Saturday 10 November – Barnet 2 – 1 Gills FAC 1R
This wasn’t as traumatic as Burscough at the same stage of the FA Cup back in 2005, nor as humiliating as defeats to non-league Maidstone or Welling in the 1980’s, but it still left the battered and bruised Gillingham support feeling both miserable and hopping mad. It didn’t really make much sense.
Now any lower club can on the day mug another from further up the footballing food chain, we’ve done it to Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic when they were all still in the Premiership, likewise two late, late goals at Burscough left us dazed and confused and sitting on our arses and scratching our heads in bewilderment, but this was different. We had nearly half an hour against a determined but limited League Two side to try to pull back one goal, hardly an insurmountable hurdle on paper but instead of upping the tempo and showing a bit of passion, commitment, imagination, flare and, above all, urgency we succumbed lamely, creating little and looking ponderous and one-dimensional.
Hey ho, we played badly away from home and lost, hardly breaking news this sad season, but what did leave the 900 travelling fans more than a little baffled was the performance by the players. Yes they aren’t very good, but they are most certainly better than that. With a new young, ambitious manager who doesn’t appear to take any crap you’d think they’d try to impress him, many were in effect playing for their professional futures, at least at Gillingham, so you have expected them to show some effort and enthusiasm if nothing else, but what we got instead was the longest suicide note from a Gills squad in history.
The aftermath has seen Stimson hinting strongly that the players are not fit and that some of them quite clearly aren’t up to the job and will be on their way sooner rather than later (a stinging indictment of the Jepson era). Do they think they’ll all swan off to bigger and better things somewhere else? I doubt it given any scout from a professional outfit would have struggled to pick out any individuals worthy of interest. Perhaps Royce, perhaps King given he was playing out of position again and trying too hard, perhaps Cogan for once in terms of enthusiasm if nothing else and obviously Freeman for his historic seven minute cameo. The rest? Lucky to be paid handsomely for underachieving on a fortnightly basis away from Priestfield. If they were just all shit we’d understand, but patently they are not, we’ve seen enough flashes of quality to know something else is wrong, whether that be fitness, or simply that their attitude stinks…
The first half – if not exactly going to plan – wasn’t too bad, although Barnet enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball but failed to make the most of it. We looked a little off the pace against a hungry Barnet side bursting with youthful zest and decent amounts of pace and sadly without Dickson (Charlton didn’t want him cup-tied) we looked toothless up front, with Facey having a dreadful time huffing and puffing about to no real effect.
With the out of sorts Crofts dropped to the bench Lomas got another chance to show us what he can do, but succeeded only in reinforcing some pretty negative impressions of a player going through the motions. The other real culprits were Brown (his free-kicks later on were laughable) and Sodje, who I usually rate, but who endured a shoddy afternoon.The whole team were shoddy to be honest but just as my mate had confidently predicted moments earlier, the Gills would score with their first real attack, which they duly did on 27 minutes. Southall was the creator with a lovely curling cross into the box for Graham to nod home. Hurrah we thought, that should shake them from their lethargy but it didn’t, it gave us some breathing space but no more.
The defining moment of the game came early into the second half, for about the only time in the contest the Gills strung some passes together, the ball was worked swiftly and slickly down the wing, Lomas fed Southall and his intelligent low cross into the six yard box found Graham unmarked three yards out with just their keeper Harrison to beat but he muffed the chance and scuffed the chance straight at the keeper with many in the old school away section already celebrating a clinching goal.
We would regret such profligacy because Barnet got on top in midfield and you could sense a goal was due at the other end, unfortunately for the Gills two arrived in three minutes to set us back on our heels. The first on 61 minutes was not pretty, a smart inswinging free-kick saw Royce under pressure and able only to punch the ball up invitingly for Yakubu to nod home amid the resulting melee. We were still digesting this unfortunate turn of events when from another fine pacey left wing cross saw Hatch head the Bees into the lead… it wasn’t exactly against the run of play.
We couldn’t have too many complaints with the scoreline really; Barnet had been allowed to build up a head of steam by out battling us in midfield. We could complain at the referee Miller for a bizarre set of decisions, few of which benefited us as the wheels came off in the latter stages, some of them were utterly baffling but that shouldn’t be allowed to excuse our wretched attempts to save the day.
Ponderous would be one word I suppose, we tried to keep the ball down and pass it but didn’t have the ability or wit or imagination of guts to do anything with it. Whistle-happy officials didn’t help, neither did the increasing frustration of the players, but the sum total of nearly half an hour of huffing and puffing wasn’t very much at all. One dreadful, embarrassing muddle by Facey when it looked easier to score, contriving to head the ball away from the danger zone with the goal at his mercy.
The final farcical stages saw Brown waste several free-kicks in promising positions, mystery man Luke Freeman come on (“who’s that?”) and Barnet’s Carew see red for a second harsh booking (86). So we finished up against ten men but weren’t capable of much really. The final whistle saw genuine anger from the travelling fans, “You’re not fit to wear the shirts” rang out again for the umpteenth time this season (should it become the new official club anthem?). Something is going to have to give sooner rather than later and given what Stimson has said post-match the culling of the deadwood will begin very, very soon indeed. Some very complacent and some rather shoddy footballers won’t be wearing the Gillingham shirt for much longer. Good riddance to bad rubbish eh? At least it solves any potential problems of a replay clash with the England vs. Croatia game although most fans would have preferred a solution which allowed them to still dream of getting Liverpool in the 3rd round in January and reminding Peter Crouch that he is indeed a FREEEEAAAAKKK!
Champagne Moment:- Luke Freeman will remember the day more warmly than most, the youngest ever player to appear in the FA Cup ever, ever, ever at 15 years, 233 days and the youngest ever Gills player beating Billy Hughes’ 1976 record by 26 days. Our reaction was “who???” at the time, but good luck to the young lad.