Saturday, 28 March 2015

Brazil 1 Chile 0

Match 78/14/1187 - Sunday 29th March 2015 - International

Brazil (0) 1 Firmino 72
Chile (0) 0
Att. 60,007

Entrance: £17.50 Senior
Programme: £5
Mileage: 100/5,786
Played at the Emirates, Arsenal
New Ground: 275

Match Report

Brazil v Chile, the Emirates Stadium, £17.50? Be rude not too.

It would appear that Brazil and Chile don’t do friendly. From the third minute when Alexi Sanchez was unceremoniously dumped on his own stage by De Souza Dias through to a distasteful challenge from Gary Medel on Neymar, the game was more League One attrition than samba-style South American football.

Dunga has put the smiles back on the face of the Brazilian world-wide fan base after their disastrous World Cup. Eight successive victories have lifted morale beating arch-rivals Argentina along the way and looking mightily impressive in a 3-1 win over the French in Paris on Thursday.

A full house at the Emirates was largely made up of Latin voices as the exiles of the South American countries descended on north London for, these days, a not-so-rare glimpse of their favourites.

Neymar showed glimpses of the quality player he obviously is, but his propensity to tumble a little too easily doesn’t do him any favours and, for my entrance fee money, it was Chile’s Sanchez that stole the show.

England’s representative on the pitch, referee Martin Atkinson, who brandished his yellow card seven times and in a more competitive match could easily have shown a couple of reds, spoilt the highlight of the match when Sanchez wriggled clear of a couple of defenders hacking away at him with the benefit of a Cruyff turn, only to be pulled back by the referee’s whistle to award him a free kick.

Despite Chile being the better side they failed to test Jefferson and it was the Brazilians that finally broke the deadlock after 72 minutes. It took a route one pass from Danilo into the path of Firmino, who rounded Claudio Bravo, to score the only goal of the game.

Nine years after its opening, the match at least offered me the first opportunity of a trip to the impressive Emirates Stadium that has very few negatives. A seat in the lower tier does have the disadvantage, as at Wembley, of having to get to your feet every time there is an attacking opportunity at your end of the pitch but whilst you are seated it is on a nicely cushioned seat.

I was quite surprised that the actual site of the stadium is quite a tight one. As the old Highbury ground just down the road had been surrounded by residential housing, so the Emirates was also restricted and has obviously been further squeezed by new blocks of flats that were built to help with the financing of the project.

Transport difficulties on a Sunday meant that at kick-off time the stadium appeared barely half full and even 25 minutes into the match there were still people arriving in significant numbers looking bewildered as to where their seats might be.

The lush, green pitch leaves you to wonder if anybody has ever trod the turf without having donned carpet slippers; it barely carried a stud mark at kick off time.

If the match didn’t quite live up to its billing, the Emirates most certainly did and at £17.50 who I am to complain.

Crawley Town 1 Gillingham 2

Match 77/14/1186 - Saturday 28th March 2015 - League One

Crawley Town (0) 1 McLeod 63
Gillingham (1) 2 Dack 40, McGlashen 81
Att. 3,570

Entrance: £14 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 88/5,686

Match Report

Gillingham broke through the 50-point threshold and with that achieved; the vast majority of supporters will give Justin Edinburgh the thumbs-up to Carry On Tinkering. Of course there are a few optimists out there that will still point to the possibility of making the play-offs with the deficit being only five points, but realistically that is an unlikely scenario.

Now we know, from the manager’s own words, that preparation has begun for next season, the benching of Cody McDonald didn’t appear as strange a choice as the previous Saturday when Luke Norris was preferred to John Marquis. Norris failed to impress against Colchester United, but his performance at Crawley was better.

Crawley, fighting a relegation battle, came into the game in good form having won three games in succession and climbing out of the bottom four in the process.

The shortest trip of the season brought out a 1,000-plus following for Gillingham and they enjoyed a first half in which their team dominated. Despite their superiority it took until the 40th minute to break down the Crawley defence. Bradley Dack, who had an eye-catching first half, latched onto a John Egan pass and skipped a couple of challenges before shooting across the face of the goal into the far corner.

If there is something you can guarantee about the Crawley striker, Izale McLeod, it is that he will score against Gillingham, he always does and this game proved no different. After 65 minutes, with very little appearing on, McLeod received the ball on the edge of the box and engineered a bit of space by side-stepping Egan to drill a shot past Glenn Morris. McLeod is the Gillingham fans’ pantomime villain, but, as usual, this was a quality finish.

Edinburgh responded by throwing McDonald into the fray and the ex-Burnley ‘keeper Brian Jensen made good saves from Doug Loft and Marquis as the visitors ramped up the pressure in search of a winner. The post denied Max Ehmer before, with nine minutes remaining, Dack stood up the perfect cross for the diminutive winger, Jermaine McGlashen to head home from close range.

Gillingham survived a scare at the death when Lanre Oyebanjo shot against the outside of a post, but to have been denied maximum points at that late stage would have been unjust.

It’s a nice easy trip to Crawley and there isn’t too much to dislike about them now that the Fat Scotsman has departed in search of the next pot of gold and the money has run out at the Broadfield Stadium. Personally, I hope they stay up.

England 4 Lithuania 0

Match 76/14/1185 - Friday 27th March 2015 - Euro Qualifier

England (2) 4 Rooney 6, Welbeck 45, Sterling 58, Kane 73
Lithuania (0) 0
Att. 83,671

Entrance: £35
Programme: Free
Mileage: 100/5,598

Match Report

In the lifetime of this blog, there have been three instances in which a Wembley Qualifier has actually meant anything. Two were against Croatia which yielded memorable evenings, in 2007 the night of the Wally with the Brolly and in 2009, the 5-1 rout and in 2013 the 2-0 defeat of Poland that assured qualification for the Brazil World Cup. Of course, old Wembley bore witness to many evenings of qualification (or otherwise), Poland, and the supposed clown Jan Tomaszewski, in 1973 and the play-off win against Scotland in 1999. I’m left to speculate whether we will ever witness the tension of those games again.

Following the expansion of European Championship to 24 teams, the path to the tournament finals has been smoothed for the major teams. It is no longer necessary to finish first to qualify automatically, second, or even third for one country, will suffice whilst the rest of the third place teams will contest the play-offs.

England’s path to France next year was virtually cleared in Basel back in September when they confidently dispatched Switzerland, their only realistic challengers. All they can do now is to beat what is put before them and with an unblemished record after five matches they are achieving that, almost without breaking sweat.

Lithuania, who arrived at Wembley in equal second place in the group table, offered nothing in terms of ambition, other than to keep the score down to a respectable number and Joe Hart was nothing more than an addition to the 83,000 crowd.

With so little interest in the group, the sub-plots almost become more interesting than the result itself. Wayne Rooney is closing in on Bobby Charlton’s 49 England goals, when will he break that record and can the debutant Harry Kane reproduce his magnificent Premier League form for Tottenham.

The answer to the first question might have been answered in the first 20 minutes in which Rooney scored and hit the woodwork twice. After three minutes, sent clear by a Fabian Delph pass, Rooney hit a post but was not to be denied three minutes later when a shot from Danny Welbeck looped back from the Lithuanian goalkeeper onto the head of the England captain to open the scoring. After 20 minutes, from a Welbeck cross, he placed another header against the bar.

On the stroke of half-time, a stooping header from Welbeck that came more off his shoulder than his head found its way into the net via a deflection for a 2-0 scoreline that better reflected England’s dominance.

When Raheem Sterling converted Rooney’s cross just before the hour the floodgates were set to be opened and the scene was set for Kane’s introduction. After 79 seconds on the pitch, his third touch was a far post header from Sterling’s cross, cleverly directed downwards that the goalkeeper could only help into the net. It was a surreal, Roy of the Rovers moment, but one in a season when everything Kane touches turns to gold, Wembley almost expected, just not after 79 seconds.

England’s path to France will not be producing a dramatic climax but a cruise that is not really going to give many clues to how they will fare when they get there.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Grays Athletic 3 Tonbridge 1

Match 75/14/1184 - Wednesday 25th March 2015 - Ryman Premier

Grays Athletic (3) 3 Agombar 13, Dumaka 35, 42
Tonbridge (0) 1 Medlock 80
Att. 204

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 70/5,498
New Ground: 274

Match Report

Tuesday’s results that brought wins for both Harrow Borough and Witham Town saw the gap between Tonbridge and the relegation places reduced to just three points, it was a wake-up call to all who thought safety was all but assured. Unfortunately, it seems the message failed to reach the people that influence these situations more than anyone – the players.

This performance at Mill Lane, Aveley was an absolute shocker and the face and voice of manager Steve McKimm in his post-match interview was one of, not so much anger, but despair as he spoke of being hurt by his players display. This was the first time this season I would accuse the team of lacking desire, once the first goal was conceded after 13 minutes the heads went down and were never raised again.

The game was never going to be an easy one. Grays are on a charge towards the play-off places with this win their fifth in seven unbeaten games. Up-front they have two quality strikers in Swindon loanee Harry Agombar and Dumebi Dumaka whilst the 37-year-old ex-Gillingham midfielder, Mark Bentley found it a stroll in midfield.

The team news on arrival at Mill Lane was a mixture of good and bad, surprising and perhaps predictable. The surprise good news was that Billy Medlock was back, on loan from Sutton United. Tonbridge’s early season goal machine has had little fortune since his move to the Conference South club. Injuries have blighted his time and an earlier opportunity for his return to Tonbridge was denied as he was not considered fit.

It was disappointing to see Tom Hadler’s name missing on the team as he had been recalled by Gillingham. As this was the second time that he has been loaned and recalled to Priestfield, it was understandable that a lot of Tonbridge supporters are more than a little pissed off with the League One club. The reason was given that he had an opportunity to be in and around the first team in the final weeks of the season and that Justin Edinburgh wanted to see what he had in terms of staff before making decisions on player’s futures. Fair enough, but the recall left Tonbridge in a bit of a hole and with an attempt to bring in another loan goalkeeper thwarted by just a minute in terms of registration, it was reserve team keeper, Jack Kelly that took his place between the sticks.

Tonbridge started the game on the front foot and Medlock brought a save from Lamar Johnson and Jerome Sobers should have asked question of the goalkeeper when his header from the resultant corner cleared the bar.

That was as good as it got for the Angels in a horrific first half. After 13 minutes, after the linesman missed a clear offside, Grays were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box from which Agombar curled his shot into the corner giving the young keeper little chance.

Tonbridge spent the next 20 minutes chasing shadows with James Folkes, in particular, being given a harrowing time. Finally the pressure told after 35 minutes when Dumaka eluded challenges to roll the ball past Kelly and over the goal line despite the despairing effort of Folkes on the line.

A lifeline might have been thrown towards Tonbridge when Jordan Wilson was sent off for kicking out at Jack Parter, it seemed a harsh decision but there was very little argument on the pitch.

Two minutes later the game was effectively over as Grays took their lead to three. Corey Davidson, who had led Folkes a merry dance, brought a parrying save from Kelly but the ball fell to Dumaka who fired into the empty net.

In the second half Grays might light of their personnel disadvantage and easily contained Tonbridge and it took until 10 minutes from time for the visitors to get on the score sheet. For once, Nathan Elder was given a decent cross to challenge and the resultant clearance fell to Medlock who rifled home in typical Billy fashion to reduce the deficit.

It was all too little, too late and the ride home was spent deep in thought that now, surely, everybody knows this is a genuine relegation fight with two home games against fellow relegation fodder in Hornchurch and Witham that take on must win status.

This was a first and last visit to Aveley’s Mill Lane as they close their doors at the end of the season to take up residence at a new stadium with a 3G pitch. At present it is unknown whether Grays will go with them, but, at present, it appears there is no prospect of a stadium of their own with planning permission having been denied on a site.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Gillingham 2 Colchester United 2

Match 74/14/1183 - Saturday 21st March 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Ehmer 82, Loft 90+5
Colchester United (2) 2 Moncur 62, Porter 87
Att. 5,319

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/5,428

Match Report

It appears to me that pre-season has embarked at Gillingham Football Club. A very strange team selection could only be explained, and was subsequently explained by Justin Edinburgh, that there were players at the club that the new manager needed to see in League One action before making decisions on their futures. Stuart Nelson made way in goal for Glenn Morris and Luke Norris took his place as Cody McDonald's strike partner at the expense of John Marquis. The Southwark Times reported this week that should Neil Harris get the manager's job full-time at Millwall, then the on-loan striker might be subject to a contract offer from his parent club, after being told by previous incumbent, Ian Holloway, that he was no longer wanted. Whether this had any bearing on Marquis' omission only Edinburgh knows.

There is a train of thought among supporters, to which I concur, that the tinkering is best left alone until we have the points required to assure safety.

Life in general has its fair share of "if onlys" and football has at least one every game. Gillingham had two very big "if onlys" and if the first one had been turned into a positive, I'm pretty sure the game would have had a different outcome and we certainly would not have had to suffer an interminable first half.

McDonald was sent through on goal after just 22 seconds but this shot was smothered by the Colchester goalkeeper, Sam Walker and the chance was lost. This was the start of a good afternoon for Walker who went on to make several good saves and was probably the man of the match.

The first half settled into a stalemate, decidedly low both in terms of quality and entertainment and left Priestfield as flat as a pancake. The children's half-time shoot-out proving to be a lot more exciting.

Thankfully, the second half was a whole lot better. Gillingham's second "if only" moment came just prior to the hour when Jermaine McGlashen, on as a substitute for Aaron Morris, was clearly tripped in the box, only for referee Sheldrake to wave away the appeals. It was a stonewall penalty from my viewpoint, which was very good.

Three minutes later and Gillingham fell behind. An over-hit cross into the box, was redelivered from the left and the partial clearance fell at the feet of George Moncur who drove the ball into the net from around 12 yards.

Gillingham's efforts to get on level terms foundered on Walker's agility until, with eight minutes remaining, Doug Loft delivered a free kick towards the near post and with Colchester's defenders dozing, Max Ehmer glanced a header into the far corner.

Ehmer was subsequently named Gillingham's man of the match and that proved a poisoned chalice as he was caught napping when George Porter found himself in an acre of space to plant a easy header beyond Morris.

Five minutes of added time produced a climactic finish that could not have been envisaged during that tiresome first period. After four of those minutes, Matt Briggs saw a second yellow and a walk to the dressing room that was going to take an age, but one that the referee clearly indicated he was aware of. The time added on, to the time added on, saw Colchester pay for Briggs' deed. A cross into the box was only cleared to the edge and the waiting Loft drilled a shot into the net for his first Gillingham goal.

Newcastle's caretaker manager, John Carver, took exception last Saturday to a comment on Match of the Day about players already in their flip-flops for the summer break. Gillingham's first half performance suggested that the said footwear was also being donned at Priestfield. A little less tinkering and a couple of wins more on the board, then tinker at your leisure, Justin.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Tunbridge Wells 2 Beckenham 0

Match 73/14/1182 - Tuesday 17th March 2015 - SCEL Challenge Cup

Tunbridge Wells (1) 2 Radford 36, Booth 81
Beckenham (0) 0
(Tunbridge Wells win 3-2 on aggregate)
Att. 158

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 36/5,372

Match Report

The night shift can be a real pain at times; it can get in the way of the important things in life. The Southern Counties League Challenge Cup may not rank highly on most people’s list of priorities but as Tunbridge Wells bid to over-turn a 3-2 deficit from the first leg at Beckenham a week earlier, Culverden Stadium had a damned sight more appeal than Bermondsey.

A late start had been negotiated, but it was one that would not cover extra-time, an outcome that always appeared a likely prospect.

A late kick-off, for an unknown reason, added to the time pressure and several stoppages during a fragmented second half meant that I would not be able to even see regulation time to its conclusion. At 9.30 p.m., with about 10 minutes remaining, and with extra-time looming as Tunbridge Wells had brought the game level at 3-3 on aggregate, I had to reluctantly take my leave and head for the exit. Two minutes later and half-way up the drive, there was a loud cheer from the stadium behind me and I guessed, quite correctly, that Tunbridge Wells had scored what would ultimately prove to be the winning goal.

A poor performance on Saturday at Ashford United had forced Martin Larkin into changes and it came as a surprise to see Jake Beecroft, in particular, taking a place on the bench.

The Beckenham goalkeeper, Rilwan Aniba, was tested early both in terms of efforts on goal from Ian Parsons and off-the-pitch with the South Stand Choir as usual offering their own form of repartee, the custodian was equal to both.

Any team with a goalscorer with 36 goals in all competitions this season is going to prove dangerous and once Beckenham had withstood the early pressure they started to take control of the game. Jamie Humphreys, the striker in question and Damien Ramsamy were to prove a constant threat throughout a first half in which the visitors might have extended their aggregate lead.

But somewhat against the run of play, the Wells brought opened the scoring on the night and brought the aggregate score level. A pass from Joe Fuller, opened up a clear shooting opportunity for Dane Luchford, whose shot hit the inside of the post but rebounded into the path of Lee Radford who gleefully shot into the unguarded goal.

The home side should, almost immediately, have doubled their advantage when Paul Booth’s shot from close range at the far post was brilliantly saved by Aniba.

A dust-up between Tom Bryant and Beckenham’s aptly-named Frank Warren could have led to worse than yellow cards, but the referee showed good common sense.

However, the referee did rather take centre stage in the second half as the game became fragmented with numerous stoppages that were ultimately going to cost me the last ten minutes of the game.

Evidently the goal that I missed came when a shot from Fuller found Booth at the far post for a tap-in and Booth might have made the tie safe moments later.
Tunbridge Wells’ last chance of silverware now goes into a Final against either Phoenix Sports or Greenwich Borough. A Sunday date would do nicely, when work cannot possibly interfere.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Hendon 1 Tonbridge 0

Match 72/14/1181 - Saturday 14th March 2015 - Ryman Premier

Hendon (0) 1 Ibe 57
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 191

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 160/5,336
(Played at Harrow Borough FC)

Match Report

Football matches are so often decided on the smallest of margins and as we approach the business end of the season the difference between the teams at the top and (towards the) bottom of the table, in terms of both quality and good fortune, were encapsulated in the space of a single minute. On a cabbage patch of a pitch that had made control of the ball difficult for both sides, Tonbridge had more than held their own against the League's third placed team and had deservedly entered the break with the game scoreless.

Ten minutes into the second half, the visitors playing down the significant slope earned a corner and, from Lee Carey's delivery, Simon Cox powered a header towards the bottom corner that Ben McNamara did wonderfully well to turn away for another corner. The resultant corner was hacked forward and as Andre Da Costa broke away, Marvin Williams was forced to concede a foul and earn a booking, one for the team as they say. The free kick was pumped into the Tonbridge box, Tom Hadler appeared to hesitate initially but eventually came to collect with a crowd of players in front of him. Unfortunately, in the midst of the throng, the ball escaped his grasp and his fumble fell at the feet of the best player on the pitch, Kezie Ibe, who placed the ball into the unguarded goal.

It was rough justice on the Angels. Hadler is a fine young keeper and has a great future, doubtless at a much higher level than the Ryman League. But, if there is one position on the field where experience counts it is between those posts and on this occasion his judgement was amiss; it happens with 18-year-olds.

Tonbridge did their best to force an equaliser, but for all their territorial advantage, the failing that has dogged them since the departure of Billy Medlock, a lack of a cutting edge in front of goal, was to haunt them once more. Joe Taylor curled a shot over. but chances were at a premium.

A big plus for the Angels was the return to first team action for Jon Heath, timely with the absence of Laurence Ball, whose facial injury sustained last Saturday will keep him out for at least a fortnight. Heath slotted in alongside Cox and looked like a player that hasn't missed a game.

The one real chance of a first half of very few opportunities fell to Ibe, who carelessly shot over the bar with just Hadler to beat on the stroke of half-time.

Ibe, who looked a class act alongside the sizeable bulk of Aaron Morgan, who held the ball up brilliantly, is a player I remember from his Football League days and a search of his career details produced a player that has had, as they say more clubs than Jack Nicklaus, but in his case you could throw in Arnold Palmer as well, 21 at the last count.

Prior to kick-off I had a conversation with a Hendon supporter about the possibility of the club returning home in the not too distant future. I was told of plans to move to the old Kingsbury Town ground, Silver Jubilee Fields. Evidently, Hendon were due to play there in a London Cup competition, but the ground, at present, is not of Ryman League standard. When I said it would be good to return their own locality, the Hendon fan simply said, anywhere would be better than this dump. A tad harsh, I would say but there are some serious deficiencies in facilities at Harrow Borough's Earlsmead. Apart from the pitch that is suffering from week-in, week-out use, the toilets were virtually a health hazard. The main stand looks in good shape and the length of covered terrace is more than adequate.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 1

Match 71/14/1180 - Saturday 7th March 2015 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Marquis 44
Doncaster Rovers (1) 1 Forrester 40
Att. 5,909

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/5,176

Match Report

Spring has sprung. Parking the car, whose temperature gauge was showing a balmy 15degC, the big decision was heavy or light coat (heavy coat won on the knowledge that underneath the Gordon Road Stand is 10 degrees lower than anywhere else in Priestfield).

Despite the blue skies above, it was still the elements that prevailed with a gusty wind that played its part in both goals and especially the almost bizarre goal that Gillingham conceded.

The congested nature of the middle of the League One table suggested that home wins over Barnsley last Saturday and Doncaster Rovers were necessary to push Gillingham forward and at the same time inflict damage on fellow contenders. That neither happened has been neutralised to a certain extent by the surprisingly easy 3-0 win at rivals, in every sense of the word, Swindon Town in midweek. The two home games, though it would be harsh to consider them poor performances, gave nothing to suggest that a first win at Swindon in 38 years was on the cards.

Naturally enough, Justin Edinburgh, who was serving a touchline ban for indiscreet comments made to an official at Yeovil, went with the same team that demolished the Robins.

The pitch was heavily watered prior to kick-off which seemed a strange decision and one that seemingly caught out several players, Gavin Hoyte in particular, who had trouble keeping their feet. It was once again watered at half-time, again difficult to understand. The awkwardness of the pitch and the wind contributed to a half in which neither team managed to assert themselves. Stuart Nelson continually found touch with his kick outs in his struggle to master the conditions.

The whole game encompassed itself on the final five minutes of the half. Bradley Dack conceded a free kick 40 yards from goal. The referee who had a compulsion to use his spray on every occasion measured out the 10 yards to everybody's amusement given the distance to goal. Nobody was laughing seconds later.

Harry Forrester's free kick sailed high and goalwards and dipped behind Nelson who had advanced from his line and into the net. Fluke or good judgement of the conditions, only Forrester knows for sure.

As a goalkeeper of considerable standing in my youth (West Kent Sunday League Division Five) I feel empowered to ask the question as to why Nelson felt the need to stray from his line. With the kick so far from goal, the ball was always going to be in the air long enough for him to come and collect should the ball arrive around the six yard box. Had he stayed on his line, I feel sure he would have had a comfortable save to make.

The wind was too have an equalling effect within five minutes. Doug Loft lofted a free kick into the box, the wind held the ball up leaving Stephen Bywater indecisive which in turn allowed John Marquis time to nip in front and plant a header into the corner.

The second half progressed largely without incident, Nelson somewhat redeeming himself with a save from Forrester, but petering out to a point apiece, which is what both teams deserved. The outcome reinforced my opinion that this Gillingham side are not quite ready to contest the play-offs, but hopefully can maintain interest to the season's end.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Dartford 1 Woking 3

Match 70/14/1179 - Tuesday 3rd March 2015 - Conference

Dartford (1) 1 Green 42
Woking (1) 3 Odubade 5, Goddard 52, 60
Att. 884

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 60/5,120

Match Report

Between now and the end of the season, I will be looking to fill every Tuesday evening with a fixture, regardless of whether one of my supported teams is playing, to push the games total towards the 90 mark, something I haven’t managed previously. Crossing off the century-mark on the bucket list will probably have to wait until I retire and can afford the occasional two midweek games.

I had originally scheduled in Ashford United’s home match against Phoenix Sports, a top-of-the-table clash in the Southern Counties East but the Homelands bog of a pitch failed to survive the heavy rainfall of Monday night and a change of plan took me to Dartford for their Conference fixture against Woking.

On first sight of the Princes Park pitch that looked pretty bad, I had to wonder just how poor the one at Ashford was. When I was at Princes for the Celtic Under-21 game last month, the pitch didn’t look in great condition but it has significantly deteriorated since then.

All of which cannot be helping a Dartford side that is obviously struggling for confidence and for a large part of this game looked a relegation team walking.

An early goal would have worked wonders for the confidence of the home side and they should have had it in the first minute when Andy Pugh brought a good save out of Jake Cole. When Woking took a fifth minute lead through Yemi Odubade what little confidence Dartford had visibly drained away. A shot from John Goddard took a deflection into the path of Odubade who easily slotted past a rooted Jason Brown.

Woking passed the ball on an awkward surface as well as many League One teams I’ve seen this season. Despite completely dominating the first half with Goddard catching the eye, it took a world class save from Cole to tip over a goal bound deflection from his own defender.

Surprisingly, Dartford were to go into the break on level terms when ex-Tonbridge favourite, Nathan Green, surged past two defenders and hit a shot across the face of Cole and into the far corner. Green had looked Dartford’s best outlet on the odd occasion they were able to make inroads on the Woking goal.

The goal should have provided the momentum for the Darts for a second half in which, as the home side, they picked up the initiative but Woking responded from the outset and after a couple of scares on their goal Dartford conceded once more in soft circumstances. After 52 minutes, Goddard weaved a little bit of space on the edge of the box and shot from 18 yards, an effort that bobbled its way through a throng of defenders to find the far corner.

Woking were now totally dominant and on the hour a cross from the right from Goddard somehow drifted in the wind over the head of Brown and straight into the net to virtually end the evening as a contest.

Towards the end, Christian Doige, who I thought had been one of the Darts' better players, put a header over the bar when it seemed easier to score. It was one of those, another of those, nights for Dartford, who are staring relegation to Conference South in the face.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gillingham 0 Barnsley 1

Match 69/14/1178 - Saturday 28th February 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Barnsley (0) 1 Waring 57
Att. 5,905

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/5,060

Match Report

What looked a nigh certainty at Christmas, relegation is now only in the vocabulary of the supreme pessimist. The recent run following the demise of Peter Taylor has swept Gillingham into mid-table whilst the supreme optimists, of which there are a few frequenting the pages of social media, are eyeing the distance between the club and the play-off places like a dog with a meaty bone.

It does beg the question, as both camps cast their eyes towards next season, where do we actually want Gillingham to be in the coming months. I thought my opinion was going to appear defeatist, but a random survey of one, the bloke that sits next to me; it seems that my thoughts are not singular. Between now and the end of the season it would be great to remain in contention for a play-off place to maintain interest, but to actually make the end-of-season nerve-tingler, no thanks.

My thoughts go back to 1999 and the infamous play-off final against Manchester City. Once the heartache of that day had subsided, I began to think that maybe fate had served us a good hand. As a club, we were not ready for the Championship, we had a three-sided ground, and the infrastructure was not there. A year later, with the ground complete (well except for the Town End, which still awaits its regeneration) we were ready and having beaten Wigan Athletic we took our place and stayed in the Championship for five years. I believe we have a parallel this season on the field. We have a decent team in the making, but one that Justin Edinburgh needs to put on his own stamp and given a pre-season and some re-working of the squad, we may find that we are better prepared to have a promotion tilt and should we be good enough, lucky enough, then we might find ourselves not only ready for the Championship but also able to cement our position.

With a run of eight unbeaten games, 21 games of consecutive scoring, it was no wonder that the optimists were having their say. Whether some of them fell away after this somewhat unexpected defeat, judging by the after-match comments to Radio Kent, it would appear to be the case.

This was a dog of a game. A blustery wind and persistent rain made for conditions that neither team were able to master. Chances were very much at a premium and the one that won the game for Barnsley came in almost bizarre circumstances.

We can gloss over the first half as a virtual non-event with much of the same in the opening quarter hour of the second. A Gillingham attack down the left hand side saw full-back Bradley Garmston going down behind the bye-line at the Rainham End, with, we now know, a hamstring injury from which he was unable to continue. Substitute Joe Martin was summoned to take his place, but it appeared that his shirt had gone missing and another player from the bench was sent scampering to the dressing room for a replacement. The match was ongoing because Garmston was off the field of play and when the ball was worked to Ben Pearson in the space vacated by the injury his strike towards the far post was parried by Stuart Nelson into the path of George Waring who had a simple tap-in.

The shirt was duly brought to Martin, but it begged the question why not wear it in the first place. The explanation was given by Edinburgh in that he was wearing it but when he pulled his top over his head; his shirt came with it and somehow became lost. Surely any person knows what he was wearing at any given time?

Gillingham huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser. John Marquis as a result of substitutions found himself right wing, then left wing as well as his central starting position. The home side needed one chance to salvage a point from the game and it came into time added-on. A well-worked move ended with Jermaine McGlashen free on the right hand side of the box but he failed to lift the ball over the advancing Tykes’ goalkeeper, Alan Davies who smothered his effort.

Barnsley celebrated a third win on the spin and success first-time out for new manager, Lee Johnson, recruited from Oldham Athletic, so perhaps the result was not quite so surprising.

Performances and results have been very good in the last couple of months, so hopefully this was just a bump in the road. Will that road lead to the play-offs, you know my thoughts.