Saturday December 23 – Tranmere Rovers 2 – 3 Gills
Strange, very strange, this game was just mad. The first ten minutes saw the Gills play like a punch of drunken idiots. The defending was truly barking, then we shocked everyone, not least ourselves to lead at the break after a half studded with goals if not high quality football and then for the second period put in our best showing of the campaign. What the feck is going on?
With three away defeats in a week still a bitter recent memory the last thing most regular away fans wanted the day before Christmas Eve was a long trip north, particularly with the fog blanketing the country causing travel chaos in its wake. Add that to the fact that the Gills had never ever won at Prenton Park, that our away record was the equal worst in the division (six points) and that promotion-chasing Tranmere’s home one of the best (one defeat all season), it was a miracle that 175 daft sods turned up to cheer the team on.
I suppose you could say we defended doughtily for 79 seconds but then the ball was played into the danger zone, Brill understandably expected Cox to launch the ball into the stratosphere but he hesitated long enough for Greenacre to nip in between them and poke the ball home from a narrow angle. Well done chaps! Why do we bother? The fans were less than impressed
The Gills fans behind Brill’s goal were left incandescent with seething rage with barely five minutes on the clock and the team reeling at 2-0 down. Shuker’s corner was swung in to the far post, over Brill and with nobody on the back post fluked its way into the net. The local chavs were soon chanting “Easy, Easy” and it was. In a confused, shambolic and downright surreal opening ten minutes we could and should have been 4-0 down.
One mad scramble involved half the Gillingham team flailing around uselessly to clear the ball before a Rovers player did their job for them. Then most comically Brill tried a Robinson-esque kick down field to the unmarked Jarvis on the wing but got the trajectory somewhat awry with the result that he crashed the ball against one of his own defenders and looked on helplessly as the rebound sailed inches wide for a corner. It would have been one of the all time great own goals.
So ten minutes in and the travelling fans were disgusted with what was happening the vitriol was understandable, why are our players so bloody clueless at the back so often? We were still screaming at them to get their act together when Mulligan cut the deficit. With Big Bad Baz starting fans were sceptical of our chances of getting anything, and that was before the ten minutes from hell but to give credit to Mulligan and Savage, they were magnificent for the rest of the game
Neither Mulligan nor Savage are that gifted but they put the effort in, fans can appreciate that and Savage’s looping header bounced back into the path of Mulligan to almost apologetically steer in with just eleven minutes on the clock. This changed the whole complexion of the game; the Gills steadied the ship and began to sow doubts in the minds of the Rovers team that must have been expecting a real pre-Christmas goal fest
Another goal duly arrived on 19 minutes from the increasingly lively Mulligan. The home fans were stunned whilst in the away end we cavorted merrily, hardly willing to believe our eyes. Mulligan was on hand to snaffle a lose ball in the box (not something he is known for) and we all just waited to see what would happen next. Thankfully for us the Gills continued to attack an increasingly rattled home defence, hanging on to what we had was never going to be an option with our bloody defence.
With three minutes left of a crazy half Chorley sent the away end into total mental meltdown. A Savage cross found him unmarked and he guided his header into the far corner. Pande-bloody-monium ensured amongst the faithful, from total contempt to adoration in three easy steps! The locals were as gobsmacked as we were, “Two-nil and you fucked it up!” came the retort to their premature “easy, easy” – the half-time bringing rapturous applause from a disbelieving away end.
The only thing people were certain of at the break as we struggled to regain our composure was that “it wasn’t the end of the scoring” – except it was! Despite all the texts predicting an inevitable 4-3 defeat the team turned in their best 45 minutes of the season so far… don’t know how or why but they did. The defence inspired by Chorley’s leadership challenged for every ball, won plenty of tough 50/50’s, cleared the ball intelligently and refused to panic. The midfield took control of the game and we all looked on in wonder as Savage and Mulligan led the line with bravery, energy, passion and no little skill
The Gills did have chances to finish off Rovers, the best of which should have been a penalty kick but for some bizarre reason the twat of a referee, (Swarbrick) chose to ignore a blatant foul on Jarvis with half an hour to go. Rover did crash one chances across the face of the goal and Brill made one splendid save but really the Gills should have saved us a whole load of anguish by scoring a fourth and perhaps fifth. Mulligan was denied twice, but with the Gills finishing the stronger there were few opportunities for us to self-destruct at the finale with the ball mostly in the Rovers half
The final whistle brought great joy to the loyal fans that had made the effort. After so many crappy away days this was one to savour. The first ever win Prenton Park, only our second away all season, and the first time we’d come from two goals down to win away since Cascarino did the damage at Carlisle back in 86-87! (0-2 to 4-2). I really didn’t think we’d get to sing “Jingle Bells” this Christmas but the deliriously happy, but still a little bemused, Gillingham support was able to do just that. Our own miracle at Christmas… a reminder that whoever bleak things can appear, football can throw up the most curious and welcome of surprises just when you’re fearing the worst. That is why we keep on coming back for more. See you all at the New Den in 2007, bright eyed and bushy tailed no doubt!
Champagne Moment:- Literally a champagne moment, we celebrated the most unlikely of victories with a bottle of the bubbly stuff on the train back south from Liverpool