Saturday 11 August – Cheltenham 1 – 0 Gills
Well we tried to me at least mildly optimistic for the first day of the season but in reality it turned into a bit of a cliché from start to finish – what could go wrong did go wrong… again. You can now safely pop that pre-season optimism back in the box until 2008. Okay so the referee, Mr Melin from Hampshire, was a bit of a nutter and all that but it doesn’t disguise the alarming fact that for the first hour or so we were terrible.
We should have known it was going to be one of those days when on arrival at Paddington we discovered our train had been cancelled due to some poor soul deciding living in Didcot was all too much and flung themselves under a train… perhaps understandable but a tad inconsiderate all the same. There then followed a tortuous path across the west via our first train getting stuck in points at Reading, missing a connection at Swindon and passing time in the land of four fingers and six toes taking silly photos before finally trundling into Cheltenham with half an hour to spare. A quick cab saw us finally in the away end with twenty minutes to spare feeling ever so slightly stressed. Those on the roads had suffered similarly.
Perhaps the Gillingham players were feeling low too because the first half was a complete joke. Cox looked shaky, Facey fat, slow and clueless, Graham unfit (but at least not fat), the midfield were stodgy, Brown hardly saw the ball with the result that everyone’s top tip for relegation out-played us completely. They’d already seen on header go wide and forced Armstrong to clear off the line before Town struck on 24 minutes.
The game was meandering along in a poor quality sort of way when the fall was fed through our square defence, they all stopped, appealed for offside but then realised the linesman (who was an even bigger cock than the referee) had waved Gillespie onside (six yards off?) – he duly ran in on goal before slipping it beyond Royce… 1-0.
It should have galvanised us, but it didn’t Town continued to look less bad than us and we were lucky to go in at half-time only one behind. Seething feelings of anger at the officials tempered with seething anger at the team. Those feelings were further heightened on 57 minutes when the slow and abject Cox was caught out again, he went shoulder to shoulder with Connor, grappled slightly and was duly sent off for the second straight game at Whaddon Road.
The real defining moment actually came at our end on 73, with Mulligan on and playing like a man possessed the Gills had sparked belatedly into life. One of several chances saw the ball loop up ten yards out, he flung himself full length only to see is header turned brilliantly round the post… by a Town defender. The officials decided to give a goal kick, the 588 Gills fans incandescent with rage.
Three minutes later we knew the game was up, Lomas saw red for a second red, a weary slash in midfield… we knew it wasn’t going to be our day. The referee had lost all control by then, flourishing cards at all and sundry including Gillespie with eleven minutes to go. His petulant failure to retreat as Southall attempted a quick free kick a bit daft given the referee’s previous!
With Cheltenham having failed to take their chances, the last ten minutes were a hectic muddle of Gillingham attacks and desperate Town defending. Mulligan was outstanding and should have started, ditto King in partnership with Sodje. Fans were less than impressed with Jepson’s tactics and team selection. Many more “performances” like that one will see him sacked before Christmas.
All in all we need to put the match in perspective, it is a new team, they need time to gel, the referee completely stitched us up and ultimately we deserved a point even with nine men. Same old story away from home though. We won’t get anywhere until we solve out travel sickness. Picking the wrong team and adopting lump-it tactics will only see us in trouble at the wrong end of the table sooner rather than later. It was a pretty damning start to the campaign.
Champagne Moment:- Making kick-off! It looked unlikely at one point with us stuck in Reading. At the game? Well the passion of Mulligan…?