Saturday 22 September – Nottingham Forest 4 – 0 Gills
Coming away from the ground, a couple of us were discussing whether our latest drubbing was more like the 6-1 hammering at Wolves in 1989 or the more recent 6-0 clobbering at Bristol City. Several Forest fans overheard us and started sniggering. You could sense them resisting the urge to start singing “you’ll never play here again”, and they were terribly polite, but everyone agreed that Gillingham were a joke. Some couldn’t remember Forest ever having an easier afternoon or enjoying so much possession. One asked if Delroy Facey was asleep. Another suggested that if both sides had scored all their chances it would have been 15-1. He was right. We were attrocious.
Not so long ago we were proud to come to grounds like this and shake things up, but it’s clear to see that Gillingham FC is dead on its feet, certainly as far as on-the-pitch goes (there’s no doubt still “huge optimism” around the club off the pitch). The performance undoubtedly more closely mirrored that at Wolves in 88/89, the last time we were relegated from this division. At Ashton Gate we had a defensive nightmare and alarm bells started ringing. At Molineux the bells had been sounding for months, we were a doomed side embarrassingly swept apart by a useful Wolves side with a couple of exceptional strikers.
At The City Ground I think the gameplan was right, but there is nothing – not Iffy and The Doc, not Micky Adams, not Martin Allen, not Jose Mourinho, not even a fucking genie in a bottle – absolutely nothing, anyone can do with that shower of utter bollocks. In all the years I’ve been watching the club, there has always been an outlet – some wayward genius we could pin our hopes to in the face of adversity. Even the doomed 88/89 side had the gifted Gavin Peacock and Steve Lovell, who could snaffle 20 goals even with the most scant service. In the lost years of the early 90s we had the pace and finishing of Nicky Forster, and even Chris Pike brought the odd smile by scoring a hatful despite playing in a team of dustbins. And since our plummet from the Championship we always had the boy Jarvis.
Who have we got now? Crofts. Great player, everyone likes him, but he’s got his own jobs to do and they don’t involve exhilarating charges down the wing and sizzling 30 yard volleys out of nothing. Well, not often. Mulligan? Popular grafter and no little talent, but struggling with injuries and hardly prolific. Who else? Don’t bother trying to answer that question.
So, the post mortem. Our last ditch defending was actually very good – the clearances off the line, the flying blocks -but it had to be as Forest had the ball in and around our penalty area for virtually the entire game. The central defensive three looked pretty well organised and Stillie had a blinder. The midfield five couldn’t get a grip though, not helped by Bentley hobbling off to be replaced but yet another player who is not fully fit in Nowland. And Facey – well, he stood no chance lolloping after clearance after clearance, but I would have had a bit more sympathy if he hadn’t managed to wander offside on the few occasions the ball went in Forest’s half.
But it was working – a war of attrition as Forest became more and more frustrated and the rather sparse crowd (bit harsh given that there were over 16,000 there, but I guess we’re not much of an attraction these days, and you can see why) started to niggle their own players. Interestingly, Southall was warmly welcomed back but Armstrong didn’t warrant a murmur. Then came the breakthrough and all the hard work was undone by an unforced error, Brown failing lamentably to track his player at a free-kick, allowing an uncontested cross and a simple Agogo header. And it was all over.
The management changed what they could but we just fell apart after the break. Twice Forest hit the post, they drew several brilliant point blank saves from Derek in the nets and the ball pinged incessantly around the six yard box. But all three second half goals came from more needless errors – Cox giving the ball away and not recovering; Sodje trying to claim a throw in and then being hustled for pace, and the fourth from spineless, unforgiveable passage of play where Lomas lost the ball in the Forest half, hung his head in shame and made absolutely no attempt to retrieve the situation. As the ball was swept into our net for the final time, the first chants of “Lomas is a wanker” came from the away end, along with the now familiar vitriol questioning the suitability of any of the players to wear the Gillingham shirt. Lomas was booed every time he touched the ball thereafter – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single player bear the brunt like that before, certainly not since poor old Les Berry bowed to a sarcastically applauding Rainham End during a Freight Rover tie in the late 80s. Lomas deserved it (Armstrong had already waddled off, so was spared this week). He tried to walk straight off at the end but the management made them all face the music, and by “music” I mean a fair proportion of the 400 travelling fans shouting “Fuck Off” and flicking wanker signs.
This really was the pits and I have no idea what the answer is. I hope Scally’s new man does. Meanwhile it was back on to the trains for the inquest. The trains which, incidentally, had been screwed all day after a Thameslink rattler got entangled in overhead wires at West Hampstead, causing numerous delays and cancellations, and which cut short our time in the magnificent Vat and Fiddle pub, one of the highlights of any season. Luckily Notts County are showing little sign of mounting a promotion challenge so there’s always next year….
I can’t mention the very funny but utterly politically incorrect abuse handed out to an incompetent ball boy, so I’ll go for the ever reliable balti pie.
The Morty Vicker