Friday 2 November – Swansea 1 – 1 Gills
I suppose this was the game that neither Swansea City FC nor Gillingham FC wanted us (the fans) to see, which is a shame really because not only did it see the Gills double their tally of goals for the season away from home and earn their first point, but it was also arguably the best away game since the 3-2 win at Tranmere almost a year ago.
We did contrive to snatch a spawny win at Chesterfield in the intervening ten months but this was more a throwback to the Championship glory days. The baying crowd of over 13,000 Welsh fans and the elegant and sophisticated passing and movement from Swansea was always going to make it a tough evening. City needed only a point to go back to the top of the table and you could see why – a classier act than Forest, but perhaps lacking the final touch of composure up front
It also marked the start of the Mark Stimson era at Priestfield. We all wish him well and, given his achievements at both Grays and Stevenage, we all hope he can resurrect our club on the pitch. We certainly need it although, Iffy apparently picked the team and tactics for one last time. Dropping Dickson to the bench seemed a bit strange but perhaps the idea was to go with experience and be as solid as possible
The 121 Gills fans dotted around the away end were still settling into the game when on ten minutes Delroy Facey caused a bit of a stir. We hadn’t scored away from Priestfield since Mark Bentley nodded in an unexpected equaliser at Luton back on August the 25th – it was a stunning way to end the long drought. A big boot down field by Royce was flicked on by Facey, the ball rebounded back to him from a Swansea defender and he simply smashed it diagonally into the top corner of the net from twenty-five yards. Cue pandemonium in the away end, but I’d be lying if I said I thought we’d get anything out of the game…
Thirteen minutes later and referee Attwell showed everyone that he was not to be swayed by the boisterous crowd, correctly deeming that a nasty two-footed challenge on King by Feeney was worthy of a red card. It looked a bit high at the time and television later confirmed this, but it didn’t stop the comically one-eyed City fans from getting into a right tizz about it all. They barracked King relentlessly from then on and moaned long and hard at every decision the referee made regardless of whether he got them right (99% of the time) or wrong. It certainly spiced up the atmosphere, a far cry from the general sullen indifference often to be found in League One
In a first half that saw the Gills play as well as they have done all season, they contrived to spurn two other great chances that we just knew would return to haunt us. The first came just before the red card, some hesitant defending leaving Mulligan unmarked with the ball at his feet and the goal momentarily at his mercy but he was too slow and the chance was smothered. The second glorious chance fell to Mark Bentley from a diagonal free-kick, eight yards out, a free header but he carelessly directed his effort straight at the alert and relieved Swans keeper De Vries.
So half-time came and we were happy enough but realistic. We needed to try to make the extra man count and stifle any Swansea onslaught. That cunning plan didn’t exactly come to fruition; the Swans attacked from the very start and subjected us to almost non-stop pressure. It really was like the Alamo at times, the defenders battled heroically, Royce was inspired and City looked like they had two or three men spare at times. It was hectic, it was thrilling, but for all their pressure City got increasingly agitated with their inability to get the better of Royce. We lapped it up, mentally prepared for a City goal at any moment we also knew deep down that even if we did lose there would be many positives to draw from the game, most notably the fact that we looked like a team and were putting in plenty of effort. There was passion, tough tackles, brave blocks and energetic hustling but it was still pretty hairy in a thrilling sort of way.
City thought they’d cracked us on 53 minutes, but a barge by Scotland on Royce saw the referee further antagonize the volatile home fans by disallowing a messy goal from a corner. A further passage of play saw City howling for a penalty before crashing the ball against the woodwork. Gradually we were beginning to think that this might be our night. The pressure was unbearable and City’s frustration total. It was turning into a real epic encounter but sadly our luck finally ran out on 79 minutes. Some typically sweet and swift inter-passing down the wing set Pratley free and he squared the ball to Anderson to crack home at the far post in a convincing impression of Arsenal at their fluid best. We could just look on helplessly
Scoring that goal seemed to take the wind out of the Swansea sails a little, all that effort spent trying to equalise meant for the last ten minutes we were able to gain some respite with some decent counter attacks. That was until the fourth and final minute of added time when for the first time in the match the excellent referee was swayed, even then it was his assistant that made the decision. The ball was free in our box, a challenge was made, Britton made the most of it falling rather too easily from an innocuous collision and we faced losing at the last. Step forward Simon Royce who contrived to save Robinson’s penalty and the rebound. The initial kick was hard but too close to Royce and at the classic height to save, the ball was parried back to Robinson, who off balance could only poke the ball to the grateful Royce with virtually the last kick. A fantastic result at the start of the Stimson era then, just a shame so few saw it, we got home at a quarter to four in the morning, but for once it had been worth it
Champagne Moment:- Usually 25 yarders into the top corner would get the nod but on an uplifting evening Simon Royce’s double penalty save in the 94th and final minute wins the imaginary bubbly