Sunday, 26 January 2014

Chatham Town 0 Romford 2

Match 54/13/1081 - Saturday, 25th January 2014 - Ryman North

Chatham Town (0) 0
Romford (1) 2 Richardson 45, Imbert 64
Att. 160

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 32/5,528

Match Report

Sounding like a poor man’s John Motson, I spoke out loud “Oooh, that’s a good hit, lad” and as the ball arrowed into the top corner, “oh my god, that really is a good hit”. My explanation was one of surprise as the shot had been out of context in a game of mediocrity. In fairness, on a heavy pitch that had survived an inspection, where others locally had failed, it was no surprise that both sides found it difficult to come to terms with the surface.

For the third time in the last month, and that doesn’t include the wasted journey to Stevenage, the destination of the afternoon’s entertainment had been changed by a postponement, this time at Tunbridge Wells, who despite the investment in the close season are struggling with the weather and a pitch that doesn’t drain well. In my consideration, I thought of going to Conference South leaders Bromley, but decided on the easier journey option to Chatham.

One of my thoughts regarding Bromley was that I might get to see Alfie May, even if it might only be coming off their bench, so it was a little surprising to see May in the Chatham line-up for their game against Romford. I knew of May’s dual registration but I thought that he might be required at Hayes Lane.

Young Alfie is my flavour of the month and in the opening half of this match he didn’t disappoint. He is constantly in the centre of the action, good or not so good. His first contribution was an unnecessary booking as he chased down a ball into the area and made a challenge on the goalkeeper which he wasn’t really entitled to make as the goalkeeper was always going to get there first. He went on to force good saves from Romford’s custodian before the visitors took a first half lead on the stroke of half-time when Tom Richardson poked the ball home through a crowded penalty area.

Romford, who brought a decent following to bolster the crowd to 160, had a far greater control of the game in the second half despite May’s best efforts to find an equaliser.

The Motson moment came on 64 minutes and I was perfectly positioned to see the flight of the ball as Ryan Imbert took aim 30 yards from goal with an angled drive. It was a superbly hit strike that left the Chats Jack Bradshaw a mere spectator as it arrowed past.

It was not to be the Chats day as Ade Yussef crashed a penalty against the bar with 15 minutes remaining.

On the journey home the heaven’s opened once more with a violent storm which I can only imagine will leave Tonbridge’s midweek game against Ebbsfleet a serious doubt once more. Mind you, Chatham are once more at home on Tuesday, if I turn up many more times at Maidstone Road, Alfie [May] feel he has a stalker!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Tonbridge 1 Bath City 1

Match 53/13/1080 - Tuesday, 21st January 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 1 Browning 10
Bath City (1) 1 Muggeridge (o.g.) 17
Att. 298

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/5,496

Match Report

Tonbridge v Bath City is an evocative fixture that I haven't been able to cover in the time of this blog. On 19th December 1959, my Dad dragged his eldest son to the Angel Ground to watch this fixture and from there a life-long obsession with football was born. Tonbridge Football Club was engraved on the heart and despite a trial separation when they were evicted from the Angel; it has remained a lasting marriage.

In 1959 there was an over-riding reason why my Dad chose not only to turn up at the Angel (he wasn't a regular) but also to bring his eight-year-old with him. In the Championship-winning Bath City side was a striker called Charlie Fleming, who carried the nickname of Cannonball, as a testament to the verocity of his shot.

Born in Blairhall, Scotland, Fleming was, admittedly, on his way down from a sparkling career that reached its height with a spell at Sunderland, where in three-and-a-half seasons he scored 71 goals in 122 appearances. In his first season at Roker Park he ended as the First Division's (now, of course, the Premier League) second highest goalscorer with 28 goals. In each of his first two seasons he suffered the heartbreak of being a losing semi-finalist in the FA Cup.

He had been a cult hero at East Fife earlier in his career, scoring 169 goals in 241 appearances in eight seasons and was in two Scottish League Cup winning sides. In 1951/52 season Charlie won his one and only Scottish cap, scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Northern Ireland, but amazingly, he was never picked again. It was during his time at East Fife that supporters gave him the nickname of Cannonball.

It seems strange that on leaving Roker Park in 1958, Fleming decided to drop straight into non-league football with Bath City, especially as he had lost none of his predatory instincts. In seven seasons with the Twerton Park club he averaged 50 goals a season and in that 1959/60 season, Bath won their first-ever Southern League championship.

Sadly, the details of that game that I have are sketchy. The Tonbridge stats man, Dan Couldridge, has furnished me with the Tonbridge team that day: Bickerstaff, Thompson, Lovell, Boswell, Ruark, Hailstones, Shaw, Dunne, Heffer, Smith J, Ball. The game was won by Bath City 2-1 with the Tonbridge scorer being Dunne (no christian name, I'm afraid). I can only assume that Charlie Fleming was in the Bath City side that day; if there is a Bath City supporter out there somewhere who can add some more detail I would be delighted to hear from them through the comments box.

Back to the present day and, unfortunately this Conference South game will not live long in the memory. Both sides huffed and puffed their way through a mundane game in front of just under 300 people. In 1959 the game drew 2,534, what would any Conference South club give for attendance of that size these days?

The game started brightly enough for the home side and they very nearly took the lead in the opening minute when Gavin McCallum beat the on-rushing goalkeeper to a through ball but a defender managed to get in a saving tackle. Bath had started sluggishly and their legs appeared still on the bus when Tonbridge opened the scoring on 10 minutes, with Lee Browning curling a 25 yard free kick into the top corner beyond the clutches of Jason Mellor.

In their first attack of the game, Bath City found an equaliser. A corner from the right was flicked goalwards and Henry Muggeridge positioned at the far post could only head the ball into his own net off the bar. The goal wiped the journey out of the legs of the Bath team and the rest of the half was reduced to a stalemate, the only exception being, with five minutes remaining before half-time, when the goalkeeper was once again beyond his penalty area tackling McCallum, the ball rebounded to Muggeridge who shot towards the open goal but his effort didn't carry enough weight and a defender was able to clear from in front of the line.

The second half saw the visitors in the greater ascendancy as Tonbridge rather lost their way, but despite their dominance it was late in the game when Lewis Carey made his first real save, diving low to the left to push away a shot that he obviously saw late.

Tonbridge's great chance of the half fell to Mark Lovell, who tamely shot straight at the goalkeeper from close range having been set up by Tom Collins.

So, 2,329 games and 54 years later, it is unlikely any of the players on show will evoke the same memories as Charlie Fleming, but there have been many along the way that make this game such a rich tapestry.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Gillingham 2 Swindon Town 0

Match 52/13/1079 - Saturday, 18th January 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Legge 18, Harriman 83
Swindon Town (0) 0
Att. 6,134

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,470

Match Report

Not being much of a movie-buff, I had to look up which one was the baddie out of Jekyll and Hyde. It turns out that it was Edward Hyde; I always thought that Dr Jekyll sounded the creepier. It was a work of fiction that eventually became associated with a rare condition called disassociative identity disorder, or a split personality. It’s a wonderful tool, Wikipaedia! If, presently, there is a club in football that cannot make up their mind whether they are Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde, then it is Gillingham.

As much as nobody expected Mr Hyde to turn up last week at Colchester, we equally didn’t expect Dr Jekyll to emerge as something resembling Jimmy Stewart’s part in It’s a Wonderful Life at Priestfield yesterday. To continue the movie analogy, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) needed the help of an angel to reach his final conclusion, Gillingham only had Peter Taylor, but the tactical nous in which he won a game of football against the old enemy, may well lead to the belief that our guardian angel is in our midst!

Swindon Town arrived at Priestfield with their smallest following (372) that I’ve seen in recent years. Whether it was the weather coupled with the open skies of the Brian Moore Stand or away form that has been patchy at best, those that stayed away may well have had a good sense of foreboding. Whilst not wishing to diminish a very good Gillingham performance, there have been too few this season not to celebrate when they come along, Swindon were pretty poor. Three shots comfortably fielded by Stuart Nelson was all they could muster, shades of Gillingham last week.

Peter Taylor produced a tactical masterstroke in installing Ipswich loanee, Elliott Hewitt into the right back position and pushing Michael Harriman forward as essentially a marauding winger; it worked a treat. Whilst Hewitt produced a sound defensive performance, Harriman was an absolute revelation. I’m told that while I was on holiday, and missing the Oldham home game, this was tried without the same success but on this occasion it produced an outstanding performance and his first-ever goal for Gillingham.

The club and Danny Kedwell finally decided that the time was right for the striker to have his hernia operation and in his place in the starting line-up came Adebayo Akinfenwa. In the 18th minute, we were treated to one of those rare happenings, a free kick awarded for a foul on the big man. Joe Martin swung the kick into the penalty area, and while Swindon’s attention was drawn to Bayo, Leon Legge got in front of his marker to power home a header from 12 yards.

One of Swindon’s chances fell almost immediately, but Nile Ranger could only toe-end a cross from close range into the grateful hands of Nelson. Just before the half-hour mark, Harriman sent Cody McDonald clear but, cutting in from the right, the striker pulled his shot just wide of the far post.

Swindon’s best chance of the half needed the outstretched leg of Nelson to preserve their lead before McDonald was once more sent clear but the striker again pulled his shot wide no doubt to the dismay of his old striking partner from Witham Town, the pop [star] Olly Murs, who was sitting in the Medway stand.

On the hour, Alex Pritchard, who had taken Gillingham to the cleaners in the reverse fixture, deliberately attempted to palm a cross into the net with his hand and was justifiably booked in what had become an increasingly frustrating afternoon for the diminutive midfielder as his threat was largely contained by effective performances in front of the back four from Steven Gregory and Jake Hessenthaler.

On his substitution, Akinfenwa received the appreciative applause of the home crowd for a hard-working performance, shortly after steering a header wide from a Hewitt cross.

The game was finally put to bed seven minutes from time. Bradley Dack won the ball in the left hand corner and linked well with Martin who danced a couple of challenges before crossing from the bye-line to Harriman, whose shot found the net in the centre of the goal, albeit from a connection that appeared to be somewhere around the middle of the shin. If the connection was a little fortunate it was nothing that the Irish Under-21’s performance hadn’t earned.

Something a little more akin to Superman rather than Dr Jekyll might be needed at Brentford on Friday against, arguably the best side in the division, but in this topsy-turvy season, in our heart of hearts there is the strong suspicion that Hyde may well turn up again.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Chatham Town 2 Cray Wanderers 1

Match 51/13/1078 - Tuesday, 14th January 2014 - Ryman League Cup

Chatham Town (2) 2 May 34, 42
Cray Wanderers (0) 1 Stavrinou 49
Att. 76

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 32/5,425

On my last visit to Chatham Town it was good to spot a young player with potential and a few weeks later it seems that I was not alone in thinking that Alfie May was set for a higher level than the Ryman North in which he has scored 21 goals in 27 games for the Chats having been leading goalscorer in the Kent League last season with Corinthian.

Conference South leaders, Bromley have swooped to take May to Hayes Lane, although they have allowed Chatham to retain a dual registration. The step-up is going to be a significant one and in all probability the youngster won't be getting that much match time from the outset, so allowing him to continue playing for Chatham whenever he is available is a commonsense decision.

Once again, in this Ryman League Cup Quarter Final tie with Cray Wanderers, at least during the first half, Alfie May was the star turn scoring twice. The first was the result of a fine move that ended with Austin Gacheru supplying the opening for May to score from 15 yards. The second came just before half-time when a ball over the top allowed May to slide it past the on-rushing goalkeeper,

The game looked up for a Cray side that languish at the foot of the Ryman Premier and have recently disposed of the services of their long-standing manager, Ian Jenkins. But the new man in charge, Keith Bird, obviously got into their ears at half-time and they came out and made a real game of it in the second period.

Within five minutes of the restart they pulled a goal back through Alex Stavrinou, who backheeled the ball into the net from close range and they continued to put the home side on the back foot throughout the second half. Morgan Ferrier, a 19-year-old Arsenal youth team product, looked quick and when he planted a shot against the crossbar, the Wands looked more than capable of taking the game to penalties.

It took a couple, one very good, saves from Chats keeper Jack Bradshaw to preserve their lead, but it was the home side that prevailed to earn a semi-final date away at Grays Athletic.

It will be very interesting to watch Alfie May’s development at Bromley and I think there might be another name, Morgan Ferrier, who is worth keeping an eye on.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Colchester United 3 Gillingham 0

Match 50/13/1077 - Saturday, 11th January 2014 - League One

Colchester United (0) 3 Watt 49, Morrison 80, Sears 90+5
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 3,818

Entrance: £13 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 190/5,393

Match Report

Pretty in pink at Tranmere Rovers; pretty damn shocking at Colchester United. The travelling Gillingham support, which numbered close to a thousand, gave their own verdict on the second half capitulation of their team with an loud ironic cheer for Myles Weston’s speculative shot into the arms of Sam Walker for a comfortable save in the time added on. Those that cheered were those that stayed and, to be honest, at that point I was also heading for the exit.

The confidence that was borne out of the good win against Wolves last time out appeared to have been carried forward as Craig Fagan sent a cross onto the roof the net and Cody McDonald brought about a block from a goalbound shot in the opening couple of minutes but that was that. From that second minute effort to Weston’s 92nd minute attempt the shots on target amounted to precisely none.

Colchester United have proved a real bogey side in recent years. Gillingham have failed to beat them anywhere since 2005 and haven’t won at either of the Essex side’s headquarters since 1994.

A dull first half was only punctuated with good stops from Stuart Nelson who pushed aside shots from Craig Eastmond and Luke Garbutt, the latter of which was a parry back into the path of Eastmond who wastefully shot over.

The pitch was a pudding, it came as something of a surprise to find out later that it had been subject to an inspection, but it was the Gillingham midfield that were making heavy weather of it. Steven Gregory, whose performance against the Wolves might have gone a long way to winning over his critics, took a step backwards, but he was only one part of a midfield that surrendered two-thirds of the possession. A rather worrying statistic is that in the game against Wolves and the first half against Walsall, possession figures of just 35% were also recorded; if you haven’t the ball you cannot hurt the opposition.

Less than five minutes into the second half and Gillingham’s problems in midfield were fully exposed. Gregory lost possession in the centre circle, the ball was fed wide right to Brian Wilson who cross was despatched from close range by Sanchez Watt. Gillingham contested that the ball had passed through the legs of Marcus Bean and was thus interfering with play, but the Mr Drysdale was having none of it.

Colchester’s confidence from the opening goal visibly rose, in fairness they had been little better than their visitors in the first half, and as they mounted a period of pressure, Gillingham wilted. Nelson was asked to, almost single-handedly keep them in the game but all the time the deficit remained at one, there was a chance. Danny Kedwell might have done better when he headed over a Jake Hessenthaler corner but forays into opposition territory were as rare as rocking horse poo.

The match was finally put to bed with ten minutes remaining when a free kick from Garbutt was headed clear to the edge of the box from where Watt angled a drive towards the bottom right hand corner through a congested six yard box with Clinton Morrison getting the final touch. For some of the visiting supporters enough was enough and who could really blame them. It was a cold afternoon and there had been absolutely nothing on show to distract attention from the fact that the extremities were being bitten.

A couple of minutes from the end of the five minutes added time we also made our way to the exit. As we headed out we were able to witness Weston’s shot and the ironic cheers brought a smile for the first time that afternoon but we were well down the road towards the car when the roar from the crowd signified that Freddie Sears had driven home a third. I make no apologies for the early exit; there is only so much you can be expected to endure. From the distance of the road, despite the cheers of the home crowd, the derision of the Gillingham support could clearly be heard.

Before the end of the game, Peter Taylor took the wrath of the support with his touchline demeanour coming in for criticism, never venturing to the front of the technical area, standing motionless with arms folded. It didn’t cut a positive look, but he had every right to appear as fed up as the rest of us actually were.

Colchester’s move to an out-of-town site has furnished them with a stadium that cannot be compared with the derelict Layer Road. Even my penchant for old stadiums with character didn’t stretch to a love for that old tip! But I have an issue with the parking arrangements at the Community Stadium. An overspill car park that quickly fills is extortionately expensive at £8 and evidently can be a half-hour wait to get out of. A brisk 15 minute walk from the ground, parking spaces at the industrial units are charged at £6. Someone is making a real killing out of the visiting punters, because the home supporters are either taking the buses back into the city or they have family and friends waiting for them with the engine running on roads with parking restrictions.

After the pleasant surprise that was Wolves comes another low, such is the glorious inconsistency of this season. Swindon next up, now that is a time to put the smile back on people’s faces.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Maidstone United 1 Hendon 1

Match 49/13/1076 - Saturday, 4th January 2014 - Ryman Premier

Maidstone United (0) 1 Attwood 54
Hendon (0) 1 McCluskey 49
Att. 1,583

Entrance: £7 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 23/5,203

Match Report

Much though Maidstone United do not curry much favour with yours truly, I'm always grateful of their 3G pitch when bad weather obliterates the fixture list. If the Stones are at home, you can virtually guarantee that the fixture survives whatever the weather throws at it and a walk along the swollen riverside with the flooded subways fit only for ducks, clearly showed that the elements had had its best shot.

Since their move to the Gallagher my visits have always found the people welcoming and a nice touch on an absolutely filthy day was the ladies in the club shop individually wrapping the programmes in plastic bags to save them turning into papier mâché.

I find the 3G pitch nothing less than amazing. The amount of rain that fell on it during the match alone let alone the previous fortnight should have seen it a foot under water, where does it all go? Presumably directly into the Medway alongside. The roll and bounce of the ball was true throughout and I have to say that the traditionalists (of which I can be counted) are going to have to look again at the restrictions that are presently placed on the pitch's usage.

Of the match, Maidstone will be bitterly disappointed to have dropped home points but will be equally relieved that they were not handed an embarrassing defeat against a Hendon side that played the entire second half a man light following the sending off of their most experienced player, Jefferson Louis, in a moment of complete madness.

Whilst watching as a neutral there was some local interest in the shape of ex-Tunbridge Wells youngster, Jack Harris getting a start and producing the moment of magic of the first half when his overhead kick came back off the crossbar. Midway through the second half, Gillingham loanee Ashley Miller came on as substitute showing the pace and tricks we know he possesses but sadly almost always without an end product.

In a first half in which chances were at a premium, the dismissal of Louis was the main talking point. A ball over the top might have sent Louis clear but as Alex Flisher came across to challenge, Louis flung out an elbow leaving the defender prostrate. The Maidstone players rushed to confront the assailant and the referee immediately showed the red card. It was so unnecessary, if Louis had touched the ball past Flisher he had a run on goal, but did nothing more than leave his teammates with an uphill struggle.

With the rain at the start of the second half showing little sign of relenting, it was the ten men of Hendon that showed the greater appetite for the game and deservedly went ahead within five minutes of the restart. A pass through the centre of the home defence allowed Carl McCluskey to shoot under the body of ex-Tonbridge keeper, Lee Worgan.

The lead didn't last too long as Zak Attwood fired home after Hendon's keeper, Ross Fitzsimmons parried a shot from Fabio Saraiva into his path.

As Maidstone threw bodies forward in search of a winner, Hendon defended defiantly and in the closing stages they caught the home side on the break and had their chances to snatch a surprise winner.

At the final whistle, the stadium announcer thanked the crowd of 1,583 for turning out on such a filthy day, but at least they were leaving in the dry. Five minutes later it was raining again.

Gillingham 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

Match 48/13/1075 - Friday, 3rd January 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 90+2
Wolverhampton Wanderers (0) 0
Att. 7,758

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,180

Match Report

In my mind, I begin to assemble my thoughts on a game with a few minutes remaining and these thoughts eventually become the posts you read on That’ll Be The Day. On this occasion, I was thinking along the lines of a spirited rearguard action that had brought a hard-earned point against one of the division’s top sides. But, those thoughts were about to change, we had already had a warning that the Priestfield bewitching hour was upon us as Leon Legge cleared a header from Wolves’ Sam Ricketts from the line. But this time the 90th minute jinx was about to be turned on its head as Gillingham won a corner in the last of two minutes added time. Jake Hessenthaler delivered from the right, Legge rose, but the ball only skimmed the top of his head and perhaps this caught Ricketts by surprise as the ball rebounded off his shins into the path of Cody McDonald who smashed the ball into the net from six yards to the wild celebration of the home support.

I’m not sure I can concur with the exultation of the Sky Sports commentator who proclaimed a “famous victory”, after all we are in the same division and this is not the first time that a Wolverhampton Wanderers team has left Priestfield empty-handed but it was undoubtedly a memorable win, if only for the lateness of the winning goal.

The match had progressed in much the way that most would have expected it to have done. Wolves dominated possession throughout, ultimately occupying 65 per cent of the ball, their corner count far outweighing that of their hosts as did their shots tally, but when it came to the number of real saves that Stuart Nelson was asked to make then, in truth, it amounted to just two.

In a first half of very few chances, the best of which fell to the visitors. After eight minutes, a right wing cross from James Henry was met by a sliding Michael Jacobs, but his toe-ender merely deflected the ball into the welcoming hands of Nelson. On the half-hour, a high cross into the area from Henry brought some desperate defending as Nelson missed a punch to clear, all too reminiscent of the goal conceded against Leyton Orient, this time the referee came to his aid with the award of a free kick.

Nelson’s save of note in this half came in the 38th minute when Jacobs burst into the box and his shot brought a good parrying save from the Gills’ keeper.

Gillingham were forced into an early second half substitution after 50 minutes when Charlie Lee limped out of the action to be replaced by Bradley Dack and this, coupled with the later introduction of Adebayo Akinfenwa, was to have a significant bearing on the game. Within five minutes of his introduction, fastening onto a Danny Kedwell pass, Dack turned inside his marker and his pass opened the way for McDonald to bring a good, low save out of Wolves’ debutant keeper, Aaron McCarey.

Whilst the visitors were maintaining their high percentage of possession, they were becoming less of a threat with Steven Gregory doing a fine job as the defensive midfield anchorman. Ten minutes remained when Akinfenwa flicked on a header to Kedwell, who outmuscled Danny Batth to strike a shot from the right hand side of the box that agonisingly hit a post with McCarey well beaten.

Had our moment come and gone without reward? That appeared to be the case, but when that 92nd minute corner was won, the Rainham End sensed that something extraordinary was about to happen. They rose to their feet and up went the decibel levels as the young Hessenthaler prepared to take the corner. The rest, as they say, is history but will live long in the memory.

Wolves failure on the night to secure the three points resulted in their position behind Leyton Orient at the top of the table remaining the same, but a look at the Wolverhampton Express and Star website, who described them as woeful and the subsequent comments from supporters, you would never believe they are second in the table with calls for certain players never to wear the gold and black again and the removal of Kenny Jackett, Jez Moxey and the owner, Steve Morgan. With that in mind, perhaps this was a famous victory, because in the eyes of some of the Molineux faithful, they are obviously way too big for this humble division.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Stevenage P Gillingham P

Wednesday, 1st January 2014 - League One

Stevenage P
Gillingham P
(Waterlogged Pitch)

Wasted Mileage: 135/5,135

Unrelenting rain from the early hours of New Year's Day left a doubt in the mind that this trip was ever going to be worthwhile and through the tunnel, four miles before the M11 junction, the news came through on Radio Five that the match had indeed been postponed. I reckon we have one of these trips every season, let's hope that this is the one and only this time.