Saturday 17 March – Nottingham Forest 1 – 0 Gills
Watching Gillingham play away can be a thankless task and this afternoon in Nottingham was no different. It was a throwback to the early 90’s when many a splendid alcoholic day out was spoiled by just one thing, the match. We now boast (is “boast” really the right word, or should it be “are forced to endure”?) the worst away record in the division. Relegation form and no mistake on our travels for the fourth year running… A fixture against one of the promotion favourites, albeit favourites that have hit a bit of a wobble and are functional rather than joyful outfit to watch, was always going to be a tough ask and as everyone predicted it proved just a bit beyond us.
The trip north saw the usual suspects joined by the Polish Gills fan club, aka Wojtek, an Arka Gdynia fan (think Middlesbrough without the frills) with a big gob and a lively approach to away games having spent his formative years rucking across Poland. His enthusiasm and general capacity for Flintoff-esque consumption of alcohol rubbed off on us all and even without the help of a pedalo we were all pretty “Fredied” before the end of the day
It probably helps to be a bit pissed to watch the Gills at the moment because, well we all know why, we aren’t very good. Without Jarvis we are one-dimensional in attack and at the back? Well we know by now that somewhere, somehow, one of our so-called defenders will lose concentration, make a rash challenge or simply fall over and the opposition will score. We are rapidly approaching the one year anniversary since we kept a clean sheet on our travels, (Southend Good Friday 2006 if you care to remember back that long), not something Sancho & Co will be proud of, but then hopefully half of the useless buggers will be out the door come the summer.
The game began with the usual illogical hope that the Gills could upset the formbook. Around 600 Gills made the trip, and were soon concentrating on out-singing a sullen and tetchy home support because on the pitch Forest were in almost complete control. A whole string of chances came and went, Larrieu flung himself this way and that as Commons and Agogo contrived to fluff a hat-full. The Gills missed the combination play of Southall and it seemed just a matter of time before Forest broke the deadlock. Some timely interceptions by Jackman and Spiller including one off the line and a couple of brave point-blank saves by Larrieu saw us go in undeservedly at the break still level.
The second period was a massive improvement, the Gills got stuck in, it was quite gutsy, still rather pallid up front, but in midfield we began to compete at least, Forest became a little tense, hesitant and we boisterously taunted the silent home fans. We even fashioned a couple of chances of our own but reasonable claims of a foul inside the box on Mulligan were waved away by an increasingly erratic referee (Haywood). It certainly wasn’t a classic to warm the hearts of any neutrals watching…
Larrieu made another smart save late on and Jackman hacked one off the line after the keeper made a hash of a punch, but we still didn’t feel confident of holding out. As so after 85 minutes we cracked, with a little help from the referee. A clumsy but innocuous challenge by the out of position Sancho on Tyson gave Forest a free kick on the edge of the box. Before I could finish my sentence “Larrieu isn’t very good on free-kicks…” young Mr McGugan had lashed the ball brilliantly into the top corner bringing back recent memories of similar efforts to beat our adopted Frenchman at Scunthorpe and at home to Blackpool.
It was a real kick in the teeth, on our second half showing we’d deserved a point (lets quietly forget the first shall we?) but ultimately we just weren’t quite good enough. With a powder puff attack and a referee that thought all Gillingham corners were Forest goal-kicks (a total arse) and gullible enough to be conned by Forest dives, our luck was always going to run out eventually; it always does away from home.
The final whistle brought plenty of helpless indignation before we beat a solemn retreat. I sincerely hope Forest miss out on automatic promotion and fuck up in the play-offs. They are a mundane side, lacking charm and wit, and after the gloating back in 2005 their fans deserve a bit more heartache before they begin the long road back to where they think they “belong”. As for the Gills, well we all expected to lose, we hadn’t budgeted for anything and other results weren’t too bad but as long as we continue to concede, lose, concede, lose, concede, lose away from home the spectre of relegation will continue to haunt us. Relying on our home form is all well and good but with two of our four remaining games at Priestfield against promotion candidates we really need to end our away day hoodoo. Last time we did that was, oh, Carlisle ’93… who’ve we got next? Oh yeah!
Champagne Moment:- Meeting Iffy Onuora in Hooters after the match. He was chilled out enough to pose for photos with some very squiffy Gills fans.