Saturday 17th February.
All good things must come to an end, or at least that’s always
the case where Town are concerned, and our 10-game unbeaten sequence
came to a sticky end today against a side who quite frankly weren’t
With Jamie Vincent long gone, the side was the same as the one
putting in such a creditable performance against Bolton last week
and Steve Jenkins continued in the left-back slot with Adie Moses
once again partnering Chris Lucketti in the centre of defence. Whether
the Vincent move was tactical or not, the sooner Macari realises
that Jenkins isn’t a left-back the better, because his right footedness
stuck out like a sore thumb.
The match began in cagily and Gillingham had the look of a well-organised
side that were quite prepared to get plenty of bodies behind the
ball and settle for a point if necessary. Town pressed forward in
the earlier stages without ever looking particularly incisive and
our forwards (particularly Gallen) seemed to struggle to get to
grips with the game, then out of the blue Town took the lead on
the quarter hour through an unlikely source.
Kevin Gallen controlled a ball over the top before passing square
to Facey on the right side who in turn laid the ball off to the
overlapping (about time too) Thornley and his cross was smashed
home on the half volley by Craig Armstrong. He did well to keep
the shot down, and his 15-yard effort nestled sweetly in the top
corner to give Town a 1-0 lead. Normal service was resumed and we
could settle back and enjoy the next 75 minutes, not so, within
4 minutes we gifted the Gills an equaliser.
From a free kick wide on the left about 20 yards out Nico Vaesen
came out to the edge of the 6-yard box to collect, unfortunately
he seemed to misjudge the cross and failed to get a hand to the
ball. The lurking Gillingham back marker collected the loose ball
and played it back towards goal where it was met by the head of
the onrushing Saunders. Worse was to come just 5 minutes later as
the defence was caught napping with a ball played through on the
right hand side, there were chances to intercept the ball but we
failed to do so and it was crossed into the area. The defending
would have been comical if it hadn’t been so awful as Lucketti failed
to get a head on the ball and Ty Gooden attempted to slot it past
the advancing Vaesen. His mis-kick was so bad it went almost square
but unfortunately three Gillingham forwards were queuing up in front
of goal with only Moses as cover and Saunders was the lucky recipient
of the sliced shot making no mistake from 6 yards.
There were shades of the early season blues, as the player’s heads
seemed to drop as they were being outfought by a side who were not
particularly skilful, but were full of passion and commitment. It
is precisely these qualities that have lifted Town back into a position
where survival can be achieved, but today it seemed to have deserted
them. They struggled to get any sort of grip in midfield and laboured
to get any sort of service to the front men, yet despite flattering
to deceive for the next 20 minutes they were given a lifeline just
Craig Armstrong collected a ball from Chris Holland mid way into
the Gillingham half and with the defence backing off threaded a
ball towards the penalty area for the overlapping Steve Jenkins.
The makeshift left back knocked the ball forward in the penalty
area and as he ran on to collect the ball was caught by a Gillingham’s
Nicky Southhall, and over he went. The referee had no hesitation
in awarding a penalty. After last week’s failure, Martin Smith has
been appointed penalty taker and he stepped up and stroked the ball
wide of Bartram's left. It wasn’t the most convincing place kick
I have ever seen, but was accurate enough to nestle in the back
of the net. This was Town’s first successful penalty of the season
and we could very possibly had 4 more points if the others had been
converted. Goals just before half time are supposed to unsettle
the conceding side (or at least they do with Town), and as the half
time whistle blew we could look forward to the second half.
Unfortunately, Town weren’t any more convincing in the second
half, looking decidedly edgy and I wonder if Macari had found one
of Bruce’s half time team talk scripts, because there seemed to
be no fire in the Town bellies and Gillingham looked the more positive
side. Marcus Browning was introduced in the 50th minute to replace
2 goal hero Mark Saunders and I think most people in the crowd hoped
he would be as ineffective as he was during his spell with Town.
Sadly this wasn’t to be the case as he picked up the ball on the
halfway line in the 63rd minute and ran through the vacant area
of the pitch supposed to be marshalled by Town’s midfield. He then
played a defence splitting pass straight through to Marlon King
who collected the ball about 25 yards from goal, and despite the
modest attentions of Adie Moses (how much did he cost?) advanced
in the penalty area and slid the ball under Nico Vaesen from about
15 yards out.
Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthaller employed a strange tactic
of substituting his goal scorers. Two-goal Mark Saunders was replaced
by Browning early in the second half, and within a minute or so
of scoring Marlon King was warming the bench, replaced by Carl Asaba.
Perhaps it’s a special treat in Kent, score a goal or two and you
can have a longer soak in the Radox for your efforts. King’s departure
also saw the introduction of Iffy Onoura who received a reasonably
warm welcome from the home supporters.
Town continued to look second best against a well drilled defence,
and Dean Gorré having replaced the luckless Kevin Gallen in the
55th minute tried a number of probing runs but the supporting midfield
players looked out of sorts and the visitors stood firm. Martin
Smith was the liveliest striker and was denied by Bartram in the
70th minute, but the longer the game went on, the deeper the sense
of frustration felt by the rapidly diminishing crowd.
We have 16 games still to play and will face far better teams than
Gillingham in our quest for another 7 or 8 wins, if Barry Rubery
thinks that the present side is good enough to keep us from the
drop without investing any of the Jamie Vincent transfer fee then
I think he is kidding himself. We need to rediscover the fighting
spirit that was so evident in December, and by the sound of things
very evident last week against Bolton. I would gladly have traded
the Bolton draw for a win against Gillingham, and I just hope that
this game was a one off aberration. I cannot understand why both
Gray and Dyson were on the bench today and although Moses is OK
as a makeweight to cover for injuries he lacks the commitment either
or both of those players add to the team. Gray has hardly had a
look in since his magnificent performance against Watford and I
cannot understand why this is unless there is some kind of behind
the scenes problem.
Today was a bad day in terms of results affecting other teams
around us. Wins for Crewe, Grimsby and QPR all added to our woes
by returning us to the bottom three for the first time since Boxing
Day. Thank goodness Tranmere weren’t playing or we might have been
propping up the division once again.
TOWN 2 (Armstrong 15, Smith 44 (pen))
Gillingham 3 (Saunders 19 & 24, King 63)
Position in table – 23rd
Town – Vaesen; Heary (Irons 79); Lucketti;
Moses; Jenkins; Armstrong; Thornley; Holland; Gallen (Gorré
55); Facey (Dyson 90); Smith. Subs not used – Margetson; Gray.
Gillingham – Bartram; Edge; Smith; Ashby;
Southall; Gooden; Saunders (Browning 50); King (Asaba 64);
Pennock; Hope; Shaw (Onoura 64). Subs not used – Patterson;
Referee – Phil Richards (Preston). Attendance