Sunday, 30 March 2014

Ebbsfleet United 1 Tonbridge 0

Match 71/13/1097 - Saturday, 29th March 2014 - Conference South

Ebbsfleet United (1) 1 Thalassitis 39
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 1,102

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 52/6,743

Match Report

As the temperature in Northfleet climbed towards 20degC with the sun beaming down on Stonebridge Road, the weather was set fair for cricket but as a Tonbridge supporter it was only a score of cricket proportions that I feared. The gulf between the clubs in terms of resources and league position is cavernous and there could not be many among the Tonbridge following that expected anything less than defeat.

As those same people walked away from the ground they had indeed witnessed another Tonbridge defeat, and a further setback to their hopes of retaining Conference South status, but they may well have taken a great deal of optimism from a spirited performance that could quite easily have earned a valuable point.

Where the disappointment of those fans will lie is in the manner in which the only goal of the game was scored. Directly after Mark Lovell had spurned the best chance of the half, Ebbsfleet were awarded a free kick which was lifted towards the far post, at which Michael Thalassitis climbed the highest to plant a header into the net. Tonbridge’s under-fire manager, Tommy Warrilow, would be tearing his hair out at the manner his side defended what was a cheap free kick given away by Sonny Miles in the first place and Lewis Carey almost certainly should have collected Anthony Cook’s cross.

It was the second time in a matter of moments that Tonbridge supporters had their heads in their hands as Lovell had headed Lee Browning’s cross into the ground from close range with the bounce of the ball clearing the crossbar.

Encouragingly, Tonbridge did not lie down in the second half and accept their fate and pressed their near-neighbours throughout the half. Lovell, a never-say-die character anyway, shot narrowly wide and with 20 minutes remaining had a header cleared from the line by Dean Rance.

As Tonbridge had named five forward players on the bench their substitutions could only be of an attacking nature and Tom Collins, Henry Muggeridge and Ryan Watts were replaced by Louis Cumbers, new signing Evan James and Alex Teniola at various times during the half. Sadly, the more strikers Warrilow threw at the problem, the less likely his side looked to score.

Throwing a certain amount of caution to the wind, Tonbridge were inevitably caught on the break on several occasions but they were spared by the wastefulness of the Ebbsfleet strikers.

The ride home was far less despondent than the one brought about by Tuesday’s Gosport defeat. In fact, I’ve taken a great deal of heart that if this performance can be replicated over the games remaining, there is still a little bit of hope.

Tonbridge 0 Gosport Borough 2

Match 70/13/1096 - Tuesday, 25th March 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 0
Gosport Borough (0) 2 Forbes 49, Brown 90+2
Att. 276

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/6,691

Match Report

I’ve always enjoyed a good whodunit on the television and Silent Witness is among my favourites. Over the years the stories have become more and more convoluted and my biggest problem with the programme these days is more often than not, I just don’t get whodunit. It seems that as the years pass I’m a little slower on the uptake.

My analogy between my Silent Witness difficulty and football is the length of time it has taken me to come to the conclusion that Tommy Warrilow’s time is up at Longmead. In fact, whilst many people have been vocal about his removal as manager of Tonbridge Football Club, I’ve just been a silent witness on the issue.

I had no need to have been a forensic pathologist to be able to dissect the past few Tonbridge performances as woefully short of what was needed, and should have been expected, to avoid the drop from Conference South. In a hectic period of 25 days, nine fixtures have been played and Tonbridge have won just the once, but more tellingly they have played four games against fellow relegation strugglers and those matches have yielded just one point.

This latest performance against Gosport Borough, who arrived in Kent second bottom and fresh from the disappointment of a Wembley defeat in the FA Trophy Final, could only be placed in the terrible category. In a game of very few opportunities for either side, when Tonbridge failed to take theirs to open the scoring, it became very difficult once they were chasing the game.

Injuries to Gary Elphick and Jon Heath forced Warrilow to play a strong-running winger, Nathan Green, at centre back with Chris Piper only fit enough to take a place on the bench.

Two nervous teams, aware of the importance of the game, served only to produce a scrappy first half in which the best chances fell to the home side but these in turn failed to ask too many questions of the Gosport goalkeeper, Nathan Ashmore, who endured a first half in which he made some poor decisions but wasn’t punished. Mark Lovell headed a good chance wide and after a lobbed pass from Nathan Pinney that was the highlight of the first half to set up a clear opportunity for Louis Cumbers, but he pulled his shot wide. Ashmore then ventured far from his goal but Michael Bakare was unable to get his shot away before being crowded out by the visiting defenders. It was so frustrating.

Tonbridge were quickly punished in the second half when after five minutes a cross into the box was met with a glancing header from Andy Forbes to delight the eight diehard Gosport supporters behind the goal.

The harder Tonbridge tried to repair the damage the worse it got as they were being picked off on the break with the visitors having the ball in the net a couple of times only to be ruled out for offside.

Ashmore was also redeeming himself from his first half indecision with good saves from Cumbers and substitute Alex Teniola.

It was almost inevitable that, in the time added, Gosport capitalised when Sonny Miles gave the ball away in midfield to Danny Wooden and his cross to Jamie Brown left a tap-in for the goalscorer.

It was a disheartening evening and social media was quickly alive with the blame-game with Warrilow taking the lion's share of the flak. The Tonbridge manager has vowed to see this season through to its bitter end and if he can pull off this Great Escape then he will have the perfect riposte for his detractors. Sadly, I cannot visualise that happening, but then again, I never see the end coming these days.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Gillingham 1 Crewe Alexandra 3

Match 69/13/1095 - Saturday, 22nd March 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Linganzi 30
Crewe Alexandra (1) 3 Aneke 4, 53 Pogba 83
Att. 5,767

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/6,665

Match Report

There is a time, around the last couple of weeks in April when, with 50-plus points on the board, a player, or players, can possibly be forgiven for parking a deck chair and saying “my work is done”; that time is certainly not in March and certainly not with 45 points to the club’s name. Gillingham’s performance against Crewe Alexandra smacked of, almost stank of, complacency, whilst their visitors, in desperate need of points in their own relegation fight, went about their business with a team whose elder statesman was just 25 years of age.

Let’s not beef Crewe Alexandra up to be anything they presently are not. To start with, they looked a side that has shipped 70 goals this season and in their 19-year-old goalkeeper, Ben Garratt, they had a custodian who looked vulnerable under every high cross that Gillingham managed to plant into his six-yard box, unfortunately it wasn’t too many. This was also a Crewe team that arrived at Priestfield without arguably their best player, Harry Davis, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

But although we looked down at Alex’s lowly position and pinned the three points on the board in advance (I was as guilty as anyone), we should have known better as this was Crewe's fourth successive victory at Priestfield.

Another case in point, which I highlighted a couple of weeks ago at Bristol City, Crewe had a couple of loan players in their ranks who seemed, not only in terms of physical height, head and shoulders above the standard of player Gillingham have been able to recruit from the loan market. Two-goal Chuks Aneke borrowed from Arsenal and Uche Ikpeazu from Watford were a handful throughout. In fact, given the need for a back-up striker to Olivier Giroud at the Emirates, one wonders if the answer is already in their midst, but, of course, it’s mighty leap from League One to the Premiership.

Gillingham started lethargically, were punished by a fourth minute goal and it set their tempo for the entire match. Ikpeazu powered his way down the right hand side and crossed into the box, after a shot that was blocked the ball fell at the feet of Aneke and he cleverly lifted the ball over the diving body of Stuart Nelson. Gillingham claims that the ball had struck the hand of the initial striker, Anthony Grant, were waved away by referee, Stephen Bratt.

Gillingham forced their way back into the game and the first signs of fallibility under the high ball from Garratt came three minutes later when under a challenge from Adebayo Akinfenwa, the keeper flapped at a cross that fell at the feet of Michael Harriman who fired into the empty net, but Mr Bratt’s whistle had blown for the initial aerial challenge.

After 30 minutes, Garratt’s luck finally ran out as a corner from Elliott Hewitt to the far post was met with a header from Amine Linganzi to record his first goal for the club. Garratt was also involved in an incident just prior to the break when he appeared to handle the ball outside of the penalty area but the linesman decided in the young man’s favour.

Although the first half had not been good from a Gillingham point of view, it was felt there was more than enough in the tank to see them to victory in the second period. Sadly, from a home perspective the half was a complete non-event.

Eight minutes after the restart Grant and Matt Tootle combined to open up the Gillingham back line and Tootle’s cross was superbly met by Aneke who powered a header past Nelson.

Crewe could and should have put the game to bed long before Matthias Pogba, brother of Juventus’ Paul, placed the deftest of flicks past Nelson to seal the points on 82 minutes. Ikpeazu burst into the box and although his pass was slightly behind Pogba, the goalscorer manufactured a classy piece of footwork to score.

Crewe’s elation with three vital points would have been slightly tempered on the bus home with the pointless dismissal of Grant in the final minutes. Two bookings in the space of a couple of minutes, for time-wasting and dissent saw him on his way to a suspension that Crewe could do without as Grant had been one of their better players on the day.

Perhaps the only positive point that Gillingham fans could take away from the afternoon is that if complacency was at the root of this disappointing display then, hopefully, the players would have had a very rude awakening.

From a personal point of view, this was a big Saturday for my favoured clubs. As stated above a win for Gillingham would have all but sealed their safety; Tonbridge were involved in a relegation six-pointer at Whitehawk and Tunbridge Wells, a promotion six-pointer against Ashford. To my despair, all three lost.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Tonbridge 1 Hayes & Yeading United 1

Match 68/13/1094 - Thursday, 20th March 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 1 Lovell 72
Hayes & Yeading United (1) 1 Williams 23
Att. 273

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/6,620

Match Report

For half-an-hour the lights literally went out on Tonbridge's battle to avoid relegation from Conference South. Thankfully, with power fully restored, a Mark Lovell penalty earned his side a well-deserved, vital point towards the season's ultimate goal.

Thirteen minutes of the second half had elapsed when a local power cut plunged Longmead into darkness with Hayes and Yeading holding on to their one goal lead earned in the first half. The lights to the bar were quickly restored but, evidently, once power has been cut to floodlights it is not just a case of flicking the switch to have them illuminating again.

Including this fixture, over the next three games, Tonbridge face opposition who are themselves embroiled in this relegation dog-fight and the Angels have a frighteningly poor record against those clubs this season, prior to this game having recorded only one win in eight games against teams from the bottom seven.

On a cold, wet evening a poor attendance of just 273 highlighted how costly the postponements during the monsoon season turn out to be when the game is eventually played. Thursday evening football, perhaps, doesn't even register in mindset of the floating supporter.

Tonbridge, on the back of a confidence-building four points and two clean sheets from their previous two outings, started brightly and Nathaniel Pinney pulled a shot narrowly wide in the opening minute, he could and probably should have scored. But, having made most of the running in the opening 20 minutes, it was the visitors that opened the scoring.

H&Y, who had previously showed little going forward, crafted a pleasing goal on the eye although fingers will be pointed at some woeful Tonbridge marking. A cross from the left to the far post was met with a cushioned header from Pat Cox into the path of Luke Williams who directed his header into the corner from close range.

The game from that point became one in which the goalkeepers will look back to their important contributions. Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz, the ex-Dover keeper, made a splendid save from a Lee Browning free-kick to retain the visitors lead at the break.

Tonbridge emerged from the dressing room for the second period with renewed vigour and a golden chance was created by Michael Bakare after five minutes. A great run into the penalty area wasn’t ended with a shot as the ball got stuck under his feet and then he and Luis Cumbers left it for each other when another opportunity offered itself up. Directly from that move, H&Y broke away and Tonbridge hearts breathed a sigh of relief as Williams crashed a shot against the crossbar.

Just prior to the lights going out, Ruiz saved brilliantly from Cumbers and directly after the darkness, he saved well once more from a Pinney header.

Tonbridge deservedly got their equaliser with about 20 minutes remaining when, I think, Bakare was tripped in the box. There were a lot of bodies in a small space and at the time, I had no idea exactly why the spot kick had been given, but Lovell stepped up and safely despatched his kick into the corner.

Instead of going for the winner, Tonbridge surprisingly sat back and they were very nearly punished as their own 'keeper, Lewis Carey was forced into a brilliant treble save to thwart the visitors.

Rather wet and bedraggled, I, along with most other Tonbridge supporters ambled out of Longmead, half-an-hour later than expected, disappointed that the three points had not been obtained from a game that, in the main, they had dominated. The next couple of games will highlight whether this was a point gained or a couple lost.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Tonbridge 1 Weston-super-Mare 0

Match 67/13/1093 - Saturday, 15th March 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 1 Teniola 89
Weston-super-Mare (0) 0
Att. 360

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/6,594

Match Report

He was the man with no name. As he warmed-up before becoming an 85th minute substitute, quizzical looks were passed towards him generally accompanied by the comment “Who is he”. Within five minutes, our stadium announcer Lorraine Parks was excitedly informing the celebrating supporters that his name was Alex Teniola and he had just scored the 89th minute goal that set Tonbridge on their way to that most precious of commodities, three points.

Still little is known about Teniola, in his Radio Kent interview manager Tommy Warrilow said that he had been picked up playing local football in Essex whilst internet searches located him at Hertford Town or Kingstonian. A few hours later, Big Fat Phil on the Tonbridge forum identified his Essex club as Bowers and Pitsea from the Essex Senior League, good research Phil!

On a warm, bright day that allowed the heavy coats of winter to be discarded, Tonbridge found themselves shorn of several players for reason of injury or suspension and faced a Weston-super-Mare side that were positioned on the edge of the play-off zone with some quite imposing players in terms of height and physical bulk.

The game’s defining moments were set on 23 and 28 minutes when Naby Diallo clashed with Sonny Miles earning two bookings and his dismissal. For the first Diallo was adjudged to have led with an elbow in an aerial clash with Miles and the second, having taken a heavy touch on the ball, was late and high with his tackle on the Tonbridge central defender.

Unfortunately, it set the tone for the game. Weston sought to negate their man disadvantage with cynical time-wasting and stomach-churning screams as players hit the deck following challenges, fair or foul. In fairness, Weston were not alone in this act as, for the first Diallo booking especially, Miles’ loud wail of pain may well have influenced the referee’s decision.

As Weston’s time-wasting began from an early stage, the first half was probably the poorest I have witnessed this season. Whether it is the sudden change in the condition of the pitch from slogging their way through soggy mud baths to one that has quickly dried and become hard on top that was the root cause of player’s miscontrol, passes overhit or misplaced, the game was devoid of any quality.

Nathaniel Pinney is at least starting to look the player that Warrilow thought he had put under contract at the beginning of the season and sent through on goal by Lee Browning, his lob of the keeper was just short of the necessary weight to take it over the line before Dan Gregson managed to clear it away from his goal line.

The second half was more exciting but equally as frustrating. WSM had seemingly given up the ghost of pinching a winner and concentrated on running the clock down at every opportunity whilst Tonbridge didn’t appear to have the nous to break down their resolute defence.

The best chance once more fell to Pinney whose shot was acrobatically turned over the crossbar by the goalkeeper, Lloyd Irish.

With Louis Cumbers and Teniola added to the attack, Tonbridge threw all they had at their opposition and eventually the breakthrough came. Teniola sent Pinney away down the right side and, from his cross, the mystery man had made his way into the six yard box to head down and into the net from close range.

The goal and six minutes of added time gave WSN the impetus to finally throw off the shackles of gamesmanship and chase an equaliser, but justice was served that they were unable to find a way back into the game.

Twelve or so minutes are hardly enough to know whether Tonbridge have unearthed a gem in Alex Teniola, but it was 12 minutes in which his name was put onto the lips of their supporters. Still in dire need of a run of points, Tonbridge have to hope that his name is not forgotten just as quickly.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Gillingham 4 Coventry City 2

Match 66/13/1093 - Tuesday, 11th March 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 4 Akinfenwa 25, 75 (2 Pens) Weston 56
Hessenthaler 90

Coventry City (0) 2 Wilson 53 (pen) Baker 80 (pen)
Att. 5,447

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,568

Match Report

One lesson you quickly learn on donning the Gillingham scarf for the first time is that you are embarking on a lifetime supporting a club that doesn’t know how to do things easy. Closing in on 40 years with the club nothing changes and to be honest, I’m glad it doesn’t.

So it was that, whilst this match against Coventry City produced the most thrilling of games, it was one in which had Peter Taylor the luxury of a sofa in his technical area he would have been hiding behind it as a professionals version of a horror story unfolded before his eyes.

Six goals, four of them penalties all converted which could quite possibly be a record, a sending-off, seven bookings, this match had everything and a little bit more, that little bit more being supplied by a quite outstanding first goal for Gillingham by Jake Hessenthaler.

This win gives Gillingham the breathing space which allows me risking severe egg on the face in a few weeks’ time, but I firmly believe that they are safe from relegation this season. Sure enough, a few more points are required but I’m convinced they will be attained.

Taylor has as many detractors as fans among the Priestfield support, but he will get a longer contract in the summer and a team can be rebuilt in his image on which he will stand or fall. In my opinion he has earned that opportunity.

This was not a match that I had budgeted three points for, but with Coventry coming to Kent on the back of three successive away defeats, the opportunity was there to be taken.

Gillingham took the lead after 25 minutes when Cody McDonald eventually wriggled clear of City central defender, Dan Seaborne, only to be wrestled to the ground to earn a penalty and a red card for the visitor's captain.

In the absence of Danny Kedwell, Adebayo Akinfenwa stepped up to subtly roll the ball into the corner sending Joe Murphy in the opposite direction. Bayo's not in the Kedwell school of thought on the art of spot kicks. Different style, same result is all that matters.

Just prior to the break, McDonald was on the end of header at the near post from Leon Legge to plant a header of his own into net only for a linesman's flag to deny him a goal against his former employers. The striker is in the midst of a goal drought at present and his persistent running at the Coventry back line deserved a goal on the night.

The first half had been interesting, but it hadn't prepared the crowd for the second half that was about to explode in action.

Going back to my point earlier that Gillingham never do easy, as is almost the norm when the opposition go down to ten men, Gillingham make heavy weather of their personnel advantage. Eight minutes into the second half and Coventry were on level terms courtesy of a penalty of their own. A long ball from John Fleck sent Callum Wilson down the left hand side and as he approached the bye-line he was needlessly fouled by Legge to concede the penalty that was duly despatched by Wilson himself.

The parity was to last only three minutes when a long throw from Charlie Lee was headed across the face of goal by Legge to, of all people, Myles Weston, who looped a header over Murphy from around eight yards. Weston is the butt of much criticism and a more unlikely scorer with his head you would be hard put to name, but this was an unlikely night.

On 75 minutes, Gillingham appeared to have made the game safe, with the aid of a strange refereeing decision. McDonald was brought down on the right side of the box by Jordan Clarke, but as the ball ran to Akinfenwa, the referee allowed advantage, the big man put his shot wide and then the referee pointed to the spot. Bayo placed his spot kick in the same manner as his first to put Gillingham 3-1 up.

Peter Taylor must take a lot of credit for the way he has time-managed Akinfenwa since his arrival. It is no secret that Bayo cannot make 90 minutes and certainly is going to struggle to play two full games in four days, but Taylor uses him to the maximum amount of time possible and the striker responds in kind. In the single art of collecting a ball with his back to the goal and bringing others into play, I cannot think of anybody better in my entire time watching the club.

The nothing comes easy tag was brought to bear once more with 10 minutes remaining when Mr Sheldrake awarded a fourth penalty of the game. Wilson, latching onto a pass that had been headed forward got between Legge and Adam Barrett and the former conceded his second penalty of the night that was coolly despatched by Carl Baker.

It had already been the game that had everything and one that would live in the memory but it wasn't finished yet. With Gillingham struggling to run down the clock as time added on was entered, Hewitt punted a long forward ball that had McDonald once more scampering after it. Joe Murphy ventured fully 30 yards from his goal to head clear, but only into the path of Jake Hessenthaler. The 19-year-old advanced a few yards, with the crowd bellowing "shoot" and the keeper in no-man's land, he let fly from 40 yards and everybody watched in amazement as the ball entered the unguarded net via the underside of the crossbar. If young Jake goes on to score a 100 or even 200 goals no one is ever going to forget his first.

The final whistle brought to a close a mad, memorable night and one that has gone a long way to ensuring League One football next season. Who needs easy when it can be this exciting!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Gillingham 1 Crawley Town 0

Match 65/13/1092 - Saturday, 8th March 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Lee 88
Crawley Town (0) 0
Att. 5,973

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/6,523

Match Report

Football is all about results and no amount of discussion changes the scoreline that is published in the Sunday newspapers. But opinion is what gives the game its lasting appeal, if we had to take any result at face value, the pubs would be a lot quieter and Gary Lineker wouldn’t have a job in the media (there is a downside to opinion). It was my opinion, on this particular game, that almost appeared to be at odds with the world as I took to social media on Saturday evening.

The heavy majority posting on Twitter and Facebook were thankful for the three points attained by Gillingham but felt that they were very lucky to have done so. I’m not denying that Crawley crafted the greater amount of clear cut chances and with a striker on the pitch, Matt Tubbs, who had scored six goals in six games since returning to the club, they should surely have scored from one of those. But looking at the statistics (and stats, as we know, can be tailored to reflect your point of view) Gillingham lost the shots on goal total by 14-15, whilst shots on target were in favour of the home side by 6-3. Further, Stuart Nelson, albeit that he needed the aide of Jake Hessenthaler’s goal line clearance on one occasion, was only asked to make one comfortable save low to his right from Tubbs in the 53rd minute, while his counterpart, Paul Jones made four sprawling saves to deny Joe Pigott, Craig Fagan and Cody McDonald on two occasions. I rest my case that Gillingham were not particularly lucky and deserved something from the game, if not the full quota of points.

My detractors will quite rightly point to two terrible misses from Jamie Proctor, who shot high into the assembled support from West Sussex from no more than three yards and a header steered wide by Billy Clarke when it seemed easier to score.

Crawley, whose Broadfield Stadium has seen a plethora of postponements leaving them five fixtures behind most clubs, came into the game on a run of seven games without defeat whilst Gillingham, three successive defeats behind them, were looking anxiously over their shoulders at the relegation spots.

The first half was a tight affair in which Crawley undoubtedly held sway. The best chance fell to Proctor who having been sent clear down the left, fired a shot across the face of goal that narrowly went wide of the far post with Tubbs sliding in, failing to make contact.

Jones made his first save of the second half on 55 minutes when he dived low to his right to push away a shot from Pigott from the edge of the box and produced a similar save on 66 minutes when Fagan curled a shot towards the far post. In between those efforts, McDonald was set free by Fagan and, having wriggled his way past the lumbering challenge of Kyle McFadzean, his shot was once more parried to safety by Jones.

The wastefulness of Proctor and Clarke came back to haunt them when, with two minutes remaining, a corner from Hessenthaler was headed back across the face of the goal by Leon Legge to Charlie Lee, a 81st minute substitute for Fagan, who, with not the greatest contact he will ever make, shot into the net from around five yards.

This was a vitally important win for Gillingham. It lifts them six points above the drop zone and IF (deliberate emphasis) they can win their home games against teams below them in the table, then that should be enough to ensure their safety.

John Gregory, the Crawley manager, called the result a travesty and that his side should have won the game by three or four-nil. It’s all a matter of opinion, John.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

England 1 Denmark 0

Match 64/13/1091 - Wedmesday, 5th March 2014 - International

England (0) 1 Sturridge 82
Denmark (0) 0
Att. 68,573

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6
Mileage: 160/6,478

Match Report

I am going to officially hang-up my boots from International Friendlies, if I needed any confirmation that this decision was to be the correct one, it was the Roy Hodgson interview on the radio on the way home. I've no axe to grind with Roy, he is doing a good job with the "tools" he has at his disposal, but the interview smacked of taking the paying public for mugs. Hodgson explained his delight at the victory and took many positives from the game, such was the upbeat nature it left me to wonder whether I had actually attended the wrong stadium.

For years, long before Roy, probably long before Sven, these friendlies have been pointless and tedious. For us England fans that wished to travel to the high profile tournaments and qualifying games accumulating loyalty points through attendance was the only way to ensure tickets and even then just a couple of missed games could lead to being outside of the number of caps needed for the most sought after games. The member was being held to ransom, we probably still are but I'm no longer prepared to suffer these games for any reason.

Over the years, I've seen a few England v Denmark or Sweden games and they always follow the same pattern . . . they are so boring. This one was no exception, it was probably worse. Roy may take a lot of positives, I can think of just three, one on the pitch and two off. On the pitch there is the Southampton connection with Adam Lallana coming off the bench to inject a bit of quality and laying the winning goal on a plate for Daniel Sturridge and Luke Shaw looking strong and composed, belying his tender 18 years. Off the pitch, we had a welcome quiet night, with no thugs and drunks to contend with. The final plus was the fantastic response to the tribute to Sir Tom Finney. He shared his minute’s applause with Bert Williams and the Danish manager from the 90s, Richard Moller Nielsen. As Finney’s name was announced the applause began to ring around Wembley, no prompt from the referee’s whistle was required, it brought a lump to my throat for a man I never saw play but just had the word of my seniors that the man was worthy of the title of legend.

We had a couple of inward laughs at some of the people around us though. Just prior to kick-off a group of six well-dressed young men politely passed us to their seats. They looked as though they had come straight from their jobs in the City. One of the lads was carrying his paperback book, it amused us and when they exited their seats with about five minutes remaining, I'm sure his bookmarker had moved on about 50 pages. But joking apart, I'm absolutely sure he got more out of his evening with his head buried in his novel than we did staring at the tedium being served up on the Wembley turf.

And then there was the couple behind us. They were middle-aged and it would be easy to ascertain that the wife hadn't been to many football matches in her lifetime. Her husband spent the early stages of game explaining who each player was and when he came to Sturridge he simply explained that he played for Liverpool . . . on the TV! I suppose it tells us all where we are at with football and television in 2014.

I understand that Argentina are going to be one of the early opponents next season in a friendly and that will test my resolve. I've no doubt that the opportunity to see Messi and Co will be a big hook and I'm probably going to be reeled in, but can I expect anything different from this woeful experience, I doubt it very much.

Tonbridge 2 Maidenhead United 4

Match 63/13/1090 - Tuesday, 4th March 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 2 Pinney 3, Lovell 55
Maidenhead United (2) 4 Green 15,34,82,89 (pen)
Att. 332

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/6,318

Match Report

The theme of the last posting, Gillingham's visit to Bristol City, was the period of squeaky-bum time and following Tonbridge Angel's humiliating 7-0 defeat at Boreham Wood, it was my assertion that they had already reached that point in their season. This made the visit of Maidenhead United, who sat just one point ahead of their hosts, having played two games more, a critical six pointer. Indeed, I considered this, apart from England's World Cup Qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, the most important game I had attended so far this season.

As the car park emptied following a 4-2 defeat for the Angels, there would have been a lot of worried faces and no shortage of anger at the way they had surrendered a third minute lead and failed to build on a second half equaliser when the tide had certainly turned in favour of the home side.

Given that confidence following the Boreham Wood defeat would probably have been at pretty low ebb, Tonbridge got off to a dream start when Nathaniel Pinney received a ball on the right hand side, drove into the box and beat a defender before firing a shot into the far corner.

Far from serving as a set-back for Maidenhead, the goal acted as a spur and Lewis Carey was asked to make a couple of smart stops before Danny Green equalised after a quarter of an hour. A slick passing movement ended with Harry Pritchard pulling the ball back from the bye-line for Green to finish with ease.

Maidenhead continued to press forward and were rewarded with the lead after 34 minutes when the pairing of Pritchard and Green once more opened up the Tonbridge back line, leaving Green to score his second of the game.

Tonbridge opened the second half on the offensive and the Maidenhead goalkeeper, Elvijs Putnins had some very shaky moments that brought loud vocal reprimands from his manager, Johnson Hippolyte, on the touchline. Mark Lovell should have scored a couple of minutes after the break, but it seemed his confidence deserted him at the vital moment and Pinney and himself waited for each other to have a shot, ending with neither. This was quickly followed by a series of corners from which Tonbridge finally equalised with a Lovell header.

Tonbridge had the momentum at this point to go on and win the game and hit a post and had a goal disallowed in a period past the hour mark. But as seems to happen to teams that are struggling, the missed chances came back to haunt them. With eight minutes remaining, a shot from Adrian Clifton was deflected upwards and into the path of Green, who headed home.

Putnins earned the pleasure of his manager with a diving save from a Chris Piper driven shot before the visitors caught Tonbridge on the break once more and Gary Elphick conceded a penalty which Green converted for his fourth of a personally memorable evening.

Whether this proves to be a critical point in Tonbridge's season will be proved in the coming weeks; walking away from Longmead on Tuesday evening it certainly felt that relegation was a real possibility, but likely or even a certainty, definitely those thoughts can wait for another day.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Bristol City 2 Gillingham 1

Match 62/13/1089 - Saturday, 1st March 2014 - League One

Bristol City (1) 2 Baldock 27, Gillett 83
Gillingham (0) 1 Lee 65
Att. 11,422

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3
Mileage: 350/6,292

Match Report

Twelve games remaining is perhaps a little early to be labelling this period as squeaky-bum time, but there are more than a few Gillingham supporters that are beginning to nervously look over their shoulders as three successive defeats have left their favourites with a rapidly decreasing points advantage over those presently occupying the bottom four.

I’ve been fully confident that Gillingham will survive, and to all intents and purposes, my feelings remain the same. But there are flies in that ointment. Looking at the remaining fixtures and present form, the main bulk of the 14 or so points required needs to come from home fixtures. Wins against teams in the mini-league facing relegation, Crewe, Tranmere and Shrewsbury, would go a long way to meeting the target, but defeats, albeit away defeats, against Stevenage, Oldham, Colchester and now, Bristol City, in recent weeks suggests that lower doesn’t necessarily mean easier.

Some Gillingham fans from among the 512 that travelled to Ashton Gate may have departed Bristol feeling that their efforts deserved a point, but I’m not in that camp. They didn’t contribute greatly in a first half in which Bristol City, given their own perilous league position, looked decidedly nervous. Fair play to the visitors they came out a different side in the second half and put their hosts under real pressure and by the time of their equaliser were deserving of their parity. Unfortunately they were unable to maintain their momentum and the points were taken away from them virtue of a wonder strike seven minutes from time.

There were early signs that the midfield creativity of Wade Elliott and Simon Gillett would dominate proceedings in that area of the pitch with Elliott setting up early chances for Bobby Reid and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas that failed to trouble Stuart Nelson.

Elliott was to the fore in the 27th minute move that led to Bristol City’s opening goal. A cross-field pass evaded Elliott Hewitt and Sam Baldock had an ocean of space to turn inside and strike from the angle of the six-yard box.

Peter Taylor chose to replace the ineffective Amine Linganzi at the half-time break with Charlie Lee and Gillingham emerged from the dressing room with attacking intentions. Bradley Dack picked out a pass to Cody McDonald after a couple of minutes, the striker bringing a save from Frank Fielding at the near post. Connor Smith recycled the parry and his cross to the far post was eventually shot narrowly wide by Adebayo Akinfenwa.

Myles Weston was introduced as a 55th minute substitute for Smith and from his corner ten minutes later, Gillingham got their well-deserved equaliser. The corner, hit beyond the right hand side of the six-yard box was superbly hooked back into the centre of the area by Akinfenwa and Lee was on hand to crash home a shot from the seven yards.

For a few encouraging minutes, Gillingham held the balance of play before Elliott and Gillett regained control of the game. A long throw into the Gillingham box was headed clear to Gillett who took a touch to shift the ball to his right and let fly from 22 yards with a shot that rocketed into the top corner.

Elliott and Gillett are both loan players, from Birmingham and Nottingham Forest respectively, and if they both remain at Ashton Gate, you would guess that they would supply the necessary quality to lift Bristol City to safety.

Plans are afoot to virtually rebuild Ashton Gate, starting this summer and, from a visiting supporter’s point of view, it cannot come quickly enough. It is difficult, almost impossible, to find a view that isn’t restricted by the roof’s supporting pillars unless you are in the first three rows. After 20 minutes of swaying side to side to see around one of the offending pieces of steelwork we decided that a lowly position was much the better alternative.

Disappointment at the result at Bristol turned to despair when I learnt of the scoreline from Boreham Wood, where I would undoubtedly been had it not for the trip to Bristol City. A 7-0 hammering for Tonbridge emphasised that at some places squeaky-bum time is most definitely upon us.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Chatham Town 1 Erith and Belvedere 1

Match 61/13/1088 - Tuesday, 25th February 2014 - Ryman North

Chatham Town (1) 1 Yusuff 27
Erith and Belvedere (1) 1 Christian-Law 13
Att. 84

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 33/5,942

Match Report

Just when we thought Noah had dry-docked his ark and the weather would be set fair for a hectic last couple of months of the football season, along comes another deluge causing the postponement of the always eagerly anticipated visit of Dover Athletic to Longmead Stadium. After working to clear overnight rain during the morning another heavy rainfall around midday once again left the pitch with standing water and the match referee declared a early postponement.

So, for my Tuesday evening entertainment, it was back to my new go-to club, Chatham Town and my stalking of Alfie May. The visitors, Erith and Belvedere, have taken some heavy beatings this season, notably a 10-1 mauling at Thurrock a fortnight ago and it would be fair to say that I expected a bit of a goalfest with young Alfie running riot. If nothing else, football is rarely predictable and Chris Cosgrove's side, drawing some confidence from a home win over Heybridge Swifts, thoroughly deserved their point from their visit to Maidstone Road.

One look at the pitch and it was a proper Jumpers for Goalposts pudding that, you have to say, the groundsmen did remarkably well to get a game on. Young Alfie made an instant impression and Deres' keeper, Ashley Bourne was asked to make a parrying save in the very first minute. However it was Erith that took the lead after 13 minutes when Tyler Christian-Law angled a shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner. The visitors might well have quickly doubled their lead when a corner was spilt by Chats' keeper Jack Bradshaw, who needed a defender's intervention on the line to save his embarrassment.

Chatham equalised on 27 minutes, inevitably May was involved, laying off a pass into the path of Ade Yusuff, who scored from a tight angle on the edge of the six-yard box. Just before half-time the referee, who hailed from the Ukraine (he didn't travel on the night presumably) waved away a penalty appeal despite the flag-waving of the linesman.

Everybody got just a little bogged down as the pitch became heavier still in the second half and the real action took place in the time added after the 90 minutes had expired. By this time, Erith and Belvedere were struggling with 10 men after full back Laurence Collins needed to be carried from the pitch following a seemingly innocuous challenge from May that, nevertheless, brought a ticking off from the Ukrainian, who was to turn away another penalty appeal from the Chats in the dying moments.

The Deres can be well pleased with their evening's efforts, they more than deserved their point, kept the lad May relatively quiet and will be hoping that they can now build on the four points gained in their last two matches.