Tuesday 21st March – Gills 3-2 Brentford
Seven games without a win, the worst goal difference in the division and coming off the back of a six goal mauling – probably not the best time to host a visit from a promotion chasing team! Martin Allen’s Bees stood second in the table and were just the sort of well organised, hard working, committed outfit that seemed likely to turn us over.
I clung to the vain hope that this time of the season often brings bizarre results, as the teams near the top get the jitters and the teams at the bottom fight for their lives.
Within ten minutes hopes of a shock result were raised. Brent Sancho, restored to the starting line up after his proposed loan move to Swansea fell through, headed home from close range to spark wild celebration and a chorus of `Are you watching Paul Scally?` from the Rainham End. The Trinidad and Tobago’s spat with Scally earlier in the season had led to him being largely absent from the squad, and the Gills fans reaction showed the Gillingham Chairman exactly what they thought about it. Certainly Sancho is not the greatest or most reliable of defenders, but did he deserve to be left on the sidelines whilst the likes of Ian Cox, Leon Johnson, Chris Hope and Richard Rose marshalled a defence that was slightly less watertight than a badly worn paper bag? You decide.
Sadly, even a Sancho included defence proved they can’t defend for toffee when they allowed Turner an unmarked header at the far post six minutes later, which he gratefully nodded into the top corner from close range.
If we thought that was the signal for a Brentford onslaught we were wrong, and the Gills continued to give as good as they got. In first half stoppage time Alan Pouton’s cross was punched weakly away by Brentford keeper Nelson, under challenge from Crofts. It fell straight to Byfield who, with the goal at his mercy scuffed his shot horribly. As it squirted away and seemingly out of play Matt Jarvis chased and attempted to keep it in play. Before he could get control of the ball he was clattered from behind by Sam Sodje. A clear penalty, but a bizarre challenge from Sodje on a player who was running away from goal and struggling to keep the ball in play. Byfield stepped up and smacked the penalty home, and once again we dreamt of a shock result.
Brentford’s expected second half onslaught following a presumed tea cup throwing rant from their manager at half time failed to materialise, and once again the Gills continued to more than match their promotion chasing opponents.
However, with 17 minutes to go things took a notable turn for the worse. Jay Tabb raced clear, and Alan Pouton sped back a made to try and check his run. He caught Tabb on the edge of the box and the Brentford man tumbled under what seemed a shoulder to shoulder challenge from Pouton. Referee Kettle, from his position of about thirty yards away, decided that it was a foul, and once he had done that there was only going to be one result. Out came Mr Kettle’s well worn red card, and off went Pouton (after a short exchange of views which presumably included the words `you`, `must`, `be`, `fucking`, `joking` and `ref` (and quite possibly Why Aye man).
Pouton had been outstanding in the Gills midfield, and it was difficult to see how we could hold on the remaining nearly twenty minutes. It was less difficult to see when substitute Danny Spiller’s pass set Darren Byfield free. He sped clear and sent a low shot skidding under the Brentford keeper from just outside the box. It was one of those `up yours, you tried to stitch us up and we still came out on top` moments that make watching football such an emotional experience. 3-1 up, and all we had to do now was be sensible and hold on to what we had. Three minutes later Tabb fired home for 3-2 and the nerve ends were jangling once more.
Our situation was not helped by young fullback Sean Clohessy, who kicked out at his opponent off the ball and gave the referee no alternative but to flash his juicy red one for the second time. The remaining minutes were played out with the Gills 9 remaining men camped behind the ball, with no option but to defend their goal for the rest of the game.
The final whistle bought relief, and the realisation that we had dragged ourselves back out of the bottom four, hopefully not to return.
Champagne Moment: That glorious feeling when Darren Byfield’s shot squirmed under the keeper to secure a match winning lead.