Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Tonbridge 1 Billericay Town 0

Match 22/16/1330 - Monday, 29th August 2016 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Elder 78
Billericay Town (0) 0
Attendance: 628

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 38/2,269

Match Report

All clubs have a bogey team that, whatever form that opposition might be in, you know that they are going to make life difficult. Tonbridge have one such team in Billericay Town. Events seem to happen against the Essex side that just don't happen against other clubs. Saturday, 18th April 2015 is a case in point, a game that is etched into the memory of Angels' fans, for not the right reasons. The hoodoo was already in place, but with six minutes remaining, Dee Okojie scored to put the Angels 3-0 up at New Lodge. Surely, once and for all the jinx had been exorcised. None of it, Billericay fought back scoring three times in 10 minutes to force a draw. Even then, Tonbridge had the opportunity to steal the points when they were awarded a penalty, but Mitchell Pinnock saw his shot saved by the goalkeeper.

It was thought that Billericay might struggle this season having lost a number of players including their captain George Beaven, who lined up for the home side. But the 'Ricay manager, Craig Edwards, has a happy knack of turning up another player or two and always managing to put out a competitive team.

A bumper Bank Holiday crowd of 628 was assembled and an entertaining contest ensued.

One such player that Edwards has introduced this season is the lively Josh Oyinsan and within the first ten minutes the twice threatened the home side's goal. His first effort on four minutes saved at the near post and after eight minutes his header from a Junior Luke cross was deflected wide. Billericay continued to take the game to their hosts and Anthony Di Bernardo needed to be at his best to save low to his right at shot from Quentin Monville.

The Tonbridge goalkeeper produced an even better save after 20 minutes when Oyinsan curled a shot towards the top corner for Di Bernardo to claw away. From the resulting corner, Jack Parter was called upon to clear the ball away from the line as the ball had been poked towards the goal.

Tonbridge's first threatening moment came from a dead ball situation when Nick Wheeler's free kick was steered wide by Tommy Parkinson's header, this was quickly followed by a good move that ended with Nathan Elder heading wide.

Into the second half, and with we could suspect some choice words ringing in their ears, Tonbridge set about imposing themselves on the game. The immense Ricky Sappleton, a centre forward being used as a centre half, fought a super heavyweight battle with Elder with no quarters asked to given.

Luke Blewden was introduced early in the second period for Tommy Whitnell and his direct running caused a new set of problems for Sappleton and his back line.

After 70 minutes, Tom Phipp's re-introduction continued with his substitution appearance for the strangely quiet Luke Allen and he produced a 20 minute cameo that suggested he will be pivotal to Tonbridge's season.

A minute later, a Wheeler cross was met with an Elder header that brought an absolutely wonderful save, low to his left, from Jack Giddens.

The hosts were knocking on the door and it was finally pushed open with a superb move that was started with Phipp finding Damian Scannell, who in turn, fed the overlapping James Folkes. The full back's cross was a peach and found the diving head of Elder, who had the net bulging with a powerful header.

Billericay rallied for a grandstand finish but efforts were relatively easily dealt with by a solid back line or comfortably saved.

For once, the jinx has been put to bed.

Picture courtesy of Ian Clear.

Extras from Casualty's 30th anniversary episode!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Metropolitan Police 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 21/16/1329 - Saturday, 27th August 2016 - Ryman Premier

Metropolian Police (0) 1 Smart 90+5
Tonbridge (1) 1 Elder 2
Attendance: 144

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 84/2,231

If, at the end of the season, promotion is delivered, then Steve McKimm won't be looking back on a missed opportunity to write a little bit of Tonbridge Angels history. A win would have been their fifth straight, the first time this would have been achieved at the start of a season.

For the second time, and the only goals conceded, this season Tonbridge lost a goal with virtually the last kick of the match and with the stopwatches showing well past the announced time-added.

Whereas at Burgess Hill the goal was nothing more than a consolation and a minor irritation, this one at Metropolitan Police cost a couple of points.

At the end of the day, whatever figure is shown on the board at the end of the ninety, the game isn't over until the referee whistles to say it is and we can argue the semantics of "minimum of" and "time-added to time-added" but that whistle is the only one that counts.

This was my first visit to Imber Court for many a year and, in truth, I remembered nothing except for the beautifully kept pitch. So it was something of a surprise when the game was brought to halt after ten minutes to allow the groundsman to fill in a hole that had appeared.

I often wondered who might support the MetPlod and if you did, would you admit it! It did feel that there were nobody other than Tonbridge supporters in the ground, but with their equaliser, there were more than a few cheering. I nice little article about this very subject can be found on this link.

The visitors could not have got off to a better start. Goalkeeper Anthony Di Bernardo made a smart clearance to the feet of Luke Blewden who in turn sent Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson away down the right. The winger's pinpoint cross found the head of Nathan Elder at the far post who buried his header to give Tonbridge the lead after just 86 seconds.

I've long laboured the point that four games into a season there are no bottom of the table teams just those that haven't made a good start as the rest, but for 20 minutes the Met looked every inch a team rightly at the foot of the table. In that period they were virtually overrun. The Met's full back, Will Salmon, picked up a booking after just three minutes and a minute later the ball was in the home net again only for it to be disallowed and pulled back for free kick awarded to the Angels. From the free kick, the Met's goalkeeper, Luke Edgecombe, clawed away Nick Wheeler's effort from the top corner.

It took 22 minutes for the Police to launch a meaningful attack with Ryan Gondho shooting straight at Di Bernardo. But that little foray gave the home side a bit of confidence to mount a period of pressure.

In the closing minutes of the half, central defender Ollie Robinson headed over from a corner and Charlie Collins directed a shot at Di Bernardo after a good move had put the striker in the clear.

Elder was substituted by Damian Scannell early in the second half feeling unwell.

Whilst the game in the second half was relatively even, it was the visitors that carved out the scoring opportunities. A Wheeler corner offered Sonny Miles a free header that was steered wide and a surging run from Jack Parter ended when he ran out of space on the bye-line.

A significant moment in the return to fitness of Tom Phipp arrived with 15 minutes remaining when he was the substitute for Fortnam-Tomlinson. I half-joked with a friend that we now held our breath for the next quarter-hour. Within 20 seconds of coming on and with virtually his first touch of the ball, Robinson clattered into Phipp and sent him crashing to ground. The centre-half took the booking, Phipp the attention of the physio. Two minutes later and another defender was whacking in a desperate challenge, just below the knee but this one went unpunished.

The clocked had ticked into time-added and, seemingly, well past when a cross from the left was met with a powerful header from the right back Nathan Smart as the Police had piled everybody forward including the goalkeeper for a corner in search of the equaliser.

I could become real anorak when it comes to an old-fashioned floodlight pylon! I love them! In my time supporting England away from home, I would love the visits to eastern European countries where the floodlights would be of this type, to me they are very nostalgic.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Tonbridge 1 Harrow Borough 0

Match 20/16/1328 - Tuesday, 23rd August 2016 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 1 Allen 7
Harrow Borough (0) 0
Attendance: 476

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 38/2,147

Tonbridge were made to work hard to maintain their 100% start to the season by a Harrow Borough side that were much better than their indifferent start to this term had suggested.

The match was settled after just seven minutes when a free kick for a foul on Luke Allen was punished by the same man with his shot going in off the right hand post.

Throughout the game, Harrow posed a threat and Anthony Di Bernardo needed to be at his best to tip over the crossbar a 25 yard effort from Ryan Hope. Hope was left exasperated as two similar distance shots in the 28th and 29th minutes had exactly the same outcome.

Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson supplied crosses that created chances for Nick Wheeler, who shot over and Luke Blewden, whose header was saved by the Harrow goalkeeper, Thomas Williams.

Within five minutes of the start of the second half, Allen was fouled in a very similar position to his goalscoring free kick. Once again, he took the free kick but this time saw his effort rebound off the bar.

Hope continued to cause the Tonbridge defence some anxiety but a good move ended with him wastefully shooting over.

After an hour, a wonderful turn from Nathan Elder sent the big man clear from the half-way line with the Harrow central defender in pursuit. Elder who is showing an extra yard of pace this season nevertheless didn't quite have the legs to carry him clear of his pursuer.

Di Bernardo caught the sponsor's eye to be awarded man of the match with another couple of saves. No sooner had the announcement been made, when a rush of blood saw the goalkeeper in no man's land but Michael Peacock steered his header wide.

Four out four, three clean sheets is a fine start to the season that has also had the misfortune of serious injuries. It is too be hoped that the sight of Tom Phipp walking to the dug-outs after the break with an ice-pack on his knee was nothing more than precautionary.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Chatham Town 1 Walton Casuals 2

Match 19/16/1327 - Monday, 22nd August 2016 - FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay

Chatham Town (1) 1 Gundry 19
Walton Casuals (2) 2 Pinnock 6 Summers 32
Attendance: 152

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 32/2,109

Match Report

Alongside a fellow Gillingham supporter and far more dedicated groundhopper than I, Jim Case, we have often begged the question of Chatham Town (and clubs like them), "why do they persist in playing Tuesday night fixtures in competition with Gillingham and senior non-league clubs." Chatham Town haven't exactly listened to us because we didn't directly pose the question, but they are experimenting this season with Monday night fixtures and, so far, the results in terms of attendance are encouraging. Their opening home league fixture against Tooting and Mitcham drew an attendance of 239; whilst Tooting are well supported, on last year's figures this would be a good 100 up. This FA Cup replay, obviously arranged at short notice with no time to advertise the fixture managed 152, about 25 more than might have been expected on a Tuesday?

The teams were re-assembled at Maidstone Road after a thrilling 3-3 draw on Saturday in front of a meagre 43 people. Nobody likes to go out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle and the £1,950 prize money is gold dust to clubs entering at this stage.

Chatham Town can have few complaints that their Surrey opponents took home the money and a place in the First Qualifying Round.

Walton Casuals opened brightly and scored with their first attack after five minutes. A ball over the top sent the left winger clear and when he laid the ball inside to Sol Pinnock, his 20 yard shot found the net off the far post.

The visitors could have put the tie to bed before the elapsing of 10 minutes. Malachi Hudson, broke clear before ex-Tunbridge Wells' Lee Radford made a saving clearance and this was followed by Chatham loan goalkeeper from Gillingham, Henry Newcombe, making a point blank save to deny Hudson.

Chatham equalised on 18 minutes when Ricky Gundry won a challenge the Walton centre half and found the net with an accurate lob of the advancing keeper for a good finish.

The goal took nothing out of Walton's stride and they were back in front just past the half-hour mark when Dan Summers ran on to a long ball, cut in from the left and fired a low shot into the far corner. The home side had to be thankful to their young goalkeeper for keeping the tie alive at the break. Newcombe made good saves to deny Pinnock and Gabriel Odunaike.

Whatever plans Tony Beckingham laid in the dressing rooms at half-time went out of the window within a minute of the restart with the sending-off of Aaron Ruhle. From the width of the pitch it was difficult to see how bad a challenge it was that brought a second yellow.

Chatham didn't make a bad fist of 10 versus 11, but you felt from the sidelines that Walton were basically controlling the situation. Pinnock missed a couple of chances and Newcombe made another very decent save late on. Mark Patterson, the Gillingham Youth Team coach, who was sat alongside me, would have been pleased with his 18-year-old goalkeeper's efforts on the night.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Lowestoft Town 0 Tonbridge Angels 1

Match 18/16/1326 - Saturday, 20th August 2016 - Ryman Premier

Lowestoft Town (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 1 Elder 80
Attendance: 521

Entrance: £8 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 320/2,087
New Ground: 294

Match Report

When the wind howls off the east coast then, usually, it brings with it a chill. On this occasion, the wind certainly howled but from a spectating point of view brought a welcome coolant to a warm day. From a playing point of view, it was the breeze that won the day.

It's a long old trot up to Lowestoft from Kent and various hold-ups along the way, the Dartford Tunnel on this occasion being not guilty, took the journey time to 3.5 hours, thus scuppering our plans for a fish and chip lunch on the seafront.

There was a pleasant welcome at Crown Meadow and inside a good looking football ground that housed a main grandstand seating 466 with a terraced covered enclosure alongside. Behind one goal, there is the smallest of covered areas, it was so low that I doubt if I could have actually stood upright underneath. The length of the pitch on the dug-outs side was uncovered.

In the background behind the main stand a wind turbine was visible, spinning at a rate that was testament to the stiff breeze. Tonbridge played with the wind in the first period and consequently had the majority of the attacking play. Steve McKimm made two enforced changes, James Folkes returning to replace Ugo Udoji and Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson (BFT) in for Damian Scannell.

Nicky Wheeler was the first to test a giant goalkeeper, Jake Jessup, with a low shot that he fumbled between his legs. With the super-heavyweight boxing final at the Olympics imminent, I imagined a match between him and Canvey's goalkeeper, Connor Gough, might make for a good contest.

Tonbridge were exerting a good deal of pressure, BFT had a couple of half-chances, Nathan Elder shot over and when a clearance from Anthony Di Bernardo caught the wind, Luke Blewden was in the clear and rounded the goalkeeper only for the angle to be just too acute.

Lowestoft's best chance of the half came just prior to the break when a cross from the right alluded the head of the onrushing striker.

Having failed to gain an advantage during the wind-assisted half, it was expected that there would be a reversal in domination, but, in truth, Tonbridge remained comfortable and an early chance went begging when Wheeler's corner found the head of Elder, but the big striker's effort cleared the bar.

The half did progress more evenly, but it continued to be the visitors that created the clearer chances and Jessup needed to be alert to save Sonny Miles' downward header.

Lowestoft created their best chance of the match after 78 minutes when a cross into the box evaded everyone and landed at the feet of Jake Reed whose snatched shot failed to test Di Bernardo.

The only goal came with 10 minutes remaining. A beautifully cushioned pass from substitute Tommy Whitnell gave space for BFT to pin-point a cross onto the head of Elder who buried it into the corner powerfully.

The visiting supporters hearts were in their mouths when a minute of added time remained, the home side were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box but that was only guided into the safe hands of Di Bernardo. One final act remained when the Trawlerboys were offered one last shooting chance but Ryan Jarvis dragged his shot wide to the relief of the travelling faithful who greeted both the final whistle and their team joyously.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Erith Town 2 Tunbridge Wells 2

Match 17/16/1325 - Wednesday, 17th August 2016 - Southern Counties East

Erith Town (2) 2 Pallen 20, Friend 44
Tunbridge Wells (1) 2 Atkins 4, Bryant 62
Attendance: 60
Played at VCD Athletic

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 74/1,767

This game will always be remembered for the appearance of a substitute goalkeeper. Ten minutes had elapsed when Richard Atkins broke the Erith Town offside trap and bore down on goal. Adam Highsted bravely got down at the Tunbridge Wells' striker's feet and smothered his effort taking a knock to the shoulder in the process. There was a delay of five minutes before Highsted decided he would try to continue.

Tunbridge Wells had already taken a fourth minute lead when Atkins ran onto a long ball over the top and planted his shot into the far corner of the net to the delight of probably three-quarters of the meagre 60 attendance.

Erith hit back with a 19th minute equaliser following an unchallenged run and finish from Jack Pallen.

Following the goal, Highsted decided he was not in any condition to continue and with no goalkeeper on the bench, it was Erith's manager, Ian Jenkins, 49-years-old, that took the shirt and gloves.

His first two touches of the ball met with the disapproval of the referee when he kicked a rolling ball for goal kicks and when he did it a third time his argument led to a yellow card. His comment about his age and just wanting to enjoy the game was probably valid, but rules are rules.

The sight of this ageing custodian would surely mean a succession of high balls into his six-yard box to test his resolve under pressure. It just didn't happen.

Jenkins was perfectly comfortable with the ball at his feet and a couple of half-hearted attempts were not going to bother him.

Nicholas Kelliheri was causing the visiting defence a problem with his pace from full back and a good chance was created and wasted by Lee Friend.

All the time, Jenkins was talking and marshalling his back four as if he was still stood on the sideline and when he was finally called into action with a cross, deep and underneath his crossbar, he punched to safety.

Tunbridge Wells took a sucker punch a minute before half-time when Friend was through one-on-one with Steve Lawrence and tucked the ball safety into the net.

A strong tackle, six minute into the second period, by Jason Barton, led to an unseemly skirmish that ended with yellow cards for Barton and Erith's James Coppins.

A beautifully crafted goal in the 58th minute brought the Wells level. Connor Pring lined up a free kick to the far post. As the throng waited, he touched to the right side from where Alfie Hall laid the perfect cross for Tom Bryant to attack the near post and volley home.

Jermaille Johnson, whose debut had been demoted to that of a substitute appearance by reason of going to Erith & Belvedere's ground rather than Erith Town, struck the post with ten minutes remaining as both sides searched and created half-chances for a winning goal that wasn't to come.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Burgess Hill Town 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 16/16/1324 - Tuesday, 16th August 2016 - Ryman Premier

Burgess Hill Town (0) 1 Lee Harding 90+6
Tonbridge (1) 2 Wheeler 23, Fortnum-Tomlinson 86
Attendance: 387

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 100/1,693
New Ground: 293

The hideously named Green Elephants Stadium is situated in a residential area that necessitates an old school 19:30 kick-off in order that the floodlights don't disturb the neighbours. It also means that the groundstaff are very quick to turn the lights off again once the match has been completed. Steve McKimm's post-match interview was conducted in front of a small emergency light, but it could have been in total darkness and I would have known that the concession of Burgess Hill's consolation goal, 10 seconds from the end, and well past the announced six minutes of added time, would have irked him in the extreme.

In actual fact it was the continuance of Tonbridge's misfortune with injuries that mostly concerned him. What is it with Tonbridge's new signings? Last season it was Tom Phipp, out for the best part of a complete season and this year, Andre McCollin breaks a leg in the opening game; Damian Scannell tweaks a hamstring in the same match and in this one, Ugo Udogi took a tumble 15 minutes from time and dislocated a shoulder.

Leyland's Park, let's dispose of Green Elephants here and now, is a picturesque tree-lined football ground with a grandstand straddling the half-way line that actually looks bigger than a 150-seater and behind the goal there is what appears to be a temporary structure that seats another 50 or so. The pitch appeared a bit on the narrow side, but, at this time of the season, looked in prime condition.

Tonbridge, high on confidence from their opening day 3-0 home victory against Wingate and Finchley, peppered the Burgess Hill goal early on with crosses that led to the frustrated home supporter alongside me pleading with his central defenders to win a cross into the box. Tom Parkinson saw one header bounce of the top of the crossbar and another cleared from the line and these were either side of a Nathan Elder header that the goalkeeper did well to save.

The home side had a period of ten minutes when they got a foothold in the game, largely through the wing play of Pat Harding, who made a couple of half-chances for his brother, Lee. It was also good to see ex-Angel Jack Brivio doing a sterling job in midfield for the home side.

Tonbridge went ahead after 23 minutes when a long ball into the box from Udogi cleared the head of Elder to the waiting Nick Wheeler, who rifled the ball low into the corner.

Scannell was forced from the field straight after the goal and the rest of the half was agony for my neighbour as headers from Elder and Parkinson threatened the Hillians' goal.

The second half was more evenly balanced with Wheeler, Parter and Elder testing the home keeper whilst Lee Harding's shot was saved low by Anthony Di Bernardo.

The game suffered a six minute delay whilst Udogi was attended to and subsequently stretchered from the field.

Four minutes remained when Tonbridge finally put the game to bed. A left-sided cross from Wheeler found Bradley Fortnum-Tomlinson on the right hand side and he took his chance well with a firm shot from the angle of the six-yard box.

The clock had ticked well past the six minutes added when the visitors failed to clear their lines and a cross from the right was touched home from close range by Lee Harding.

Tunbridge Wells U21 1 Whitstable Town U21 1

Match 15/16/1323 - Monday, 15th August 2016 - Suburban Southern League

Tunbridge Wells (0) 1
Whitstable Town (0) 1
Headcount: 40

Entrance: £3
Programme: None
Mileage: 38/1,631

There have been a few dawns of new eras at Culverden in recent times so the first fixture for Tunbridge Wells' newly formed Under-21 side was in comparison low key. The Suburban Southern League is not a Under-21 age group league and the club will be concentrating on players under 21 but can use the fixtures to give squad members or players returning from injury game time. The team is to be managed by Lee Mackelden who was instrumental in bringing Tom Mackelden, Ryan Crandley and Stephen Ikpeme to the club.

Naturally enough, there wasn't a huge crowd in attendance for the visit of Whitstable Town's B side, I'm guessing we will see several variations in the naming of sides in the league.

A white board with the teams on would have been a great help as many of us are struggling recognising some of the first team let alone the reserves. Kit manager, Stuart Lucas was able to furnish us with the majority of the names with a couple stumping even him. First teamers making an appearance were Jake Hampson, Stephen Ikpeme, Tom Lawrence and Rhys Bartlett.

Tunbridge Wells exerted the early pressure but the best chance of the first half fell to Whitstable when John Fregerne firstly attempted to round goalkeeper Ryan Chandler, but as the custodian touched the ball away forcing the man wide, Fregerne's shot hit a post.

By half-time, although the game remained goal-less, Whitstable had created the best of the chances.

Bartlett shot across the face of goal early in the second period before the home side took the lead on the hour. A cross from the right being swept home by second half substitute, Dale Ashman.

Whitstable got the equaliser they deserved with eight minutes remaining when Fregerne scampered away down the right and crossed for Smith to score from close range.

A late free kick from Alex Carey brought an excellent save from the visiting goalkeeper to preserve the parity of the scoreline.

In the new period where budgets are necessarily being reduced, this is the level from where the next generation of Tunbridge Wells first team players will need to come.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Gillingham 2 Bury 1

Match 14/16/1322 - Saturday, 13th August 2016 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 Jackson 5, Kay (o.g.) 57
Bury (0) 1 Pope 66
Attendance: 5,324

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 58/1,593

Match Report

Gillingham's bright start to the season continued with a deserved, but unnecessarily hard fought, victory over Bury. But their misfortune with injuries continued with an injury to loan striker Joe Quigley that is likely to keep him out for the season.

Following on from their opening day success at Southend United, they repeated the feat in Tuesday's League Cup tie, once again at Roots Hall. Jay-Emmanuel Thomas scored another two goals to further embellish his glittering start to life at Gillingham, but as we have all predicted, the inconsistency that has dogged his career surfaced once more with a below-par performance on his Priestfield debut. The trouble with JET is that when things are not clicking for him, his body language tends to tell the story and then he can appear lazy.

Another player, who has a completely different body language, that is enjoying a fruitful opening to the season is Ryan Jackson. Last week, Southend unbelievably succumbed to his long throw and in this game he surged forward to open the scoring after just five minutes. A pass inside the full back from Mark Byrne saw Jackson ride a challenge before slotting the ball underneath the body of the advancing goalkeeper.

An old Gillingham trait of going into their shell after a goal quickly surfaced thereafter and one of the Gillingham fans favourite pantomime villains, Tom Pope was at the forefront of the majority of Bury's attacking intentions.

Jackson was proving to be Gillingham's best attacking outlet and a cynical foul on him brought a yellow for Hallam Hope.

Four minutes prior to the break, Emmanuel Osadebe thumped a header against the bar from a pin-point Konchesky cross, from the rebound Wright powered in a shot that was superbly turned to safety by Ben Williams.

Into the second half and Gillingham doubled their advantage after 58 minutes with Jackson once more the catalyst. The full back cantered into acres of space down the right hand side and powered in a cross-cum-shot that took an unfortunate deflection off Antony Kay to wrong foot the goalkeeper. The goal was initially credited to Jackson, but he will be lucky to keep it.

The game was set for Gillingham to power on to a substantial win with Osadebe, in particular, pulling all the strings in midfield. But, once again they retreated and offered the visitors a way back into the game which they accepted with a considerable amount of time (24 minutes) left on the clock. Tom Soares crossed low and to the far post where Pope was lurking to slide the ball home. The pantomime villain once again having the last laugh.

Bury continued to threaten and when six added minutes was announced there was some nervous times for the Gillingham support. Unfortunately, the time added was time enough for Quigley to sustain his injury in the most innocuous of fashions without a challenge.

Tunbridge Wells 1 Corinthian 2

Match 13/16/1321 - Friday, 12th August 2016 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Bryant 72
Corinthian (0) 2 Johnson-Cole 77 (pen), Housego 86
Attendance: 275

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 38/1,535

Match Report

In a parody of Abba's opening line in Dancing Queen, the cult group Half Man Half Biscuit, Tranmere Rovers supporters, sang "Friday Nights and the Gates are Low" in reference to their club's preference to play on a Friday evening thus avoiding clashing with Merseyside's big two. No longer in the Football League, the Prenton Park club no longer play their home fixtures on Friday, the same can be said for Southend United. Although the counter to this argument is that only a few Premier League fixtures kick off at 15:00 on a Saturday anyway. Sky also think there is mileage in Friday night football with a raft of televised fixtures announced, but, let's face it, they don't give a hoot about supporters that actually attend games.

The Southern Counties East have made it their wish that clubs trial Friday night fixtures in an attempt to boost attendances and Tunbridge Wells' opening league fixture was chosen as the guinea pig for the first weekend.

The opportunity that Friday night offers is that the people that pack the trains to London and further afield to watch Arsenal, et. al might be tempted to supplement their weekend fix with a trip to Culverden.

So, off the field, could it be considered a success? Social media suggests that several people took the opportunity for a second SCEL game the following day and, personally, Friday nights would allow me to watch Tunbridge Wells far more often. An attendance of 275 is very good by SCEL standards, but was about 40 down on Tunbridge Wells' gate for their FA Cup tie the previous Saturday when Eastbourne United brought a few fans whilst Corinthian's support amounted to a car full. This suggests that very few new faces were attracted on the night, but that is not to say it would not with more notice and better promotion in the future.

On the field, sadly, the hosts shaky start to the season continued. Corinthian consistently produce sides that are both competitive and easy on the eye and on this evidence they will continue in this vein this season.

They dominated the first half, created a plethora of chances but, almost bizarrely, could have gone into the break a goal down when Ollie Bankole's shot came back off the underside of the crossbar.

At times during the first period it was Tunbridge Wells goalkeeper, Steve Lawrence against the visitors. He made saves to deny Brima Daramy after just four minutes; tipped a header from Marcus Evans over the bar and saved with his feet from Michael Hagan.

The early period of the second half told the same story, although shots on target from Ryan Crandley and Jack Howlett at least suggested that the Wells knew the route to goal.

Tom Bryant put his good looks on the line when he took the ball full in the face to deny the visitors once more before, five minutes later putting the Wells unexpectedly ahead after 72 minutes. Connor Pring floated a free kick into the box and Bryant glanced his header home.

The lead was not to last as Bryant brought down Johnson Cole in the box with the Corinthian player safely placing the spot in the bottom corner to the delight of Corinthian's car load of supporters.

The visitors created further chances before a sweeping move ended with Oscar Housego netting from close range for a well deserved winner.

So is Friday night something for the future? Whilst they have initiated the trialling, the SCEL have not scheduled any further Premier League fixtures with League One matches taking up the Friday slot. Of course, they can, and probably will, switch fixtures at very short notice. I hope they give it a fair crack, but I have doubts that its ambitions for Friday nights are going to be met.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Eastbourne United 2 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 12/16/1320 - Tuesday, 9th August 2016 - FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay

Eastbourne United (1) 2 Cooper 32, Dalloway 55
Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Bankole 73
Attendance: 219

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 71/1,497
New Ground: 292

There is something slightly ludicrous, and certainly dispiriting, about going out of the FA Cup before a league fixture has been played. The Football Association in their wisdom have come to the conclusion that the only way that the competition can be completed between now and May is for the opening round to be played in the first week of August. For the clubs entering the competition at this stage, the prize money, £1,500 for this round, is as vital (if not more so) as the £1.8 million awarded to the eventual winners. So why ask those clubs, struggling on a shoestring, to play with only a matter of friendlies behind them?

From all accounts, Saturday's 1-1 at Culverden represented a fair result over the course of the 90 minutes and so it was that the two sides re-assembled at The Oval, just back from the front at the gentile seaside town of Eastbourne. This was my first visit to Eastbourne United and arrived to find the small car park already full but lucky to find a spot just 50 yards down the road. Inside the stadium there were two covered enclosures, one a terrace that was quickly inhabited by the Tunbridge Wells travelling faithful and a stand seating 113 people.

This season, the Football Association have also legislated that there would be seven substitutes available to the manager, something else that is going to be onerous for clubs in the early stages of the competition. Credit to Eastbourne that they were able to, at least, name their full complement whilst Tunbridge Wells were only able to name four, one of which was a goalkeeper of, shall we say, advancing years and Alfie Hall, who, it was understood, was unlikely to be used due to injury.

The warmth of a pleasant August day had turned very slightly chilly as the game kicked off. Within two minutes, the visitors had the ball in the net via an Ollie Cooke header but the referee adjudged that there had been a push involved and the goal was chalked off.

Peter Cooper served notice as United's danger man when his header drifted wide from a free kick as the home side began to assert their authority on the game.

Just after the half-hour mark, one of the ugliest but most effective ploys in football, route one, undid the Wells' back line as the ball over the top was seized upon by Cooper who slid it past the advancing Steve Lawrence. In fairness, it was no more than Eastbourne deserved.

Little changed in the opening moments of the second period with the Sussex going close eight minutes in, denied by a goal line saving clearance by Jake Hampson.

It was brief respite for Tunbridge Wells though, as two minutes later, a superb pass out to the right wing allowed Scott Chamberlain, in acres of space, to pass across the face of goal for Steve Dallaway to slide the ball home from close range.

The deficit prompted the visiting coaching staff to make a tactical change and push Ryan Crandley forward. Personally, I thought it could have been done before they went two down as Richard Atkins was getting little change out of a giant central pairing.

Tunbridge Wells immediately looked more dangerous and a pass from Tom Lawrence just begged a touch in front goal.

With 17 minutes remaining, Bankole scrambled the ball home at the near post and Tunbridge Wells were offered a lifeline.

As the Wells pressed on for an equaliser, the long ball tactic sent Dallaway clear but he made a hash of his shot pulling it wide. A shot from Atkins was deflected wide and from the resultant corner, the big striker headed wide as time ebbed away.

A poor challenge from Eastbourne substitute, Danny Andrews, brought a straight red from the referee but, despite the man advantage, time was the enemy and eventually the referee called an end to Tunbridge Wells' FA Cup campaign for another season.

The disappointment can be quickly put to bed as there is, literally, a whole season to play for, starting on Friday with the first Southern Counties East League match at home to Corinthian.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Southend United 1 Gillingham 3

Match 11/16/1319 - Saturday, 6th August 2016 - League One

Southend United (1) 1 McLaughlin 23
Gillingham (1) 3 Emmanuel-Thomas 38, Ehmer 47, Osadebe 80
Attendance: 8,141

Entrance: £15 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 120/1,426

Match Report

The mercury tipped out at 27degC, the Dartford Tunnel took an hour to negotiate and the Arterial Road into Southend was stop-start; throw in a Kiss-Me-Quick Hat and a 99 and you have a traditional day at the seaside resort. You also have the opening day to the 2016-17 League season.

The green baize looked resplendent, at odds with the rickety, well past its sell-by date surrounds. Roots Hall seems to deteriorate a little more with each visit. The toilets are a health hazard and a not-so gentle reminder of the Rainham End's facilities in the days when it was a standing terrace. Why the club has wasted money on a bar-code reading entry system when everything around them is crumbling beggars belief.

If you cannot be optimistic on the opening day then you'll never have that frame of mid. Gillingham were backed by a boisterous following of nearly 1,800 who had had their hopes for the new season raised with the season-long loan of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas from Queen's Park Rangers. As the game unfolded, I cannot remember a player making such an immediate impact in a long time.

Emmanuel-Thomas is well known to Gillingham supporters and whilst thrilled with his signing and his debut performance, they will also know that inconsistency has been much of the reason his career hasn't reached greater heights following his apprenticeship with Arsenal.

Southend dominated the opening quarter of the game and should have gone in front after 10 minutes when their new signing, Simon Cox, scuffed his shot in front of goal having been set up by David Mooney. The home side got their lead after 20 minutes. Paul Konchelsky's clearance was returned with the ball being fed to Stephen McLaughlin, who from 25 yards, tried his luck and was probably as surprised as the rest of us when his bread and butter effort somehow found its way under Stuart Nelson.

The goalkeeper atoned for his error five minutes later when he blocked a Mooney header from close range as the Gillingham defence were once more carved open.

But the goal had acted as the blue touch paper for the visitors who started to create chances of their own and were level with five minutes of the half remaining. Konchelsky dragged a corner back to the edge of the box at the near post and Emmanuel-Thomas fired first time into the bottom corner. Straight off the training ground with the new man having had just one session.

Two minutes into the second period and Gillingham were ahead with the old long throw routine that you couldn't believe Southend fell for. Jackson hurled it to the near post and Max Ehmer steered his header into the far corner.

Gillingham dominated the second period completely with Southend having no answer to the direct running of Emmanuel-Thomas, who was only inches away from further strikes on a couple of occasions.

The two Emmanuel's, Osadebe and Thomas, linked after Osadebe's surging run from midfield, with Thomas laying the ball off for the younger Emmanuel to fire home Gillingham's clincher.

After a shaky opening 20 minutes, Gillingham looked very good and if Justin Edinburgh can coax consistency out of Emmanuel-Thomas then a repeat of last season's promotion challenge might not be so fanciful.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

East Grinstead Town 1 Tunbridge Wells 3

Match 10/16/1318 - Tuesday, 3rd August 2016 - Pre-Season Friendly

East Grinstead Town (0) 1
Tunbridge Wells (2) 3 Crandley 21, Mackelden 30, Atkins 56
Headcount: 65

Entrance: Free
Team sheet: Free
Mileage: 59/1,306
New Ground: 291

Heavy overnight rain led to, intially, this game being postponed due to a waterlogged pitch; lying water in one of the penalty areas given as the reason. A postponement in August doesn't exactly bode well for the winter, but with an FA Cup game due at Culverden on Saturday, their caution was understandable. East Grinstead stepped in and offered the fixture to played at their ground and this was quickly accepted. The GAC Stadium would personally be a new ground, so the switch was a nice bonus.

The 30 or so Tunbridge Wells supporters would have made the short journey home in a optimistic frame of mind as they dispatched their Ryman South opponents with consummate ease. Until the customary round of substitutions, from the hour mark onwards, took the momentum out of the game, East Grinstead were frankly clueless and that would be the only caveat to the Wells' display.

The GAC Stadium is a nice set up. A covered terrace area and a sizeable seated stand sit atop a raised area offering a wonderfully elevated view. Set with woodland behind one goal, it is very picturesque. There was no charge for entrance and when I expressed my surprise I was told that the late change of venue meant they had no one to take the money. At such short notice, they did well to get out a team sheet which was handed out free of charge as well.

Such charity wasn't afforded on the pitch by the visitors who quickly gained the upper hand. Ryan Crandley, playing in a deep lying position off the more traditional centre forward in Richard Atkins, was getting into positions that the East Grinstead defenders were finding impossible to pick up.

An early effort from Crandley was deflected wide and a 20 yarder from Perry Spackman was only just over and brought more than a little amusement from the travelling support.

After 21 minutes, Crandley gave Tunbridge Wells the lead. A corner was punched away under pressure by the home goalkeeper to Crandley who had taken up a position 15 yards outside the box. At this point, I decided I was Barry Davies and did an impromptu commentary. As the youngster took it forward, out loud I said "might as well take a crack, Ryan, oh my god he has" as the ball rifled into the top corner for a great strike.

The visitors pressure was rewarded when, after half-an-hour, Tom Mackelden forced the ball home from a corner to double their advantage.

In the space of four early second half minutes, Crandley had three chances; pulling one wide, another wide after waltzing through the home defence and a 25-yard effort that was deflected over.

A last ditch challenge on Atkins prevented the Wells from going three clear but from the resulantant corner, Spackman headed down for Atkins to drive the ball home from just outside the six yard box.

East Grinstead salvaged something from the game when a 65th minute free kick sailed past substitute goalkeeper Ryan Chandler.

And so, for another year, pre-season comes to an end. As with every forthcoming season, competitive football is long overdue. This game has left me optimistic of a good season for Tunbridge Wells, but with only one promotion place on offer and no play-offs, this is a cruel level that more often than not money has the final word.

As for my other two clubs, I am distinctly more optimistic about Tonbridge's aspirations than Gillingham's, who have endured a horrible pre-season blighted by injuries. Steve McKimm appears to have recruited well for the Angels and they have every reason to believe they can improve on last season's play-off finish.