I'll be off to catch the train to Gillingham in less than an hour and despite us having reached the nadir of our football status, I can't help but feel some of the buzz I always get when I'm anticipating a match. A couple of wins in a row would set us on the path to recovery but on recent form it's hard to see one win coming. There was good news yesterday that Wyke should be in contention for at least a place on the bench and with him we have a hope of a goal from open play. Gillingham are five points below us and have played a game more so they're certainly nothing special but maybe their win over us in the F.A. Cup might give them a psychological advantage. I imagine we'll still get a decent turn-out, especially from the London Branch, so I can only hope we have something positive to shout about. Match prediction: 1-1.
I didn't spot any of our fans on the train down from London Bridge. I got the team-news on the way and there'd been a fair reshuffling of the pack with the emphasis on defence. Wyke was only on the bench but interestingly he was joined there by McGeady, Maguire and Watmore. Ozturk was starting and I was pleased as he improved a lot as last season went along and as long as he doesn't give too many free-kicks away he should help to shore us up. McLaughlin was in goal but I was surprised that Hume wasn't starting. We had McNulty and Grigg as our (ahem!) strike-force so I expected Wyke to make an appearance before too long but there wasn't much goal-creating potential in the side for anyone to get on the end of.
The only other time I'd been to the Priestfield Stadium I got a bit lost but today I spotted the floodlights as soon as I left the station and was in my seat by 2.45 after shooting the breeze with a few of the London Branch regulars. There were no reserved seats but I got one in the middle of our area and at the end of a row. The weather was dry and bright and there was a good round of applause in memory of local boy Gary Rhodes, who was a Gills fan. So far, so good.
Our very first move was a big hopeful boot upfield, which was ominous, and as the game stumbled from end to end it was a real messy affair apart from our one good move down the right in the eighth minute which had good link-up play from Willis, O'Nien and McLaughlin (C.). In the eighteenth minute I myself became involved when I punched the ball which had landed in our seating area and I hoped I'd given it a lucky touch. Maybe I had because five minutes later a Gillingham effort hit the bar, bounced down to the line in a 1966 World Cup Final style and appeared to be over the line but the match officials waved play on and we breathed again. Just after the half-hour mark the ball was replaced for some unclear reason so my magical effect was lost thereafter. We again demonstrated our sideways and backwards attacking ploy while Gillingham had a more direct style and hit the woodwork again with a Mandron effort that was duly cleared for their third corner. A McLaughlin big punt upfield actually worked for a change when Grigg controlled it well before laying it off to, I think, McNulty who failed to control it himself and the chance was lost. Byrne was down injured for a while and was eventually replaced by Marshall so we had a couple of minutes of stoppage-time and that was that. A very sub-standard first-half for us and it showed how in comparison to the same match last season our play has deteriorated badly. As the teams went off in the corner by our end many negative comments rained upon them ranging from, “Absolutely clueless!” to “Fuck off Grant (Leadbitter)! Fuck off!” There was a fair bit of booing too.
I'd hoped we'd make some early substitutions to give our play some pep but we didn't and I was reminded of when I was nine and playing footy at Chester Road Juniors when there'd be a big pack of players all near each other mishitting the ball everywhere. Our players today added a bit of heading-it-up-in-the-air-anywhere to the equation. We did actually force Bonham in goal into making a decent save in the fifty-fifth minute. In the space of three minutes around the hour-mark we conceded five corners d it seemed inevitable that we'd concede but we defended them well enough. Just after the hour we finally made a change bringing on the beardless Wyke for McNulty, who'd looked far too slow to me. With his first touch Wyke almost scored but his low shot sneaked just wide of the left-hand post. He certainly added some much-needed competition as he battled their defenders and won a free-kick or two. A while later a bloke behind me commented, “Even the humour's gone out of it now.” The crowd was announced, five thousand and something (it was drowned out by jeers from our end), but about a third was made up by our fans. In the seventy-seventh minute it seemed that we'd gone ahead following a good move down the left and a cross from Grigg that Wyke nodded in. Cue much celebration all around but then we saw the ref in conversation with the linesman, who hadn't raised his flag, and the goal was wiped off for some reason. Really Grigg should've scored in the first place before his effort was blocked and came back for him to put that cross in. As the darkness descended, the extremities got colder and the eightieth minute passed we still hadn't made a second substitution for reasons that were lost on me and those nearby. A guy near me said, “Another fuckin' draw” but was corrected by his mate who pointed out that we hadn't finished yet. Sure enough a few minutes from the end Gillingham won another corner and it was finally smashed in by Ogilvie to give them the winner. Cue a chant of. “Sacked in the morning! You're getting' sacked!” in Parkinson's forlorn direction. In the final minute he brought on Maguire for O'Nien, at least twenty minutes too late, and even though there were four added minutes, we didn't manage a serious attack and it ended 1-0. As I whizzed down the stairs I could hear the chants of, “You're not fit to wear the shirt!” amidst much more booing.
This was very poor indeed and what was Parkinson thinking of when he didn't make some changes earlier? Anyway, I'll see you at the SoL next week. Not sure if Parky will be there though.