Saturday 24 March – Carlisle United 5 – 0 Gills
Hmm, alarm bells ringing yet? Flippin’ ‘eck this was not a vintage performance. It started badly, reached the heady levels of customary mediocrity and then ended in comical total defensive meltdown. The final nine minutes were a shambolic horror story that neither Jepson nor his beleaguered players will be able to explain without admitting that they let the club down, let the initially boisterous but eventually shell shocked 323 fans in the away end down and let themselves down. It was all too sickeningly reminiscent of the worst unprofessional shambles of last season at Colchester and Bristol City.
The trip north was not on the face of it an enticing one, especially with the opportunity to christen Wembley earlier in the day for a tenner and then watch the England seniors on television in their, ahem, bid to qualify for Euro 2008. Strangely though more than 300 mad feckers did make the trek, a mixture of youngsters ticking off the ground (we hadn’t trod the turf of Brunton Park since 96-97), exiles and old school fans who’d done it all before and saw a trip to within spitting distance of Gretna as some sort of badge of honour. I took the scenic route with Matt via Newcastle and arrived in Carlisle on a train bound for Stranraer via Kilmarnock. There are not many people but lots of hill sheep farming between the Metro Centre and the Border I can tell you!
Perhaps people had been drinking, perhaps those that had made the effort wanted to vent some pent-up energy, but for some strange reason the Gills fans were in “sing long and hard” mode and kept up an incessant racket throughout that afternoon that began badly and finished with the Gills in bits.
The Gills went into the game minus the injured Jarvis and Flynn and Crofts on international duty. Two new loan signings made their debuts, both in midfield, Dale Tonge from Barnsley and the Teutonic looking Felix Bastiens on the wing. The first fourteen minutes were a shambles, we couldn’t string two passes together and then Johnson gave away a free kick on the edge of the box. Hmm, we thought, this doesn’t bode well given Larrieu’s less than perfect record keeping out free-kicks (the lad’s got “previous”) and so it proved although to be fair the Gills did contrive a new way to concede by jumping over a less than vigorous strike by Murphy which trundled under the wall and into the far corner. Larrieu didn’t have a prayer.
Curiously the soft goal appeared to shake Gillingham into life, the torpor dissipated, and we began to put a few moves together, feeding the eager Bastiens on the wing. He curled over some delightful balls but the power-puff attack of the ever-willing but not always able Mulligan and the increasingly wretched McDonald, (my young nephew’s recent scathing dismissal of him as an “umper-lumper” appears to be coming true – will he turn orange and get a job making sweets for Willy Wonka?) meant several promising moments came to nowt. Same old story without Jarvis I’m afraid, as any fan that has watched us away regularly will recognize.
We reached half-time still 1-0 down in the Cumbrian sunshine. It looked like just another routine, mundane, dull, frustrating away game. How the players can have the gall to turn in such shoddy performances on the road when we’ve all seen they can turn it on at Priestfield is beyond me. They’re cheating us all and until most of them get shown the door we’ll get nowhere fast except League Two.
The Gills did threaten sporadically in the second half but the closest we got to the goal saw United’s keeper Westwood fumble and Bentley lunge in after the loose ball. A yellow followed from referee Mike Dean slumming it with no Premiership game to oversee. He couldn’t resist getting involved and unwittingly set us up for a fall later on. Bastiens had seen one effort parried, a looping Mulligan header kissed the top of the bar and a hard cross from Southall was touched wide via the post, but then on 73 minutes Bentley went chasing a bit of a loose ball out on the wing, left his foot in on Aranalde and despite not causing any lasting damage couldn’t really complain when Mr Dean pulled out the big red juicy one. Silly boy.
Eight minutes later the floodgates opened and the good ship Gillingham went down with all hands. The captain Sancho could do nothing (a bit like Tonge who did nothing all afternoon – “a poor man’s Justin Cochrane” was the scathing view on the train home). The second goal was crucial, it ended the game as a contest, our deflation was complete, the telling moment coming from a deep cross to the far post, Jackman was easily barged aside as Joyce nodded home. The largely comatose home fans stirred from their slumbers. I was watching what a steward was doing to the four (soon to be three) Gills flags behind the goal when a groan went up and the ball was in our net again, less than two minutes after the second. Again Jackman out-muscled at the far post trying to defend a deep cross, but this time his attempted clearance cannoned-in off Gall. Oh dear, the wheels were coming off and nobody on the pitch in a Gills shirt seemed capable of preventing a rout
The fourth goal on 89 minutes saw Sancho clumsily challenge Smith inside the box out on the wing, the United player fell outside the box but television proved Sancho’s guilt and Graham coolly did the business from the spot. I then ventured down to collect my flag from behind the goal, I was escorted behind the goal on the shale a yard from the pitch, the ball was crossed in again, I was closer to Graham than the Gills defence and watched as helplessly as they did as the ball was nodded in for number five. “Six-five, we’re going to win six-five!” sang the remnants of the less than chuffed travelling support. “I’ll get my flag then” I said to the steward and he sniggered ever so slightly
I stayed behind too boo the players, but them most of them didn’t have to bottle to come over and clap near enough, I couldn’t really be bothered and I left with the weary tread of someone who’d got up at 5.20 in the morning, spent £62 on train fares, wouldn’t get back to Canterbury until 1.18, had passed on a stag do in Krakow, a trip to Wembley and a mad-cap house warming party back in Canterbury to watch that shower of shite.
The trip home was quite funny really, there was a fair sprinkling of Gills on a sparsely populated train home, fans turned up with crates of beer for the five hour slog back to Euston. We took over a carriage in first class and drank ourselves slowly but surely towards fuzzy stupidity. There were disconsolate fans scattered throughout, some played cards, some slept, some engaged in heated debate, but all could agree that it had been a grand day out, an epic adventure, spoilt by one thing as ever… the football. At least we missed sitting through the turgid dogs dinner of a game in Tel Aviv where Steve McClaren’s reign continued to go from bad to worse. A bit like the Gills really
Champagne Moment:- Hats off to the fans. They were magnificent. Despite some petulant stewarding and the gutless showing they sang non-stop for virtually the entire debacle. It was a throwback to the mad old days of the early 90’s in the basement. Somewhere we might be heading come May if Jepson and the players don’t get their arses in gear – AND PRONTO