Dulwich Hamlet (2) 2 Carew 18 (pen), Koroma 45
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 421

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 86/3,512

Match Report

An only to be expected but, nonetheless, awkward journey into south London was the precursor to a Tonbridge performance that had an encouraging opening ten minutes and a final ten in which they threw what they had left in an effort to retrieve a game that had been lost in the intervening time. An early two junction delay on the M20, followed by the tiresome stop-start nature of the south circular at rush hour (or any other hour, for that matter) eventually arriving at Champion Hill in good time for the kick-off but still half-an-hour later than the satnav had originally predicted.

This was my first visit to Champion Hill in the lifetime of this blog and also a first with Dulwich Hamlet as the hosts. My only other visit was a memorable occasion back in 2005, when Tonbridge visited for an FA Cup tie against the then high-flying, big spending Fisher Athletic. Nobody expected Tonbridge to win on that day, but a couple of goals from Jay May and a solid backs-to-the-wall display in the last 20 minutes saw the visitors to a now almost legendary 3-2 victory.

Positioned at the rear of Sainsbury’s (which is very handy for parking) Champion Hill boasts a fine grandstand that incorporates the bar, changing rooms and offices and a covered terraced enclosure on the opposite side.

Dulwich Hamlet are, undoubtedly, a good side that chased the Ryman Premier League title last season alongside Maidstone United, before both were overhauled by Wealdstone and eventually failing to gain a play-off position. This season they have retained that impetus and currently sit in third place behind M&M (Margate and Maidstone) and a win for Tonbridge might have been considered as momentous as that 2005 victory.

The visitors started brightly with the wingers Dee Okojie and Flavio Tavares to the fore. The latter intercepted a poor pass back to the goalkeeper but pulled his shot wide after four minutes and then a fine move ended with Okojie shooting into the side netting. Tom Parkinson put a header over the bar before the hosts took the lead from the penalty spot against the run of play.

Jordan Hibbert took a pass into the box from where a challenge by Nathan Campbell brought the player down. It looked a clear penalty from my vantage point, but there were Tonbridge protests both at the time and after the match. Ashley Carew, a former Gillingham youngster, stepped up to convert the spot kick.

Dulwich Hamlet took control of the game for the remainder of the half with Tonbridge now reduced to sporadic attacks. As half-time approached, Dulwich added to their lead to give the Angels a second half mountain to climb. Hibbert caused further problems, but his cross into the box offered the Tonbridge defence a couple of opportunities to Row Z the ball, however these were not taken and the ball fell at the feet of Omar Koroma who stabbed it home.

Dulwich should have put the game to bed in the second half before Tonbridge rallied in the final quarter-hour. Harry Ottaway spurned a couple chances before Steve McKimm reinforced the front line with the introduction of Alex Teniola and Royce Greenidge. If nothing more a consolation goal was deserved from this final assault as Teniola saw his shot rebound off the goalkeeper’s legs and Parkinson put a header narrowly over. With five minutes remaining an Okojie cross was met with a Jack Parter header that was cleared from the line before the Angels’ despair at refereeing decisions doubled when Marvin Williams was brought down on the edge of the box, the official deeming that the foul had taken place outside, whilst the players claimed it was inside.

The journey home still found the south circular slow at 10 p.m. and another hold-up on the M20, it was just that sort of night.

Monday, 8 December 2014

AFC Portchester 0 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 47/14/1156 - Saturday, 6th December 2014 - FA Vase 3R

AFC Portchester (0) 0
Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Potter 72
Att. 454

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 224/3,426
New Ground: 270

Match Report

As the strong contingent of Tunbridge Wells supporters departed the Wicor Recreation Ground, a rather large man stood outside of the hospitality area shouting at them, you were [expletive] lucky, you [expletive] lucky [expletive]. If he hadn't enjoyed the game, he had certainly enjoyed the liquid buffet and one would guess, watched the second half through the bottom of his pint glass.

This was one of those days when I wanted to be in three different places but it was the magic of the FA Vase that lured me into deepest Hampshire and a pleasant little ground just outside Portsmouth. As has been previously documented, probably now far too many times, the Vase has a special place in the hearts of the Wells support and, once again, they turned up in big numbers and were very vocal.

With a place in the last 32 at stake, this was one of the biggest days in the history of AFC Portchester and the place had that feel of cup fever with stewards and ballboys that I daresay are not in evidence on any given Wessex League Saturday.

For Portchester's manager it was probably a big day, but in fairness he has seen bigger. Graham Rix, was a FA Cup winner with Arsenal for whom he made 351 appearances alongside 17 caps for England. Unfortunately his life also has an important lowlight with a prison term served for a sex offence that doesn't go unnoticed by visiting supporters.

The game was a scrappy affair, not helped by an awkward looking pitch with grass a touch too long. Portchester enjoyed a good deal of early possession that was won with some aggressive tackling in the middle of the field. One such heavy challenge left Jason Bourne needing attention and a few minutes later the injury proved too much and his substitution led to a reshuffle of the Wells back line with Jake Beecroft switching to right back.

Ironically, it was Joe Fuller that was the first to see a yellow card after a challenge that clearly was a foul but no worse than any that had gone unpunished with a card previously. The card inhibited Fuller and a couple of challenges that he would have made later in the game he appeared to pull out of for fear of a second yellow.

Overall, the Wells would have been glad to get to the half-time whistle all-square, although the reshuffled defence had barely allowed their hosts a clear opportunity to test Steve Lawrence.

Martin Larkin made a second half tactical change pushing Danny Powell up front alongside Brendan Cass and the erstwhile winger's pace posed a new set of problems for the home defence and a series of corners followed.

After 72 minutes one of those corners finally bore fruit. Tom Davey directed the ball towards the near post and the head of Tom Bryant, his faintest of touches sent the ball to the feet of Brad Potter who swept the ball home from close range.

Portchester threw everything in an effort to rescue their FA Vase future, but the Wells back line stood firm with Perry Spackman and Potter, who had to leave the field at one point to replace a contact lens, outstanding. There were nervous moments but Lawrence was largely untroubled and the home side's frustration boiled over with a somewhat agricultural challenge on Powell.

The final whistle saw the Tunbridge Wells team celebrate with their fans in the now customary fashion for Vase victories and the magical mystery tour continues into Monday's draw.

Thankfully our friend wishing us a safe journey home was in a minority of one and the general opinion was that this was a game which might have gone either way with Potter capitalising on the one clear chance of the game.

The draw goes national on Monday and this tour can lead us on the road to anywhere (although a home draw is overdue); to be sure the Wells' love affair with this competition continues and their army of support will be alongside them every mile of the journey.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Maidstone United 0 Tonbridge 4

Match 46/14/1155 - Thursday, 4th December 2014 - Ryman League Cup 3R

Maidstone United (0) 0
Tonbridge (1) 4 Tavares 43 Rivelino 68 Quintyne (pen) 86 Mici 88
Att. 460

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: Free
Mileage: 30/3,202

The Robert Dyas Cup (the Ryman League Cup) is a competition that has largely been devalued by the playing of weakened teams was further denigrated by an agreement between Maidstone United and Tonbridge Angels to play this game on a Thursday evening in order to get a one-game suspension for Maidstone’s Jack Parkinson out of the way prior to their FA Cup Second Round tie at Wrexham. This, of course, has to be hearsay, as I would imagine that if that was made into some sort of an official notice, then a reprimand could be brought against both clubs.

In the circumstances with the aforementioned cup tie 48 hours away, it was obvious that Maidstone would be fielding a side based largely on academy players whilst Tonbridge have in previous rounds used the competition to assess young and fringe players. Much though it is said through gritted teeth, it is a great credit to the huge support that Maidstone enjoy that an attendance of 460 gathered with every last one of them aware of the circumstances.

It is also a compliment to Maidstone that they produced a programme, free of charge, unlike Bromley on Tuesday. Right, that’s enough of being nice to our fiercest rivals. I was not alone in the thought that why are we doing our bitterest rivals a favour?

This will be recorded, whatever the make-up of the teams, as a first team fixture and any win over Maidstone is to be enjoyed. A 4-0 demolition is to be savoured.

Tonbridge were able to call on reserves with some experience. Manny Monthe and Charlie Slocombe partnered in the centre of defence, whilst Jack Brivio and Flavio Tavares have seen first team playing time from the bench. Maidstone were only able to call on Phil Starkey, ironically an ex-Angel, who was ineligible for Saturday’s encounter, with any experience.

With no prior knowledge of Maidstone’s academy, other than local talk that it is highly regarded, a tough match was still expected, but after an initial 20 minutes in which both sides weighed each other up, Tonbridge began to take control with Brivio and George Craddock, recently released from Margate I’m told, pulling the strings. The pace of Tavares on one wing and Neville Rivelino on the other was a constant source of danger to the home side. After several near misses, the breakthrough finally came when Tavares cut in from the left and curled a beauty in off the far post.

The second half was completely one-way traffic. Rivelino drove in a second from inside the box and then was brought down for Gavin Quintyne to stroke home the penalty and late in the game Mici added a fourth.

The Robert Dyas Cup may only have its uses to serve suspensions or blood youngsters but it has served up a rich source of encouragement for Tonbridge. This talented bunch need to be tested at higher levels to see just how good they might be, but on the evidence of this game, the future looks bright.

As a postscript to this game, it has emerged that George Craddock was, in fact, an ineligible player having played as a substitute in a prior round for Merstham. A decision will be made at a Ryman League meeting on 18 January 2015 with the expected consequence being Tonbridge’s removal from the competition. This is so frustrating and you have to wonder how a player is unaware of the fact that he is cup-tied.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Bromley 3 Tonbridge 0

Match 45/14/1154 - Tuesday, 2nd December 2014 - FA Trophy 3QRR

Bromley (1) 3 Sobers (o.g.) 5, Ademola (pen) 58, Slabber 68
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 408

Entrance: £6
Programme: None produced
Mileage: 80/3,172

Match Report

More often than not in cup competitions the minnow has one chance to slay the giant and if they don’t seize the day then the opportunity passes. From all accounts, Tonbridge played really well in the initial game of this FA Trophy tie and fully deserved their replay against Conference South pacemakers Bromley, but on a cold night at an everlasting hoodoo ground, the opportunity had, indeed, passed.

Whether it was the heavy rain prior to kick off, a lack of interest in the qualifying rounds of the competition or a Crystal Palace home game on the same evening that restricted the attendance it was disappointing to see Hayes Lane so poorly populated. Even more annoying was the lack of a programme, evidently due to production difficulties, but even given that excuse, it is pretty shabby of a club of Bromley’s size to be unable to produce one.

Any hopes that Tonbridge’s lamentable record at Hayes Lane, no victory since a Kent Senior Cup tie 20 years ago, would be ended was immediately pushed to the back of the mind when, after five minutes, Jerrome Sobers turned a cross from Louis Dennis into his own net.

It was a tough start for the visitors and for 20 minutes they found it difficult to contain their hosts. Several goal scoring attempts were wasteful, but on 25 minutes, Damian Scannell was denied by a fantastic block from Laurence Ball.

In a torrid period just prior to the break, Bromley spurned three separate opportunities to go into half-time with a substantial advantage with Jordan Robertson the chief offender.

On the night, Tonbridge’s bench was probably as strong as it could be, but envious eyes would have been cast along the line to see Scannell, Jamie Slabber and Adam Birchall waiting in the wings.

Sobers, who probably was a long way short of being fully fit, was forced to make way on the hour and eight minutes later the game was effectively put to bed. Moses Ademola stepped inside Chris Piper and the Tonbridge midfielder clumsily brought him down. Ademola stroked home the penalty to double the advantage.

After 68 minutes, Slabber executed the final twist of the knife when he produced an outlandish finish from a cross by Ademola at the far post. The ball appeared to have eluded the substitute but with the tightest of angles he squeezed the ball into the net.

Adam Birchall made a substitute’s appearance with 15 minutes remaining and it is sad to see him play a peripheral role after his injury-wrecked spell at Gillingham.

Tonbridge did better than okay for periods in this game, but for all their craft and industry in the middle of the field it was in the final third where their lightweight attack foundered on the mountainous Rob Swaine.

With a night shift beckoning in deepest, darkest Bermondsey I took my leave with five minutes remaining. The drive to work took me through a brightly Christmas decorated Chislehurst and gave me time to reflect that despite the score line, Tonbridge had some bright spots of their own on the evening and perhaps Santa will bring them a much needed striker.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gillingham 2 Port Vale 2

Match 44/14/1153 - Saturday, 29th November 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Egan 29,55
Port Vale (1) 2 N'Guessan 18, Brown 90+4
Att. 4,799

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 52/3,092

Match Report

Passing through the turnstiles at Priestfield I was handed a leaflet outlining the merchandise available in the club shop with Christmas approaching. Hardly unexpected, a stick of Gillingham rock was unavailable, had there been, it would have frustration written all the way through.

Late, on occasions very late, goals have featured throughout this season. Back in August, a win against the old enemy, Swindon Town, was denied by a last minute own goal and a visit to Sheffield United ended in defeat following a goal seven minutes into time added. It was hoped that a corner had been turned in this cycle when at the last home game against Leyton Orient, despite conceding a goal three minutes into added time, Gillingham still found a winner in the 98th minute and then a late equaliser at Bradford City earned a much welcome point.

With certain echoes of Stephen Bywater’s own goal against Swindon, a goalkeeping howler from Stuart Nelson gifted Port Vale a share of the points after Gillingham had appeared to just about hold on to their lead as the four minutes of added time had almost elapsed.

Gillingham had an enforced reshuffle of the defensive back line with the recall by parent club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, of Kortney Hause after a successful loan period. His form has not only been recognised by his club but also of England, as he had made his mark at Under-20 level during his time at Priestfield. In his place, Peter Taylor drafted in from Queen’s Park Ranger, Max Ehmer and also took Charlton’s Harry Lennon on loan. Ehmer, a 22-year-old German, went straight into the team in a five man back line with Adam Chicksen and Gavin Hoyte playing advanced roles as wing backs.

Playing with that five, with Michael Doughty stationed just in front of the central three appeared to give Gillingham problems in midfield in the opening 20 minutes finding themselves outnumbered. After 18 minutes a straight ball found Danny N’Guessan with a yard of space on the edge of the box where such space should have been denied and a shot into the bottom corner gave Nelson no chance.

The acre of space between Gillingham’s deep midfield and the front two became increasingly frustrating as long punts towards Cody McDonald and Brennan Dickenson were easily dealt with by the Valiant’s defence. However the space was put to good use on the half-hour when John Egan strode forward, exchanged passes with Jake Hessenthaler and struck a sweet 25-yarder past the Vale keeper, Chris Neal for Gillingham’s equaliser.

The home side enjoyed a period of relative dominance up to the break and Taylor’s formation with the wing backs had settled down and was working well.

Nelson made a good stop in the opening moments from Ben Williamson, a graduate of Glenn Hoddle’s Academy in Spain, who had been a nuisance for much of the afternoon.

However, it was Gillingham, after a period of pressure, who took the lead on 55 minutes, Egan planting a powerful header from Hessenthaler’s corner into the bottom corner.

Taylor made a surprise double substitution with 20 minutes remaining and whilst he later outlined his reasons for the changes, there are many who felt that the removal of Hoyte and reverting to a flat back four invited the pressure that eventually brought the Port Vale equaliser. The fact that the substitutes, Jermaine McGlashen and Antonio German, made absolutely no impact on the game also brings the decision into question.

When the goal finally came with just 20 seconds of the four minutes added time remaining, the alarm bells had been ringing loud and clear. Colin Daniel struck a post and when Louis Dodds’ effort came back off the underside of the bar to safety, it was hard not to feel that this was to be Gillingham’s day.

Michael Brown skipped a couple of challenges before unleashing a shot from 20 yards. Quite how the shot evaded Nelson I’ve no idea. It wasn’t a shot of great venom and took a couple of bounces before nestling in the corner of the net, for the most frustrating of endings.

Nelson shouldered the blame on the pitch, but many off the pitch would point to Taylor’s baffling substitutions when all appeared steady as you go with his back five.

Frustrating sums up this game, sums up this season.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Westfield 1 Tunbridge Wells 5

Match 43/14/1152 - Saturday, 22nd November 2014 - FA Vase 2R

Westfield (1) 1 Milne 22
Tunbridge Wells (2) 5 Fuller 4,56,85, Cass 43, Radford 49
Att. 155

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 138/3,040
New Ground: 269

The FA Vase is synonymous with the upturn in Tunbridge Wells’ level of support. The club has done an excellent job in maintaining the interest that was generated by their 2013 journey to Wembley and when a new run in the competition is underway that support is mobilised and turn up in relatively huge numbers on unsuspecting hosts.

Westfield is a football club seemingly unknown to the local residents of Woking. Living, quite literally in the shadow of their Conference neighbours, their Woking Park stadium is accessed through the doors of a sports centre that was quite easily missed, as I did. Having walked past the entrance and proceeding to walk in a big circle, I asked a pair of Woking supporters if they knew the whereabouts of the entrance, they didn’t even know of the existence of Westfield let alone the gate.

Once inside, it is a rather strange set-up with the main stand of just a few seats set into the rear of the sports centre. There is a nice bar up a set of stairs and from there a balcony can be accessed from where probably about half of the Tunbridge Wells following chose to watch the game. Behind one goal there is another stand which can only be described as small but beautifully formed. When it went to the town planners it can only be assumed that somebody took along a model made out of Lego or from their Subbuteo set as their outline plan. It only seats 50 and evidently was only constructed because they were that many seats short to be able to compete in FA competitions. The stand quickly became bedecked with the flags from the visiting support.

En-route through a heavy rainstorm I had worried that the journey might end fruitless and on first look at the pitch I realised that I was quite lucky that it had passed an inspection. The state of the heavily-sanded midfield area could well have proved a leveler but Tunbridge Wells raced out of the blocks and were ahead within four minutes. A raking 40 yard pass from Jake Beecroft picked out Lee Radford who was brought down. The resultant free kick was met with a glancing header by Joe Fuller into the bottom corner.

To their credit, Westfield were not going to lie down and accept their fate. The Combined Counties League side took the game to the Wells and were unfortunate to have a goal disallowed for a foul on the Wells’ goalkeeper Steve Lawrence. It was one of those decisions that referees always seem to give in favour of the keeper.

They created several good chances with their number eight at the heart of Westfield’s prompting until the goal that had been coming for some time finally arrived on 22 minutes. The right winger skipped a challenge from Tom Bryant and from the bye-line pulled the ball back to Michael Milne who scored from close range.

The half remained evenly contested before, on the stroke of half-time, a Radford shot from 25 yards was spilt by the Westfield keeper to the poaching feet of Brendan Cass to give Martin Larkin a slightly more comfortable half-time talk.

Once the Wells had extended their lead early in the second half the game became largely one-way traffic. A misdirected header from midfield allowed Radford to get between two defenders to side foot into the net from eight yards.

A move of top quality on the hour deservedly put the game beyond doubt. Fuller won the ball in midfield and a 13 pass move ensued that ended with the ball back at Fuller’s feet, who, with a turn and shot into the top corner made it four.

With the lights of Woking’s Kingfield Stadium burning brightly across the park as they fought out a draw against league leaders Barnet, the voices of the 2,600 crowd was regularly audible, one wonders if they, in turn, took note of the celebrating Tunbridge Wells supporters.

The Wells finally made it a nap hand and a score line that perhaps was slightly unkind on Westfield when a corner was headed on by Perry Spackman and Fuller, falling backwards, scored with a spectacular volley to complete his hat trick.

At the time of writing the home club had not announced the attendance, whatever the number it is not an exaggerated guess that the visitors made up 90% of that total. Westfield, in defeat, will no doubt take comfort from their bar takings whilst the Wells waltzed home with the £1,200 prize money.

PS. The attendance was subsequently announced at 155.

Ramsgate 0 Tonbridge 1

Match 42/14/1151 - Tuesday, 18th November 2014 - Ryman League Cup

Ramsgate (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 1 Milham 58
Att. 86

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 110/2,902

Having given up the comfort of the sofa in front of the Scotland v England game to satisfy the preference for live football, it has to be said that my heart sank a little as the team sheets were posted in the window of the Ramsgate club shop. Apart from the erroneous detail that the evening’s visitors were Tooting and Mitcham, the Tonbridge side showed very little first team experience and probably half of the team were completely unknown to me.

Among the name unknown were Sean Nyarsungo, Cameron Milham and the entire bench; known to me was the wonderfully named Neville Rivelino. A Courier report later in the week detailed that in the youth section of the club there is also a Ronaldo, Romario and Carvalho.

The Ryman League Cup, never a crowd puller, failed to drag too many people away from their television sets and just 86 people made up the attendance. This was my first time at Southwood Stadium for over 20 years and, although I was assured it hasn’t changed in that time; I had no memory of the place. It did make a favourable impression though and the rounded roof the main stand that travels the full length of one side, built some 55 years ago, is a particular delight. The terraced areas behind each goal are quite a long way back from, what is an enormous pitch.

My fears that inexperience was going to the undoing of this season’s foray in this competition were to go unfounded as the Tonbridge youngsters put in an assured performance built on the solid display of Emmanuel Monthe who was commanding in the centre of the back line.

The pace of Flavio Tavares proved a positive outlet, whilst the midfield trio of Jack Brivo, Nyarsungo and Milham carried too much energy for their rather laborious Ramsgate counterparts. Upfront, Alex Teniola worked hard proving to be a constant handful.

Tonbridge dominated much of the match, so much so that James Steele was barely required to make a serious save throughout. The game was ultimately won 15 minutes into the second half when Milham earned the bit of good fortune that his deflected shot brought after skipping a couple of lusty challenges before creating the space for his goal scoring attempt.

Half-time in the clubhouse had seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain give England the lead at Celtic Park and the last 20 minutes were brought via the car radio as England secured a welcome victory over the Auld Enemy. But I was satisfied that my effort to leave the sofa and venture to East Kent had been worthwhile and the glimpse that was given into the future of Tonbridge Angels was very encouraging. Steve McKimm has indicated that his youthful side will be given another opportunity in the next round and this could be at Maidstone United, even with the hefty slice of optimism administered by this performance that should prove a step too far.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Gillingham 3 Leyton Orient 2

Match 41/14/1150 - Saturday, 15th November 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 3 Legge 55,74 McDonald 90+8
Leyton Orient (0) 2 Plasmati (pen) 48, Dagnall 90+3
Att. 5,891

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 52/2,697

Match Report

A clear indication that results and performances are not what Gillingham would have hoped for is when an esteemed supporter of the club, the 12th Earl of Harbledown, faced with a fixture clash, decides on Wembley to watch an England team, that, let’s face it, hardly set the nation’s pulses racing.

Ultimately the good Lord saw a similar game as England asked their fans to endure a dire first half, go a goal behind early in the second half but mount a comeback to collect three more points in what is looking a straightforward road to Euro 2016.

With no wins in eight games and positioned 22nd in the League One table, morale among supporters was understandably low but had been boosted with a midweek victory at Crawley in the Johnstone Paint Trophy that has set up an Area Semi-Final tie, ironically drawing Leyton Orient.

Leyton Orient have suffered a similarly stuttering start to the season and, for mid-November, the fixture had attained an over-egged level of importance, but was, undeniably, with home advantage, one that Gillingham would not have wanted to lose.

Gillingham were given an early opportunity to open the scoring when they are awarded a penalty after Brennan Dickenson was felled in the box by Scott Cuthbert. The ever-reliable Danny Kedwell stepped up to take the spot kick, but on this occasion his placed attempt was read by the Orient keeper, Adam Legzdins, who smothered the ball diving to his left.

The half meandered its way to the break and will not live long in the memory. Michael Doughty caught the eye in midfield and his shot that cleared the bar was a sole attempt on goal whilst Orient offered very little going forward.

The second half started with the referee, Darren Deadman, awarding another penalty, this time to Orient after former Gillingham player, Josh Wright was brought down by John Egan. Orient’s skyscraper centre forward, Gianvito Plasmati, stepped forward and his hesitation in his run-up committed Stuart Nelson and the penalty taker was able to roll the ball in the opposite direction to open the scoring.

This very nearly became two almost immediately, a cross from the former Liverpool full back Andrea Dossena saw Plasmati sliding in at the far post but narrowly failing to make contact.

Gillingham were level within seven minutes when a free kick lofted into the area by Jake Hessenthaler was met at the far post by Leon Legge, whose looped header deceived Legzdins to drop under the bar and into the net.

Kedwell, who had struggled to make an impression against the solid Orient central defensive pairing, made way for Cody McDonald and Bradley Dack, once again overlooked to my frustration, replaced Jermaine McGlashen. The pair fashioned an opportunity almost immediately but McDonald’s shot hit a post.

With 15 minutes remaining Gillingham took the lead with a goal almost identical to their first. Hessenthaler once again pumped a free kick to the far post which was met by Legge, but this time his header deceived Legzdins to squeeze in at the near post. It was strange that a goalkeeper that had read a first half penalty so well had been beaten having lost his bearings twice in the second period.

Doughty, who had produced what might well have been a man of the match performance then saw red for a second yellow card for a senseless throwing the ball over the head of an Orient player when a throw had been awarded to the visitors. This gave Orient the impetus for an onslaught in the final 10 minutes.

Gillingham lived dangerously, but were holding on, until three minutes into the five of added time, Cuthbert threw a long cross into the box and Chris Dagnall met it with a powerful header to equalise from close range to the delight of the impressive 800-odd Orient fans gathered at the Town End of the ground.

Seemingly, it was game over, but there was to be a final twist. Well past the added five minutes, a free kick lumped into the box produced a corner and the referee decided there was still time available for its taking. Legge was up, looking for his hat trick of headers, Hessenthaler delivered the corner and a touch fell to McDonald who spun and struck to fire home an unlikely winner.

Three sides of Priestfield joyously celebrated and one wonders how the 12th Earl, who would have been closely following events, might have reacted as perhaps the anthems were being played. Any curses would have been directed at UEFA for their scheduling that forced him into his own personal club versus country dilemma.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Sittingbourne 2 Tonbridge 3

Match 40/14/1149 - Tuesday, 11th November 2014 - Kent Senior Cup

Sittingbourne (2) 2 Bankole 33 Richardson 36
Tonbridge (1) 3 Williams 42 Okojie 65 Partner 90
Att. 119

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 33/2,645
Played at Woodstock Sports FC
New Ground: 268

Match Report

Doris led me down an unexpected direction and I said to her (because we all talk to our SatNavs), “it’s down to you now love, because I haven’t a clue where I am.” Having been previously warned that a first visit to Woodstock Sports was best not done in the dark, I was fully expecting to find the ground in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t to be disappointed. But Doris successfully directed me to a decent sized car park which led to an elaborate clubhouse with very appealing dining facilities that I wondered who it might serve as there appeared no local custom.

The ground itself was of reasonable Kent League standard, albeit that their tenants, Sittingbourne, are Ryman South status. A nice-sized seated stand is positioned behind one goal with an area of covered terrace towards the corner flag of one length. A bus shelter type covered enclosure houses about 50 supporters behind the other goal. The full length of the opposite side was out of bounds to occupation by spectators.

Unfortunately, the pitch wasn’t helped by the drizzly rain and quickly became a cabbage patch.

This is the fourth ground, over the years, that I have watched Sittingbourne. Theirs is a rags to riches and back again story as a supporter of the club made me aware of how they ended up at Woodstock. Back in 1990 they left the Bull Ground with an absolute fortune in their pockets after selling up to developers. They moved to Central Park and with a plush new stadium and a healthy playing budget they were expected to move through the divisions and possibly knock of the door of the Football League. Sadly, they massively overspent on the stadium, which was a wonderfully appointed facility for the level of football they were at. And from there, their history literally went to the dogs.

With the Bull Ground money having disappeared into a black hole, with a multitude of rumours as to its whereabouts, the club was forced to go cap in the hand to the council and lease the ground back. The council sold the lease to a greyhound racing company who took preference on the availability of dates of usage and the football club were eventually forced to decamp to the adjoining training ground, christened Bourne Park in 2002.

My friendly Sittingbourne supporter informed me that at the end of the 2013 season it was decided that they could no longer afford the £30,000 a year rent and moved into Woodstock Sports’ facility.

There were familiar faces in the Sittingbourne team with ex-Tonbridge players Ollie Bankole, George Crimmen and Matt Hardin, whilst on the sideline was the newly-appointed manager, Nick Davis, previously at Tunbridge Wells.

Tommy Whitnell immediately caught the eye but his finishing was poor as a couple of good chances were spurned with a weak finish straight at the keeper and another which he pulled wide. Tonbridge were to regret those chances when Bankole got on the end of a cross to put the hosts in front and this was quickly doubled when a free kick from the right was headed back across the face of goal by Crimmen to Jono Richardson who tucked it home from close range.

Tonbridge needed a reply before the break and it duly came with a couple of minutes to go when Marvin Williams chipped the ball over the advancing keeper for an assured finish.

Williams was to live up to his moniker of Marvellous Marvin with a second half display that put the hosts on the back foot. Steve McKimm introduced further pace into the side with Dee Okojie a second half substitute for Whitnell. With Flavio Tavares also causing concern for the hosts with his pace, the half was to be completely one-way traffic.

The equaliser eventually came on 68 minutes with a sweet, curling shot from Okojie into the top corner.

McKimm could justifiably point to his substitutions as another, Jack Parter, came up with a winner just as penalties were looming on the horizon with a 25 yard beauty into the top corner giving the Sittingbourne keeper no chance.

All that was left was to head for home back down the pitch black country roads. Next round Doris, we’ll head for somewhere a little more accessible!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Tonbridge 0 Billericay Town 1

Match 39/14/1148 - Saturday, 8th November 2014 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 0
Billericay Town (0) 1 Cleaver 79
Att. 398

Entrance: £3 Senior (Late entry)
Programme: Too Late
Mileage: 36/2,612

Match Report

There is a new lady in my life and she may become a bit demanding of my time. So it was, for this Ryman League match at Tonbridge, I not only arrived 30 minutes after the start, but was not even supposed to be there at all!

Just to clarify, the new lady is Molly, an eight-week old cocker spaniel puppy who we had collected on Saturday lunchtime. I had purchased a ticket for Gillingham’s FA Cup tie with Bristol City, but as time ebbed away, Tonbridge was going to offer a greater amount of football time.

On arrival, I was informed that the home side had enjoyed the majority of possession but had suffered two injuries leading to the substitutions of Lee Carey and Chris Piper. Sadly, I had also missed the act of remembrance which had been signalled by The Last Post, played by a young lad with a trumpet, a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives 100 years ago and in subsequent conflicts.

The remainder of the half had emphasised my fellow supporter’s views as Tonbridge continued to dominate but the lack of a cutting edge without the departed Billy Medlock was clearly apparent.

A week ago at VCD, I and many others, were bemoaning Medlock’s selfishness when shooting and a pass was a much better option, but how Tonbridge could have done with some of that single-mindedness in this game. Too many times, an extra touch, an extra pass was played when begging for a shot a goal.

Alex Teniola, who is the in-house replacement for the departed striker, had a quiet game with his only chance being a first half shot across the face of goal. With Tonbridge enjoying the possession, the full backs, Jack Parter and James Folkes, were offered a licence to get crosses into the box, but these were capably dealt with by Billericay’s keeper, Billy Lumley.

The sucker punch arrived on 78 minutes. After a scramble inside the six-yard box which led to Lumley making a double save and with the protestations of handball ringing in the referee’s ears, Billericay broke away and with a three-on-two situation worked the ball to Jacob Cleaver to score past Tom Hadler.

In one last desperate assault on the visitor’s goal, Lumley made an incredible double save to deny Dee Okojie and preserve the points for the Essex side, who at the final whistle moments later celebrated their victory, shall we say, enthusiastically.

So it was that disappointment at Longmead was compensated with new found Puppy Love at home. Aahh!

Greenwich Borough 1 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 38/14/1147 - Wednesday, 5th November 2014 - SCEL

Greenwich Borough (1) 1 Vines 44
Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Luchford 19
Att. 89

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 64/2,576
Played at Princes Park, Dartford FC

Match Report

Money is a big factor at Southern Counties East League level and every season one club has just that little bit more than the rest. It doesn’t always translate into success, but there can be no doubt it helps. Greenwich Borough are this season’s recipients from a rich benefactor, in this case the owner of the club’s sponsors, DGS Marine. The club’s new found resources and the lure of Conference status facilities at Prince’s Park, have brought Football League experience in the shape of Gary Alexander and Gary Borrowdale, who both entered Step Five football directly from League level.

Alexander, now 38, looks to have spent a considerable amount of his wages from Greenwich at the bakers whilst Borrowdale, who was three months away from fitness, 12 months ago whilst at Tonbridge, still appears to have that time frame on his horizon.

Despite his girth, Alexander still has the nous that experience brings and will always prove a handful to defenders at this level. But, Tunbridge Wells to their credit, produced their best performance of the season and resolutely defended a second half in which they were forced back for the long periods.

Prince’s Park is far too big to accommodate just 89 people, 50% of whom were there to support the visitors. The lack of people makes for a surreal experience, even though the Tunbridge Wells' vocal choir did their level best to create an atmosphere. With the fireworks of November 5th providing an explosive backdrop the players, from both sides, set about to produce an entertaining game.

The Wells made a bright start with Lee Radford proving a dangerous outlet down the left side of the field and it was from one of his crosses that Dane Luchford rose at the far post to head the visitors in front. Unfortunately, for the Wells, Radford was injured soon after and with his departure their threat significantly reduced.

Greenwich equalised on the stroke of half-time when Joe Vines stabbed the ball home from close range after Steve Lawrence had made a fine initial save from a header.

The second half was mostly about Tunbridge Wells steadfastly defending and, when called upon, Lawrence making match saving stops. But, as often happens when one team is asked to fight a rearguard action, the best chance of the half fell to Luchford, who steered an unchallenged header wide from six yards.

This was a good night in Tunbridge Wells' season of inconsistency, brought about by the constant chopping and changing of the squad, the latest of which sees the departure of central defender Nick Davies, who is to return to his old club, Sittingbourne, as their manager.

Greenwich’s resources have been further enhanced with a run to the final qualifying round of the FA Cup, whether the cash benefit is going to extend to promotion to the Ryman League there is serious doubt with Erith and Belvedere setting a fierce pace. The rest of the League may only look on with envy, but as many clubs have found to their cost, these benefactors rarely stick around for any length of time.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chatham Town 0 Worthing 1

Match 37/14/1146 - Tuesday, 4th November 2014 - FA Trophy 1QR Replay

Chatham Town (0) 0
Worthing (0) 1 Bugiel 83
Att. 123

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 33/2,512

Match Report

Despite being rewarded for turning out on a rain-lashed night at Maidstone Road with a pretty lousy match to view, I still felt that the football gods had been with me on this occasion. An afternoon had been spent regularly checking the travelling time to Harrow Borough Football Club and the notorious M25 rush hour traffic. An initial journey time of 1 hour 35 minutes had risen closer to two-and-a-half hours when I decided that I might be left sitting in traffic as the game kicked off and decided that opting for the easier option of Chatham's Trophy replay against Worthing might be a wise move.

As I pulled into the car park at Chatham, my mobile phone dinged with a notification from Football Web Pages, match at Harrow postponed. What would have been a minimum of four hours travelling time had been avoided; as I donned a heavy coat and gloves for the first time this season, I was thanking my luck stars.

As illustrated at Tonbridge in the Ryman League Cup a month ago, Chatham, shorn this season of the extravagant talent of Alfie May and the goals of Ade Yussuf, have a lack of potency in the final third of the pitch and this cup exit further highlighted their weakness.

On a night when the heavens opened and the pitch became increasingly slippery , Chatham appeared to be unwilling to follow their visitors lead and take the pot shot from 20 yards plus when the opportunity arose. Worthing did this on several occasions and although these efforts failed to produce a goal, several of them required retrieving at the second attempt by the Chats keeper, Tom Welham.

On the night, Chatham’s front two, Austin Gacheru and Junior Kaffo laboured against some resolute Worthing defending. Gacheru, who took the bulk of the criticism from the faithful sat around me, curled a second half shot narrowly over the angle of bar and post whilst Kaffo, quite impressive at Tonbridge made very little impression.

The game was settled with eight minutes remaining, a relief to everybody I’m guessing that wanted to avoid extra time as the cold was beginning to bite at the extremities, with a far post header by Omar Bugiel, who drifted into position unchallenging following a corner. The goal was greeted by the half-dozen Worthing supporters behind the goal that had braved the weather and gave their team noisy support throughout.

I was glad to get back indoors to the warmth of a cup of tea within half-an-hour still thanking the heavens that I wasn’t stuck on that blessed motorway.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

VCD Athletic 0 Tonbridge 2

Match 36/14/1145 - Saturday, 1st November 2014 - FA Trophy 1QR

VCD Athletic (0) 0
Tonbridge (1) 2 Medlock 44, Taveres 90+3
Att. 156

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 74/2,479
New Ground: 267

Match Report

A point I’ve alluded to whenever Tonbridge have been involved in Cup ties has been that I’ve never considered them a particularly lucky Cup side. Some of that misfortune has not been bad luck at all, on a couple of occasions in recent times when they have received what was perceived as a favourable draw they have proceeded to waste the opportunity.

So it was, walking away from my first visit to the Old Road Sports Ground, home of VCD Athletic, I was able to reflect that, on this occasion, Tonbridge had certainly enjoyed the rub of the green after a second half in which their goal led a charmed life.

On a very mild day, not befitting the first day of November, Tonbridge enjoyed a first half in which they dominated possession but failed to test the home goalkeeper, Nick Blue, on too many occasions. Dee Okojie was both the most serious threat and also the most frustrating as his mazy runs presented problems for the VCD defence but all too often lacking in end product.

Billy Medlock was exercising his shoot on sight policy that has brought him goals aplenty this season with a 30 yard effort that skimmed the bar and another shot that was blocked when a pass to Chris Piper was a far better option. But Medlock was to prove his predatory instincts just prior to the break when he diverted a Laurence Ball shot into the net from close range to open scoring.

With his substitution, 15 minutes from the end, Medlock’s goal may prove to be his last in a Tonbridge shirt and it emerged after the game that the striker had accepted the offer of a loan period on dual registration from Sutton United in Conference South for a month. This a major setback for the Angels with Medlock, on 17 goals for the season, far and away their leading scorer.

In the VCD side was the heavily bearded Michael Power who had a previous, unfruitful spell with the Angels that didn’t lead to great endearment with the Tonbridge faithful. Directly after the opening goal he gave more ammunition to the visiting support with a woeful header that cleared the bar when left unchallenged on the left of the six yard box.

What appears to have been a bad injury to Tonbridge’s Tom Parkinson, stretchered from the pitch by VCD’s assistant manager Ray Powell and the Tonbridge manager, Steve McKimm, knocked the visitors from their stride early into the second half and led to the attacking intentions changing hands.

Debutant goalkeeper, Tom Hadler on loan from Gillingham, comfortably saved an shot from Lewis Perkins but was mightily relieved when a shot from the evergreen Leigh Bremner looped into the air following a deflection only for the ball to be put wide from a couple of yards.

Ben King cleared an effort from the line and Bremner stabbed a shot from a corner into the side netting, once again from close range. The Tonbridge fans and Hadler knew this was to be their day when, as the game entered time added on, a volley from Lea Dawson crashed against the upright with the young keeper well beaten.

Tonbridge sealed the game in the 93rd minute when a breakaway ended with Flavio Tavares finishing neatly from the edge of the area into the bottom corner.

Somebody might have whimsically mentioned that Tonbridge’s name may be on the Trophy. Historically, I don’t believe their cup fortune can last that long.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gillingham 1 Crawley Town 1

Match 35/14/1144 - Saturday, 25th October 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Legge 44
Crawley Town (0) 1 Edwards 29
Att. 4,850

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 52/2,405

Match Report

Following Leeds United's 2-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton, Massimo Cellino sacked Darko Milanic after just 32 days in the job. Cellino has disposed of the services of two managers this season and three since his takeover of the Yorkshire side in April. Meanwhile, in slightly different circumstances, in the space of 37 bemusing days, Gino Pozzo changed the nameplate on the manager’s door four times at Watford. Both of these clubs have been through severe financial problems and their rich Italian owners are seen as both saviours and villains by the supporters of their respective clubs. Why am I opening with two clubs, not even in the same division as Gillingham? Because it highlights that we should all be careful what we wish for.

There is an air of despondency at Priestfield Stadium and speaking to one of Gillingham’s diehard supporters after the game, he seemed resigned to the club’s relegation from League One. Reviewing opinion on social media, the only salvation from that fate appears to lay in the sacking of manager Peter Taylor accompanied preferably with the sale of the club by Paul Scally.

I’m not here to defend either character, one win in ten hardly warrants the vote of confidence Taylor got from his chairman and the home performance against Scunthorpe and the first half to this game against Crawley Town made for dismal viewing. Football is no longer a game for a cheap afternoon out, supporters earn their money during the week and deserve to be at least entertained when Saturday comes and quite frankly, at Gillingham, we are not being entertained.

Cellino, in particular, proves the point that lack of stability serves no purpose. If Taylor was to depart, where do Gillingham go from there? A fresh start doesn’t always lead to a change in fortunes, in the case of Leeds United, it has proved to be a conntinuance of the decline. A year ago when Martin Allen was surprisingly sacked, Taylor took over a struggling team and despite the budget having been spent by the previous incumbent, managed to gather just enough points to ease the club to safety.

Supporters were hardly enamoured with the style of football that was on show but gave Taylor the benefit of the doubt with due regard to the team he had inherited. During the summer there was a major overhaul of the playing staff and now we have a team that plays, or at least should play, in the image of its manager. Do we like what we see? The answer to that question is an almost universal NO.

Taylor obviously made his summer signings within the budget that the chairman had set and this is where the question of whether Mr Scally has taken the club as far as he can comes into play. The old saying went, Scally might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but back in 1994 he was the only cup on the table, but 20 years on and a radically different industry has evolved in that time, many would wish that he would test the water and see if there was somebody out there with the investment to progress the club. Who are we, mere fans, to know, but he probably has. That might be our wish, but who is to say that the next cup on our table might be that of a Cellino and would we really want that?

The signs of improvement displayed in the midweek game against Preston were quickly dispelled in a first half performance that had a lot more echoes of Scunthorpe. Gillingham should have been dead and buried by the half-time whistle, but with the benefit of a towering header from Leon Legge went into the break on level terms.

Negative tactics are one of Taylor’s critics’ assertions and the lack of any sort of pressing in midfield with two banks of four seemingly willing to concede 30 yards of grass in front of them frustrating everybody around me. Crawley dominated, or were allowed to dominate with Keith Keane having a free rein to dictate, they created and failed to take, several good chances. Gwoin Edwards tested Stuart Nelson before a simple, straight pass from Keane split the Gillingham defence to give Edwards the opportunity to convert from the angle of the box with a shot that Nelson got a hand too, but failed to stop the ball from trickling into the far corner. Further chances, a shot from Matt Harrold that hit a post and a header from central defender Joe Walsh, should have extended the visitors lead before Legge’s powerful header from Jake Hessenthaler’s corner levelled the scoreline.

In fairness to Taylor, his half-time change of Bradley Dack for the ineffective Jermain McGlashan made the difference in the second period, but why Dack sits on the sidelines defeats me anyway.

Keane was no longer allowed to rule the roost in the middle of the field and with that the dominance of the game changed hands although Crawley would point to the lack of serious saves needed from Jamie Ashdown with the central defensive pairing of Walsh and Leacock standing strong. As Gillingham grew into the game, the debut influence of Michael Doughty, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, grew with them. So it was something of a surprise, and to the annoyance of many, that he was substituted with 12 minutes remaining, but with very few games under his belt this season, it was to be expected that he wouldn’t last the full 90 minutes.

A point was not enough to stop Gillingham dropping into the bottom four and the calls for Taylor and Scally to take responsibility for that situation becomes ever louder. Are those people calling it right, who knows, but those fans at Leeds and Watford might say loud and clear, be very, very careful what you wish for.