Saturday 29 September – Gills 2 – 1 Cheltenham
Ok, so we won, but let’s be brutally honest here. Every single one of the 200 odd Cheltenham fans scattered around their section of the Brian Moore Stand must have walked away at the end of the game with the same thought – `How the fuck did we lose that?!`
To describe our back line’s performance as Keystone Cops defending would be an insult to Mack Sennet’s silent comedy heroes. Not since the heyday of the notorious Breen – Butler partnership has a Gillingham defence so willingly parted and ushered through the opposition attack with such alacrity.
It is no exaggeration to describe this as comfortably the worst Gillingham defence since those halcyon days of 92-3, when the infamous central defensive duo (described by then manager Glenn Roeder as `a smashing pair` – to which the majority of the Gills support thought `yeah, pair of tits`) took comedic defending to previously unscaled heights.
The central defensive partnership of Ian Cox and Leon Johnson is an accident waiting to happen – as they proved on so many occasions on Saturday that the majority of the Rainham End sat in rapt fascination as the game drew to its conclusion, knowing that they really shouldn’t be staring at something quite so unsettling, but unable to avert their eyes out of morbid curiosity.
If you had been using your digits to count the number of unforced errors against Cheltenham, you would have been onto your toes well before the hour mark. A struggling team with a lumbering forward line quite simply tore us to shreds by use of that dastardly tactic of kicking the ball towards our goal. Time and again it dropped to visiting players in the sort of space normally associated only with the most sparsely populated areas of the globe. It really was difficult to comprehend quite how many times this occurred during the course of the 90 minutes. The only thing slightly more difficult to comprehend was precisely how Cheltenham only managed to convert one of their 65 or so clear cut chances.
Strangely enough, it had all begun so well. The Gills played bright, incisive football in the opening exchanges, and took a well deserved lead just before the quarter hour with another well taken Matt Jarvis goal. And then we just stopped playing. Cheltenham levelled when Grant McCann was afforded time and space to advance into the six yard box to fire home. I’m not one to apportion blame, but I was closer to McCann, sitting in row L of the Rainham End, than right back Duncan Jupp.
The Gills defence was creaking and groaning alarmingly, but on the stroke of half time we regained the lead with the sort of soft goal we have been conceding all season. A far post corner was met by Mark Bentley’s head, and the ball looped gently over everyone and into the far corner for an outrageously against the run of play goal.
The least said about the second half the better. Much of it was played out in a morgue-like atmosphere as the Gills failed to mount a meaningful move, whilst at the other end the Cheltenham attack skipped gaily through the Gills back line and put the ball just about everywhere but in the back of the net, even failing with a triple attempt as the game entered injury time.
Three points gained sure, but if we get a less deserved victory before the end of the season I will be surprised.
Champagne moment – two frustrated visiting players squaring up to each other and having a little push and a shove in front of the Rainham End