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A Kentish Fail - Gillingham Report
By: Tony Butcher
A PLEASANT, temperate, windless night in deepest, darkest Kent. Around 150-200 Town supporters lazed louchely across an open terrace (well just a corner of it) right next to the playersâ€™ entrance.
Gillingham 2 Grimsby Town 1
05 Mar 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
We could see through the windows in the hall, espying some spectacularly bad middle aged hair strolling down the stairs. Yep, thatâ€™s right, the hair walked all by itself - a long tapered, twisty pony tail lurking under a short back and sides.
There was almost no noise inside the ground, with the Gillingham supporters in that "almost end of the season itâ€™s not quite over but it is really" mood. The Town supporters were not particularly animated during the pre-match festivities, a couple of isolated shouts from isolated knots of fans. The occasion did not have an aura of tension, or importance, a feeling exacerbated by the Town players, who wandered out with a little too much insouciance. They looked "flat", with no spark or energy. They looked like you or I do when we walk through the doors at work.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows. Jevons failed to kick the ball into an empty net when warming up. So heâ€™s on form then.
Gillingham appeared to play with wing backs, inclusive of the most fantastic name in Division One - Nayron Nosworthy - and a goalkeeper making his debut, a squat, pugnacious middleweight called Jason Brown, with texture like sun, though he did frown once (Or as someone sang to him "Jason Brownâ€™s got a big bum" and, in reference to his superwide girth, "podgy â€˜keeper"). Up front they had two big, strong fast strikers - King and Ipoua, a sometime Scunthorpian, a fact which was remarked upon more than once. There was no bad hair in their team, in fact not much at all, they favoured the convict look - like a bunch of Magwitches.
Town kicked off away from the Town supporters, towards Margate. The first two minutes contained nothing that has lodged in my memory and were, therefore, by definition, uneventful.
Gillinghamâ€™s modus operandi was clear from the start, and not a surprise - they like to knock the ball down "the channels" for their big fast blokes to run after, their midfielders then pile forward in support. In the third minute the ball was chipped over David Smithâ€™s head into the penalty area, about 12 yards wide of goal, right on the edge. Smith turned, hobbled, then fell over. King bundled on and hit a first time shot across Coyne and several yards wide of the right hand post. Smith stayed down, holding the back of his knee and, after a three minute delay, was wheeled off on the stretcher. On ran Chapman as the replacement, all eager beaverness, bright eyed, bushy tailed and smiling.
There then followed a short period of Town ascendancy, with a couple of neat, incisive breaks down the wings. A passing move, involving McDermott, Allen, Burnett and finally Campbell resulted in the ephemeral winger jinking past his marker on the touchline, stepping inside, then clipping a high hanging cross to the totally unmarked Butterfield, about 15 yards out and perhaps eight or nine yards wide of the goal. Butterfield contorted his body, preparing to fizz an unstoppable left foot volley over the tiny â€˜keeper into the top right hand corner. He ballooned the ball, in the gentlest of gentle arcs, 10 yards wide of goal, the ball barely reaching the crowd. A little later (and he is little), Boulding turned on the half way line, in an inside right position, and simply ran at the centre backs, who retreated in Gallimorian fashion. Boulding attempted to get to the bye-line, but overhit the ball and fell quite obviously when a Gillingham player challenged. No penalty, no appeal, no way JosÃ©. But it was interesting and Town were showing some hints of danger in counter attacks. Allen did his usual thing of mis-hitting shots from outside the area. He does it every game. He turns about 25 yards out and hits a daisy cutter straight to the goalkeeper. He did it twice in the first 20 or so minutes, much to the frustration of the Town support.
Gillingham threatened a couple of times too, principally when Shaw made late runs into the penalty area to pick up rebounds and flick ons. Twice he managed to break through inside the penalty area, but the ball ran out of play, or into Coyneâ€™s arms. But these were warning lights flashing on our map. Would Town open their eyes? In the 18th minute Gillingham carved Town apart down the centre left. A quick break from the half-way line with King barging forward and Town all of a flap ensured holes appeared in the centre. King, when near the penalty area about 20 yards out, dinked a short pass through the centre for the onrushing Shaw. Coyne came off his line and, somewhere near the penalty spot, managed to block, with the ball careering back outside the penalty area. A Gillingham player attempted to knock it, first time, into the void beyond the stars, but it hit Todd and went straight back into Coyneâ€™s arms. Coyne looked up and whacked a drop kick straight down the middle. Groan upon groan from the terrace behind him, as every single one of his previous dozen fly kicks, drop kicks and hacks had flown out of play. This one went on and on and on, over the centre back. Boulding ran around the back of the defender and was free, down the centre, about 35 yards out. The defender leant, tugged, and pulled at Boulding as they raced back towards the goal. BOULDING seemed to fall horizontally, then he steered a right foot shot across the â€˜keeper in to the bottom corner of the net. Cue delirium. Kentish shoulders slumped, their crowd silent. Everything was hunky dory. Hats on the side of our heads, a pip and a dandy, weâ€™re Burlington Bertie from Bow.
But Town did not seek to build on this platform, they were content to watch Gillingham fluff about in front of them, then behind them, seeking to rely on luck. Gillingham began, slowly, to gain control and create chances. Slowly at first, but the momentum built and it was entirely the Town playersâ€™ fault for the way they played. Iâ€˜ll get the other Town "chance" out of the way - Pouton sliced a shot 16 yards wide from the left edge of the penalty area. Thatâ€™s the only time after Town scored that they got near the Gillingham goal in the first half.
It started to feel that Town would, indeed, be lucky, after a series of near misses. A Shaw shot from outside the penalty area hit Toddâ€™s ankles and diverted itself into Coyneâ€™s midriff. An incursion behind the Town defence on the right saw a cross from the bye line fly through the middle of the penalty area. A bundle of players raced towards the near post and the ball was diverted by a Town boot or Gillingham stomach, who knows which. Coyne had to dramatically change direction and grope after the ball as it bounced slowly past him...and an inch or so past his right hand post. The referee gave a goal kick, so it was obviously the Gillingham stomach which diverted the ball. Then there was the moment that seemed to epitomise the night, how Town were on to a "good thing". After another Gillingham break down the centre, with one of the strikers bundling his way forward as the Town defence retreated, another huge hole appeared in the middle, just outside the penalty area. A Gillingham player shot from 25 yards, Coyne dived to his right, and the ball ricocheted off Todd towards the middle of the goal. The ball arced painfully towards the open goal, but Danny saved our world again, by twisting, turning and kicking the ball away with his left boot. It really was a marvellous piece of goalkeeping.
The whispered hope became a terrace roar "Itâ€™s our day". Another couple of Gillingham shots were saved by Coyne at the foot of his right hand post. The Gillingham crowd "Oooed", but neither looked like going in, in fact one was actually going wide, but Coyne was merely making sure it didnâ€™t crazily bounce off a stray divot. Towards the end of the half the pressure intensified, and the Gillingham supporters woke up and began to support their team rather than passively observe. It felt like minutes on end where the ball went in and out and in and out, like a squeezebox, with Town failing to clear. They just kept tapping the ball back to Gillingham players 30 yards out. The Town forwards merely reacted to clearances and passes, and lacked the strength to keep the ball away from the Town goal. During this period Hessenthaler got behind Chapman (or shell shocked Chapman as he became known) and lobbed a high cross into the middle of the penalty area, about 10 yards out. Burnett stood underneath the ball and a Gillingham midfielder, Smith, sprinted into the penalty area and easily outjumped the betousled one, heading down, but straight at Coyne. Still Townâ€™s luck held. Crosses were too high, crosses were just headed away by Town defenders, crosses were blocked, shots were diverted. Right on 45 minutes their wing back plopped a half volley comfortably over the bar from 25 yards. Again the Gillingham fans "Ooed", but it was a yard over and Coyne was, as they say, "seriously relaxed" by the trajectory. All pressure, pressure, pressure.
Ah, but itâ€™s 8:35, surely half time is upon us? One last Gillingham attack, down the Town left put paid to any hopes of a happy halftime sandwich. Chapman had previously won two free kicks when falling under pressure, this time he didnâ€™t. The ball was chipped down the left "channel", over Chapman, who fell. The referee waved play on and King (I think) muscled his way towards the touchline. He crossed to Shaw, about 6 or 7 yards to the left of goal and 7 or 8 yards out. He was surrounded by three Town defenders and fell when trying to spin around, but still retained possession of the ball. SHAW then swung his left boot at the ball and it flew into Coyneâ€™s bottom left hand corner as all around stood, watched and visibly deflated. Yes, the man was on the ground with three Town players around him. Not good defending at all, was it.
Half time: Gillingham 1 Grimsby Town 1
And then the players trudged off for half time. The Gillingham players and fans delighted, and almost skipping, the Town players had 10 ton weights attached to each arm and each leg. As the players passed, the Town fans tried to lift the players, but they didnâ€™t look responsive. The half had been odd, with Town starting alright, having one or two passing movements and chances, scored a rather fortunate goal (route one has never been our forte), then hung on as fortune favoured the striped trundlers. This wasnâ€™t shaping up to be a terrier like, hard fought point, more a reliance upon the shortcomings of the opponents. Several Town players were quite poor. Pouton wasnâ€™t even tackling, barely moving, Campbell flattered to deceive again following a couple of early skips down the wing. Chapman looked out of his depth and needing assistance from his midfield. He didnâ€™t get it from Campbell. Butterfield floated like a butterfly, and stung like one too. Burnett at least made some tackles, though that hardly amounts to a ringing endorsement when placed next to the sum total of the other midfieldersâ€™ contributions. The forwards were a long way away and all that can be said about them is - Boulding can run fast and he scored. There was too much reliance upon Todd, Groves, McDermott and Coyne. Gillingham had been allowed to find form and confidence, which as the half wore on they found under a small stone, down the Town left.
But it was only half time, a short sharp shock administered by the management team would galvanise the limp lettuces. Surely.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Campbell. Heâ€™s on the pitch isnâ€™t he?".
The report continues in the second half.
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