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Saturday 11th March – Nottingham Forest 1-1 Gills

Given what happened last time the Gills played at the City Ground we weren’t exactly relishing a first return to Nottingham for a competitive game, particularly given a poor run of three straight defeats, five without a win and the continued suspension of Byfield. Forest by contrast had perked up significantly after the departure of the unloved Megson having thrashed Swindon 7-1 in their last home game (Southall hat-trick no less).

Pre-match was as convivial as ever and we enjoyed a chat with some loyal Forest fans who’d been old enough to go to some of the European awaydays in the Clough era including assorted Finals and semi-finals… lucky buggers. We then joined around 600 other Gills in the lower tier of the Brian Clough stand due to Forest’s crap experiment with home fans in the usual away end – the result? A scattering of kids behind the goal and 600 Gills crammed into two blocks, low down, minimal legroom with no atmosphere…

The game really was one of two halves. The first saw the Gills just edge it, the second saw them hanging on grimly to a point. Both periods gave hope for the future, the first because the Gills played the ball around, passed and moved with confidence and no little verve and the second saw them dig in and show passion, commitment and determination.

It all began with the Gills starting without a genuine striker, playing Black and Spiller notionally in forward positions. It was a cunning plan based on counterattacks, so it isn’t clear what would have happened if we had gone behind but we were still getting into the swing of the things when we scored after just eight minutes.

Well they did it for us, but it still caused plenty of tipsy dancing in the isles. Spiller was the chief architect finishing off a slick move with a swift dash down the right wing and aiming a splendidly inviting cross at Crofts at the back post. It would have been a simple task to bundle the ball home from point blank range but Forest defender Bennett got there first but succeeded only in lashing it into the roof of his own net. Confusion reigned, who had scored? Was it an oggie? We didn’t really care, much to our amazement we were winning.

Forest responded with regular attacks led by the speedy and ever dangerous Tyson, but credit to the Gills for matching them with some half-decent moves of their own. Bennett missed a chance to make up for his earlier error whilst Flynn tamely headed a Spiller cross straight at Pedersen with the goal at his mercy on 23 minutes. Tyson had one shout for a penalty and Brown was busy enough denying Bennett and his chums but the Gills could have snuck a second via a clever short corner routine which culminated with a Black effort flashing across the face of the goal.

We were just contemplating the delicious prospect of going in at the break 1- 0 up when Tyson spoilt the fun in injury time. His initial shot from just inside the box was hard but close to Brown, he parried it and Tyson carefully slotted home the rebound. We were crestfallen, but swiftly feeling indignant as Bennett arrived from nowhere to taunt and gesture at us. What a wanker the bloke is, you’ll no doubt be pleased to know he got mercilessly booed every time he touched the ball in the second half…

The feeling during the break was that we’d missed our big chance. We could have been 2-0 up but found ourselves level, Forest were bound to batter us in the second half and they did but thanks to the heroics of Jason Brown we survived…just. We just had to hang on gamely, it was gold stars all round as the entire Gillingham team flung themselves into blocks, challenges and tackles and harried like a flock of Hessenthalers. Brown tipped one over from Holt, another round the post from Bennett, Clohessy had to nod one off the line and then with Flynn off due to a shoulder injury the welcome arrival of Jarvis (and his pace) from three months of injury finally gave us some relief from the incessant pressure.

Brown also denied Perch and Commons before the moment when Forest really could and should have won it arrived on 68 minutes. The defence suddenly backed off and opened up and Tyson rampaged through the middle, with the goal at his mercy and just Brown to beat he smashed the ball comically into the stratosphere, narrowly missing the moon on the way to Pluto and ultimate oblivion. Perhaps it was going to be our day after all…

Black put one chance wide late on and there were a couple of heart-stopping madcap scrambles in the dying seconds with the ball bobbling around in the danger zone but finally the referee blew the final whistle and the Gills had earned a very hard fought but still worthy point. It looked like we had finally turned the corner, perhaps we might even get something at Ashton Gate, it certainly looked promising…

Champagne Moment: Tyson’s miss. He is a class act so when he had the goal at his mercy to win the game and skied it we knew it might be our day.

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