Saturday 15 September – Gills 1 – 0 Brighton
Arriving at Priestfield it was difficult to know what to expect but one thing was certain – things certainly couldn’t get any worse. The resignation of Ronnie Jepson was a relief more than anything, and his early departure allowed him to leave with some semblance of his pride intact. In fact, Jepson should be congratulated on the manner in which he conducted himself on leaving. I don’t think anyone would argue that he didn’t work his bollocks off and give it his best shot. Sadly, he best wasn’t good enough.
So the caretaker partnership of Iffy and Mick Docherty launched a new era- their first team featuring a 3-5-2 formation with Cox, King and Sodje in the centre of defence, and Aaron Brown and Nicky Southall operating as wing backs. We didn’t have too much time to take in this new formation before the management team changed things around, reverting to a 4-4-2 with King moving to fullback. Now just hang on one cotton picking minute – we are not used to such a radical approach – changing the formation just because it’s not working?! heavens to betsy!
Of course, we were still lumbered with the same carthorse like tendencies that have so enlivened the season so far, but it really was notable that we were defending far more positively. That is not to say things went entirely smoothly in the penalty area, but it seemed to me that there were players in there taking responsibility, snapping into challenges and not just waiting for something to go wrong before they reacted. The much maligned Ian Cox enjoyed easily his best performance of the season (no sniggering at the back!) and it was noticeable that on those occasions when the long ball over him looked on, his defensive partner Efe Sodje was covering around behind. Now this may seem like basic stuff, having a covering defender, but just how many times in the last couple of years have we been undone by nothing more subtle than a big hoof over the top of Ian Cox? Go on, count them, you can’t remember can you……
Of course, we still have all the problems we had before. The team that Ronnie built is old, fat and slow (although to be fair, some of the players are only two out of the three). However, they do possess enough experience between them to play as an organised unit. And as anyone who watches football enough knows, teams that are well drilled and organised are very difficult to break down. Ronnie Jespson’s teams were neither.
It is no use pretending this was a great performance because it wasn’t. Neither side exactly threatened to disturb the scorers – the visitors with a front two of Big Bad Baz and an ageing and clearly shot Nicky Forster, and the Gills with the portly Delroy Facey and hardworking but not exactly prolific Gary Mulligan – did little to suggest a goalfest in the offing. In fact, a goalless stalemate looked odds on until the Gills nicked the points with eight minutes to go. Brighton had actually been looking the more likely, and we’d survived a couple of shouts for handball in the box, before Nicky Southall’s ball out of defence set Facey clear on goal.
Now Delboy may not exactly be the fastest thing on two legs, but man is he strong (must be something to do with his massive calf muscles, as revealed in the programme!). He shrugged off the close attentions of the visiting defender (close as in being blatantly fouled) to slide a low shot into the bottom corner. We successfully negotiated the final eight minutes, plus another four minutes stoppage time to record a welcome three points.
Champagne Moment:- A moment of silence enlivened by Bjorn who, whilst wandering along the front of the Rainham End to get some chips, paused to aim some well chosen abuse at Nicky Forster, earning himself a round of applause from the gathered throng.