Saturday 28 October – Gills 2-0 Carlisle United
Going into this game Gills fans had plenty to grumble about, they hadn’t won since a rather unconvincing afternoon against Cheltenham a month previously and subsequent results against Crewe (bit careless that), Forest (bit harsh) and Brentford (bit sloppy) had seen them slip down to 17th and a bit too close to the bottom for comfort… Add to that genuine concerns over the ability of Scott Flinders to be even a competent goal keeper, the defence (Leon Johnson and Ian Cox’s chaotic partnership bring back frightening memories of Gary Breen and Tony Butler’s anarchic double act back in 92-93) and a strike force that were allergic to shooting let alone scoring (step forward Mr Mulligan) and you had things that needed fixing, oh and I nearly forgot, we hadn’t kept a clean sheet in any competitive game since Good Friday at Southend, six and a half months and twenty-one games ago. 41 goals conceded in that time, eleven of which had come in the final ten minutes of games that rather summed up our schizophrenic season thus far.
Thankfully Carlisle proved to be ideal opponents arriving at Priestfield with a poor away record of just four goals and four points (all from draws) on their travels. Their fans turned up in decent numbers (400 plus) given the distances involved but then they still have plenty of momentum after consecutive promotions. Perhaps they were unaware that the Gills had only got something out of a game once all season having gone behind at any time (at Brentford the week before against ten men and an out-field player in goal) and even more worryingly had only scored last in a League game twice, the other being against Cheltenham.
Perhaps United’s plan was to dazzle us all in the stands with their garish away kit of red, green and white stripes in honour of sponsors Eddie Stobbart, because on the pitch the Gills were on top from the off. Ndumbu-Nsungu, Crofts and Jarvis had all missed chances before Bentley gave us the all-important lead on eight minutes. A routine long ball by Jupp was nodded down by the ever-willing Mulligan to Jarvis, off he went on one of his typically incisive runs before playing the ball off into the path of the onrushing Bentley to thread a careful shot through a melee of players into the far corner. The Gills largely dominated the first period except for one crucial moment.
The game had begun with the surprise return of Kelvin Jack in the Gillingham goal, not a moment too soon. He might not be in the same class as Jason Brown but he is a damn sight better than the wretched Flinders (sent back to Palace) or Randolph and now apparently fit perhaps he will begin to show his class. His smart effort to save Murphy’s low shot brought relieved applause from right around the ground; we had some faith in our keeper at last even if his kicking remained a bit hit and miss.
Ndumbu-Nsungu missed the best other chance of the half but despite the action being a bit sporadic the Gills were well worth their lead. Unfortunately they got a bit sloppy at the start of the second half and let Carlisle back into the game. The visitors didn’t actually threaten much but then suddenly fashioned one great chance. Gall was suddenly put through on goal, Jack raced out to confront him and the United player attempted to chip him, Jack was able to get a hand to the ball and flip it up and against the bar before Jupp completed the clearance.
Clearly the Gills need to add some bite and strength and new loan signing Ben Chorley came on with twenty minutes to go. A central defender by trade he slotted into the defensive midfield position and immediately set about making an impression, flattening two Carlisle players with his first two challenges and whacking the ball into the back of the Rainham End. The crowd immediately warmed to him and the very real chance of a clean sheet became apparent. The defence calmed down, the midfield retook control and the game finished with a pleasing surge of Gillingham pressure.
The slightly subdued Jarvis made the most of limited opportunities, firstly on 83 minutes but his tantalising cross was headed wide from virtually point blank range by Bentley before the much needed coupe de grace in the 89th minute. The ball was played over the top into acres of space, Jarvis raced onto the ball sped into the box, momentarily appeared to overrun the ball but managed to brilliantly squeeze it back diagonally past the Carlisle keeper into the path of Gary Mulligan who slid in to joyfully poke home the clincher from a yard out. It doubled his League career total, his season’s total and must have been a great relief to the young lad. Priestfield danced with understandable delight but the job wasn’t quite done, we all wanted to see a clean sheet too.
As per usual the opposition did have a great chance in the last minute but this time Jack saved brilliantly, the relief all around was palpable as the referee blew the final whistle. We then all trooped into the Blues Rock Café to hear the FA Cup draw; Bromley at home got a huge cheer despite the cock-up by the FA during the draw, a local derby against a non-league side at home. Mind you it is still a potential Burscough-style banana skin, particularly when you note previous ties against Kent sides (lost to Welling United 89-90, Maidstone United 79-80, Folkestone in 65-66 and Margate in 29-30!!!) don’t bode well! We have only beaten Ashford Town 1960-61 since the Margate debacle in five ties!
The end result of the game saw confidence certainly boosted, with Jack back in goal, Chorley to add some steel, Sancho back in contention and Mulligan off the mark perhaps the season wasn’t going to be an unmitigated disaster after all… three points off the play-offs with everything to play for – we can but hope.
Champagne Moment: The arrival of man mountain Ben Chorley to kick people (and occasionally the ball) was well received, the first clean sheet since Good Friday was an almighty relief but Gary Mulligan’s first ever goal at the Rainham End brought a smile to everyone’s face including the lad himself.