Thursday, 30 July 2015

Gillingham 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

Match 08/15/1213 - Wednesday, 29th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Gillingham (0) 1 Dack 47
Brighton & Hove Albion (0) 2 Stephens 56, Kandi 66
Attendance: TBA

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 52/366

Match Report

Justin Edinburgh’s summer recruitment has brought a heightened sense of optimism to the supporters of Gillingham. Despite having seen their earlier pre-season game at Tonbridge, the emotion of that particular day meant that the football virtually passed me by and, consequently, this friendly against Brighton was my first real look at them. And overall, despite the ultimate result, I was pretty impressed.

The stand-out performance on the night came from the Chelsea loanee, Jordan Houghton, whose midfield presence belied his 19-years. Unfortunately, he took a knock on the hour and was immediately substituted but only as a precaution it is understood. In his hour on the pitch, I cannot remember him giving the ball away, won many a tackle and exhibited a fine range of passing. Gillingham have him until January, if that can be extended to May, then he could be a major influence on their hopes of edging towards a play-off place.

Two players from last season’s squad, who in fairness, failed to win many plaudits, also impressed on the night. Brennan Dickenson, who, in my opinion, should not have been anywhere near the first team last term, excelled in a wing back role that saw him utilising his pace and producing some good deliveries into the box. The choice between him and Bradley Garmston is going to be an interesting one. Luke Norris, much derided, also produced a hard-working and effective performance as the lone striker stretching the Championship side’s back line and laying on the goal for Bradley Dack.

Stuart Nelson appears to have settled his differences with Edinburgh and took his place between the sticks making a couple of decent saves and overall looking like the Nelson of old.

Deji Oshilaja, the loan signing from Cardiff City, opened with a couple of misplaced passes that were a bit over-ambitious but settled down to produce a competent display alongside John Egan before being replaced by Max Ehmer.

The first half, highly entertaining for a pre-season game, ended goal-less but both sides could and perhaps should have got on the score sheet. Brighton were first to go close when Adam Colunga placed a lob over Nelson but onto the top of the bar before the hosts stretched the visiting goalkeeper with efforts from Ben Williamson and Jermaine McGlashen and a particularly fine save to deny his own defender, Tom Dallinson, conceding an own goal.

In the last five minutes of the half, Norris struck a post and brought another good save from Niki Maenpaa, following a solo run into the penalty area.

It took just two minutes of the second half for Gillingham to underline their first half superiority. Norris broke clear down the left hand side but delayed a shooting opportunity and was forced wide but his cross found Dack who was able to touch the ball home from close range.

Unfortunately the good work of the first hour was undone by some suspect defending for both Brighton goals that came after 57 and 66 minutes. An unchallenged cross into the box found Dale Stephens who was allowed two attempts to score the equaliser and quite where the Gillingham defence had disappeared to, when a good move from the visitors opened them up for Chike Kandi to stroke into an empty net, is food for thought for Edinburgh.

Gillingham searched in vain for an equaliser in the remaining time but the loss can certainly be considered immaterial in consideration of the performance. Brighton made a five man substitution after 64 minutes directly following Houghton’s departure and the game turned in their favour from this point. The general opinion was one of satisfaction and the sense of optimism pervading Priestfield at present had been shown to be fully justified.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Tunbridge Wells 1 Westfield 1

Match 07/15/1212 - Tuesday, 28th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Unknown (o.g.) 22
Westfield (0) 1 Unknown 82
Attendance: 165

Entrance: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 38/314

It’s been a strange couple of days that only pre-season can throw into the mix. On Sunday, we were supposedly due at the Emirates for the second day of the Arsenal’s pre-season tournament, but an error that I’ve never made before and would hope I never make again meant that whilst we were seated at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday watching the athletics we should also have been across London watching Arsenal thrash Lyon. Tickets purchased for the same day!

On to Tuesday and I pitched up at Culverden Stadium expecting to watch a pre-season repeat of last year’s FA Vase tie between Tunbridge Wells and Westfield, of Woking, except that the Westfield was that of East Sussex and the Sussex County League Division Three. In the same way that last season, I had no idea of the existence of Woking’s Westfield; the Sussex version had also passed me by.

Having no knowledge of the visitors I thought I should do a little research before the penning of this blog and I discovered a rather sad story, but one of resilience that I hope will, in time, have a happy ending.

At the end of last season, Westfield having failed a ground grading were relegated from Sussex County League Two and senior football to what will be renamed the Southern Combination and intermediate level status. Westfield finished outside of the relegation places but their appeal has fallen on deaf ears.

In September 2009, the clubhouse and changing rooms at their Parish Field ground were burnt to the ground, victim of a suspected arson attack. Three years earlier, a Westfield player, Graeme Kempster, was tragically killed in a car accident and his number six shirt was subsequently retired by the club and hung in the clubhouse in his memory. Amazingly, his shirt in its casing was about the only item to survive the fire and became a symbol for the club’s rise from the ashes.

A new ground has been on the horizon ever since, but it has not come to fruition quickly enough for the hierarchy of the Football Association and, albeit that Westfield were given fair warning, they have suffered demotion from senior football as a consequence.

Tunbridge Wells are also a club in transition and the team that took to the resplendent looking green baize of Culverden looked quite different from the one that I saw at Chatham just 10 days ago. Into the second half, and after a first half wearing white shirts, they appeared a different team yet again, in red shirts! All quite bizarre.

Of the newcomers, a young central defender, Ollie Cook, from Maidstone United’s youth set-up and a tricky winger, Ehis Izokun caught the eye. Tunbridge Wells really should have been good enough to earn a confidence-building substantial win, but good goalkeeping and a late equaliser rewarded their visitors with a hard earned share of the spoils.

The departure of Chris Seenan to Ryman League South Whitstable has left a sizeable hole in the goalscoring department, something that the new man at the helm, Keith Bird is obviously trying to rectify with the number of new players coming through the door. They cannot all be kept happy at a club of the Wells’ size and some will almost certainly be here today, gone tomorrow, but of course that is also the nature of pre-season.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Tonbridge 0 Ebbsfleet United 2

Match 06/15/1211 - Tuesday, 21st July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Tonbridge (0) 0
Ebbsfleet United (0) 2 Willmott 85, 90
Attendance: 305

Entrance: Senior £4
Programme: 50p
Mileage: 38/276

Match Report

Tonbridge went toe to toe with their Conference South neighbours but quality prevailed in the final five minutes when two goals from Robbie Willmott, fresh out of the Football League with Newport County, gave Ebbsfleet a rather flattering scoreline.

The resources of Ebbsfleet are well documented and the subject of a certain amount of jealousy and mirth that Dr Abdulla Al Humaidi’s investment has not produced instant success. But there were signs in the second half of this game that the most recent incumbent of the managerial hot seat, Daryl McMahon, is managing to fit round pegs into round holes and subsequently a considerably more cohesive unit is evolving than under Steve Brown or Jamie Day.

For the first 45 minutes, it looked a case of same old; same old for Ebbsfleet as Tonbridge forced the pace and asked a good deal more of the visitor’s new custodian, Jon Miles, than Anthony Di Barnado between the Angels’ sticks.

Miles had to be at his very best to acrobatically turn over a drive from Nick Wheeler that was headed for the top corner after 20 minutes, having previously watched on as a header from Nathan Elder was cleared from the line by Dean Rance.

Di Bernado saved well from Matt Godden but the 22-year-old Ebbsfleet keeper, brought in by McMahon, from Tottenham, where he played in the same youth team as Harry Kane, was by far the busier, brilliantly turning away a Tom Parkinson header and then watching thankfully as Tom Whitnell and Elder spurned good chances before the break.

The introduction of two more of McMahon’s summer signings, Jordan Parkes and John Paul Kissock swung the game in favour of the Conference South side in the second half. Parkes, last season’s Conference South Player of the Year following his 30 goal haul (from midfield) for Hemel Hempstead is a class act and one that could have been wearing Gillingham’s colours had a trial period ended with his signature a couple of years back. Kissock, signed from Macclesfield, from where he spent a loan period at Oldham Athletic last season, was the lynchpin of a midfield that was outfought in their first half absence but became dominant in the second.

Tonbridge certainly deserved something out of the game but with five minutes remaining Parkes found the head of Willmot with a pin-point cross to the far post from where the striker executed a bullet header that gave Di Bernado absolutely no chance.

With almost the last kick of the game, Willmott’s driven shot gave Ebbsfleet a flattering scoreline after Parkes had fed him a pass to the left side of the six yard box.

Both sets of supporters would have left Longmead quietly satisfied with their club’s performance on the night and their expectations for the coming season. As said previously, like a broken record I’m afraid, Tonbridge’s hopes are going to rest on finding a 20 goal striker of their own, whilst Ebbsfleet can afford the luxury of having Danny Kedwell coming off the bench for a 20 minute cameo.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Chatham Town 4 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 05/15/1210 - Saturday, 18th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Chatham Town (2) 4 Jeffery 20, Humber 40, 51, Edwards 77
Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Seenan 9
Attendance: Est. 127

Entrance: Senior £4
Programme: Free Team Sheet
Mileage: 32/238

For both clubs this coming season is going to be one of new beginnings. Chatham Town's exile in the Northern division of the Ryman League, a ludicrously long sojourn of five years, has ended and they can look forward to Kent derbies against Sittingbourne, Herne Bay and Whitstable rather than a trip through the Dartford Tunnel every other Saturday. On the flip side, the South always appears to be the stronger of the divisions so Kevin Watson will have needed to considerably strengthen his squad from the one that struggled in the North last term, but it should be easier to attract players now that the travelling element has been reduced.

For Tunbridge Wells, a new era under Keith Bird has begun and we can despatch the debacle of the process in which he was appointed to the Summertime Blues column for any who hasn't kept abreast of the sorry tale. Martin Larkin's squad hasn't been dismantled as was first feared and there have been returnees in the shape of Andy Irvine, Jason Barton and Hooley Cornell with the addition of new players, Luke Mathias and John Sinclair. The absence of team announcements led to difficulty working out who was who, usual fare for pre-season!

Kevin Watson would have finished the game much the happier of the two bosses. Outstanding was ex-Gillingham youth team player, George Humber, who scored a couple and made life very difficult for his opponents.

Keith Bird will be disappointed with a defensive display that saw all four goals conceded in a manner in which he would hope organisation on the training field will avoid once the league season is underway.

The Wells opened brightly and were well worth their ninth minute lead. A cross from the left to the far post found Chris Seenan whose header found it's way past the home goalkeeper. The Scotsman's record this pre-season is starting to look mightily impressive, five goals in three games.

Once Humber started weaving his magic, the Chats came back into the game and defensively the Wells rather fell apart. A corner from the right, allowed Jack Jeffery a free header to bring the scores level and five minutes before the break, a passing move across the face of goal ended with Humber, free on the left hand side of the six yard box, able to pick his spot.

Six minutes into the second half, Humber waltzed his way into the box past desperate challenges, to plant a low shot past the substitute goalkeeper and with 13 minutes remaining a Chatham substitute, Austin Edwards, tied the game up with a fourth goal.

No points have been won or lost, but for Mr Bird, there were probably more questions than answers to emerge from this game.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Sevenoaks Town 0 Tonbridge 1

Match 04/15/1209 - Tuesday, 14th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Sevenoaks Town (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 1 Blewden 68
Attendance: Est. 150

Entrance: Senior £3
Programme: None
Mileage: 46/206

Nobody wishes to forget Junior Dian and nobody connected to Tonbridge Angels Football Club ever will, but we have to move on. Two matches gone, and because of the tragic circumstances, personally, I've not been able to concentrate on either, so this game at Sevenoaks was a chance to assess where we are as a team on the pitch.

Five good chances, Nathan Elder shot over the bar and saw another effort well saved, Luke Blewden put a header over the top, Tom Parkinson saw his effort turned aside by the goalkeeper and a Jeromme Sobers header from a corner was comfortably saved, all within the first ten minutes as the visitors threatened to overwhelm their Southern Counties East hosts.

Mickey Collins managed to get some organisation back into his Sevenoaks side and from that point the chances to a degree dried up, unlike the weather where the rain was becoming a little too persistent.

James Folkes, operating further forward almost as a orthodox right winger produced several athletic runs but his end product was a little inconsistent. Nathan Elder was winning every ball pumped forward towards him but his partnership with Blewden is obviously a work in progress.

Into the second half and Anthony Di Bernado was asked to make a smart save. The goalkeeper seems a class above the choices of last season and dealt with almost everything with comfort.

Nick Wheeler, who wasn't as impressive as in the previous two games supplied the set piece delivery after 68 minutes for Blewden to glance a header into the far corner for the only goal of the game.

On the way home we played the guessing game of the starting eleven on August 8. In my opinion the choice centres around two factors if the personnel was to stay the same. Jerrome Sobers walked back to the dressing room last night with an ice pack around that troublesome knee. If he is fit, does that mean going with three at the back? And secondly, what is Tommy Whitnall's position in the present line-up. If he was to play behind Elder, then there is a midfield three of Wheeler, Phipp and Parkinson, leaving no place for Blewden. But if Sobers is not fit, then a 4-4-2 formation would find a place for Blewden. Guessing games!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Tonbridge 1 Gillingham 2

Match 03/15/1208 - Saturday, 11th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Tonbridge (0) 1 Pearson 76
Gillingham (1) 2 Norris 43, Egan 86
Attendance: 793

Entrance: Senior £4
Programme: 50p
Mileage: 36/160

Match Report

A lovely video from Trevor

There was nothing about this day in which you could be anything other than being proud to be a supporter of Tonbridge Angels Football Club. The club has shown great dignity since the shocking events of Tuesday evening at Whyteleafe and the passing of a trialist, Junior Dian, wearing their colours for the first and only time.

The two teams took to the field side by side, preceded by the club chaplain, Neil Durling and Junior's brother, with Junior's pals, James Folkes and Jerrome Sobers leading the Tonbridge line and Cody McDonald for Gillingham each carrying wreathes to be laid in the area where suppporters and a large gathering of Junior's family and friends, had already laid their flowers.

The chaplain read a poem from Frixo, a forum member, that had been posted in the last couple of days, it read:

I never met Junior Dian, never saw him play
I was not down at Whyteleafe on that fateful, sorry day
There on social media is a bright, athletic man
Sharp and cool, and full of fun, the whole world in his hands
Loving playing football, winning with his mates
Looking for the opening to make his first big break
A bright start with much promise, so those who saw him say
By some tiny unseen hand cruelly snatched away
I mourn a young man's passing and can barely guess the pain
Of family and friends never seeing him again
But as the seasons pass and time softens the hurt
I'll never forget that Junior died in a Tonbridge Angels shirt
God Bless You
Rest in Peace

James, Jerrome and Melvin Slight were first to lay their tributes, followed by manager Steve McKimm and Cody for Gillingham. I can only voice my admiration for Melvin, who tried so desperately to save the young man's life, the turmoil that must have gone through his mind since Tuesday, but here he was medical bag in hand, ready once again to do his job for his club.

The Tonbridge team came forward, one by one, to lay a flower, reaching out and touching the photograph of Junior.

A minute's applause followed, which proved too much for James Folkes, who was quickly consoled by his captain, Jerrome. Courageously, as his team mates rallied around him, James recovered his composure to play his part in the ensuing match.

Gillingham supporters, of whom I would expect nothing less, having stood alongside them at many a minute's silence or applause, observed the proceedings with the greatest of respect and fully played their part.

As for the match itself, Gillingham paid Tonbridge the great compliment of bringing a first team squad complete with all of their summer signings so far, with only Doug Loft nursing a sore calf, missing.

Tonbridge more than held their own and Gillingham had to thank the agility of Stuart Nelson in keeping out two headers from Tom Phipp before Luke Norris opened the scoring just prior to the break.

The home side got the equaliser their efforts deserved when Tom Pearson latched onto a weak header from John Egan to his goalkeeper leaving Pearson to round Glenn Morris and fire into the empty net.

Gillingham were not to be denied though and with four minutes remaining, Egan made amends with a close range header from a Ryan Edwards cross that Anthony Di Bernardo could not prevent from crossing the line.

Football is a sport that suffers criticism at times for the obscene amounts of money that sloshes around the top end. The great dignity that was shown this afternoon shows that the game has a heart.

Perhaps, a few quid from those millions it takes from television, etc., could now be filtered down, so the simple, relatively cheap, test that can detect the heart problem that has taken, from Tonbridge alone, Jack Maddams before Junior Dian, can be offered to semi-professional players up and down the country.

RIP Junior Dian

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Whyteleafe 0 Tonbridge 2

Match 02/15/1207 - Tuesday, 7th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Whyteleafe (0) 0
Tonbridge (2) 2 Phipp 3 Elder 5
Match abandoned after 70 minutes
Attendance: 80

Entrance: Senior £2
Programme: Free
Mileage: 76/138

A lovely summer’s evening that had begun with Tonbridge Angels supporters at Whyteleafe’s Church Road stadium full of optimism for the coming season ended after 70 minutes with a feeling of sheer helplessness as a 23-year-old trialist, Junior Dian, collapsed on the field of play. Both club’s physios sprinted to the player’s aid and administered CPR before an ambulance was called.

As the players of both sides left the pitch, Whyteleafe officials were asking spectators to leave the stadium as the game had been abandoned whilst the physios continued their efforts on the stricken player.

I was due at work, so left the scene immediately but those that stayed on report that the ambulance arrived just before 21:40, approximately 25 minutes after Junior had slumped to the ground. He was transferred to St George’s Hospital, Tooting, where at 1 a.m., he sadly passed away.

Junior is a young man that was completely unknown to the Tonbridge supporters assembled at Church Road. In fact, on the club secretary’s team sheet, he was simply listed as Junior. My eyes were following the ball when he fell to the ground, without any contact with any other player I was told, and it took some minutes to realise the gravity of the situation. The sight of Melvin Slight, the Tonbridge physio and his Whyteleafe counterpart rendering CPR was not one that I had witnessed on a football ground, or anywhere else for that matter, and not one I would wish to repeat. I, for one and I’m sure many others would echo the thought, that the two physios were heroes for their actions despite their efforts ultimately being in vain.

In later days, it has emerged that Junior had been a player with Dagenham and Redbridge in his youth and was known to Tonbridge players, James Folkes and Jerrome Sobers, who had asked manager Steve McKimm if Junior could attend training with them. He had impressed enough for McKimm to give him an opportunity to play a part in the pre-season friendly.

The match itself, obviously became a irrelevance but it should be said that Tonbridge got off to a storming start with new signing Nick Wheeler very much to the fore. After just two minutes he floated a left wing cross to the far post from where Tom Phipp converted with a header. The lead was doubled within a couple of minutes, this time a long right-sided cross from James Folkes was easily headed home by Nathan Elder. The visitors went on to dominate the first period and could have been a long way clear before the break.

Saturday's home friendly against Gillingham goes ahead as a tribute to Junior Dian.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Crockenhill 2 Sittingbourne 5

Match 01/15/1206 - Saturday, 4th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Crockenhill (1) 2 Jeffery 29, Gaggin 50
Sittingbourne (3) 5 Bell 5, 20 Dickens 44 Obasa 68, 88
Attendance: 72

Entrance: £3
Programme: Old issue: 50p
Mileage: 62/62

Match Report

On Wednesday, we endured, rather than enjoyed, the heat of Wimbledon’s Number One court on a record-breaking day in terms of temperature, come Saturday and despite the mercury showing a good 10degC lower at 28degC, it was still a day for tennis rather than football.

But pre-season is upon us and it is time to get used to standing up for 90 minutes, focusing the eyes and concentrating the mind and it was a case that any game, anywhere would do. As it was, Crockenhill was a useful destination, one that I hadn’t visited for the best part of 25 years and less than an hour’s drive away.

Sittingbourne were the visitors to Wested Meadow and opted to bring a team largely of triallists whilst the “contracted” players remained at Woodstock for morning training. The one player that I would have known had any team sheet been supplied was that of Ollie Bankole, once considered a good prospect down at Longmead.

Twenty-five years ago, with Tonbridge the visitors for a Kent League game, Wested Meadow was a little ramshackle and weather-worn. Time hasn’t been kind to the home of club that has slipped down a step into the Kent Invicta League. The main stand is much the same as I remembered it and a little “bus stop” wooden enclosure behind the goal is reached by scrambling through long grass and debris. The playing surface looked long and scorched, in need of a mow and a lot of water.

The result appears one-sided but Crockenhill gave it a decent effort against a side whose make-up probably didn’t reflect their Ryman League status. A trio of forwards for Sittingbourne, Abraham-Richard Tagoe, Bryan Bell and Fred Obasa were quick and skilful and the Crocks back line were worked hard to keep the scoring down to a reasonable number.

But, as newly-installed Crockenhill manager, Liam Kelly, told his troops during his half-time team talk conducted down by the nearside corner flag, a couple of moments of defensive fraility was the difference between the sides, albeit that Sittingbourne could, and should, have been a couple further clear had they taken their chances.

Five minutes had elapsed in the first period when a long throw into the box was converted by a glancing header from Bell who had easily won an aerial duel with the Crocks’ goalkeeper who had advanced into an area where he was not likely to win the ball.

Sittingbourne doubled their lead after 20 minutes when a through ball from Obasa sliced open the Crocks’ defence leaving Bell to round the goalkeeper and slide the ball into the open goal.

At this point Sittingbourne might have gone on to run up a cricket score on a day made for that game but credit to the hosts as they rallied and pulled a goal back after 29 minutes when a strike from Aaron McCallum came back off the far post to the feet of Dan Jeffery who touched home from close range.

Sittingbourne regained their two goal advantage on the stroke of half-time with another goal that will give Liam Kelly nightmares for the coming season. A corner was simply met at the near post with a free header from Charlie Dickens past a substitute goalkeeper.

The hosts were given an early lifeline in the second half when a clearance from Sittingbourne’s substitute goalkeeper was charged down by Alex Gaggin who watched the rebound trickle into the net. But with twenty minutes remaining Obasa raced clear of a couple of defenders to plant a good finish into the far corner to put Sittingbourne 4-2 in front.

I took my leave of Wested Meadow a couple of minutes before the end and this was sufficient time to miss Obasa curling another strike into the corner for the Brickies’ fifth of the afternoon.

2015-16 is underway and not a moment too soon despite Andy Murray’s Wimbledon progress and the Ashes yet to get underway.