Sunday, 23 February 2014

Tonbridge 1 Dorchester Town 2

Match 60/13/1087 - Saturday, 22nd February 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 1 Bakare 14
Sheffield United (1) 1 Crittenden 36, Jermyn 90+2
Att. 405

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/5,909

Match Report

The sun shone on a pitch that at first look, although carrying a hundredweight or two of sand, didn’t look so bad considering the deluge that had fallen on it, and following Monday’s epic victory to complete a double over promotion contending, heavily-funded Eastleigh it was also shining on brighter times ahead for Tonbridge Angels, and then the football began . . .

The pitch quickly cut up and became difficult for either side to deliver a consistent level of performance; both sides had patches in the ascendancy but neither was able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and call it their own. Ultimately the sun set and a 92nd minute winner for Dorchester Town left Tonbridge feeling the cold wind of relegation on their backs once more.

Dorchester arrived at Longmead sitting next to bottom in Conference South, whilst the three points obtained against Eastleigh had lifted the Angels out of the bottom three, so although it might only be February, the game had the feel of a six-pointer about it.

Tonbridge started strongly and the Magpies’ keeper, Alan Walker-Harris pulled out a smart stop to thwart a 30 yard effort from Mark Lovell. However, the home side’s endeavours were rewarded after 14 minutes when Michael Bakare cut in from the left and lifted a shot over the on-rushing Walker-Harris into the far corner with Nathaniel Pinney following up to tap home if needed.

Dorchester responded to the setback and Warren Byerley, who proved a handful for most of the game until his substitution five minutes from time, fired over the bar. The Dorset side found an equaliser after 36 minutes; awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal, Ashley Yeoman fired in a shot that found its way past the wall bringing a parrying save from Tonbridge’s keeper, Clark Masters, that unfortunately only rebounded into the path of Nick Crittenden, who had followed the ball in, whilst the Tonbridge defenders merely spectated.

Tonbridge entered the break having been marginally the more offensive of the two sides, but in the second half as the pitch deteriorated, the match became more of a foot-slog with both sides having periods in which they may have scored the next goal. Early in the second half Dorchester's Nathan Craig attempted an extravagant shot from the half-way line seeking to catch Masters off his line and after 65 minutes, Tonbridge had an attack that brought a good save from Walker-Harris and ended with Lovell rattling a post.

In the closing minutes of the game, it was Dorchester that were finishing the stronger and when the substitute, Steve Walker crashed a header against the bar, Tonbridge supporters were looking for the final whistle to accept the point in the hand.

These hopes were to be denied when, in the time added on, Masters spilled a corner from Charlie Losasso and Mark Jermyn was on hand to poke the ball home to the delight of the raucous few that had travelled from the west. Masters claimed a foul, but the referee waved away any such protest to deliver three precious points to the visitors.

The wettest season ever has hopefully passed through and there is now a glut of fixtures to be made up, of which Tonbridge have a bundle of home games to use to their advantage in their quest for safety. As the last week has proved they can beat the best and lose to the not-quite-so-good, so it could, and probably will, be a roller-coaster ride to the last week in April.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Gillingham 0 Sheffield United 1

Match 59/13/1086 - Wednesday, 19th February 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Sheffield United (1) 1 Coady 40
Att. 5,766

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,883

Match Report

It’s after games like this that I appreciate that real journalists, although in the privileged position of being paid to watch football, have a real skill in producing even 500 words when they have watched a game as desperately poor as the one witnessed at Priestfield last night. Consequently, I cannot imagine this post is going to amount to very much!

Gillingham’s win-lose sequence now totals eight games and should this continue to the end of the season more than enough points would be accumulated to avoid relegation. That’s the good news.

The referee, Brendan Malone, drew the wrath of the Gillingham support with some questionable decisions but nobody should hide behind the fact that it was a poor performance that was the ultimate reason why the home club didn’t complete a double over Sheffield United, perceived as one of the big clubs of the division despite their lowly league position and quarter-finalists in this year’s FA Cup.

Gillingham started the game brightly and the new loanee centre back from Crystal Palace, Ryan Inniss found himself the centre of the action. It was another loan player, Connor Smith that fired in the first shot of the match after four minutes that was saved by Blades’ Mark Howard and three minutes later Inniss shot across the face of the goal missing the far post very narrowly.

Mr Malone had already turned away a couple of appeals for penalties when the Sheffield United central defender, Neill Collins wrestled Cody McDonald to the ground as the in-form striker threatened to get clear of his marker; however Malone interpreted the challenge, simulation on the part of McDonald or just two players coming together, only he knows. Gillingham fans will remain convinced he got it wrong and it proved to be a pivotal point in the game.

Five minutes before the break Sheffield United took a largely undeserved lead. With Inniss lying off the pitch injured a couple of yard to the right of the post, Gillingham’s defence went into disarray. A shot from Chris Porter came back off the underside of the crossbar to Connor Coady who rifled a controlled low shot into the net to the delight of the 351 Blades fans behind the goal. Inniss was immediately substituted and we hope that after 40 encouraging minutes this is not the last we see of him.

The second half is where it becomes difficult to write up and can be best described as a non-event. In fairness to Sheffield United, they did everything they needed to see the game out and acquire three precious points in their quest for safety. They controlled the midfield as the home side were, quite frankly, clueless in their attempts to break the visitors down. Peter Taylor introduced Chris Whelpdale and Myles Weston, but things just went from bad to worse. Amine Linganzi, Bradley Dack and Leon Legge had efforts that were dealt with comfortably by Howard whilst Dack was required to clear from the line following a shot from John Brayford as the home support became increasingly, and understandably, frustrated. The game meandered to its conclusion and it was something of a relief when Mr Malone put everybody out of their misery.

Envy is all I have for the hacks at the Emirates that were able to describe two missed penalties, a sending off and a couple of goals that appear to have cemented Bayern Munich’s passage in the Champions League. Their jobs, on the night, must have been really, really easy.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ebbsfleet United 3 Staines Town 0

Match 58/13/1085 - Saturday, 15th February 2014 - Conference South

Ebbsfleet United (3) 3 Bricknell 5, McMahon 33, Acheampong 38
Staines Town (0) 0
Att. 791

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 62/5,838

Match Report

Stonebridge Road provided the perfect riposte to all those that continue to push 3G forward as the only resolution to the glut of postponements that continue to blight this winter. As, once again, the Saturday fixture list was decimated by another week of heavy rain and high winds, the investment that Ebbsfleet United made in state-of-the-art drainage paid dividends as the gathered 791 looked down on a grass playing surface with no standing water and just a couple of small bare patches in the six yard boxes. In fact the only doubt that this game would have to be postponed was due to one of the floodlight pylons being badly damaged by the strong winds during the week, but the groundstaff were also equal to the challenge of repairing the pylon in time.

From a position of strength inasmuch that they have been able to get their games played as consistently as Maidstone have on their 3G, Ebbsfleet’s vice-chairman Peter Varney attacked the decision of Maidstone to contest the Conference decision not to allow artificial surfaces in their competition.

In a straight lift from his programme notes, Varney wrote: I think it is well documented that we are against the introduction of artificial surfaces for all the reasons I have written about previously in my programme notes. In short it is a football argument versus a commercial argument. Maidstone are directing a lot of criticism at the Conference Board which is unfair as this was a decision taken by member clubs and of course Maidstone is not a member club. If the matter does go to court it will be for clubs like ours to fund the legal costs, which again is unfair. If member clubs democratically come to a vote on any key issue and those against the decision taken resort to threats and legal action to try and overturn the decision, it is not in my view the way to do business.

Mr Varney did his talking off the pitch, whilst his players certainly did theirs down on the grass as they produced a first half performance that blew Staines out of the water, opened the floodgates with an early goal and any other water-borne cliché that you can think off.

From the moment the enigmatic Anthony Cook slid a pass through the vacant areas of the visitor’s central defence for Billy Bricknell to fire home after five minutes there was very little doubt as to the outcome of this contest. A second goal was almost another half-hour in the making but in between the Staines defence was pulled apart with alarming regularity.

A long ball over-the-top of the Staines defence saw Bricknell heading for the box on the edge of which he was brought down bringing claims for a penalty which the referee turned down awarding a free kick a yard outside. Cook shaped to float a cross towards the throng at the far post but instead squared a pass to Daryl McMahon who delightfully picked his spot with a side-footed shot into the bottom corner.

Anthony Acheampong buried a header at the far post from a Cook corner before the break to complete a first half rout that left the visitors with little more than pride to salvage from the second half.

In the immediate ten minutes after the interval, Bricknell skied a shot over the bar from close range and Jerel Ifil managed to hit the underside of his own crossbar in his desperation to clear another cross from Cook, who with three assists caught the eye.

With nothing to lose, Staines with the aid of a couple of substitutions that added some forward threat, produced a couple of chances that Ebbsfleet managed to shepherd to safety, once with the aid of McMahon’s chest on the line.

For Ebbsfleet, the green, green grass of home is a magic carpet that soaks up what the elements can throw at it like a sponge, whilst on the pitch, the Kuwaiti owners are seeing their investment heading towards the retrieval of their Conference Premier status.

The weather forecasters are telling us that, finally, we have seen the last of the conveyor belt of storms that have headed across the Atlantic causing the disruption to the fixture lists. Hopefully the likes of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells will be only days away from football breaking out at their home grounds.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Maidstone United 1 Canvey Island 1

Match 57/13/1084 - Saturday, 8th February 2014 - Ryman Premier

Maidstone United (0) 1 Collin 82 (pen)
Canvey Island (0) 1 Curran 49
Att. 1,794

Entrance: £7 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 23/5,776

Match Report

If there were any Conference officials among the near-1,800 crowd they would not have lost the inference made when the stadium announcer proclaimed that on a day that 92 games in senior non-league football had been postponed, the Gallagher was able to bring football to the paying public. With every sodden Saturday that brings mass postponements, Maidstone United's hand is strengthened in their quest to have the ruling that their 3G pitch is unacceptable for Conference football overturned.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on the debate. There can be little doubt that the pitch itself should not be a problem. The Gallagher, despite my dislike for Maidstone United, has been a turn-to ground when virtually nothing else in Kent is available. On this day the only other football in the county being played was at Folkestone, unless Thamesmead is considered in Kent. The only thing that I don't like about the pitch is the very point of the argument, it plays exactly the same whether it is August or February, whether the weather is burning hot or freezing cold, bucketing down with rain or dry as a bone. Surely this leads to an almost sanitised game of football that isn't affected by the thrills and spills of a pitch that offers the under-dog the opportunity of levelling the playing field against superior opposition. With almost every club from the Premier League down to the county leagues doing an element of their training on plastic surfaces, you would be left to wonder whether the FA Cup glory days of Hereford, Colchester and even Burscough's win against Gillingham, would ever happen again without the aid of a mud-bath.

Where I side 100% with the Conference officials is the way in which Maidstone's board feel they can railroad their way to overturning the decision. There is something in the DNA of this club, since the days of Jim Thompson, that they feel that the rule book doesn't apply to them. If Gallagher's had built houses on the land on which they built the stadium they would have had to apply for, and adhere to, planning permissions. If they had failed to comply with the conditions then the local planners would have every right to come along and tell the builders to demolish the houses. Maidstone United knew the rules when they laid the pitch, but they showed the arrogance that they have shown in the past, to believe that when push came to shove, it would be them that would be pushing and shoving the League officials. At this present time, they are wrong, the Conference have said no, but that, it seems doesn't stop the Maidstone train and legal proceedings are being threatened.

As it happens, the pitch itself is offering Maidstone very little advantage. Although they remain unbeaten on the plastic, they have now drawn nine out of their 17 home league games and Canvey Island, like Hendon when I saw them a month ago, were good value for their point and could quite easily have taken all three.

The big advantage they are obtaining is the income that is being generated by the use of the 3G, 7-days a week, and the vast crowds that are turning up at the Gallagher. This income can be put to good use on the pitch and the arrival of Luke Rooney is testament to the spending power the club has. The ex-Gillingham enfant-terrible has arrived at Maidstone after his contract at Swindon had been terminated. After having his ego stoked by Paolo Di Canio prior to his arrival at the County Ground, his career has been in reverse ever since. After failing to make an impact at Swindon, he was loaned out to Burton Albion, Rotherham United and Crawley Town before his Swindon departure. At this time, he has "fallen out of love with football" footballer's speak for ...

Obviously far from full fitness, he was eventually substituted on 72 minutes, having made a good impression for the first 45 minutes. His touch was good, he was as energetic as in his teenage days at Priestfield, but perhaps he needs to get atuned to the 3G surface as his final pass was often over-hit.

An even, if unexciting first half, had seen a couple of reasonable chances for both sides go begging before Canvey opened the scoring early in the second period. A left-sided corner was met with a firm header from Jay Curran, leaving Lee Worgan no chance. Maidstone went after an equaliser, going close with efforts from Tom Mills and Jerome Sobers, but were being picked off on the break by Canvey, who wasted a couple of opportunities to put the game to bed.

The game turned in a 30 second period, eight minutes from time. At one end, John Sands hit a post for Canvey before, in the counter-attack, Zak Attwood was brought down by Scott Chalmers-Stevens as the Maidstone striker bore down on goal to produce a penalty. Frannie Collin stepped up, and all Tonbridge fans know there is only one conclusion, he doesn't miss.

Canvey had Michael Alaile sent off for a second yellow card and with a man advantage the home side threw caution to the wind in search of a winner, but the visitors held firm, with the aid of a bit of time-wasting, for a well-deserved point.

Maidstone are not nailed-on promotion winners with another five clubs in the chasing pack, and it might be their inability to win home games such as this one that costs them their place in Conference South rather than any off-field decision by the league officials.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Stevenage 3 Gillingham 1

Match 56/13/1083 - Tuesday, 4th February 2014 - League One

Stevenage (2) 3 Zoko 20, Charles 30,60
Gillingham (0) 1 McDonald 55
Att. 2,399

Entrance: £19 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 180/5,753

Match Report

It is said that once a manager sends his players over the white line then they are on their own and have to take responsibility for their actions. Of course, if things are not going to plan he has the option of hooking three of them, but whether the manager is as animated as Steve Evans or inanimate like Peter Taylor they are in the hands of the players they have selected. And there is the rub, the players that cross that white line are the choice of the man in charge.

When the Gillingham team was announced there was much discussion and no little scratching of heads. This is being written with hindsight, but taking each change one by one, as it was seen on the night and with the benefit of the aforementioned.

Adam Barrett replaced by Callum Davies. On the night, I thought it was a surprise and not a change I agreed with. It is true that the Barrett and Legge central defensive combination lacks pace and that Davies has waited patiently for his opportunity to slot in alongside one or the other. Peter Taylor's reason for making the change was later given as Barrett being tired following Saturday's game on a heavy pitch. Personally, I felt that Davies' inclusion was overdue but I also felt that a home game would have been a more appropriate time. Ultimate result: Davies did himself no favours with a patchy performance and was directly responsible for the opening goal and the subsequent sending-off.

Amine Linganzi replaced by Jake Hessenthaler. It was always suspected that this change was by virtue of injury to Linganzi and it was later revealed that Linganzi was suffering from tendonitis. Hessenthaler was the obvious choice.

Michael Harriman replaced by Connor Smith. This was the change that had most people scratching their heads. Smith had hardly covered himself in glory when coming on as substitute on Saturday and Harriman had a reasonably good performance. Once again, tiredness was given as the reason. Ultimate result: Harriman was brought into the action in for the second half as a result of the sending-off.

The game's pivotal moment came in the 20th minute. Darius Charles skipped past the challenge of Davies on the byeline and pulled the ball back for Francois Zoko to fire a fierce shot from about 10 yards that would, without doubt, have hit the back of net had not Elliott Hewitt made a two handed save that Stuart Nelson would have been proud of. Referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot and brandished a red card to Hewitt. Had Barrett been on the field, would he have cleaned out Charles before the cross, pure conjecture of course, but I doubt the Stevenage man would have skipped the challenge quite so easily.

Zoko rolled the penalty to Nelson's right as the keeper committed himself in the opposite direction. At this point, I felt that Adebayo Akinfenwa needed to be sacrificed for Harriman as a genuine full back. Taylor opted to move Smith back into Hewitt's position and floundered like a fish out of water. Smith was immediately targetted and ex-Gillingham youngster Luke Freeman was going past him with ease, no second warnings were needed, but Harriman stayed on the bench. Gillingham actually had a great chance to equalise when Cody McDonald received a long through ball, rounded the Stevenage keeper, but lifted the ball over the crossbar as the angle widened.

Smith's inability to cope with Freeman produced a second Stevenage goal on the half hour. Freeman got past Smith, cut the ball back to Darius Charles who fired home from eight yards. The home side threatened to run riot against the ten men with Joe Martin having to head clear from under his own crossbar before the break.
Peter Taylor made the half-time substitution that was crying out to be made 25 minutes earlier with Akinfenwa making way for Harriman. Smith moved back into midfield and looked comfortable and fired an early shot across the face of goal. Gillingham found a route back into the game 10 minutes into the half, a superb through ball from Bradley Dack, who had another very good game, sent McDonald clear and he beat Chris Day from 12 yards as the goalkeeper advanced.

The flames of a comeback were quickly extinguished when, four minutes later, Freeman sent a free kick to the far post from where Peter Hartley touched the ball back to Charles to rifle home from close range.

Credit should go to Gillingham for a decent second half fight; McDonald went close twice more, once hitting the post with his follow-up effort being cleared from the line.

A one exit car park was enough of an incentive to give the time added on a miss, we left disconsolate but certainly not as down-hearted as at Colchester.

Hewitt would perhaps, on another day, allow the ball to travel into the net rather than making the save with his hands, but I think that was a purely instinctive action. Peter Taylor could do nothing but stare across the white line as his plans unfolded with the red card, but within his power was the ability to reduce the impact that going a man light was to have on the next 70 minutes; delaying the substitution left a hill to climb that was too high when the change was eventually made. Players may well cross the white line, but if this game proved a point, it is that from the sidelines the manager can have as much influence on the game as a defender's hands.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gillingham 3 Port Vale 2

Match 55/13/1082 - Saturday, 1st February 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 3 Akinfenwa 42,61 McDonald 64
Port Vale (0) 2 Robertson 81, Hugill 87
Att. 6,356

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/5,573

Match Report

With the amount of water that has dropped from the sky since New Year’s Day, for the month of January, I might well have considered giving this blog the temporary name of That’ll Be The Weather. In that time, Tonbridge have played twice, once each home and away, whilst Tunbridge Wells have managed just one home game and let’s not forget that January has also brought the wasted journey to Stevenage. So, as I sat at my Bermondsey workplace through the night from Friday into Saturday, with the rain beating against the windows, I figured that another change of direction was going to be needed come Saturday afternoon. So it can only be to the credit of the groundsmen, Tony Proven and Jay Berkhauer that Gillingham’s home encounter with Port Vale was given the go-ahead after a midday inspection. The pitch was obviously going to be heavy and with the rain continuing to fall through the first half, it cut up badly but there was never a doubt that the game would not get through to its completion.

This week has seen the end of the transfer window and although clubs like Gillingham are able to do loan business in a week’s time there has been significant transfer activity at Priestfield. Of the two Ipswich youngsters, Mick McCarthy took the viewpoint that if Jack Marriott was not going to be guaranteed first team football then he would be better off at Conference side Woking; in the case of Elliott Hewitt, his appearance prospects were far greater and the Ipswich manager was content to let him stay until the end of the season. The replacement for Marriott came in the imposing shape of Charlton Athletic’s Joe Pigott, a striker that has scored goals aplenty for their development squad and has served successful loan period at Bromley. The final signing, at least on the face of it, is a somewhat strange one. In September, I was watching Garry Borrowdale struggling for fitness at Tonbridge, before in November moving downwards to Ryman League Margate to get games and improve his fitness levels. Now at the end of January, he is making the step up to League One with Gillingham. Peter Taylor knows the player well, has picked him in an England Under-21 squad, but given that his fitness wasn’t at the level required in Conference South four months ago and is still two to three weeks away from being ready for selection, the signing is altogether . . . well, strange.

Pigott was selected on the bench as Taylor brought in Adebayo Akinfenwa and Bradley Dack from the side that played admirably in defeat at Brentford last time out and both were to have significant impacts on the game.

The opening half was one in which the home side dominated proceedings but it took until five minutes before the break when they finally made the breakthrough. A corner, won after a shot from Steven Gregory had been turned away, was swung in from the left by Dack and from the centre of the goal, Akinfenwa found a yard of space, enough to direct a header into the right hand corner of the net for a deserved half-time lead.

A clever free-kick routine almost brought a second goal ten minutes into the second half. Everybody was expecting Joe Martin to curl one towards the top corner, as he had with a first half effort, but Cody McDonald ran out from the assembled wall, took a short pass and fired low to goalkeeper Chris Neal’s right from where he made a parrying save and recovered brilliantly to save twice from Amine Linganzi and Dack.

Dack was not to be denied though and on the hour, retrieving a clearance, he delivered a Beckhamesque cross that was duly converted with a far post header from Akinfenwa and within two minutes, the youngster was once more the provider as he steered a pass from Gregory into the path of McDonald who scored from the angle of the six yard box.

With the game seemingly put to bed, Taylor opted to introduce Pigott for Akinfenwa, who received a standing ovation from the home support and also replace Linganzi, who although a little way from full fitness gave the fans a glimpse of what they have been expecting since the opening weeks of the season, with the Watford loanee, Connor Smith. Unfortunately, with the changes, the wheels somewhat fell off the wagon. With nine minutes remaining, after a period of Vale pressure, Chris Robertson’s header from a corner was adjudged by the linesman to have crossed the line and the visitors saw a way back into the game as Gillingham fell deeper and deeper towards their own goal.

A tense finale was set up three minutes from time when Doug Loft sent a cross into the box and Jordan Hugill found time and space to plant a shot past Stuart Nelson. Five nervous minutes of extra time were added in which Gillingham invited pressure and failed to relieve themselves of the same, but saw the game out to its successful conclusion.

Peter Taylor was criticised for the substitutions, but three goals to the good, there could not have been a better time to blood the new faces with both Akinfenwa and Linganzi not having the full 90 minutes in their legs. At the time is wasn’t even a gamble, but following Vale’s opener unnecessary panic set in with the new guys struggling to find their feet.

Nevertheless, the three points lifted Gillingham into the top half of the table and there are clear signs that brighter days are on the horizon, if only somebody could tell the weather gods!