Oh Sodje it!

Sunday 18 November – Yeovil Town 2 – 1 Gills

Ouch! I suppose this run of the mill away defeat won’t last long in the memory save for the fact that Efe Sodje’s clash of heads with Owusu looked serious and held up play for 13 minutes. It was always a bit of a strange choice for Sky even allowing for the international weekend although I suppose Yeovil did reach the play-off final last season. Nevertheless getting to deepest darkest Somerset for a 1.30 kick-off on a Sunday lunch time was always going to test the enthusiasm of the travelling support with the option of staying at home and watching it all live on television being a tempting option for all bar the most lunatic fringe.

The weekend had begun brightly with the appearance of Gillingham fans on Soccer AM, alarming the nation with their rendition of the “Last Waltz”, comically star-struck monosyllabic interviews and Wolfie’s hopeless attempts at kicking a football but cheering wildly with the rest of us at the draw for the JPT Southern Semi-finals, at home to MK Dons…Adding to the general gaiety of the nation was Israel’s stunning last-gasp win over Russia on Saturday night which opened the door once again for “Second Choice Steve” McClaren’s bunch of inconsistent injury-prone millionaires to have one final wobbly go at trying to qualify for the European Championships, but by Sunday morning the focus was back on the Gills.

With the Sunday train service decimated by engineering works I let the supporters coach take the strain for once, all was fine and dandy as we chugged west except for the fact that it was wet and getting wetter. It hadn’t really occurred to me that the game would be in serious doubt but on arrival at Yeovil it soon became apparent that it has been raining hard for many hours and we were informed that the game was in doubt, that after a second pitch inspection the game was “on” but that a third inspection was to be held and a subsequent downpour would put the game in serious jeopardy. We sat quietly in limbo on the coach gazing glumly at the puddles as the rain continued to teem down. We could see over the wall into the ground and watched the pitch inspection, it wasn’t ideal but the ball was bouncing and running well enough not to turn the contest into a complete farce… that was the players’ job!

Thankfully the call came fifty minutes before kick-off and the game was declared “on”, perhaps Sky had influenced the call, or perhaps the fact that the pitch was heavy but clearly playable meant we could make our way onto the open Huish Park terrace and with the kind permission of Yeovil, round into the covered seated stand to our left above which were the cameras. It was a humane and welcome gesture from Yeovil except for the fact that they tried to cram more people than seats into the end block despite the adjoining block being virtually deserted, it wouldn’t have taken much to shift the line of stewards over another five seats to enable everyone to get a seat and avoid the exposed front row or two but the jobsworth stewards were having none of it forcing twenty or thirty hardy souls to risk hypothermia and possible drowning on the exposed, bleak terrace. The lack of fans shown on television caused a flurry of texts but I can assure you that there were approaching 200 Gills at the game… no really.

As for the game itself, well the first half was a bit of a disjointed mess for two reasons. Firstly conditions were terrible, wet, windy, a heavy pitch and a few areas on the flanks where the ball could either slow to a halt or skid off on a whim. The other reason was the long worrying delay that followed the clash of heads between Efe Sodje and Owusu that saw 13 minutes of injury time and a 58 minute 1st half.

Sodje hadn’t even been in the first eleven but an early injury to Cox necessitated his introduction on ten minutes and within five he was lying unconscious on the turf with assorted providers of medical attention urgently attending to him. It looked serious because they didn’t just shovel him off the pitch and carry on; it was fifteen minutes before he was being carefully loaded into an ambulance and carted off to the nearest infirmary, generous applause from both sets of fans sending him on his way. It seemed to put a dampener on the match notable only for the passion and effort being shown rather than any dizzying skill. It wasn’t really one of those days but still the Gills did try to knock the ball around and keep it on the deck when possible even when a good old-fashioned lump was required. We deserved to go in level at half-time but could and really should have conceded before the break but Yeovil contrived one of the misses of the season when Warne’s initial effort bounced back off the woodwork to Owusu ten yards out with the goal at his mercy only to smash the ball against the bar when a little less power and a touch more composure was required.

The half finally ended after 58 minutes of hearty endeavour, the rain had stopped and despite the forced reorganisation of the defence we hadn’t disgraced ourselves, the only real irritant the linesman in front of us who was totally and utterly clueless. Many of us migrated from the slightly claustrophobic corner of the stand onto the terraces for the second half and were rewarded with a better contest.

After an anonymous first half Chris Dickson began to show us all why his loan spell at Priestfield has been such a success so far. He might be a little raw but a combination of pace, power, enthusiasm and bundles of natural ability meant he was soon causing the Yeovil defence plenty of problems. Five minutes in and a splendid cross by Clohessy presented him with an inviting chance but he headed narrowly wide. Soon after and a casually arrogant piece of magic saw him turn and launch a stunning snap shot that sizzled just over.

At the other end Simon Royce impressed once more, one stunning save when he clawed the ball back away from goal following an Owusu header was magnificent, but he could do little to prevent the opening goal on 66 minutes going to Yeovil. Apparently television later suggested a hint of offside in the build up but from our less than ideal position down the other end it just looked like Walker got away down the right wing and sent in an intelligent ball across the face of the goal for Owusu to turn home from close range at the far post. The crushing feelings of déjà vu were felt by everyone, whether you were leaning on a crush barrier or watching from the comfort of your own home, the cold hand of defeat was beckoning us all once more.

At least the Gills showed some signs of fight, they didn’t just roll over and collapse in a sorry heap, they worked away, diligently trying to earn something from the game and on 76 minutes got their thoroughly deserved reward. A corner was played back for Armstrong to swing in a dangerous cross, it was headed down into the danger area and Yeovil defender Forbes deflected it towards goal via his knee, keeper Mildenhall saved with his chest but could only divert the ball up and into the path of the ever alert Dickson to nod home. It was no more than we deserved.

The final minutes saw the Gills actually finish the stronger, we looked the more dangerous and I began to fantasize about us snatching a late winner but unfortunately then harsh reality came knocking at it was the home side that nicked all three points with just two minutes remaining. The ball was lost in midfield, Brown casually allowed Walker to seize the initiative and after a smart one-two managed to drill a low shot into the bottom left hand corner. It was harsh, very harsh.

The final whistle brought a familiar result but this time the entire team were warmly applauded by the travelling supporters. We’d deserved at least a point, had finished the stronger, genuinely threatened to win and with the likes of Oli and Griffiths joining a youngish team minus Cox and then Sodje we could all appreciate the effort they’d put in.

So an unlucky defeat left us in 20th but the signs are of a gradual but significant improvement. People will look at the score and perhaps dismiss it as “same old, same old” but it wasn’t. Given what he has to work with Stimson deserves both time and patience and thus far the fans seem to like his whole demeanour, he certainly talks a good game, now we need him to deliver sooner rather than later, but many have faith that he will…

Champagne Moment:- The game not being called off after three pitch inspections with us waiting outside for the turnstiles to open in the pouring rain… didn’t really want to have to come back to such a charmless venue again any time soon.

The Binman.

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