October was hardly a profitable month for the Gills but writing now, a week into November things appear at long last to be perking up a little on the pitch – “about bloody time!” I hear you cry… It all got off to a pretty traumatic start with the trip to Crewe, 2-0 up, 3-1 up just before half-time thanks to two long range screamers from Pouton and Flynn and a sharp finish from McDonald… what possibly could go wrong after that???
Well given our record at Crewe (no win in over thirty years), their strong home form, our alarming penchant for chucking away leads and goals like confetti away from home, then the rest was all too predictable. Rodney Jack pulled one back, the Gills were still leading in the 88th minute but then committed professional suicide again (we though you could only do that once…) Varsey applying the stake through the heart in the 94th minute. It appeared to sum up our team, i.e. can’t defend and liable to collapse like the flaming Hindenburg at the first sign of sustained pressure when in the lead away from home. Serious questions were asked regarding Jepson’s judgement, the players’ commitment (or lack thereof) to the cause and whether the fucking wankers were really worth all the money, time, trouble and effort it took for the ever dwindling and disillusioned band of Gills fans to follow them up and down the country to be betrayed week after fucking week
There then followed a more conventional 1-0 loss at home to leaders Nottingham Forest who confirmed that in the land of the really mediocre being organised at the back and solid in midfield can take you to the top, for feck sake they even have miss-a-lot Neil Harris in their team, they are not world beaters… but they had enough to beat us, albeit with one scrappy goal which Nicky Southall had the good grace not to celebrate in front of the Rainham End. We huffed, we puffed, but ultimately if you stop Jarvis (or his supply line) you tend to stop us, particularly if you have idiots like D’Urso as referee and they fail to give us a blatant penalty just to rub salt into some pretty raw wounds…
Three days later Forest fans were serenading us with “Can we play you twice a week?” as they cruised into a 2-0 lead in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Scally upset many of the regulars by charging £15 for the privilege, and there was confusion over the prices for kids’ tickets, another PR gaffe but what do you expect by now aside from a lower crowd then for the same stage last season against Crawley? The one scrap of encouragement came in the fact that Gary Mulligan finally managed to score
The Brentford game was another debacle really, 2-2 away from home isn’t usually greeted with sporadic booing and muted indifference, particularly when you have equalised with barely fifteen minutes to go thus gleaning something from a game in which we had gone behind in for the FIRST time this season, but even without the injured Jarvis an out of sorts Brentford where there for the taking and we weren’t capable of doing the taking.
Masters was sent-off on 26 minutes for a “challenge” on Mulligan, television coverage subsequently showed there to be minimal contact and Mulligan’s resultant tumble to be somewhat belated, but the keeper was dismissed anyway, the Bees were without a replacement on the bench and had to resort to an outfield player. Flynn blasted home the kick and we all awaited the inevitable romp to victory with great anticipation.
What we got instead was more pathetic defending, Flinders, Johnson and Cox really aren’t up to the job, and too much wasted possession – we needed to test the stand-in as often as possible but seemed to be incapable of grasping the concept. 2-1 down at half time – collectively we were bloody clueless. Flynn did at least save us from a humiliating defeat but once again we were left feeling deflated and vaguely cynical about being a Gills fan. We still hadn’t managed a clean sheet since Good Friday at Southend six months previously and the combination of shambolic defending, lack of bottle and general gross stupidity and unprofessional conduct left us all staring into our post-match pints wondering whether it really was all worth it… the hassle, the emotional kick in the teeth every week, they don’t bloody deserve us I tell you, they don’t!!!
The following week and we all were back for more, assembling dutifully at Priestfield in search of that elusive clean sheet… Several things then came together to make that long held dream a reality. First was the ahead of schedule return of Kelvin Jack in the Gillingham goal. Not in the same class as Jason Brown perhaps but still far superior to the increasingly wretched Scott Flinders who was thankfully sent packing back to Palace to inflict his brand of chaos on the Selhurst faithful instead.
Now Jack’s kicking might be alarmingly erratic but at least his judgement is usually sound, he has the stature to organise and boss his defenders about and he has experience. Perhaps Carlisle’s shot shy team of deckchairs were ideal opponents, perhaps the early Bentley goal was crucial, but the Gills finally put together a solid and consistent showing at the end of the month. The second half wobble was sorted out by the introduction of the unreconstructed old school figure of Ben Chorley (initially on three month loan but hopefully for longer given he is exactly what the doctor ordered either at centre back or in the defensive midfield slot).
The final moments saw Jarvis finally escape the Carlisle shackles and speed away with the ball to set up Gary Mulligan’s second goal of the season. Cue jubilation in the Rainham End, three points, a real, genuine, significant Mulligan goal…(!!!) – and in combination with two splendid saves by Jack, a clean sheet! The day was topped off nicely by the FA Cup draw, Bromley at home. A potential banana skin but at least it we’re at home, it isn’t in deepest darkest Lancashire and they should bring a few with them. All in all probably the best day of the season thus far for most Gills fans.
A week later and we were all back at Priestfield for more. Unfortunately for 80 minutes Chesterfield muscled their way into a deflected lead and then held firm. With three men often tailing Jarvis we trundled along in what looked set to be a grim repeat of all the other 1-0 defeats the Spireites have inflicted us upon us at home since the 10-0 way-back-when in 1987. The arrival of Chorley livened things up and the final ten minutes saw the Gills up the tempo dramatically. We contrived to casually miss three or four great chances, their keeper blatantly wasted time and it looked like a classically anguished hair-pulling exercise but then something rather splendid happened.
Jarvis whizzed down the wing, crossed low and hard and the deadly Gary Mulligan expertly steered the ball into the net for a dramatic 91st minute equaliser. A minute later with the previously sullen, sulky and then angrily animated Rainham End in mid-song joyfully serenading a late get out of jail moment the Gills went and snatched the unlikeliest of victories. A routine cross the source, but McDonald’s sumptuous chest control and elegant swivel that thumped the ball into the Chesterfield net caused total pandemonium. After so many late goals conceded it was our turn to manically jump about screaming and generally being reminded why we all bother, for magical, life affirming moments like that one. They have been all too rare in the last eighteen months, the Gillingham support is in dire need of a few more because it wouldn’t take much to reenergize our support, reinvigorate everyone, recapture the passion of old and in such a mediocre division actually start to actually look meaningfully up at the play-offs with genuine intent (three points and counting) rather than dreading the trapdoor opening beneath.
Off the pitch and nothing much has changed really, rumours persist about the possible site for a new ground, with or without funding from the Thames Gateway redevelopment pot. Scally continues to make promises, we could hear any day now… (No laughing at the back) but until that time we will remain in limbo. Until there is something more concrete to discuss we might as well all concentrate on events on the pitch which for once have perked up a bit.
Up The Gills!