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.