Saturday, 28 February 2015

Witham Town 2 Tonbridge 2

Match 68/14/1177 - Tuesday 24th February 2015 - Ryman Premier

Witham Town (1) 2 Charles 31, Blackman 47
Tonbridge (1) 2 Williams 40, Taylor 51
Att. 124

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 132/5,004
New Ground: 273

Match Report

Perhaps it just a sign of approaching old age that this season, since round November, seems to have had one very cold Tuesday evening followed by another and then another. So it was that following an unexpectedly easy journey round the M25 and up the A12 to Witham Town Football Club I left the nicely heated car to approach the turnstiles like Scott of the Antarctic. At least there was no snow in the air like the last trip to Essex and Canvey Island.

On entry to the Spa Road stadium, the clubhouse side has a long stand that has seating in its centre part and terraces either side. Behind both goals are covered enclosures with a couple of steps of terracing. The opposite side of the ground was mostly cordoned off. The lighting was a little on the dim side. The pitch itself, along with most other Ryman Premier League pitches, had suffered a postponement on Saturday and looked pretty threadbare.

As I positioned myself toward the goal that Tonbridge would be attacking, I noticed there were a couple of people that had brought their well-behaved dogs with them and thought to myself, come the day my Molly will be able to sit quietly alongside me whilst I watch the game, there again, perhaps not!

Following Kyle Merson’s decision to take a break from the game, there had been much speculation as to who would be the Tonbridge custodian. It was very pleasing to see that Tom Hadler had returned to Tonbridge, this time on a loan from Gillingham that will take him through to the end of the season.

Tonbridge started well and there were a flurry of penalty appeals as Witham desperately tried to clear their lines. I wasn’t particularly well-placed to make an informed judgement, but when Tom Parkinson was pushed to the ground in the ninth minute, referee Gary Jerden pointed to the spot. It was perhaps a bit on the soft side, but there was contact. The aggrieved home supporters around me saw it differently (of course) and were suitably satisfied when Lee Carey’s poorly struck penalty was saved by the home goalkeeper.

Whilst the visitors dominated possession it was Witham that took the lead on the half-hour mark. A cross into the box wasn’t properly cleared, the ball falling to the feet of Lewis Godbold who saw his effort parried by Hadler but Ryan Charles was able to stab home the rebound.

Tonbridge managed a deserved equaliser five minutes before half-time when Marvin Williams fired home after a cross was only cleared to the edge of the box.

I spent the second half at the other end and just to the left of the Tonbridge dug-out. Within the first minute the contentious moment of the match went against the visitors. Williams was clearly brought down, I had an identical view to that of Steve McKimm and can only concur with his admonishment of the referee stating that if it wasn’t a penalty, then it should have been a booking for diving.

McKimm’s mood was to go from bad to worse almost immediately when a long punt upfield found Ryan Blackman who raced clear and coolly lobbed Hadler. McKimm stared in disbelief, I almost felt like asking the Tonbridge manager how the hell that happened, but I guessed it was neither the time nor the place.

Tonbridge showed good spirit though and within four minutes were back on level terms. Mitchell Pinnock put in a peach of a cross from the right onto the head of Joe Taylor, who found the bottom corner.

Tonbridge once again dominated for a 20 minute period but failed to really test Martyn Guest in the Witham goal before coming under serious pressure in the last 10 minutes. The home side made several chances and the final effort deep into injury time saw Charles put a header wide when it looked certain that the journey home would be a glum one.

Tonbridge can be satisfied with their point; it keeps the status quo of a comfortable 11 points between them and the bottom four and with Witham having gained a point at Maidstone and a decent home win against Harrow in the 10 days prior they are a team with a certain amount of form.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Hastings United 2 Whyteleafe 2

Match 67/14/1176 - Saturday 22nd February 2015 - Ryman South

Hastings United (1) 2 T Olorunda 3, Archibald 84
Whyteleafe (1) 2 Andrews 41, Henry 62
Att. 331

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 50/4,872

Match Report

As I sat staring out of the window at my Bermondsey workplace on Thursday night into Friday morning, the rain fell incessantly and, at times, very hard. Fast forward to Saturday morning and that deluge brought about the postponements of my first two choices of destination for the afternoon's football.

Tonbridge's match at Grays Athletic (to be played at Aveley FC) and Tunbridge Wells' home game against Greenwich Borough were among dozens of matches in the south-east of England that became a P-P on the fixture list.

After browsing the fixtures available, a phone call from the Tonbridge Gang of Four told me that they were heading down to Hastings, so that's where a made my destination.

The pitch at the Pilot Field had been subject to a morning inspection but, to the great credit of the groundsman, it looked as though it had barely been played on all season.

Hastings United are suffering this season, sitting just outside of the relegation zone whilst their visitors from Surrey, Whyteleafe are enjoying their return to the Ryman League from their brief sojourn in the Southern Counties East.

In the Hastings team were the Olorunda brothers, Tim and Ade, both old favourites down at Longmead and an ex-Gillingham player, Richard Rose. The only player on the Whyteleafe team sheet whose name I recognised was Roscoe D'Sane, who made his name at Aldershot and played League football at Accrington Stanley and Torquay United.

For me, football loses something of its edge when no particular allegiance is formed and whilst I'm sure that Hastings' fans, with a late equaliser to celebrate or 'Leafe fans' with a referee to berate will say that this was a exciting game, but without that edge the game rather meandered its way to the finish.

Hastings needed to get off to a good start and from a free kick floated to the near post, Tim Olorunda stole in unmarked to bury a header for a third minute opener.

It was the perfect start, but from that point until a few minutes from the end, it was Whyteleafe that dominated the game. It was something of a surprise that it took until the 41st minute for the visitors to find an equaliser. Awarded a free kick just outside of the box, the Hastings keeper, Josh Pelling, proceeded to set up a lengthy wall, but then appeared to stand behind it allowing the taker, Greg Andrews, half of the goal at which to aim at, which he did with good effect.

The second half centred on the sending-off of D'Sane. A tussle in the box with Tim Olorunda ended with them wrestling each other to the ground, as D'Sane fell, his studs raked across the face of the Hastings player, who writhed in agony. Whether it was deliberate on D'Sane's account, only he would know, but the referee after consulting his linesman decided that it warranted a straight red.

Far from knocking Whyteleafe out of their stride, with the aid of a speedy substitute, Jason Henry, they continued to take the game to their hosts and with half-an-hour remaining on the clock, the speedster broke the offside trap and sped clear to round Pelling and stroke the ball into an empty net. Henry was soon to spring the trap again but this time rolled the ball past the post.

Hastings managed to conjure a valuable equaliser six minutes from time with the helping hand of 'Leafe keeper, Shiekh Ceesay, who charged from his goal but only managed to chest the ball into the path of the Hastings substitute, Evan Archibald, who calmly lifted the ball over retreating defenders and into the unguarded net.

So a game that served its purpose of getting out into the fresh air, saw a little bit of controversy and listening to the Whyteleafe choir stationed behind the goal who would not have been out of place in a Welsh Male Voice Choir contest, all very uplifting!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Tunbridge Wells 3 Deal Town 1

Match 66/14/1175 - Tuesday 17th February 2015 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (1) 3 Fuller 33, 54 Booth 90+4
Deal Town (0) 1 Philpott 72
Att. 191

Entrance: £2
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 36/4,822

Tunbridge Wells’ hopes of silverware rest this season with the Southern Counties East League Cup, of which they are semi-finalists. This is some way short of where they would have hoped to have been at this point of the season but in their quest to at least finish third in the League they could prove to be a serious nuisance to the championship contenders who, Phoenix Sports aside, all have to play the Wells.

This re-arranged game, on a cold evening at Culverden, against a lowly Deal Town side was largely one-way traffic and the fact that Tunbridge Wells couldn’t put their visitors to the sword was largely down to Nick Shorey, the Deal goalkeeper.

A series of fine saves, culminating with a flying one-handed effort to claw a shot away from the top corner, turned light-hearted banter from the South Stand Choir into verses of “Sign Him Up”!

A league cup fixture, 10 days ago, saw the unfortunate sight of Deal’s Jamie Marriott being stretchered away from Culverden with a serious injury. Tunbridge Wells made the fantastic gesture of lowering admission prices in the hope that supporters would make a contribution to a bucket collection for the player who is self-employed and unable to work whilst incapacitated. The collection raised £350, a wonderful effort that was duly acknowledged by the player on social media.

Martin Larkin, perhaps with an eye on Saturday’s fixture against Greenwich Borough, rested his strike duo of Paul Booth and Brendan Cass to the bench with Chris Seenan and Jack Goldsmith leading the line.

Despite a late inspection, the pitch appeared to play pretty well and shouldn’t take the blame for the home side making heavy going of this win. A near post header from Joe Fuller from a corner eventually broke down some stoic defending from the East Kent club in the 33rd minute.

When Fuller doubled his tally, nine minutes after the break, the 191 attendance could be forgiven for expecting the floodgates to open. That they didn’t was solely down to Shorey.

Tunbridge Wells were given a shock of their own, when Ryan Philpott lifted the ball over Steve Lawrence with 18 minutes to go to reduce the deficit and when the Wells’ keeper was asked to make a serious save a few minutes later, there were a few palpitations on the south terrace.

The game was finally put to bed in the fourth minute of time added on when a cross from the excellent Ian Parsons was finished by Booth.

It was the generosity of the Tunbridge Wells club and its supporters that were the real winners on the night and our best wishes go to Jamie Marriott for a speedy recovery.

Gillingham 4 MK Dons 2

Match 65/14/1174 - Saturday 14th February 2015 - League One

Gillingham (2) 4 McDonald 9, Dack 38, Garmston 75, Marquis 81
MK Dons (1) 2 Cole 36, Reeves (pen) 67
Att. 5,107

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/4,786

Match Report

This was the week that Sky and BT renewed their television deals at a mind-boggling £5.136 billion. Whilst the Premier League celebrated, the rest of football didn’t.

The massive amount now on offer, a club that finishes bottom of the League will still net around £90 million, means that short-termism and instant gratification are here to stay. The money earned by the Premier League principally now goes abroad in player purchase or into the pockets of foreign owners.

The trickle-down of cash to the lower English leagues are now just crumbs from a rich man’s table and, if you had any doubt where the loyalties of the Premier League lie, then take note of Richard Scudamore’s comment that “the Premier League is not a charity”, thinly-veiled code for “to hell with the rest of you” (or something stronger, if you saw my tweet).

There used to be a day when the old First Division clubs would look to the lower divisions for their star players of the future and, in those days of limited television coverage, the fees obtained were the life blood of these clubs. In the last transfer window only two players, Dele Alli, moving from today’s visitors MK Dons to Tottenham and Matt Grimes’ move from Exeter City to Swansea, made the leap from the bottom two divisions into the Premier League. Alli was immediately loaned back to Milton Keynes. Admittedly, Gillingham were also beneficiaries of a sell-on clause following Ryan Bertrand’s loan move from Chelsea to Southampton being made permanent.

In life, if you allow the roots to rot, then the plant above ground slowly withers away, somehow I don’t think that is going to happen with the Premier League. Whilst their star players approach weekly wages of £500,000, clubs like Wycombe Wanderers, who have supplied players to divisions above them, are forced to close down their academies.

This was, at least a talking-point, in the backdrop to Justin Edinburgh’s home debut as Gillingham manager. A well-earned win at Peterborough in midweek following last Saturday’s swan-song of the Gang of Four had led to a heightened sense of optimism despite the lofty league position of the visitors. One organisation that would not be doing any talking was Radio Kent, who found themselves banned from the stadium by the chairman who had taken exception to BBC reporting of an ongoing court case.

The game offered the opportunity to make the comparison between Alli, whose move had cost Spurs £5 million, and Bradley Dack, probably Gillingham’s most valuable player asset. On the day, Dack looked a cut above the Milton Keynes youngster, but, of course, I am only making the comparison on one viewing.

Gillingham got off to the perfect start with the opening goal after just nine minutes. A free kick awarded just outside the box was touched from Dack to Cody McDonald who saw his shot creep past stand-in goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin, who perhaps could have done better.

Stuart Nelson was brought into the action with a fine save to deny Samir Carruthers but with pressure growing from the visitors they found an equaliser on 37 minutes. Gillingham failed to clear their lines and when the ball fell at the feet of Devante Cole he planted a firm shot into the bottom corner.

But Gillingham roared back and within two minutes were back in front with a beautifully crafted goal. Gavin Hoyte collected a pass down the right hand side; his first time touch was laid into the path of Dack, who kept his composure to stroke the ball past McLoughlin.

The second half began with MKD in the ascendancy but they were fortunate when McDonald’s shot was turned onto a post by McLoughlin.

The pressure on the Gillingham defence finally brought its reward for the visitors when Ben Reeves, who had been a real nuisance since his introduction as a 56th minute substitute, converted a penalty after Carl Baker had been brought down by Hoyte.

Manager Edinburgh must have been thoroughly delighted with the response from his side as they fought back to re-take the lead 15 minutes from time. Dack sent raiding full-back Bradley Garmston free down the left hand side and, following a similar move moments earlier that had brought a shot from the West Brom loanee that was narrowly wide, this time his shot found the bottom corner.

Milton Keynes threw caution to the wind and had a strong appeal for a penalty when the ball struck the hand of Dack before the young midfielder found John Marquis in a counter attack with the striker firing past McLoughlin. The Millwall loanee was substituted to a standing ovation and his partnership with McDonald is certainly blossoming. Both are out of contract in the summer and it would be a major coup for Edinburgh to make their partnership a permanent one.

Dack, an obvious man of the match, had scored one and assisted in the other three in a dynamic performance that would have caught the eye of any Premier League scout not parked up somewhere in France, Brazil or Outer Mongolia.

As Gillingham head into the top half of the table, just two points off the play-offs, supporters are beginning to dream. They are no longer looking over their shoulders at the relegation spots but looking lovingly at that sixth place. Unrealistic? Perhaps. Reason to be cheerful? Most definitely.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Tonbridge 1 Wingate & Finchley 2

Match 64/14/1173 - Tuesday 10th February 2015 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 1 Okojie 31
Wingate & Finchley (2) 2 Tejan-Sie 4, Read 21
Att. 214

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 36/4,730

Match Report

Those of us that use the M25 regularly would, at some time or another, sat in three lanes of traffic, probably just before Clacketts Services or the Heathrow junctions. We have all suffered that severe temptation of lane changing and most of would have succumbed to it. The lane outside of the one that you are sitting in appears to be moving just that little bit quicker, so you indicate, move into the lane and, lo and behold, you sprint forward until 100 metres later the red taillights in front indicate that the lane is going to grind to a halt and within the minutes the car that you was following is back in front of you again.

That is Tonbridge Angels’ season in a nutshell. At Canvey Island, 10 days earlier, the wheels were not even going round, stuck on the hard shoulder going nowhere. But, with a quick service, the trip round the M25 to Hampton and Richmond was, reportedly, not without its bumps in the road, but progress was made. But, back on home soil, it was back to red lights once more. Stop, start, stop, start, that is Tonbridge, in a season that now has the admittance of one of transition from the very top of the club.

Losing to Wingate and Finchley is no disgrace, they have been in and around the top six for most of the season and the reverse fixture back in September was very much one-way traffic (to continue the analogy). The home side were given something of a lift on sight of the Wingate team sheet that showed leading scorer Dave Knight an absentee.

After just four minutes the task in hand became an uphill one when a long ball forward, all of 50 yards, was helped into the path of Tommy Tejan-Sie who sprinted between two Tonbridge defenders and kept his composure to shoot past Kyle Merson from around 12 yards.

Joe Taylor headed against the bar from a Dee Okojie cross when it seemed easier to score and the rebound off the woodwork brought a reflex save from the quite diminutive Jack Metcalf, turning over the bar a shot from Mitchell Pinnock, a debutant loanee from Bromley.

After 20 minutes, Taylor got his body shape all wrong in front of goal and his effort cleared the bar by some distance before a minute later, another defensive lapse led to the North London side doubling their lead. Karl Ollyide fired in a shot from 20 yards with brought only a parrying save from Kyle Merson and Jack Read who had begun the move was on hand to touch home the rebound to the delight of the half-dozen visiting supporters who it appeared had brought a flag each.

Tonbridge gave themselves a foothold in the game after 33 minutes when Taylor slid a pass across the edge of the 18 yard box to Okojie who struck a firm right foot shot past Metcalf to reduce the deficit.

The second half was one of almost continual pressure from the home side but the finish that was needed eluded them and the big chance to put the game beyond them fell to Wingate when Rob Laney headed against the post from close range.

Tonbridge’s big chance of an equaliser fell at the feet of defender Charlie Slocombe at the far post but he could only turn his shot across the face of goal.

Tonbridge deserved better on the night than defeat but chances missed and defensive lapses generally only lead to that outcome. Pinnock looks a good addition to the squad and with Simon Cox, another recent signing due back, the squad looks stronger and strong enough to stay clear of the traffic at the very bottom end of the division.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Gillingham 2 Sheffield United 0

Match 63/14/1172 - Saturday 7th February 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 McGlashen 86, McDonald 90
Sheffield United (0) 0
Att. 5,704

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/4,694

Match Report

I would guess that it is a good few years since I spent over a month away from Gillingham for League football. Since my last sighting, against Bristol City on 29 December, it appears that a spaceship from Planet Football has landed at Priestfield and supplanted that dull, lifeless team with one that carries a little devil and adventure. But, strangely, the majority of faces are very familiar.

But back on Planet Earth, it is the Gang of Four that are taking the plaudits for the re-emergence of entertainment when watching Gillingham Football Club. Following the sacking on New Year’s Eve of Peter Taylor, the chairman Paul Scally has taken a full month to consider his options, leaving Andy Hessenthaler, Steve Lovell, Darren Hare and Mark Patterson to release that handbrake and watch with interest as the team flourished under their command.

It might well have been that Mr Scally was suitably impressed and considered leaving well alone for the rest of the season, such was the relative success, but, on the day of this League One fixture against a highly rated Sheffield United, after protracted negotiations with Newport County, Justin Edinburgh was announced as the new manager.

Although this was to be the swan song of the Gang of Four, at least all of them remain in employment at the club, Hessenthaler reverts to Assistant Manager, Lovell is promoted to First Team Coach with Hare and Patterson returning to their Academy duties.

And what a swan song it turned out to be ….

Since my last visit, there are a couple of loan additions, Bradley Garmston has arrived from West Bromwich Albion and coupled with Gavin Hoyte it was pleasing to see the wing backs on the front foot. John Marquis has been brought in from Millwall to do the job previously tasked to Danny Kedwell but with the benefit of a few less years on the clock. Until his substitution on 79 minutes, Marquis impressed with his hold-up play if a goal wasn’t forthcoming on this occasion.

After an evenly contested and entertaining first half, the second period opened in the same vein, until a moment of magic from Cody McDonald brought the crowd to its feet just prior to the hour mark. A cross from Jake Hessenthaler was volleyed from the edge of the box, sadly for McDonald it crashed against the bar to thwart his effort for Goal of the Season.

As the game appeared to be drifting towards a very encouraging, but nonetheless goalless encounter, the home side fashioned a goal direct from the route one handbook. Max Ehmer, who it would be remiss of me to fail to report that he was outstanding given my previous criticism of the QPR loanee, hoisted a ball over the top that tempted the Blades’ keeper, Mark Howard from his line, but a long way from home he was beaten to ball by the Gills speedster, Jermaine McGlashen, who touched it pass him into the empty net.

In the time added on, with Sheffield United going for broke to find an equaliser they were stung by a swift counter attack which ended with McGlashen feeding McDonald to lash the ball home to the joyous ovation of Priestfield.

Justin Edinburgh, watching from the stands, probably cannot believe his luck. He must have been asking himself the question, why do this lot need a new manager. A month ago, the question was easily answered, but thanks to the Gang of Four, the new man has the perfect platform from which to build.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Ebbsfleet United 2 Braintree Town 0

Match 62/14/1171 - Tuesday 3rd Februuary 2015 - FA Trophy 3RR

Ebbsfleet United (1) 2 Kedwell 37, Cunnington 86
Braintree Town (0) 0
Att. 821

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 56/4,638

Match Report

If it is perceived that the first phase of the on-field Kuwaiti ownership of Ebbsfleet has been a limited success, some would say no success at all, then the hiring of Jamie Day as their new manager in mid-December has heralded a redoubling of the efforts and investment of KEH Sports.

Day, highly regarded as one of the south-east’s bright young managers, has shifted players in and out of Stonebridge Road with the gusto of Black Friday shopper and some of the incoming names, in Conference South terms, have been quite stunning.

From my point of view the eye-catching, at the time jaw-dropping, signing was that of Danny Kedwell. In truth, there had been whispers and whispers of Ebbsfleet to be fair, but if Kedwell was to leave Gillingham, I expected him to stay in the Football League.

Kedwell’s stock at Gillingham had, undoubtedly fallen. He was no longer an automatic choice, but remained a regular one and a hernia operation before Christmas had resulted in a fairly length spell on the sidelines. But with goals at the time something of a premium at Priestfield, it was a major surprise that their senior striker was deemed surplus to requirements.

Also treading the path from Priestfield to Stonebridge Road was Matt Fish. The Gillingham full-back had been unable to hold down a regular first-team position since his season-long injury in 2013 and a loan move to Portsmouth had proved unsuccessful.

Among the other newcomers brought to the club by Day were Stuart Lewis, from Wycombe Wanderers, well known in these parts for his spell at Gillingham; Adam Cunnington and Tom Bonner arrived from Cambridge United, Kelvin Langmead from Northampton Town and Theo Lewis from Woking.

The stand-out name going through the exit door was Daryl McMahon who surprisingly was allowed to leave to join fellow Conference South promotion contenders, Boreham Wood.

This Fourth Round Replay, virtue of a 1-1 draw at Conference side Braintree, was held on a cold evening that perhaps restricted the attendance to a number that was short of the thousand that could have been expected.

A tight first half struggle ensued with chances at a premium for both sides. The deadlock was finally broken, eight minutes before the break, with a goal manufactured in Gillingham. Fish drove in a low cross across the face of Nick Hamann, whose parrying save fell at the feet of Kedwell at the far post to touch home from close range.

Hamann was then thankful to his centre half for a goal line clearance that saved the Essex side going into the break two goals down.

Much of the second half was one-way traffic as Braintree sought to repair the first half damage. Ebbsfleet were forced defend resolutely but Preston Edwards was only asked to make one save of real significance, low to his left to save from an Simeon Akinola header.

A place in the quarter finals, for the first time in six years, was sealed for Ebbsfleet with four minutes remaining when Cunnington robbed Alan Massey on the edge of the box, rolling the ball past the advancing Hamann.

The Kuwaiti revolution at Stonebridge Road is underway with big plans for redevelopment of the stadium in the very near future. Top priority, without doubt, is to get out of Conference South and this, at present, only looks achievable via the play-offs, a position from which Steve Brown failed last term. Ambition knows no limit for the owners and their bright, young manager. Where they are heading, only time and money will tell.