Tuesday 9 October – Gills 4 – 3 Luton (JPT)
If this had been a League game it would have been filed under “all time classics” but it wasn’t, it was “only” the JPT, but nonetheless it will have improved the somewhat tetchy mood of anyone who also went to Swindon. It can also be filed under “best ever Freight Rover/Sherpa Van/Leyland Daf/ Autoglass/Auto Windscreens/LDV Vans/ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy/Cup/Shield home game” although for local bragging rights tonking Maidstone United 4-1 and 4-2 in consecutive seasons in 90-91 and 91-92 will still take some beating.
We went into the Luton game in dire need of a pick-me-up and with little at stake (hardly a top priority given our perilous League position) the mood was relaxed in a subdued sort of way. Only the Medway Stand lower was in full use with a few odds and sods upstairs and 101 Hatters fans located in the middle block of the Gordon Road Stand. Thankfully after a rather wet day the rain subsided meaning 1417 lost souls were drawn to Priestfield, reduced prices (£10 adults, free for kids) helped ensure our record low of 905 was easily exceeded despite the general malaise hanging in the air.
The evening also gave the Gills a welcome chance for fringe players and those returning from injury a full run-out (we really do need to resurrect the reserve team!). Jupp was solid if unspectacular, Stillie was competent, Stone industrious, Mulligan energetic and Dickson, ah well, Chris Dickson was the star of the show. The young loanee from Charlton seized his opportunity scoring the first Gillingham hat-trick since Iffy Onuora bagged one back in April 2001 in a hectic 4-3 win over Norwich City. The best thing about Dickson was the fact that he scored three “ordinary” goals, the bits and pieces goals, the right place at the right time goals, something none of our other strikers seem capable of doing. As with the Orient home game the Gills actually knocked the ball around with some promise, perhaps the intensity was missing, perhaps the pressure was off, but still once again it proved they are actually capable of passing the ball to each other.
The Gills took the lead on 17 minutes with a decent move, Stone finding Mulligan in space out on the left, his cleverly timed run allowing him to play the ball in for Dickson to finish from close range. We clapped warmly but sensed it wouldn’t be the end of the scoring, it was that sort of game, open, flowing and dotted with the odd mistake. Luton duly equalised with a bit of a soft goal nine minutes later, the sort we’ve been letting in all season, a simple series of passing and movement cut through a static defence allowing Furlong to toe-poke home apologetically from twelve yards out.
The game meandered along in a pleasing but relaxed manner until just before the break when Luton struck twice in three minutes to hand them a distinctly flattering 3-1 lead. The first (43) saw an innocuous move suddenly turn to danger with a clever ball into Furlong who flicked the ball past Stillie with nonchalant ease. We were still digesting this familiarly sad turn of events when the referee adjudged Jupp’s challenge on McVeigh to be illegal. It was in fact an outrageous dive but it conned the man in black if not the irate inhabitants of the Medway Stand. Spring calmly slotted the penalty away so send the Hatters in 3-1 up at the break.
The second half saw the Gills largely on top but with twenty minutes left we looked to have run out of ideas. The crowd’s interest was only really roused again when Dickson scored his second goal of the night (74) to set up a decent finale. Some excellent work by Graham culminated in a clever pass across to the unmarked Dickson who kept his composure before slamming the ball into the net from inside the box. With nothing to lose the Gills streamed forward but still it looked like Luton’s night until Dickson struck again (80). It was hardly a classic, the ball bouncing invitingly diagonally across the Luton area before being bundled home at the far post.
Suddenly the force was with the Gills, they surged forward chasing an unlikely winner, we were debating the last time the Gills won a penalty shoot out (1987 at Brighton in the League Cup, Paul Haylock the unlikely hero after Kite was red carded) with the seconds ticking down because games in the JPT go straight to penalties if they are drawn rather than extra-time. Luton obviously didn’t fancy hanging around to find out, or perhaps Chris Perry had been inspired by Cogan’s brainstorm at Swindon because he topped it with a suicidal back pass. It was aimed at his own keeper but he failed to spot Bentley lurking next to him. The Gills player reacted smartly to the gift, collecting the ball and calmly rounding ex-Gill Brill to send the Gills into the last 16 of the JPT.
Okay so it was not exactly the Champions League but it was a cheering sight to see the Gills snatch an unlikely win. Four goals, a hat-trick, a late winner, just what the doctor ordered. The players looked both pleased and relieved. It was highly amusing to mug Luton after the chasing they gave us at their place. The sneaking suspicion remains though that any potential run towards a money-spinning final at Wembley in the spring will be summarily terminated the moment we have to leave the cosy confines of Priestfield.
Champagne Moment:- The look of total joy on the face of Chris Dickson on the completion of his hat-trick. Well done young man.