Saturday 14 April – Chesterfield 0 – 1 Gills
This was not exactly one for the purists, more the old school lunatic fringe, a 0-0 bore draw in the sunshine until injury time when for some reason Bentley decided to find time and space out on the right wing and swing over a delightfully measured cross for Andrew Crofts to head home. Still at this stage of the season points mean prizes and in our case, with Bradford playing Orient next week we made our selves mathematically safe. Perhaps not the greatest achievement of the Scally era, (don’t scoff!), but still nice to end any lingering deep dark fears of a midweek trip to Accrington Stanley that began to haunt the faithful after the Carlisle and Rotherham debacles.
The trip north was enlivened by the bemusement caused in our carriage of the Midland Mainline Express to the Sheffield-bound West Ham fans as I unveiled a cake in honour of the Gills going 365 days without keeping a clean sheet away from home in all competitions. “We’re on the hooligan express then” they chortled but before we’d arrived in Derbyshire they were sniffing round for any leftovers! Premier League? You’re having a laugh…
The cake might have been a bit wonky, the blue writing a tad squiffy, but “GFC” and “365” said it all on the zero-shaped cake. Having allowed the opposition to score in every darn fixture since our epic win at Southend back on Good Friday 2006 it was about time we kept them out – scoring ourselves and taking our tally of away wins to three would also be a pleasant reward for the near 500 Gills that made the trip. If you asked most of them why they bothered they’d have given you a simple answer, beer. Chesterfield is a superb venue for a day out supping pints and admiring the twisted spire and the classic market squares. On a gloriously sunny day mixing with Spireites some of us had known for nineteen years, the social side was well to the fore pre-match. In fact some wrecked fans failed to make the game and others left before the glorious denouement to quench their insatiable thirst… but they had a grand day out regardless – shades of the early 90’s I suppose, but then with an invariably useless team what are you to do?
Most of us did tear ourselves away from the delights of some splendid pubs and a convivial mingling with the locals, pausing only to buy a programme which happened to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Chesterfield’s remarkable appearance in the 1997 FA Cup semi-final when David Elleray’s crucial inability to tell the difference between a ball being over the line and not against a flaky Middlesbrough side cost the team a spot in the 1997 Cup Final! The publication was full of memories and was sold at the “1997 price” of £1.50! A refusal to rip anyone off being a pleasant contrast to much of the current philosophy infecting football. It was a throw back, but then so was paying £15 cash on the turnstiles for the privilege to stand on an old open terrace with views of a ground little changed since the war except for the seating of one paddock, but also aware that a move to some tin shed to the north of the town is a very real possibility in the none-to-distant future.
The game was “old school” too, no tippy-tappy bollocks, no sophisticated answer to the meaning of life, nothing to lift it above the mundane norm of Gillingham vs. Chesterfield games over the years. With Jarvis, Mulligan, McDonald and Ndumbu-Nsungu all crocked Jepson opted for an ultra-cautious 4-5-1 with just Spiller up front on his own albeit with Bentley and Bastiens free to give him the support he clearly needed. With Chesterfield slumping towards relegation after their autumnal heroics in the League Cup it was never going to be a classic.
To be honest the combination of too much beer, too much sun and a stodgy game saw most fans reduced to quietly dozing in the comforting warmth, propped against the nearest crush barrier and dreaming of our halcyon days of Super Bob, Hessy and Iffy. There was precious little magic on show but at least the Gills looked organised and bothered. Chesterfield huffed and puffed but caused few moments of genuine worry which really is quite damning given our usual away day blues.
Larrieu was certainly alert to keep out the sporadic home attacks but they were all much of a muchness whilst our attacks could only dream of being sporadic. We mustered barely a meaningful pot shot before Bastiens headed wide in the dying embers of a sterile half. So far so good then!
The second period was fairly prosaic too, but did liven up in the last half an hour as the home side push forward in search of the goal that might save them from relegation. It was typical end of season stuff and yet both teams had something tangible to play for. There were three moments when a goal did become a genuine possibility, defining moments perhaps, certainly for Chesterfield, but for once there was to be a happy ending.
Eleven minutes into the second period we nearly took the lead, the ball was half-cleared from the Chesterfield box, eventually found its way out to Jackman who optimistically thrashed a boot at the loose ball only to see it crash against the corner of bar and post and bounce out via the finger tips of keeper Jordan. It nearly woke us from our slumbers, but no, back to daydreaming of better days…
Southall did well to smuggle one effort off the line amid a mildly diverting scramble and then came the defining moment for the home side. With Baldy Shaw on and time running out the Spireites concocted a decent move, the ball found Ward who cracked the ball against the bar of the rather slender goal frame. The rebound fell to Hall but his careful header was turned round the post by a flailing Larrieu. To add insult to Northern injury Shaw’s late effort struck the Frenchman’s legs and all looked set for a turgid 0-0 draw.
Remarkably the Gills team then decided to snatch the points in an unconvincing manner, but who are we to judge? Late substitute Sancho was involved in a bout of triangles in midfield, suddenly the ball was prodded through to the unmarked Bentley on the wing, he took it on, looked up, took aim and found the onrushing bonce of Andrew Crofts… ONE-NIL to the Gills! A third away win of the season, a ninth in eighty-five games in three and a half seasons, not a great record, but a win is a win is a win.
The edge was taken off our euphoric celebrations enroute back to the station when we all witnessed a car run a red light on a pedestrian crossing on Saltergate and send some poor woman flying. We called 999 (not easy if you don’t know the street names) and made sure an ambulance was on scene before stripping the local Co-op of most of its alcohol and all of it’s champagne and heading for the station. On arrival we were met with transport police warning us that the train was full of rabid West Ham fans fresh from a 3-0 drubbing at Sheffield United. We girded our loins for a fretful trip home but ended up squished away from our booked seats but able to chat amiably enough with Hammers and Blades on the journey home. If felt a bit tactless to be toasting a win and survival with champers in front of gutted West Ham fans but hey, what is the worst they are going to have to put up with next season? Scunthorpe away? Welcome to the real world boys and girls!
Champagne Moment:- Well sneaking scrappy last minute wins away from home is a lost art beyond the Gills for several years so lets just salute a jammy win and safety eh? The magic cake worked!