You could probably have heard the cries of disbelief emanating from the Past and Present beer garden in Gillingham when the team selection was made public. I’m sorry, Parky, but to remove the single element of pace from your team, Hume, in favour of a slogger (De Bock) just baffled me, and the subsequent formation never, a five minute spell early in the second half apart, looked like troubling the home side...
It had been a fairly uneventful train-ride south, with only a fifteen-minute delay near Peterborough thanks to some dodgy overhead cables to upset things, meaning that the meeting with Rob, Kev, & Mr Winks at St Pancras was restricted to a single pint before the last leg. Thankfully, the rain held off and it was a pleasant afternoon – weather-wise, at least – in the Kerplunk temporary stand.
McLaughlin Willis Ozturk Flanagan De Bock
Dobson O’Nien Leadbitter
…and we “attacked” the far end. If you want to save a few minutes, the stats will tell you that possession was slightly in our favour, that we made more passes than Gillingham, they won ten corners to our one, and they had only a single shot on target- that went in. There you go, that just about sums it up. I really like O’Nien, but he needs somebody closer to him than Leadbitter and Dobson were to make his midfield game tick properly, and McNulty and Grigg didn’t seem to anticipate what he was going to do anyway. With no width and natural crossers of the ball, nothing came in from the wings and the front two were forever looking backwards and not forwards. If Wyke was fit enough to be on the bench, he was fit enough to start, and Watmore has the pace that would/could have caused something to happen.
It didn’t. Despite Wyke not being on the field, we started as if he was, hoofing the ball hopefully into the home penalty box and onto the heads of a gleeful defence who didn’t have to work that hard to get it clear. There was an awful lot of sideways passing from us, which was no real surprise, as we tried to pick a path towards goal, but it was the Gills who somehow failed to score just before twenty minutes. They hit the bar, the ball bounced down and was eventually hacked away, had it been in the Prem (hahahahah!), VAR would still be being scrutinised on Monday. Suffice to say that it was a lucky escape. Ten minutes later the match ball was replaced to see if we’d fare any better with a new one, but that didn’t work and we stuck to our game plan of moving it across our own half of the field several times before trying a big hoof again. Players were falling over, passes were going astray, and unfavourable comparisons were made with the Blue Bells Bittermen’s final, sluggish, season of 1998-99. If only Sunderland could have boasted someone with an eye for goal like myself or Pop.
Mandron, formerly of SAFC reserves, hit the post again as the home side moved towards our goal in direct style, and we looked quite relieved to keep a clean sheet. At last, one of McLaughlin’s big hoofs (is that why he got his pace back – because Burge’s distribution hasn’t been up to Pickford standards?) found Grigg, but his lay-off to McNulty was wasted as his partner fell over. Summed up our first half, really. At Gillingham. No disrespect, but Gillingham. Ha’way man.
Anyway, after two added minutes the first half was over, and few of us were sad about that. After a walk around the Brian Moore refreshment area, complete with Cascarino’s burger/chip/pie facility (just to rub it in, like), to moan with fellow fans, it was back to the “action”. So dull had it been that some chose to leave the ground before the second half started.
No changes were made for the second forty-five, which was both surprising and unsurprising in equal measure, if you get my drift. After fifteen minutes or so their keeper had to make a save, and we thought that perhaps we’d build on that, but we didn’t, conceding about half a dozen corners in a couple of minutes. That Gillingham failed to convert any of them was as much down to their ineptitude as much as Ozturk’s head but keep them out we did. Wyke replaced the pedestrian McNulty soon after, and his first contribution lifted our sprits as he charged in from the right and fired across the goal and just wide. At last, we had someone who’d battle for the high balls, and he did just that, giving us hope that we might snatch a goal. At Gillingham. No disrespect, but Gillingham. Ha’way man.
We got the ball out to Grigg, who’d drifted to the left, and his shot was blocked, so he clipped in a cross which was met by Big Charlie’s head and nodded into the net, sending the Kerplunk stand bouncing in a terrifying fashion – until the linesman ruined the moment by telling the ref that, in his strange little world, something untoward had happened. Where’s VAR when you need it?
We screamed for changes – Maguire, Watmore, and McGeady, all potential game-changers, were tightening their studs on the bench as we were crying out for speed and creativity – but they took an age to arrive. Actually, they didn’t arrive at all, either in personnel or formation. With only a couple of minutes remaining, we wondered if we’d feel any sort of happiness with a draw at the Priestfield – we reckoned not, and we reckoned without Gillingham. At Gillingham. No disrespect, but Gillingham. Ha’way man.
They won another corner, we didn’t defend it, and we saw the net bulge a hundred and twenty yards away as Ogilvie gleefully smacked it home. Their first effort on target, and with only a couple of minutes left. Those couple of minutes dragged by, four extra ones were announced, and Parky decided to replace our best midfielder, O’Nien, with Maguire. For three minutes. Bloody Hell man, Phil – Messi would struggle to have an effect in three minutes. As you’d expect, Maguire had a few decent touches but nowhere near enough time to make our afternoon any brighter, and we stumbled our way to yet another defeat. At Gillingham. No disrespect, but Gillingham. Ha’way man… then it was a way into the darkness and the train home, being consoled by Hartlepool fans. No disrespect, but Hartlepool. Consoling us for a defeat at Gillingham. No disrespect, but Gillingham. Ha’way man.
Man of the Match? Probably Wyke, as he at least got stuck in, scored what I still think was a perfectly acceptable goal, and he lifted our spirits for a brief while.