Thursday, 31 December 2015

Tunbridge Wells 5 Rusthall 0

Match 56/15/1261 - Tuesday, 30th December 2015 - Friendly

Tunbridge Wells (3) 5 Nwoko 2,5,30 Parsons 55, Baz 89
Rusthall (0) 0
Attendance: Estimated: 150

Entrance: Free
Programme: None Produced
Mileage: 36/4,012

Unless it has been weathered-enforced, I've never known a football club without a fixture over the Christmas period. Although the scheduled Boxing Day fixture was an unappealing away trip, the playing of the game on a free Saturday earlier in the month left Tunbridge Wells' supporters starved of football over the festive period.

To give the players game time, two friendly fixtues were arranged and although the first against Guru Nanak prior to Christmas fell foul of the weather, the second against neighbours Rusthall satisfied the fans' craving and, even allowing for the free entry, a very decent attendance assembled.

Unfortunately, with no team sheet either printed or written up, who was who in an experimental Tunbridge Wells side was guesswork apart from the regulars such as Joe Fuller and Perry Spackman.

If it wasn't clear who was who, this was no fault of the new floodlights that shone impressively brightly. Jason Bourne is overhauling the squad quickly with some returning names and some youngsters brought in from senior clubs' youth teams. Rory Head and Bradley Large have returned from University, Tom Davey has been pursuaded to return to the game and Tolly Beaton helped out on the night.

Added to those were mystery men, a left winger who we can only refer to as Baz (or even Buzz!) and a striker called Alwyn. Both of these players impressed and it would be good to get to know a little bit more about them whilst they are wearing the red of the Wells.

After five minutes, the Rusthall defence looked like they were drunken guests at a particularly raucous New Year's Eve party as they found themselves two behind to Joe Nwoko goals. His first after two minutes was from close range and his second came courtesy of the fleet-footed Baz before the striker side-stepped a couple of challenges to fire home.

All credit to Rusthall that they recovered their composure and for half-an-hour more than held their own. After some magnificent defending had denied the Wells a third, Rusthall hit the post with a far post header but then conceded on the counter attack with Nwoko completing his first half hat trick.

Large hit the bar, cutting in from the right, just prior to the break.

Ten minutes into the second half, Ian Parsons, a first half substitute, scored from close range to add a fourth.

Sadly, I have to admit to missing the final goal from Baz as a warming cup of tea became more enticing than the final five minutes, shame on me!

With very little to play for in terms of challenging for silverware (Tunbridge Wells will not go down, of that I'm sure), Jason Bourne has time on his side to allow a young side to evolve from the ashes of a poor opening four months of the season. How the young players on show in this non-competitive match transfer to men's senior football is going to make for interesting viewing for the Culverden faithful.

As a postscript I would like to thank my followers for continuing to log-in to That'll Be The Day, as it has now received its 50,000th page viewing.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Gillingham 1 Colchester United 0

Match 55/15/1260 - Monday, 29th December 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Samuel 70
Colchester United (0) 0
Attendance: 7,109

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/3,976

Match Report

As the stadium announcer was declaring Max Ehmer as the sponsors' man of the match, Stuart Nelson made the second of three point blank saves that won this hard fought encounter for Gillingham. Seconds before the final whistle, he made his third and there wasn't a person inside Priestfield Stadium that didn't realise that the goalkeeper was the true recipient of the sponsors' award.

Coming into the game on the back of outstanding performances at Millwall and Swindon, this was a scratchy performance. But make no mistake, when the prizes are handed out in May, to whoever they are awarded, it won't be the three-nils and four-nil games that have won the league or promotion, it will be games like this one that might, and perhaps should, have been lost.

Gillingham made one change from their last game, Ehmer coming in for Deji Oshilaja, but Bradley Dack caused some concerns during the warm up when he appeared to turn an ankle, so it was a relief when he emerged from the tunnel fit and ready to play just before 3 o'clock.

The first half was a truly forgettable affair for all but the travelling 345 supporters who had made the trip from Essex to urge on their bottom of the table side. By half-time, they had watched on as their team had amassed 11 shots on goal, four on target whereas the home side's tally amounted to a paltry four efforts, none of which had troubled Elliott Parrish in the Colchester goal.

Marvin Sordell had an early effort that whistled just over the bar and this set the tone for the first period, one in which Dominic Samuel and Rory Donnelly fed off the barest scraps upfront.

Gillingham's best, in fact only, chance of the first half came after ten minutes when a cross from Ryan Jackson found its way to the far post where Jake Hessenthaler just failed to convert.

Justin Edinburgh made two changes during the half-time break, Donnelly was replaced by Luke Norris and Josh Wright, who took a first half knock to the head, was replaced by Doug Loft. The changes had the desired effect and the home side showed a far greater urgency from the outset of the second period.

In the 52nd minute, Norris wasted a golden opportunity when he was sent clear down the left hand side but his powered shot only found the side netting.

Colchester, looking far from a side on a run of eight consecutive defeats, hit a post through a Chris Porter header and Ehmer had to be sharp to block an attempt from Tom Eastman.

Gillingham finally took the lead with 20 minutes remaining. After Dack had an effort partially cleared, Ryan Jackson's cross was met by John Egan, who directed a header across the face of goal from where Dominic Samuel shot home from close range.

Egan produced a thunderous shot from 40 yards plus that crashed against the crossbar as Gillingham had their best passage of play in the match.

As the game drifted towards its end, Colchester made a whole-hearted attempt to rescue something from their visit and in so doing brought Nelson to the fore. Firstly, with a minute remaining, he spread himself to repel a close range from Sordell following a George Moncur cross and as clock ticked to 93 minutes, Sordell was sent clear only to be denied by the Gillingham keeper's feet as he narrowed the angle.

The season is now past its half-way mark and if results had gone their way (they didn't) Gillingham could have been sitting at the top of the table going into the New Year. I don't think I'm alone in my surprise at their position at this stage; if they can continue to scratch results when a game doesn't quite go according to plan, who is to say that we cannot continue to be surprised?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

VCD Athletic 0 Tonbridge 3

Match 54/15/1259 - Saturday, 26th December 2015 - Ryman Premier

VCD Athletic (0) 0
Tonbridge (2) 3 Elder 34, Joseph (o.g.) 35, Blewden 50
Attendance: 267

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 74/3,920

Match Report

It is easy to see why the professionals within the game hold little store by "games in hand". At the beginning of December, Tonbridge were as many as four games adrift of other clubs at the top end of the table. But a dip in form, which has seen them go six games without a win, albeit that five of those were draws, has seen that perceived points gain dwindle. A bumper Boxing Day attendance for VCD Athletic, more than twice their average gate, was made up with a large following from Tonbridge hoping to see their favourites find some form against a home side entrenched in the bottom four. VCD's lowly league position had not been represented by recent victories at Grays Athletic and at their Oakwood ground against Wingate and Finchley.

The opening half-hour of the match saw Tonbridge apparently suffering from an over-indulgence of Christmas Pudding as they made a lethargic beginning to the game. But two goals in the space of a minute brought them to life and completely took the wind out of the sails of the hosts. A classic goal from Luke Blewden wrapped up the points as the Angels produced a fine second half performance on day when every one of the division's top five had victories.

The visitors survived an early scare when a cross to the far post was met with a towering header from Nigel Neita that went beyond Angels' goalkeeper Anthony Di Barnardo but was swept away from in front of the line by Laurence Ball. The hosts enjoyed some good possession and the pace of Michael Bakare was causing more than a few worrying moments.

After 15 minutes, Tonbridge's Simon Thomas was withdrawn with some sort of a leg injury to be replaced by Luke Blewden. This turned out to be significant as the Angels' leading goalscrorer was a constant threat.

Tonbridge's first effort on goal saw a Tommy Parkinson header saved by Tom Hadler, the Gillingham youngster that had two successful spells at Longmead last season.

The much-travelled Donovan Simmonds hooked an effort wide for VCD before Tonbridge opened the scoring after 34 minutes. Nicky Wheeler, who had switched from left to right wing, swung in a cross to Nathan Elder who was allowed time to take a touch before rifling a shot into the bottom corner.

Just 40 seconds elapsed and the scoreline was doubled. A cross from the left into the path of Elder was diverted into his own net by Ricardo Joseph, or was it? Elder was credited with the goal and, later, Elder declared that he had touched it. Who's going to argue with the big man?

That disastrous minute knocked the stuffing out of the hosts and Tonbridge were now in complete control of the game.

After five minutes of the second period, Elder played the ball into the path of Blewden, whose sublime first touch was to lob Hadler and into the top corner.

The second half became a one-way procession with only Hadler standing between Tonbridge and a cricket score as the hosts became visibly more and more dispirited.

James Folkes, marauding forward, had a couple of efforts saved and, my man of the match, Luke Allen saw a goalbound shot deflected wide.

With the top of the table clash against Dulwich Hamlet next Saturday no doubt in mind, Wheeler and Folkes were withdrawn allowing a welcome return for Jack Parter.

One final act saw a magnificent double save from Hadler to deny Allen and Blewden.

Back to winning ways for the Angels and with a performance to match. As said before in these postings, I'm not really a believer that there can be six-pointers in January, but next Saturday visit of Dulwich Hamlet to Longmead has all the hallmarks. The South Londoners will bring a large following and a four figure crowd is not an unreasonable expectation. As is often said, "Bring it On".

Monday, 21 December 2015

Millwall 0 Gillingham 3

Match 53/15/1258 - Saturday, 19th December 2015 - League One

Millwall (0) 0
Gillingham (2) 3 Samuel 20, 90+2, Dack (pen) 25
Attendance: 12,032

Entrance: £17 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 90/3,846

Match Report

Nearly six years ago I stood on South Bermondsey station waiting for a train back to London Bridge whilst, below me, the last 10 minutes or more were being played out on an embarrassing afternoon for Gillingham. Leaving before the end terminated that embarrassment and enabled us to get to the station before Millwall staged their customary lock-in of visiting supporters. Fast forward and we were happily interred at the New Den some half-an-hour after the final whistle after one of the most comprehensive results and displays that I've seen from Gillingham for some while.

I won't deny it, working in Bermondsey, I'm going to enjoy the bragging rights from this local derby.

It is 12 years since Gillingham won at the New Den and the 1,600-plus Gillingham supporters packing out the top tier of the away end were going to celebrate every minute of (as I've been told) our Cup Final!

I've also been told that League One is no place for Millwall Football Club and have only found themselves in this position by virtue of a Football Association/League conspiracy and should never be on a fixture list that contains the likes of piddling little clubs like Gillingham. They better get used to it, because on the strength of this performance, they may be alongside these minnows a while longer.

Ex-Millwall midfielder, Josh Wright, came into the Gillingham side replacing the suspended Doug Loft, despite the bereavement of his grandmother a couple of days earlier.

The opening 45 minutes was everything you would expect from a local derby. Feisty, at times ill-tempered, but it was the visitors that took control. Whilst Wright, broke up Millwall's intentions, he was the conduit for Bradley Dack to weave his magic to which Millwall had no answer.

The Gillingham support were on its feet after 15 minutes when they misinterpreted the referee's signal as Dominic Samuel was brought down as he tried to round the home 'keeper Jordan Archer. This was the first indication that Gillingham had too much pace for a cumbersome central defensive pairing of Byron Webster and Mark Beevers.

Five minutes later, Gillingham were ahead. A free kick into the box from Dack, saw the woeful Beevers allow Samuel a yard of space to steer his header into the corner of the net past Archer.

After 25 minutes, the visiting suppporters were once again at the nosiest. As Beevers and Webster dithered, Cody McDonald stole the ball on the edge of the box and was brought down by the advancing Archer with the referee this time pointing to the spot and issuing a red card to the goalkeeper. The substitution took forever, and once David Forde had taken his place between the sticks, Dack showed all his composure to roll the to his right, whilst the keeper went left.

Gillingham were now in total charge of the game and should have gone further ahead when Forde denied Dack as he broke clear.

The half had an unsavoury end when a tackle from ex-Gillingham player Joe Martin on Ryan Jackson brought a mass confrontation that eventually brought bookings for both players. Samuel went to the floor, victim of an alleged headbutt that went unpunished.

Martin had clearly lost his head and his half-time substitution could only have been made by Neil Harris to preserve Millwall's ten men on the pitch.

The second half was a quite different affair and I was a little disappointed that Gillingham allowed the depleted home side the majority of the possession and with it, several very good chances to reduce the deficit. Stuart Nelson made a good save from Lee Gregory and a header in front of goal from Aiden O'Brien should never have cleared the crossbar. It made for uncomfortable viewing as, with a typical Millwall crowd backing them, a goal would have put the home side right back in the game despite their man disadvantage.

Gillingham were still making chances on the break as Beevers and Webster looked vulnerable with every attack. Forde escaped being the second Millwall goalkeeper to see red when he cynically took out Samuel, but given the position on the touchline, the referee issued a yellow card.

As the clock ticked into time-added another piece of comedy defending from Webster gave Samuel the opportunity to dink the ball over Forde from an acute angle to trigger as mass exodus of home fans from the Den and extended celebration from the Kent fans.

Looking back on this post, I know its biased. But when you have been told continually about what a tin-pot club you follow it's nice to force-feed a little humble pie.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Chatham Town 1 Herne Bay 4

Match 52/15/1257 - Tuesday, 15th December 2015 - Kent Senior Cup 2R

Chatham Town (1) 1 Osei 45
Herne Bay (0) 4 Johnson 59, Parkinson 63, Williams 75,82
Attendance: 71

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 32/3,756

Match Report

For the first time this season, a postponement diverted me away from my original destination to a first alternative. Tonbridge's Ryman Premier encounter fell foul of a waterlogged pitch at Longmead, as had the previous night's Ryman Under 18's game that I was also planning on attending.

It is quite amazing how often, when games all around Kent have been called off, Chatham's Maidstone Road ground seems to survive the onslaught. A playing surface laid on clay was the reason given to me some time ago.

Back in August, at Longmead, I got an inkling that Herne Bay were a useful side, despite on the night being a bit overly physical. Their league position, third going into this Kent Senior Cup encounter, indicated I might have been a good judge and their performance on a horrible evening confirmed those thoughts.

It was a pleasure to see Lee Browning back on a football pitch after a couple of months out of the game without a club, although it took a while to recognise him with his new look, a very heavy beard. As he has done for many a year, he bossed a midfield looking the quality player on the pitch.

This is the first time I've seen Chatham since Kevin Horlock took charge and from this viewing he has a uphill job on his hands.

The night turned on a second half disaster for Chats' goalkeeper, Ryan Nicholls. The home side had gone into the break with a barely deserved 1-0 lead courtesy of a goal from Kwabena Osei. On the hour, Herne Bay were level when a header at the far post from a corner went through Nicholls' hands. Four minutes later, another fumble allowed Dan Parkinson to score and when a shot from outside of the box was only palmed into the path of Danny Williams with 15 minutes remaining the keeper's night of misery was complete.

A sweeping move and a fierce shot from Williams wrapped up the evening and progressed Herne Bay into the quarter-finals where they will have a home tie against Dartford.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Gillingham 0 Burton Albion 3

Match 51/15/1256 - Saturday, 12th December 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Burton Albion (0) 3 McCrory 59, Atkins 90+1, O'Connor 90+5
Attendance: 6,230

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/3,724

Match report

Gillingham's home record came crashing down around their ears on a day that is best forgotten and moved on quickly from, especially in the case of the club captain, Doug Loft.

For 36 minutes Gillingham struggled against a strong wind and a decent team that arrived at Priestfield at the summit of League One. They rode their luck and had Stuart Nelson to thank for a succession of saves. Had they got into the dressing room at the break with a full complement of staff and to return to the field with the wind at their backs, who knows what might have happened. But having been booked 10 minutes previously, Loft stupidly kicked out after being pulled back by Stuart Beavon. The referee, who had a poor afternoon, didn't have a great deal of options available to him and Loft was dismissed whilst Beavon's original challenge went unpunished.

Beavon tested Nelson once more before the Brewers took the lead 13 minutes into the second half. The ball was laid back from the edge of the box to Damien McCrory who drilled a low shot past Nelson from 20 yards.

Gillingham responded almost immediately when a speculative shot from 30 yards out on the left hand side, sailed over the head of Burton's keeper, John McLaughlin, but crashed against the bar.

In fairness, Gillingham made a valiant effort to rescue the game. Justin Edinburgh made attacking changes and whilst they enjoyed a little more forward possession they didn't produce many chances and the threat of being caught on the break was always evident.

They were punished twice in the closing minutes, firstly on the 90, Lucas Atkins took a cross into the box and slotted the ball under Nelson and, with the final kick of the match, Anthony O'Connor diverted a shot into the net to give the game a slightly flattering scoreline in the visitor's favour.

The wife passed the comment as I left for Priestfield that this was a six-pointer, I have to say I don't think that you can have a realistic six-pointer in December. But, despite the caveat of going down to 10 men, there was enough evidence before the sending off that against the better sides in the division, Gillingham might just be a little short if they are to mount a serious promotion campaign. Fourth in the table coming up to Christmas, there cannot be a Gillingham supporter that would not have accepted that position back in August, now is the time to strengthen and kick on. Over to you, Chairman Scally and Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Greenwich Borough 2 Tonbridge 2

Match 50/15/1255 - Tuesday, 8th December 2015 - Kent Senior Cup QF

Greenwich Borough (1) 2 Alexander 36 (pen), 78
Tonbridge (1) 1 Brown 33, Whitnell 48
Greenwich Borough won 3-2 on penalties
Attendance: 101

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 72/3,668

Match Report

As Gary Alexander's penalty rose high into the night sky in the general direction of the Dartford Tunnel, could it be that Tonbridge were finally to win a penalty shoot-out? Luke Blewden hit the crossbar, Ellis Brown the underside of the crossbar and when Charlie Webster's spot kick brought a good save from Craig Holloway, the Angels had once again conspired to lose the lottery, this time from 2-0 up.

It was a frustrating end to an evening in which the senior side had twice led and, for the most part, appeared to be in control of the game.

Steve McKimm fielded just three non first teamers in goalkeeper Aaron McGuigan, who had contributed greatly in getting to this quarter final with a fine performance in the previous round against Faversham; Stephen Panayi at left back and in midfield, Connor Pring. Sonny Miles, in light of suspensions and injuries in the central defensive area, made a welcome return.

Craig Holloway, in the Borough goal, made decent first half saves from Panayi and Brown, whilst ex-Angel Scott Kinch wasted an opportunity before Tonbridge opened the scoring after 32 minutes. Charlie Webster was released down the left hand side by Pring and from the bye-line squared a pass across the face of goal where Brown was on hand for a tap-in.

The lead lasted barely three minutes when a driven shot caught the hands of Miles from very close range in the penalty area. It was one of those decisions where it has to be questioned whether the defender had any chance of getting out of the way of the shot, seemingly the referee thought he did. Alexander stroked the ball into the net off the inside of the right-hand post with McGuigan committed to the other direction.

Tonbridge regained their lead three minutes into the second half when a Webster cross deceived Holloway, who allowed the ball to travel to the far post from where Tommy Whitnell was on hand to tap-in from no more than a yard.

At this point, Tonbridge should have gone on to dominate the game, but they allowed Greenwich a lot of possession and, although chances were very much at a premium, Kinch in particular, wasting a couple, the pressure was mounting on the visitors.

This eventually told in the 78th minute. A ball over the top of Tonbridge's back four found Alexander who showed all his experience with a composed lob over the advancing McGuigan.

Time was played out until the dreaded shoot-out and the fatalistic among us already knew the game was up for Tonbridge. At 2-0 were we unduly pessimistic? Five minutes later the contest had reached its inevitable conclusion.

Taking one of very few positives from the game, Connor Pring had a splendid game in midfield and looks a very good prospect, one for McKimm and his staff to nurture.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Tonbridge 2 Burgess Hill Town 3

Match 49/15/1254 - Saturday, 5th December 2015 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 2 Elder 19,54
Burgess Hill Town (1) 3 Gargan 2, Fisk 75, Smith 78
Attendance: 457

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 38/3,596

Match Report

Results at Stoke City and Chelsea on Saturday served to prove that, even with all the money in the world, everybody is liable for "one of those days". Roman Abramovich and the Shiekh Mansour probably drowned their sorrows in something other than PG Tips, but hopefully they felt the same way as I did, crawling back under the duvet having had "one of those days" when everybody around me would have benefited from yours truly staying there in the first place. Tonbridge also had "one of those days" and for their misfortune I almost feel I have to take some responsibility.

Kent was feeling the force, albeit in a very minor way to which Cumbria was later to suffer, from Storm Desmond leaving playing conditions difficult for both sides. Steve McKimm had drafted Sam Rents into the side on loan from Margate to cover for the injured Jack Parter.

The home side got of to the worst possible start, going behind after just two minutes. A throw in from Rents was quickly returned behind him leaving Chris Smith to move into the vacated space and deliver a cross for Sam Gargan to side foot home from very close range.

Tonbridge responded well and should have been on level terms after 11 minutes when a Nicky Wheeler to cross to the far post was redirected across the face of goal by Laurence Ball from where Jeromme Sobers, diving in, directed his header just wide.

After 19 minutes the Angels were level following brilliant work from Wheeler, who cut back from the bye-line to deliver an inch perfect cross for Nathan Elder to head in off the underside of the bar.

On the hour came a game changing moment when Ball took a boot to the face in the centre circle. A long delay ensued, and although the central defender could make his way from he field, he was too groggy to continue. The reshuffle saw the influential Tom Parkinson go back into central defence with Tommy Whitnell coming on as substitute.

This took the momentum away from Tonbridge and it was Burgess Hill that went closest before the break when a cross from Sam Fisk was deflected onto the bar and over by Parkinson.

Early into the second half, Tonbridge enjoyed a stroke of fortune as a thunderous free kick from Gargan cannoned back off a post before after 54 minutes the home side took the lead. A cross from the David Fitzpatrick on the right was met with another header from Elder, who troubled the Hillians central defence constantly.

Fifteen minutes remained when a two minute spell turned the game on its head. A Fisk cross from the left hand side, almost inexplicably, found its way past Anthony Di Barnardo. Such was the surprise at the ball nestling in the corner of the net, that it could only have been a deflection off Sobers that took it past the keeper.

A couple of minutes later, a session of head tennis failed to clear the danger and the final header forward found Chris Smith, who lobbed the advancing Di Barnardo to give Burgess Hill the lead. Smith, who evidently chose Burgess Hill in preference to Tonbridge in the summer, had not really impressed at the point, but this was a predatory finish.

Sobers limped away from the action five minutes from time leaving the home side without a recognised centre half on the field and with Sonny Miles still to return to action leaves a worrying situation.

In the past eight days Tonbridge have had three opportunities to reach the summit of the Ryman Premier and with Dulwich Hamlet surprisingly beaten at home by Needham Market this was a golden chance. But, no medals are handed out in December, and I for one, am happy to see them fly under the radar for a while later.

One of those days, a bad day at the office, all meaningless phrases that can be put in the past as long as they don't happen too often.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Holmesdale 2 Tunbridge Wells 7

Match 48/15/1253 - Wednesday, 2nd December 2015 - Southern Counties East

Holmesdale (0) 2 Akers 52, 63
Tunbridge Wells (5) 7 Nwoko 7,31,77 Cable 11, Seenan 19 (pen), 29,48
Attendance: 88

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: Free
Mileage: 78/3,518
New Ground: 283

Match Report

Crisis, what crisis? Jason Bourne might justifiably have exclaimed, as on a windy evening, Tunbridge Wells literally blew their hosts away in a devastating first half-hour.

The winds of change have blown through Tunbridge Wells Football Club through the course of this turbulent season. Since my last time at a Tunbridge Wells game, the manager, Keith Bird, has departed and the revolving door of players has continued apace. Jason Bourne has brought some old faces back to the club alongside some youngsters, one of which was to really catch the eye on this evening.

My first visit to Holmesdale’s Oakley Road ground left an impression of darkness. An unlit walk down an un-made drive was hazardous and once inside the ground the stand on the far side with its black background was invisible, at least to my eyes, until set against the red shirts of the Wells players in the foreground.

Several of the Tunbridge Wells players were on view for the first time for myself and Joe Nwoko was quick to announce himself with the opening goal after seven minutes. A 30 yard shot at goal found the bottom corner past a very young goalkeeper.

Nwoko turned provider three minutes later when his run down the right hand side and pass across the face of goal left Rikki Cable with a tap-in from a couple of feet.

An isolated foray on the visitor’s goal should have brought a goal for Holmesdale but a weak shot allowed Steve Lawrence a comfortable save. Moments later, they were three behind. A run from KJ McFarlane was ended with a trip just inside the penalty area and Chris Seenan converted from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way.

After 25 minutes, Seenan doubled his tally when a pass from Nwoko sent Seenan through and his aim was unerring as he found the bottom corner past the bewildered keeper.

After 32 minutes, one really had to be fearful for Holmesdale and a potential cricket score as the Wells added a fifth. A perfect through pass from Stephen Ikpeme found Nwoko who rounded the keeper before slotting the ball into the empty net.

It was that through ball that really focused the attention on Ikpeme. Until then, in his role as defensive midfielder, he had gone about his business quietly and efficiently, but now with the scoreline so one-sided he had the licence to express himself. On-loan from Maidstone United’s Ryman Under-18 side, he is built like no 18 year-old from my day. Powerful, he dominated to the point that he appeared to frighten most of the hosts’ midfield.

The second half looked to be taking on the same pattern as Seenan completed his hat trick just two minutes into the period. Laid on by Nwoko, who had an impressive night, the Scottish striker found the top corner from around the penalty spot.

Then, completely out of context with the rest of the contest, Holmesdale’s Danny Atkins produced two pieces of fine striking to reduce the deficit and perhaps add a little respectability. After 52 minutes, Atkins found the top corner, past the despairing hand of Lawrence, with a 25 yard free kick and ten minutes later, a shot from even further out rifled into the bottom corner.

There could be little concern with such a decisive scoreline, but any lingering doubts were put to bed with 13 minutes remaining when a punt forward from Ollie Cooke sent Nwoko beyond the Holmesdale back four with the striker coolly lobbing the advancing keeper for his hat trick goal.

Hopefully, this was a sign that the recovery of Tunbridge Wells is underway. Their holy grail of a Vase run ended with the disappointment of an exit at their opening stage of the competition at Knaphill and there is little left in the season but to fight for a respectable finishing league position. This can be easily achieved with a bit of stability in the remaining months, Bourne has the best wishes of the Wells’ support earned by his longevity as a player and if a few more gems in the likeness of Ikpeme come his way, then his task will be made that much easier.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Staines Town 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 47/15/1252 - Tuesday, 1st December 2015 - Ryman Premier

Staines Town (0) 1 Abdullah 53
Tonbridge (0) 1 Elder 62
Attendance: 198

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 140/3,440

Match Report

Successive away games have brought the same result with two vastly different performances that were influenced heavily by the state of the surfaces. The Staines pitch resembled a bowling green in comparison to the cabbage patch at Billericay and Tonbridge were able to express themselves accordingly.

There is always something irritating about visiting Staines. Late postponements were the signature of my first two visits and now it is being turned away from the car park if you are not a member of the gym. Never trusting the M25 during evening rush-hour, extra time was allowed and, of course, it was plain sailing round the motorway leaving enough time to find a parking space elsewhere once turned away.

The home side started well enough with a shot wide and a header comfortably saved by Anthony Di Bernardo before Tonbridge took control of the game. After 12 minutes, David Fitzpatrick sent Luke Blewden through, but a moment's hesitation was enough for Tommy Brewer to make a saving tackle.

Staines' goalkeeper, Jack Turner, made the first of several good saves when he clawed away a Tommy Parkinson header from a Blewden long throw and a couple of minutes later saved with his feet at the near post a Blewden shot.

After 38 minutes, Parkinson should have put the visitors in front when he steered a close range header wide after a perfect cross from Nicky Wheeler.

Parkinson was substituted during the half-time break with Anthony Riviere taking his place. The visitors continued to take the game to their hosts and it was something of a surprise when, from 20 yards, a low shot from Ahmed Abdullah found the bottom corner.

A second substitution was necessary as Blewden limped off to be replaced by Tommy Whitnell. After 55 minutes, Turner produced another good save to turn over the bar a Nathan Elder before Tonbridge found an equalier a couple of minutes later. A fine run and cross from Fitzpatrick offered up a simple chance for Elder who buried his header from close range.

Fifteen minutes remained when another very good save from Turner denied Elder after some good work from Jack Parter, who also had to be substituted before the end.

If Tonbridge were slightly fortunate to leave Billericay with a point, here they were deserving of the full compliment. As I overheard a Staines supporter telling another, "you can see why they are at the top".

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Billericay Town 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 46/15/1251 - Saturday, 28th November 2015 - Ryman Premier

Billericay Town (1) 1 Monville 5
Tonbridge (1) 1 Parkinson 42
Attendance: 375

Entrance: £7 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 96/3,300

Match Report

It's a rather daft saying "if things don't change they'll stay the same", rather stating the obvious. But over this weekend, some things have changed. Great Britain have won the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years; Wladimir Klitschko, world heavyweight boxing champion for the last nine years, was beaten by a Briton, Tyson Fury and a striker, from non-league football, Jamie Vardy, set a new Premier League record scoring for an eleventh consecutive match. Since most of us realise there was football before Sky television, this was the first time this had been achieved since Stanley Mortensen in 1951.

However, some things never change and Tonbridge winning at Billericay is one of them.

Billericay came into the game in a good vein of form with only three defeats in their last 16 matches and on a heavy pitch, eloquently described elsewhere as an allotment, Tonbridge were always going to struggle to put together a passing game that might stretch a solid back line.

Tonbridge found themselves behind very early in the game. Conor Hubble delivered a pin-point cross to the far post where Quentin Monville and time and space to plant a header into the net from close range.

The visitors were struggling to come to terms with the elements and Billericay had a good chance to double their advantage when Mike Fondop-Talom failed to convert a cross from Monville. Fondop-Talom went on to produce an eye-catching display. Signed from Stanway Rangers, he looks a talent and visible proof that there are unpolished gems in the lower leagues waiting to be unearthed.

After 20 minutes on the back foot, Tonbridge started to get a foothold in the game. Riviere, who made light of the pitch and his 36 years, had a low shot saved by Giddens in the Essex side's goal; Nicky Wheeler brought another save and after 39 minutes, Nathan Elder should have done better with a header from a David Fitzpatrick cross.

After 42 minutes, Tonbridge's pressure finally bore dividends when a Wheeler free kick wasn't dealt with and when the ball fell to Tommy Parkinson, he hooked in from six yards.

Into the second half, the pitch got heavier and the wind blew harder leaving both sides struggling to create much in the way of chances. Ten minutes remained when the visitors breathed a huge sigh of relief as a free kick from Hubble rebounded off the crossbar. Fondop-Talom had one final opportunity to win the game for the home side but steered a header wide.

I think Tonbridge's management would leave Essex considering this a point won in very difficult conditions to which the home side adapted much better.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Gillingham 2 Rochdale 0

Match 45/15/1250 - Tuesday, 24th November 2015 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Dack 7, Oshilaja 80
Rochdale (0) 0
Attendance: 5,088

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 58/3,204

Match Report

One of life's (and football's) little coincidences. My 2,000th game was the 2009 Play-off Semi-Final at Rochdale; fast forward six-and-a-half years and 500 games and my 2,500th sees Gillingham and Rochdale as the competing teams once again.

In 2009, the first leg was hard fought with, as I wrote at the time, barely a fag paper between the teams. The game ended goalless setting up a winner takes all second leg at Priestfield, which was equally tight but with Gillingham ultimately advancing to Wembley courtesy of two Simeon Jackson goals. In 2015, another hard fought encounter ensued as Gillingham sought to put behind them a really bad day out at Coventry on Saturday.

Gillingham have a formidable home record this season and reverses on the road have been safely put to bed each time they have returned to Priestfield. Back in September, after consecutive defeats at Colchester and Barnsley, they bounced back with a 5-1 thrashing of Fleetwood. An unfortunate defeat at Walsall, but a truly awful cup exit at Stevenage was also reversed with a comfortable 3-1 win over Bury. Saturday's top-of-the-table clash at the Ricoh saw four first half goals conceded in just 10 minutes before recovering some pride in the second half of a 4-1 defeat. Their ability to bounce back from setbacks is really admirable.

Gillingham engineered an early confidence boost with a superbly crafted goal after just seven minutes. Ryan Jackson broke up an attack from the visitors with a robust challenge before setting "Paddy" Osadebe on his way with a surge down the right side. His pass into Dominic Samuel was laid off by the loan striker into the path of Bradley Dack, whose clinical strike found the bottom corner for his tenth goal of the season.

Chances for either side became as rare as rocking horse poo as both midfields cancelled each other out. Football fans have fairly long memories and last season's pantomime villain, Andy Cannon, was re-installed, especially after feeling the weight of a heavy, but deemed fair, challenge from Deji Oshilaja. Last season's fixture had seen the Rochdale midfielder writhing on the ground following seemingly each challenge. But, it was Cannon that brought the first save of the match out of Stuart Nelson with a driven shot.

If the home side had slightly edged the first period, the second belonged to the Dale. Gillingham's ball retention left an awful lot to be desired, but as much as Rochdale pressed for a goal, they proved fairly punchless in the final third. Nelson made a smart save low to his right to deny substitute Tom Hooper, but overall was barely troubled, although the 70 or so travelling supporters may have felt their possession of the ball deserved some reward.

Those supporters knew they would be going home empty handed when, 10 minutes from time, from a corner a John Egan header was only parried by the keeper back to Oshilaja who nodded the ball in from close range.

It would be lovely to think that I would still be penning this blog when I get to 3,000 games. If I was to continue at the present rate then I would be 71 years of age reaching that milestone. So, mark it in your diary, in April 2022, Gillingham will be playing Rochdale!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

England 2 France 0

Match 44/15/1249 - Tuesday, 17th November 2015 - International

England (1) 2 Alli 39, Rooney 47
France (0) 0
Attendance: 71,233

Entrance: £30
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/3,146

Match Report

Prior to Friday’s atrocities in Paris, despite having already bought a ticket, I had little interest in this international. I’ve long bemoaned Wembley in this column as lacking in atmosphere, inhabited by drunks and thugs and serving up a series of absolutely dreadful football matches that made for a largely unpleasant experience.

After the Paris attacks, my first thoughts, in regards to the game, were that it should be cancelled. There was an element of risk to the public and it had to be questioned whether the French would want to play. Initially, it seemed that was the case but over the weekend the French Football Federation stated they wanted the game to go ahead, a show of defiance if you like, and from that point a morbid curiosity in how this delicate situation would be handled kicked in.

Police with automatic weapons on Wembley Way was an early signed that this was to be no ordinary evening. The pre-match ceremonies were to include the singing of La Marseillaise after, rather than before, God Save The Queen with the request that it is sung by everybody; the raising of a mosaic that would form the tricolor and the laying of wreathes by the respective manager’s Roy Hodgson and Didier Deschamps alongside the Duke of Cambridge and ended with a minute’s silence. Just how would the Wembley crowd react, let’s face it every opponent’s anthem has been booed since the mists of time. The answer was with the greatest of respect.

The French players were applauded as they took to the field for their pre-match warm-up and cheered when their starting line-up was announced. If you’ve no French in your vocabulary, La Marseillaise is not the easiest of songs to sing even if the words are projected onto a giant screen, but Wembley did its best, even if, like myself, you chose just to la-la along with the on-field choir.

Following the laying of the wreathes which remained on the edge of the technical area during the match, the two squads mingled together for photographs to the accompaniment of loud applause whilst the silence was observed perfectly with only the drone of overhead helicopters to be heard as the players formed a circle in the centre of the pitch. Every moment had been treated with total respect as football, and its supporters, looked ISIL in the face and defiantly said, life goes on.

The match itself produced one of the better performances in recent times from England, whose starting line-up was almost ludicrously young. Unfortunately, there will always be the caveat that the French hearts were not in the game and this showed as at times they looked decidedly ordinary.

Hopefully though the starting debut of Dele Alli will not get lost among the other remembrances of this day. The Tottenham youngster was outstanding and his 39th minute goal should live long in the memory. He initially won the ball in a midfield challenge with Morgan Schneiderlin and when Wayne Rooney laid a pass back to him, his dipping shot found the top corner beating his club mate, Hugo Lloris.

Rooney added a second after 47 minutes with a volley after Alli had won another tackle in the middle of the park and sent Rahim Sterling away down the left to supply the cross for the goal.

The match drifted away into the night with the usual raft of substitutions, one of which, the introduction of Lassana Diarra, who had lost his cousin in the attack, brought heart warming applause.

Walking back along Wembley Way, with England and French supporters side-by-side, I was reflecting on a decision made that this would be the end of my time as an England member and having the thought that if every game had been blessed with this atmosphere I would not be making this choice. So sad that it took a tragedy of this magnitude to engender the feel-good factor into Wembley.

Dartford 2 Gillingham 1

Match 43/15/1248 - Monday, 16th November 2015 - Kent Senior Cup

Dartford (0) 2 Wynter 71, Simmons 79
Gillingham (0) 1 Dickenson 57
Attendance: 361

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 61/3,046

Match Report

Gillingham wrapped a sorry 10 day spell in which they exited three cup competitions, each time against lower opposition. This Kent Senior Cup exit may well have resided in the [very] low priority tray but the side fielded by Mark Patterson looked, and indeed should have been, strong enough to have seen this tie through.

A first half passed by, possibly the worst half of football I've seen this season, with a solitary header that cleared the bar from Dartford's, ex-Gillingham striker, Andy Pugh posing the only threat to either keeper.

The game couldn't get any worse in the second half and, thankfully, it improved markedly after the respective manager's words during the break. Gillingham took the lead on 57 minutes with a good strike from Brennan Dickenson. A cross field pass from right to left from Jermaine McGlashan saw Dickenson cut inside and drill a shot home from 20 yards.

Gillingham's advantage lasted until the 71st minute when a corner from Dartford substitute Dajon Golding found another ex-Gillingham player, Tom Wynter, who buried an unchallenged header for a deserved equaliser.

Eight minutes later, Dartford found an winner, and if nothing else, saved the 361 attendees the bother of hanging around for penalties, and, truly out of context with game, it was a bit of a worldie. Fed a pass to the right wing, Jack Simmons cut in and curled an angled shot from 25 yards into the top corner.

A word in passing for the Prince's Park pitch. A year ago, when I visited for a prestigious Premier League Under-21 international competition, the pitch was frankly an embarrassment. But a lot of money has been spent to avoid a repetition and it looked in very good order despite the wet weather recently experienced.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Gillingham 3 Bury 1

Match 42/15/1247 - Saturday, 14th November 2015 - League One

Gillingham (2) 3 Samuel 5, Egan 9, Osadebe 86
Bury (1) 1 Clarke 3
Attendance: 6,063

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/2,985

Match Report

This was a day when sport was relegated to complete insignificance by virtue of the terrorist atrocities in Paris on Friday evening that left 128 people dead and many more fighting for their lives. It seems almost inconceivable that standing at an English Football League match observing a minute's silence in tribute to the victims, that the word lucky might be used. But at an international match at the Stade de France between France and Germany, one of the terrorists who was laden with a suicide belt of explosives, was found to have had a ticket for the match. One dare not think about the consequences had he made inside the arena.

Sport, though, can offer an element of escapism from the reality of a harsh world, albeit for just a couple of hours. And, if you can return after your time away from the horrors of continuous TV and radio coverage, having seen your team perform well; rise back to the top of the table and witness a goal the like of which you are unlikely to see again this season, then the smile on your face justifies that escape.

Gillingham supporters needed a little lift irrespective of events elsewhere in the world. Exits from both the FA Cup and the Johnson's Paint Trophy to lower division opposition and, from reports, a horrible performance at Stevenage was headlined as a mini slump.

The opening 10 minutes saw mixed emotions for a couple of players with differing milestones. Stuart Nelson, playing his 150th game for the club, could only watch helplessly as a Leon Clarke header came down from the underside of the bar to cross the line for a fourth minute opener. But, within a couple of minutes, debutant Dominic Samuel, on loan from Reading, seized on a rebound to drive home a shot from the edge of the six yard box.

Gillingham completed their recovery from the early set-back after 10 minutes when a cross from Bradley Garmston was headed back across the face of goal by Harry Lennon to his fellow central defender, John Egan, whose volleyed finish was that of seasoned striker.

One could only imagine what the 18-year-old debutant Bury goalkeeper, Jack Ruddy, was making of his opening few minutes of first team football, surely it can't be like this every week?

Thankfully, for the young lad, the game settled into something resembling normality and he would have felt a touch better going into the break with a couple of comfortable saves under this belt.

Bury, who started the day sixth in the table, were certainly not at Priestfield to make up the numbers and a last ditch tackle from Garmston and a clearance from the goal line by Lennon served as heavy reminders to the home side.

The moment that will live long in the memory came with a couple of minutes remaining. Emmanuel "Paddy" Osadebe collected a loose ball fully 20 yards inside his own half with an acre of space in front of him to drive into. After about 30 yards he rode a couple of challenges to continue his run to the bye-line from where the easiest option would have been to engineer a corner from his defender, but he cut inside leaving him with the goalkeeper on his near post who was to be beaten with a shot across the face of the goal. It was a triumph of determination and persistence, a lung-busting 70 yard run with a sublime finish and the lad is just 19 years of age.

The final whistle sounded like the last post, a return to the grim reality of the modern world but with a temporary smile courtesy of Paddy Power.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Tonbridge 1 Faversham Town 0

Match 41/15/1246 - Tuesday, 11th November 2015 - Kent Senior Cup 2R

Tonbridge (0) 1 Parkinson 80
Faversham Town (0) 0
Attendance: 182

Entrance: £7
Programme: £0.50
Mileage: 38/2,929

Match Report

The Kent Senior Cup is a difficult competition to assess in terms of its value. In terms of local prestige I would rate it above the Ryman League Cup in importance, but because of the higher graded clubs in the competition, it is also much more difficult to make progress to the later rounds, which is why I found Tonbridge’s departure from the League Cup at the hands of Hastings rather disappointing.

As to its value to the likes of Steve McKimm, I wonder if it is a fixture that he could do without. Perhaps this season, with an already extensive backlog of fixtures in the Ryman Premier, that might be the case. McKimm, though, would want to respect the competition and the paying public, albeit a sparse attendance, by putting out a team that would be competitive. His choice was already limited by injuries and Luke Blewden and Nathan Elder, who picked up strains on the heavy pitch at Needham Market, were not risked. Jack Parter, Anthony Riviere and Nick Wheeler were also given the night off, whilst, coming back from an injury lay-off, Tom Parkinson was able to put another 90 minutes under his belt.

This was also a good opportunity to blood some youngsters and added to starters Steve Panayi and Brett Milham, there were introductions from the bench for Connor Pring and Perrie Roje.

Faversham Town fielded a strong team with ex-Angels loan goalkeeper, Will Godman taking his place between the sticks for the Whites.

It has to be said that the match wasn’t one blessed with excitement, charitably, I would say it was absorbing! The stand-out performance on the night, at least from a Tonbridge viewpoint, was from goalkeeper Aaron McGuigan. The young custodian may not have the physical presence of his regular first team counterpart but his agility was a principal factor in Tonbridge progressing to the third round of the competition.

The opening 45 minutes saw very few clear cut chances. McGuigan tipped over a far post header from a corner and Parkinson hit the bar following a James Folkes cross. Faversham had the ball in the net after 35 minutes but Wayne Wilton’s effort was disallowed for offside.

The second period was a lot more entertaining. Milham appeared to be pulled back in the box, but penalty claims were waved away by the referee before Faversham struck the bar with a close range header. McGuigan had a 20 minute period when he kept the Angels in the game. After 53 minutes, he came out on top in a one-on-one situation and a one-handed save after 65 minutes was exceptional.

As the game appeared to be meandering towards a penalty shoot-out (which of course, Tonbridge never win), Folkes crossed from the right to Parkinson, who swept the ball home from close range.

There was a final flourish from the visitors that saw McGuigan saving comfortably a header from a corner and deservedly taking the man of the match award.

Back in 1974, the value of the Kent Senior Cup wasn’t questioned when Tonbridge last won the trophy following a famous victory over Maidstone and, I suppose it wasn’t two years ago, when they reached the Final albeit with an entirely different outcome. So, in my opinion, there are positives that can be found and the competition should be embraced.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Needham Market 2 Tonbridge 1

Match 40/15/1245 - Saturday, 7th November 2015 - Ryman Premier

Needham Market (0) 2 Brothers 52, 65
Tonbridge (0) 1 Elder 56
Attendance: 300
New ground: 282

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 224/2,891

Match Report

In terms of distance, Suffolk is as far as it gets and for Tonbridge it seems it is a step to far. An almost impeccable away record disappeared into the mud of Needham Market as the home side, firmly ensconced in the bottom four of the Ryman Premier, belied their position with a performance that, if not blessed with any quality, would give their supporters a great lift with the resilience they showed, especially a last 10 minutes assault on their goal from the visitors.

Tonbridge will also be glad to see the back of their Brothers Grimm. Patrick Brothers scored the winning goal for Leiston at Longmead back in September and was a thorn in their side in the 3-1 FA Cup defeat at Victory Road whilst his brother Michael scored a brace to put three points on the board for Needham for only the second time this season. Sadly, Patrick (and Suffolk) needs to be encountered once more.

There was a warm welcome on arrival at Bloomfields, no more so than the wonderfully enthusiastic tea lady who almost theatrically dispensed her food and drink orders with a cheery smile whilst showing a colourful fashion sense in her yellow Doc Martens!

Taking their place in the tea queue, rather than the team line-up were Sonny Miles and Tommy Whitnell although Tom Parkinson and Nathan Elder were fit to return, whilst new loan signing from AFC Wimbledon, David Fitzpatrick took his place in the line-up.

The pitch, before a ball was kicked, looked pretty bad. It didn’t take long, and was certainly not helped by a heavy rain shower during the opening quarter-hour, before it turned into a real cow patch.

Bloomfields was a nice facility with a wooden main stand straddling the half-way line that probably held around a couple of hundred people and behind one goal was another seated area, of the more modern, uninspiring design that held a hundred or so more.

Needham Market were swiftly out of the blocks and Anthony Di Bernardo was at full stretch to turn away a shot from Adam Mills after just 20 seconds. After that initial foray, it was the visitors that made the early running. Luke Blewden shot wide and Fitzpatrick had a shot that was blocked before the Needham goalkeeper, Daniel Gay was tested for the first time with a low shot from Elder.

After 26 minutes came the first controversial moment of the match; a free kick awarded just outside the box was curled into the net by Nick Wheeler, but the delight of the substantial Tonbridge following was cut short when the referee ruled it out, supposedly for Elder creating space in the wall with a push. It seemed very harsh and at the end of the day, it was a moment where you felt Tonbridge would have gone on and won comfortably if they had got their noses in front.

After 33 minutes, there was more hands in heads among the visiting supporters when Gay produced an absolutely magnificent save to deny an Elder header from a Wheeler corner.

A friendly half-time chat was had with the home support and it was the Bloomfield faithful that were celebrating after seven minutes of the second period. A re-taken free kick into the box was poorly dealt with by a James Folkes header that landed at the feet of Brothers who needed to no second asking to smash a shot past Di Bernardo.

Tonbridge responded quickly and with a goal worth the mileage in itself. A cross from the left was cushioned on the chest of Elder before the dropping ball was volleyed into the net.

In what had become a frantic 13 minutes, Di Bernardo turned a shot from Jay Davies away but from the resultant corner the ball was only cleared to the penalty spot and the waiting feet of Brothers who made no mistake.

Elder and Blewden were withdrawn as the heavy pitch took its toll leaving Tonbridge with a strikeforce of Parkinson and Ellis Brown, and with caution thrown to the wind they set up an assault that deserved some reward. But with the goalkeeper saving brilliantly from Brown and a series of shots being denied by bodies thrown in front of the ball, the Needham defence held firm.

Many with an interest in the non-league game would have looked on the BBC1 documentary "Class of 92: Out of their League" and identified, if not the arrival of a group of five sugar daddys, but with the small army of volunteers that make every match day possible. Babs, the tea lady at Salford City, has enjoyed her deserved 15 minutes of fame, there are tea ladies up and down the country that go unnoticed, but not if you wear yellow Doc Martens!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Tonbridge 2 Phoenix Sports 0

Match 39/15/1244 - Tuesday, 4th November 2015 - FA Trophy 1QR Replay

Tonbridge (1) 2 Blewden 34, 68
Phoenix Sports (0) 0
Attendance: 339

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 38/2,667

Match Report

Let’s deal with the positives. £2,700 in the bank; a home draw in the next round against a team with a woeful away record; an attendance of 339 on a night when fog shrouded Longmead was probably a 100 more than would have attended a similar cup replay last season and with Redhill in mind, this was a performance against a lower division team that almost certainly would have ended in embarrassment in recent years.

From reports of the first game, Tonbridge didn’t deserve a second chance and had a perennial goalscorer in Ricky Freeman not fluffed his lines in the closing minutes, then we would have been recounting another knock-out competition disaster for the Angels.

Injury and sickness left Steve McKimm with a team selection headache in the lead-up to the replay. Nathan Elder was ruled out as was midfielder Tom Parkinson and defender Sonny Miles. Lee Carey and Luke Blewden literally climbed from their sickbeds to take their place in the side.

Phoenix Sports have continued their success story from last season’s Southern Counties East champions climbing to a respectable position in their first-ever season in Ryman North. Their game is built on a tireless work ethic with the added threat of pace on both wings in the shape of Harrison Carnegie, the eye-catcher from last season and Adem Ramadam, who, ironically, trialed at Longmead pre-season. Their undoing, at least on this occasion, was their failure to convert good approach work into chances. Anthony Di Barnardo was only seriously tested with a 94th minute shot from Ramadam that was comfortably gathered.

Tonbridge far too often resorted to the long ball in search of the hold-up play of Elder, who, of course, was missing but Blewden was proving a handful for the Phoenix defence with a header over the bar after 23 minutes and a shot that came back off a post after half-an-hour.

A moment of real quality, on an evening devoid of such, came in the 33rd minute. Anthony Riviere and Ellis Brown combined to send James Folkes on a run to the right hand bye-line. His cross found Nick Wheeler, whose shot was destined to sail well wide before Blewden hooked the ball into the net from the angle of the six yard box.

Blewden should have doubled his tally prior to the break but his shot flew some distance over the bar.

As the fog descended on Longmead, the second half took on a similar shape to the first with Tonbridge’s ball retention leaving a lot to be desired. Laurence Ball was needed to clear the ball from in front of his goal line as Carnegie stabbed an effort goalwards after an hour before Tonbridge effectively put the tie to bed eight minutes later. The Phoenix skipper, Chris Hill, was shown the yellow card for a cynical challenge on Wheeler and punished from the ensuing free kick. Wheeler delivered the ball to the right hand angle of the six yard box to the head of Blewden, who scored with a firmly planted header.

Tonbridge progressed to the next round where they will entertain Southern League Premier side Cirencester, whose away record this season reads only one win in eight attempts although the Angels cup pedigree ensures nothing should ever be taken for granted.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Walsall 3 Gillingham 2

Match 38/15/1243 - Saturday, 31st October 2015 - League One

Walsall (2) 3 Morris 37, Lalkovic 38, Demetriou 90
Gillingham (2) 2 McDonald 12, Dack 32 (pen)
Attendance: 6,663

Entrance: £14.50 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 380/2,629

Match Report

If I had been watching this game as a neutral, I would have walked away thinking, "what a great game of football". I wasn't a neutral, my team lost, and I walked away thinking "what a great game of football."

If Mystic Meg had trundled down to William Hill’s back in August and asked for odds on Walsall and Gillingham contesting first and second places in the table come the last day of October, then, even if they recognised the power of her crystal ball they would have been scratching their heads to give her long enough odds.

To say that Walsall, whether in their previous home of Fellows Park or their present residence at the Bescott Stadium, is not a happy hunting ground for Gillingham is something of an understatement. No wins there since 1992 and the previous victory to that was back in 1985 and no Gillingham team has scored more than once since 1990 and they still didn’t win that day having scored three times!

Personally, I hadn’t even seen a decent game in my four or five visits; at least that changed this visit.

The opening exchanges highlighted, for the mass of nearly 700 Gillingham supporters particularly, the return to form of Bradley Dack and his continual want to be at the centre of the action. His early free kick was fired over and when he won a tussle deep in his own half his pass to Doug Loft led to the opening goal after 12 minutes. Loft then threaded a beautifully weighted pass into the path of Cody McDonald, who under pressure from a retreating defender slid the ball past the advancing goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge, and into the bottom corner.

After 31 minutes, Dack wriggled his way along the bye-line until he drew a clumsy challenge from Paul Downing to which referee Darren Drysdale pointed to the spot. Dack, brimful of confidence, sent Etheridge to his right and the ball to his left to bring a few misguided Easy, Easy chants from some of the Gillingham faithful (young people who hadn’t endured years of misery at Walsall, it might be guessed).

My own thoughts were, get through to half-time and this game is as good as won. But in the space of 90 seconds, my hopes were dashed and the easy chants were rammed firmly back down throats as two defensive errors wiped out the advantage.

Stuart Nelson might question himself as a shot from 25 yards from Kieron Morris found the bottom corner between the goalkeeper and his near post after 36 minutes and Walsall were level almost directly from the restart. A cross from George Evans was over hit and as the ball landed at the feet of Ryan Jackson, the defender dithered for the moment needed for Milan Lalkovic to poke out a foot and direct the ball past Nelson.

If the first half was pulsating with goals, the second was the same without. Neither team was willing to give an inch and the tackles were hard and not always fair as Mr Drysdale started flourishing his yellow card with regularity.

Both teams had periods of dominance but it appeared that Gillingham were finishing the strongest, before in the first minute of time added, Walsall's Rico Henry created some space on the left hand bye-line to deliver a cross that looped into the air via a deflection towards the centre of the goal. Jordan Cook attempted a overhead kick that only found its way to the angle of the six yard box from where Jason Demetriou volleyed home.

It is always said that what goes around, comes around and having benefitted from late goals in their previous three games it was Gillingham's turn to take one on the chin.

And so it was the "we are top of the league" chant passed from one end of the Bescott to the other. That the baton was able to be passed is a credit to both clubs as was the match, a wonderful advertisement for League One.