Sunday, 27 April 2014

Tonbridge 0 Havant & Waterlooville 0

Match 80/13/1106 - Saturday, 26th April 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 0
Havant & Waterlooville (0) 0
Att. 515

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/7,421

Match Report

A good five minutes after the completion of this game there was an anguished voice from a single supporter of Havant & Waterlooville from behind the goal that the visitors had been attacking without success in the second half. This was followed by a volley of expletives reminiscent to the opening scenes of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Sixty-odd miles around the M25, Dover had been awarded and scored from a penalty and with that one strike of leather on leather that supporter’s dreams of a play-off place and a possible elevation to the national conference ended. Last day drama may have passed Tonbridge by, but they still had a hand in proceedings and, in a final twist of irony, handed a play-off place to one of their fiercest local rivals.

Whether any Tonbridge supporters saw this as a final twist of the knife at the end of a dreadful week, who knows but I think the majority were past caring about other clubs fortunes. In the wake of the depressing, humiliating 7-1 defeat that confirmed relegation from Conference South came the resignation of manager Tommy Warrilow and a column piece from departing skipper Gary Elphick that was akin to dropping a hand grenade into the supporter’s bar.

The match itself saw a great improvement from Tonbridge although Havant would have left Longmead aggrieved at their own inability to manufacture the necessary result as well as some misfortune that would have been ringing in the ears of that Havant supporter that this was probably not to be their day.

The Hampshire club had a goal disallowed, a penalty missed and the crossbar rattled as they desperately sought a winning goal and when they were not guilty of profligacy in front of goal, Lewis Carey stood between them and the three points.

Warrilow got a warm, if not rapturous, reception as those offering applause were willing to put the last 12 months behind them and, at the very least, thank the manager for his efforts over the previous five years. His job is now advertised and we wait to see who his successor might be. Tellingly, one of Warrilow’s failings over his tenure is seen as a criteria for the position, that of “overseeing the development of young footballers to meet their full potential”.

Departing skipper Elphick's final Courier column would have been difficult to stomach for those that haven't used the outlets of social media to demand the removal of Warrilow. Elphick labelled Tonbridge as the toughest atmosphere in which he has played and the Tonbridge crowd "not the nicest". He finished by saying you need a thick skin to manage there, a testament to the length of Tommy's term. You could not, however, disagree with his statement that the club needs a facelift and more passion for the shirt.

It all led me to think, is this club any different to any other? Without doubt, Tonbridge have their share of "moaning Minnie's" but, in my experience, proportionally no more than at Gillingham, for instance.

Whether Warrilow, as an individual, or Tonbridge Angels, as a football club, dislike social media is neither here nor there; Twitter, Facebook or the Angels’ Forum are here to stay and people will vent their spleen when things are going wrong. It is a natural phenomenon of the genre that there will be far greater activity on these mediums of a negative nature than those positive.

In recent months Warrilow suffered badly from those posting their thoughts, some were less than helpful, some were close to poisonous. The man himself always professed that he didn’t read any of the comments, but strangely he always appeared to know what had been written.

His offer to resign six weeks earlier, “to lift the doom and gloom” around the place was rejected by the board. Elphick's column would suggest that this would not have made a lot of difference with this group of players some of whom had got wind of the manager's departure and had "lost sight of playing for the shirt".

Nearly seven years is a long time in management at one club. Players would have heard Warrilow's pre-match team talk a hundred times; supporters would have heard his post-defeat radio interview and thought that it was much the same as the last time. Warrilow was always honest in his interviews, but there is only so many ways of explaining a defeat. In essence, everything had become stale.

Attention now turns to his successor and we await the puff of white smoke from Longmead with eager anticipation. Until this vacancy occurred, I had no idea who Tony Russell was to be honest, but a call to a couple of mates who know the local non-league scene and an internet trawl of my own has formulated my opinion that he might be the man for the job. Presently manager of VCD Athletic, who on Saturday won Ryman North scoring 116 goals in the process, he has a reputation for putting teams on the pitch that want to play football and this has brought him previous success with Erith Town and now VCD. A young and dynamic manager, precisely the criteria in the job description, add in the prospect that he could bring with him a past Tonbridge favourite, Ray Powell, makes this duo a compelling proposition.

On another day in another week, I would have had sympathy for Havant and their supporters, but I had already cornered the market on disappointment.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Tommy Warrilow resigns

After the humiliating 7-1 defeat and the end of their time as a Conference South club, manager Tommy Warrilow resigned from his position as the manager of Tonbridge Angels Football Club.

Warrilow himself knew the time as right and in the interview in which he revealed his decision he echoed one of the thoughts that I have made in many conversations with Tonbridge supporters. For months there has been a negative feeling around the club that struck you every time you walked through the gates at Longmead and the spirit that was going to be needed to fight a relegation battle wasn’t apparent. All the time the manager remained, this mood was going to persist.

Warrilow put the blame for the mood at the fingertips of the forum members, of which I am one. But, in my experience, other supporters who have never put a word onto any message board in support or otherwise of the manager, felt much the same.

Tonbridge enjoyed some good years under Warrilow and the play-off experiences will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, the last two seasons have been a struggle and this season in particular has been little short of a disaster. Pre-season signings haven’t made anything like the impact that supporters would have hoped and subsequent players brought to the club during the season have made little or no difference.

Twice this season there have been seven goal humiliations and on the day that their league status was on the line the second of these brought its inevitable conclusion.

Warrilow served his club well, but it is now time to move on. Hopefully, at the start of a new campaign in the Ryman and a new man at the helm, a renewed sense of optimism will pervade the club. Wherever Tommy Warrilow turns up next, I for one, wish him well.

Tommy Warrrilow interview

Steve Churcher interview

Sevenoaks Town 1 Tunbridge Wells 5

Match 79/13/1105 - Easter Monday, 21st April 2014 - Southern Counties East

Sevenoaks Town (1) 1 Davis 40
Tunbridge Wells (2) 5 Beecroft 34, Radford 44, Pilbeam 47, Fuller 61, Everson 85
Att. 212

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.00
Mileage: 46/7,395

Match Report

Results on Saturday left the remainder of the matches of the clubs followed by this blog in the meaningless category. If I wanted meaningful, then I should have had the stomach to travel to Chelmsford for the last rites of Tonbridge’s season. But that cause I considered lost and the thought of Bank Holiday traffic both sides of the Dartford Tunnel was enough to persuade of the futility of such a trip, as you will have gathered by the end of this piece, it was a reasonable decision.

Tunbridge Wells had nothing more to play for, after their defeat at Ashford on Saturday, than third place, but it is an absolute credit to their support that the attendance at Greatness Park was the highest at that ground for five years. Tunbridge Wells may well have garnered their support on the back of last season’s Vase run but they have fostered a great spirit between themselves and the club. They have a great repertoire of songs, not the same tuneless drone that is monotonously outpoured at some places and there appears to be much appreciation from the players themselves.

Sevenoaks captured the morning’s news with the announcement of the appointment of Micky Collins, ex-Tonbridge favourite and the man that steered Erith and Belvedere into Ryman League, as their manager for next season with a three year contract to boot.

Whether Collins was there to watch his future charges I’m unaware, but from their lowly position in the league, Sevenoaks made a pretty good fist of stretching their more lofty neighbours in the wonderfully tagged A21 derby.

The pitches are now very hard and both sides had difficulty judging passes that tended to run away from their intended destination. Tunbridge Wells eventually found the right formula on 34 minutes when Jake Beecroft picked up a loose clearance on the edge of the box and drove the ball into the centre of the goal.

Sevenoaks were not to be outdone and a fine move five minutes before the break ended with Jamie Davis striking an angled shot from 10 yards into the far corner of the net. Half-time parity would have been no more than the home side deserved but their visitors carved them open and a right wing cross was converted at close range by a Lee Radford header.

The second half was largely one-way traffic as Tunbridge Wells, royally as their choir would have it, put their hosts to the sword. The game was over as a contest a couple of minutes into the half when Jon Pilbeam produced a fine individual goal and further strikes from Joe Fuller and a cracking finish from substitute Elliott Everson completed the rout.

Sadly, I would love to have been wrong and felt very guilty at 3 o’clock that I wasn’t at Melbourne Park, Chelmsford (this was lessened as I spotted more and more Tonbridge supporters also in attendance) but, in these days of internet access via a mobile phone, the devastating news that the Angels were behind 3-0 after 30-odd minutes, four by half-time and an eventual embarrassing end to their Conference South time with a 7-1 defeat.

Back to the Wells and now they face a further season in the Southern Counties East. I hope that the league is reorganised to take it to 20 clubs and, I would guess, unless second placed Ashford do not get promotion or there is a surprise addition, Tunbridge Wells are going to start next season as the really big fish and an expectation that they will win this League. One thing is for sure, the choir will certainly have something to sing about.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Tonbridge 1 Bromley 1

Match 78/13/1104 - Saturday, 19th April 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (1) 1 Teniola 22
Bromley (1) 1 Goldberg 9
Att. 672

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/7,349

Match Report

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain

With apologies to Frank Sinatra in the 100th year of this birth, but paraphrasing certain lines in his song lends itself beautifully to the scenario in which Tonbridge Angels find themselves.

The end of their time in Conference South is very much near, if it is not here already as Frank would say. And as the curtain comes down on this frustrating season, to many it would seem that Tommy Warrilow is facing the final curtain.

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention

Warrilow never appears to be a man that harbours regrets and he would argue what does he have to regret? He is the man that steered the club into Conference South for the very first time, the highest level at which the club has played. After two seasons, one a comfortable mid-table finish and the other a successful fight against relegation, the third has been a struggle from start to finish, one that is going to be ultimately lost. His regrets may well be a run-in that has produced gutsy results like this one against Bromley, on another day a draw would have been seen as an excellent result, but single points are no longer of any great value.

He may also regret that this season’s signings, almost to a man just have not come off. His summer marquee signing, Nathaniel Pinney came with a pedigree and a waistline. He was obviously a long way short of match fitness and admitted it, but three months later the waistline showed no signs of receding and shipped out to Ryman League clubs to find fitness, but that didn’t work either.

Philip Appiah came to the club after a spell out of the game and for many has been one of the better players in midfield, but for long periods Warrilow could not find a place for him in the starting eleven. Luke Blewden returned to the club but when the goals failed to materialise, he was also loaned out. A succession of shorter-term signings have appeared, and disappeared, without really making a mark, Shamir Goodwin being the obvious exception to the rule.

A defensive mix-up after nine minutes served to highlight the futility of a manager’s lot on the side-lines. Lewis Carey had been asked to make a save in the early minutes from Brendan Kiernan but when Rob Swaine headed forward a cross from Joe Anderson, Carey inexplicably spilt the ball and Bradley Goldberg had the easiest of tap-ins for his 22nd goal of the season.

Tonbridge showed great resilience and after 22 minutes found themselves level. Appiah sent a ball over the top and Alex Teniola fastened onto it and steered the ball into the far corner, a goal that was simplicity in itself.
Warrilow’s men continued to spend long periods on the back foot with Carey starring against his old club making saves from Goldberg in particular who might have ended with a net-full.

The second half followed much the same pattern and Jon Heath was forced to clear from the line but one or two half chances began to fall the way of the home side. Mark Lovell saw a header comfortably saved by Joe Welch and Chris Piper drove a 25 yard free kick just over the crossbar.

With the home crowd begging Warrilow to make substitutions, especially up-front, they were finally made in the final 10 minutes when Evan James and Pinney entered the fray and, all of a sudden, it was Tonbridge that were on the front foot. Into injury time a long ball forward from Ryan Watts was sent in the direction of Pinney who was in an offside position, the ball never reached Pinney but was received by Piper who came from an onside position to place a chip into the net but the linesman flag was raised. It is so typical of the luck that always haunts those in the basement of divisions.

Did Warrilow leave it too late to make the substitutions, a criticism that is regularly levelled at him, who knows if it would have made a difference on this occasion? As it stands, even wins at Chelmsford and the season’s finale against Havant may not now be enough and should that be the end of the reign of Tommy Warrilow well . . .

And more, much more than this, he did it his way.

Sadly, at the end of this season, his way will conclude in the wrong way.

But for how much longer?

Gillingham 2 Tranmere Rovers 0

Match 77/13/1103 - Good Friday, 18th April 2014 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Dack 78, McDonald 90
Tranmere Rovers (0) 0
Att. 7,343

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/7,323

Match Report

Gillingham finally crossed the line that, in all but mathematical terms, assured their safety as a League One club for next season. While I have maintained that 48 points would probably have been enough, I’m as relieved as the next person that the 50 point barrier has been broken.

After last week’s catastrophic defeat at Leyton Orient when they were four goals behind in the first 35 minutes, Gillingham owed their suffering fans a performance, and whilst they did not exactly deliver on that score, the win would have been compensation enough for most supporters.

With one home game remaining, I’ll for the most part leave the reviewing of the season for that particular game but it is worth relating the thoughts of not only me but other supporters regarding the future of Peter Taylor and opinion remains fairly divided.

The vast majority, whether they want Taylor retained or otherwise, accept that, having achieved the objective of avoiding the drop, he will be offered the job on a longer-term contract (probably two years). In my opinion this is nothing more than he deserves. He took over in a difficult situation with almost everybody considering that Mr Scally had been a touch trigger-happy in his decision to remove Martin Allen, who still held a groundswell of support following the championship winning season and believing that he had earned more time.

The road has been far from straightforward for Taylor. Those that would have remembered his first reign at the club would have expected a style of football that would be more pleasing on the eye than that of Allen, but that has largely not happened. Whether the players have been unable to adapt to a more expansive style or whether it was the circumstance of needing points on the board, the style has not really improved to any great degree.

Taylor now should be afforded a summer in which I’m sure will see a complete overhaul of the playing personnel. There are a lot of players out of contract and the vast majority of those will fear the exit door. I would hope that Stuart Nelson (my player of the year) and Danny Kedwell would quickly be offered terms for the new season but beyond them I can see reasons why all of the others may not be retained. The trick, of course, is that new players brought in by Taylor are better than the ones going out.

Kids for a Quid boosted the attendance to above 7,000 but the atmosphere became nervous as the first half progressed without the home side finding an early lead. Gillingham began strongly, Charlie Lee brought a save in the opening minute and Steven Gregory missing the target in the opening three minutes but it took until a couple of minutes before the break for an Adebayo Akinfenwa header to bring a meaningful save out of Fon Williams in the Tranmere goal. In the final act of the half, a ball over the top was latched onto by the burly striker whose chip over the advancing Williams drifted marginally wide.

The second half was very much Tranmere’s in the opening stages, they were in even more desperate need of the points than the home club. The veteran midfielder, Jason Koumas brought a save from Nelson and Akpa Akpro also tested the home custodian.

On 65 minutes, Bradley Dack was introduced to replace Lee and five minutes later Danny Kedwell returned to the fray following a long period on the side-lines replacing Akinfenwa. Both were to make a major impression on the game.

Kedwell sent McDonald clear but his shot was saved at the near post before good work on the left side by Joe Martin whose cross was met with a volley from Dack that whistled into the top corner despite the attentions of a defender on the post who could only help the ball into the net. The shot was perfectly executed by the youngster, who signed a new four-year contract this week, unfortunately, his shirt removal in celebration brought the obligatory booking.

As the time and the game ebbed away from the visitors, they earned a corner and Fon Williams fancied a Jimmy Glass moment and left his goal to take his place in the opposing penalty area. The corner was delivered not too far from his head but the ball broke to McDonald who sprinted clear with the goal at his mercy. Ignoring the screams of shoot from the paying public he took the ball to within 30 yards and then fired into the empty net to seal the points and Gillingham’s League One survival.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tunbridge Wells 2 Holmesdale 2

Match 76/13/1102 - Tuesday, 15th April 2014 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (0) 2 Sinden 77, Parsons 83
Holmesdale (1) 2 Dinaro 35, Ogunseye 90
Att. 205

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/7,278

Match Report

As the season hurtles towards its close, I thought I'd take the last few posts to look back on the season of the club involved. There is a little bit of disappointment with each of the clubs, two locked in relegation battles and Tunbridge Wells, for whom it appears, will fall just short in their pre-season ambition to win the Southern Counties East and therefore attain promotion to the Ryman League.

In a league of just 17 clubs, more often than not, one team canters away to take the single promotion spot that is on offer. After their FA Vase exploits and Kent Senior Trophy win last season it was to be hoped that Tunbridge Wells would be that team, but unfortunately for them, but interesting for the neutral observer, this term has developed into a three horse race. Ashford United were always thought to be the threat, but Whyteleafe emerged from mid-table of the previous season to ultimately be the champions-elect.

Early season looked good for the Wells, a fine FA Cup win over Ryman League Whitstable added to solid league form, but a Cup defeat at Eastbourne Town heralded a shaky spell that included a humiliating 5-0 defeat at home to Cray Valley. A two-leg defeat by Ashford in the League Cup, an exit from the Vase at the hands of Hanworth Villa and a telling 6-1 thrashing at Whyteleafe left Martin Larkin with work to do and a corner to turn. And then it started to rain . . .

From the date of the Whyteleafe defeat on 30th November until 1st February only three competitive fixtures were played, the Hanworth defeat and 8-0 and 6-0 romps against Rochester and Deal. Since then the Wells have been playing catch-up and have never quite re-emerged as favourites. Ashford have had their own blip and both clubs are were now waiting for Whyteleafe to slip and to all intents and purposes they still are. In the coming days, the Wells go to Ashford and Ashford visit Whyteleafe in fixtures that will define the season, but Whyteleafe are going to win it.

Three points from this game against Holmesdale would have been very handy leading into their Ashford show-down, but a last minute goal from Benja Ogunseye deprived the Wells of the victory.

Holmesdale were good value for their half-time lead supplied with a close range finish from Ciro Dinaro and it took until 13 minutes from time before substitute Richard Sinden volleyed in from eight yards and six minutes later Ian Parsons scored from 20 yards with a shot into the top corner. The Holmesdale goalkeeper made three excellent saves before Ogunseye squeezed a shot between Chris Olagdogba and his near post to frustrate the home side.

The picture below shows the new turnstiles and fencing that has been erected as the club seek the ground grading required for entry into the Ryman League. Second place in the past has seen clubs promoted as leagues are reorganised or clubs take voluntary relegation for financial reasons, so all is not lost for the Wells.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Maidenhead United 0 Tonbridge 0

Match 75/13/1101 - Saturday, 12th April 2014 - Conference South

Maidenhead United (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 472

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 166/7,252

Match Report

It should have come as no surprise to anybody that this game, critical to both clubs, would end up with a dour struggle in which neither side could throw off the expectation that the loser would virtually consign themselves to relegation in order to win the three vital points.

At the final whistle this goalless draw was of no use to either and would only be celebrated by the supporters of Whitehawk who had managed to win at Boreham Wood and Hayes and Yeading who had been offered a further lifeline following their defeat at Bath City.

The tension that strangled the game finally spilled over midway through the second half when a childish spat between Maidenhead’s Danny Green and Tonbridge’s Grant Watts ended with them both seeing a red card as referee Holderness over-reacted to the situation.

This was also the spark for a touchline fracas that continued into the player’s tunnel with the Maidenhead manager Johnson Hippolyte needing to be restrained as the tension between the benches boiled over.

The game itself was one of very few chances with neither goalkeeper being called upon to make a serious save for the entire 90 minutes. The home side carved open a couple of reasonable shooting opportunities that failed to hit the target whilst Tonbridge waited until the very final minutes before mounting their most serious assault on the host’s goal.

The sending-offs were both unnecessary on behalf of the players involved and the referee. The two players came together as the ball was shepherded away for a goal kick. Green picked up the ball and tossed it towards the face of Watts, who reacted by tossing back into the face of Green. The referee only saw the latter of the acts and promptly sent off the Tonbridge full back. When the linesman intervened to inform the referee of Green’s part in the silliness the referee had little choice but to show a second red card to the man that recently scored all four goals in the reverse fixture in early March. For me, had the referee consulted the linesman from the outset, a yellow card for both players would have sufficed.

The result leaves both clubs looking for positive results from their remaining fixtures and hoping that results go their way elsewhere to avoid the prospect of Ryman League football next season. On the evidence of this game they will be facing each other again next season hopefully in a fixture that is not strangled by tension.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Peterborough United 2 Gillingham 0

Match 74/13/1100 - Tuesday, 8th April 2014 - League One

Peterborough United (1) 2 Assombalonga 42, Rowe 58
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 6,543

Entrance: £15 Senior
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 272/7,086

Match Report

It's that time of the year, the business end of the season, when supporters, up and down the country, are playing the guessing game of how many points are going to be enough, whether it's looking upwards or over your shoulders.

In Gillingham's case the opinion varies between the 48 they have on the board is enough (I've at least one foot in that camp) and 53, which I think is a total that Peter Taylor has over-egged. But I can see where Taylor is coming from, offer up a lower figure and players with one eye already on the beach, take their foot off the pedal completely and produce nothing performances, bit like this one at Peterborough where Gillingham were neither one thing or the other, not bad but not good either.

A couple of chances, Myles Weston sent clear on seven minutes, shot horribly wide when one-on-one with the keeper and early in the second half, Cody McDonald's delightful chip bringing a finger-tip save from Bobby Olejnik, might well have changed the context of the game, but for the most part, the promotion-chasing Posh dictated affairs.

If Gillingham are to make progress in this division next season, one look at the Peterborough side highlighted what is required and the money that Darragh McAnthony has spent to put together this side. If there is a million pounds in the pot, then why not go out buy yourself a striker that is going to give you 30-plus goals for the season, Britt Assombalonga has perfectly fitted that particular bill. In the middle of the park, it was good and galling in equal measure to watch Jack Payne literally strut his stuff. Yes, we got a nice fat fee for Jack, have we been able to replace him, I think not. Payne, alongside the rest of the Posh midfield dominated possession mainly because whenever Gillingham won the ball they, more often than not, gave it straight back to their hosts. Ball retention has been a problem all season and has become a continued theme of Taylor's post-match thoughts.

Gillingham did well to get to the 41st minute without conceding considering they lost Ryan Innis after just a quarter of an hour and with no centre back on the bench, substitute Charlie Lee was forced to fill in at that position. Lee, who got a wonderful reception from his ex-club's supporters, did an admirable job in the circumstances. Meanwhile, Innis will go back to Crystal Palace as one of the unluckiest loan players we've had. Three appearances have lasted 40 minutes, one complete match and 15 minutes.

Gillingham were finally broken down when a long ball to the left wing found raiding full back Kgosi Ntlhe who headed back into the area to Assombalonga who turned and shot between Stuart Nelson and his near post from six yards. The visitors had managed to keep the striker quiet for the most of the half, but with a yard of space in which to work, he duly poached his 30th goal of the season.

Adebayo Akinfenwa replaced Amine Linganzi in a formation reshuffle at half-time and it very nearly paid an instant dividend when he nodded on a long ball forward into the path of McDonald, but his deft chip was tipped over the bar by Olejnik.

A screamer from 25 yards from Tommy Rowe that went in off the underside of the bar put Peterborough two-up after 58 minutes and six minutes later the home side had a penalty to put the game beyond doubt when Steven Gregory tripped Assombalonga. However, the striker proved fallible as a weak spot kick was saved by Nelson.

Peterborough saw the game out with relative ease and with another road trip to Orient on Saturday, those in the camp that feel Gillingham still require a couple of wins might be beginning to wonder where they are going to come from. The final two home games hopefully.

This was the first trip to London Road for some years and as the picture below shows there is a massive redevelopment of the stadium in progress. In the meantime, limited leg room and unforgiving wooden seats makes being a visiting supporter pretty uncomfortable and not only because you are watching your side being dismantled by an expensively assembled home team.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Gillingham 3 Rotherham United 4

Match 73/13/1099 - Saturday, 5th April 2014 - League One

Gillingham (1) 3 Akinfenwa 30, Weston 57, Dack 83
Rotherham United (1) 4 Agard 1, Hitchcock 69,85,90+3
Att. 6,027

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 45/6,814

Match Report

Given Steve Evans’ penchant for involving the police whenever something is uttered that might mock his ever-expanding girth, his Celtic birthright or the mere fact that he is not considered a particularly nice person, I’m obliged to exercise a certain amount of caution for fear that the local constabulary are going to knock down the front door in the middle of night with one of those ramming tools.

Let’s get it straight from the outset. Evans is a manager that requires a club with ambition and a surplus of cash in relation to the division in which his plies his trade. Give him both and you have a damn good manager on your hands who is going to bring you a dividend on your investment.

What he also brings is an abrasive nature that must lend itself to every Rotherham away game being contested in a cauldron of hate and acrimony. Personally, I cannot believe that Gillingham and their fans are the only club that has an issue with the man.

The shame is that the distraction masks the performances of a really good Rotherham United side. Many people would, and certainly should, have walked away from Priestfield disappointed that they had seen their team lose a fiercely contested match, but also being magnanimous in their praise of their opponents. But, unfortunately, the conversation ends back with the touchline behaviour of Mr Evans and his later involvement with the police following the claims of racist chanting.

Is Steve Evans really that thin-skinned? If you dish it, take it, but perhaps that’s an out-dated virtue.

Amongst a game that produced an absolute thriller it was appropriate that a player called Hitchcock took centre stage.

Rotherham arrived in Kent on a run of 15 games without defeat and without a Gillingham player touching the ball they were in front after just 13 seconds. A long ball forward was headed into the path of Nicky Adams whose low, driven cross was turned into the net by Kieran Agard for his 21st goal of the season. It was a stunning blow for the home side and one that took 20 minutes or so to recover from before beginning to get a foothold in the game. In the meantime, Lee Frecklington was brought down in the box for what looked suspiciously like a penalty, sparking a first rant from our good friend on the touchline.

When Gillingham failed to return the ball following an injury, Mr Evans was once more to his feet this time confronting Gillingham’s manager, Peter Taylor.

If this match exposed a flaw that might deny the Millers a promotion place it would be in the shape of some poor defending, not that that was limited to the visitors.

After half-an-hour a flighted free-kick to the far post from Bradley Dack was headed back across the face of the goal and into the net by Adebayo Akinfenwa, a simple goal for which questions would have to be asked.

Gillingham turned the game on its head 12 minutes into the second half when a long ball forward from Elliott Hewitt saw Myles Weston outpace his marker and shoot past Adam Collin with a good finish. Weston again tested Collin five minutes later but this time the goalkeeper was equal to the task.

Rotherham benefited from a stroke of good fortune after 68 minutes when a speculative shot from Richard Smallwood turned into the perfect pass and Tom Hitchcock, a 60th minute substitute, coolly placed his shot beyond the hands of Stuart Nelson.

The game took on the mantle of a basketball match as each side took turns at attacking each other and Gillingham’s turn on 83 minutes appeared to have sealed an epic victory. Kari Arnasen dithered on the ball on the edge of his box and was robbed by Dack, who, with Collin advancing, exquisitely executed a lob over the keeper and into the net. It was a goal worthy of winning the match, but Hitchcock’s involvement in this thriller was far from over.

Within two minutes, a ball aimlessly headed forward got tangled under the feet of Adam Barratt and whilst he decided which foot was which, the ball was presented to Hitchcock for an easy finish.

Six minutes of added time were met with a collective groan as Priestfield sensed what was about to happen next, and so it did. Rotherham piled forward in search of the winner and with three of the minutes having elapsed, an overhead kick into the box fell at the feet of Hitchcock and with a sublime collection of the ball he deftly lobbed Nelson to produce heartbreak for Gillingham but absolute ecstasy for the 400 Millers’ supporters behind the goal.

A wonderfully entertaining game had brought a couple of horrendous pieces of defending and two finishes that were a fantastic advertisement for League One football. It is such a shame that, once more, the fixture is about Steve Evans and not the fine football teams that he puts on the park.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tonbridge 2 Concord Rangers 2

Match 72/13/1098 - Tuesday, 1st April 2014 - Conference South

Tonbridge (0) 2 James 46, Lovell 83
Concord Rangers (1) 2 Collins 17 King 90+2
Att. 274

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/6,769

Match Report

Over the seven years that this blog has been running I've taken great satisfaction when people have told me that my reporting of games has been balanced and fair. If the following posting takes on a tone of sour grapes then I apologise, but sometimes favouritism cannot be hidden.

From afar, having never seen them play before, I had great respect for Concord Rangers, a club that has risen from the Essex Senior League to the security of mid-table in Conference South in the matter of 12 years and continue to be in with a shout of reaching the end-of-season play-offs. I, along with more knowledgeable non-league people, had the side from Canvey Island down as cannon fodder for the big spenders of this division and while they maintained a steady position in the league, most expected them to fall away anytime soon, but they haven't and that is obviously a great credit to the management team at the club.

Tonbridge desperately needed the three points from this game and with just a minute of time added remaining, they conceded the goal that earned their visitors a share of spoils. What I witnessed next from the touchline was an absolute disgrace and, if it had been done in the glare of TV cameras, then Danny Cowley and his staff would be serving lengthy touchline bans in the not-too-distant future.

I've no doubt that from behind the dug-outs the Concord bench had taken a fair amount of abuse, but as professionals they should rise above that and not become involved in a running dialogue with their protagonists. When Concord snatched their last ditch equaliser the entire bench ran towards their verbal assailants and with a hail of bad language and V-signed finger gestures they postured just feet away. Their actions could easily have escalated into a full-blown fist fight, and it came as no surprise to find out that they had been involved in a similar incident on Saturday at Farnborough.

Concord Rangers are a big, physical side and their togetherness as a team was exemplified by Cowley, who constantly motivated, chastised and was good value to watch until they went over-the-top in those final seconds. His team had gone into the break fully deserving of their goal lead, a well-worked move on 17 minutes finished with a Sam Collins strike.

Tonbridge huffed and puffed their way through the half, Evan James making a flying start to the match sweeping down the right hand side but, when clear, shot hopelessly over the bar. This set the tone for the half in which goalkeeper Jamie Butler wasn’t troubled.

James, the new man from Canada, was to make an instant impact on the second period though when he found the smallest of gaps between Butler and his near post from 25 yards.

Tonbridge held the balance of play through the half but were guilty of over-playing and failing to shoot on goal as the opportunities arose.

With seven minutes remaining their dominance was finally rewarded when Nathan Green crossed from the left and Mark Lovell, contesting with the goalkeeper, headed home.

The game should have been put safely to bed in the dying minutes when in the space of seconds, Henry Muggeridge failed to make a connection with the ball with the goal at his mercy, Green saw his shot blocked and from the rebound Michael Bakare blazed over the bar.

As so often happens, Tonbridge were made to pay for that moment. Gary Elphick appeared to be fouled before committing an offence himself to concede a free kick on the right angle of the 18 yard box. The initial free kick was saved by Lewis Carey but Steve King was the quickest to react to the rebound and tucked home the equaliser provoking the touchline celebrations and its aftermath.

Elphick was shown the red card in the intervening time between the goal and the final whistle, 30 or so seconds later, but my attention had been diverted to the fracas on the bench.

This might ultimately be the loss of the two points that sends Tonbridge down; I hope we can take relegation with a lot more grace than Concord took their point back to Essex.

In the spirit of fairness and balance, I should add that following a tweet I received a vehement response from one of the Concord coaches, Miki Hood, and a couple of their supporters who claimed that they had been the subject of vile abuse for the 90 minutes and why should't they respond in the manner they did given that abuse. I'm not condoning any abuse that was metered out by Tonbridge supporters, far from it, I abhor it, but I still believe that coaches put themselves in that position on the touchline every Saturday and they should rise above it.