Saturday 24 November – Gills 2-1 Hartlepool United
OK, so I leave the country for a bit, spending 10 days without mobile phone coverage, tv or internet, and come home to a new world order. Surely we’ve never had so many people making their debuts on the same day (other than on the opening day of the season) before? And there I was still trying to work out who was who among those we brought in during the summer. Of the 14 players used against Hartlepool, only three were with us this time last year.
Suddenly we have a player who would have no recollection of Euro 96 and won’t be able to play in midweek games because of GCSE homework. We have a player called Shebang or something from QPR. And we have a collection of born and bred non-leaguers of every shape, size and hairdo. Not since Pulis revamped the side in 1995 have we enjoyed such an influx, and if they gel half as well as that lot did – admittedly in a division below – then at last we have room for optimism.
Early impressions of Stimson have been favourable. We’ve been trying to play a bit of football and we’ve at least been attacking with pace and purpose even if we are still desperately limited. He’s sent out a clear message to our senior pros, with Mulligan, Facey, Graham and Crofts absent even from the bench – I suspect he’s told the first three to go away and get fit (whether it’s niggling injuries or a suspicion of a lack of match fitness) and recruited replacements from the resources he knows best.
That said, the first half against the monkey hangers was rather pitiful, though the crowd remained patient. A soft goal following a failure to clear could easily have been added to, with Royce making one startling save from a diving header. Player of the season so far for me, he’s kept us in touch in several games recently. Given that presumably no-one in the side knew each other’s names it could have been a lot worse, and the defence just about held together (the one fright being when Bygrave played a backpass to where he thought Royce might be standing, only to collapse in horror, head in hands, when he realised our custodian was somewhat out of position, forcing a lot of scuttling back to save face).
Way more pitiful than the action on the pitch was the half-time entertainment, an Invicta FM Spice Girls tribute band comprising of five frozen teenagers belting out a raucous version of Wannabe to a cacophony of boos. Bring back the police dog demonstrations from the 70s, that’s what I say…
The second half wasn’t a whole lot better, but the pace of Oli and Dickson was causing problems and we got the break we needed when fatal hesitation in the visitors’ penalty area enable Oli to nip in and lob the keeper. The players swarmed as one to the Rainham End to celebrate, and “Ole Ole Ole Ole Oli Oli” rang out for the first time. Stone and Dickson went desperately close before Oli turned things round completely, running at the Hartelpool defenders, all of whom seemed petrified of committing to a tackle, and sliding the ball under the keeper. Meanwhile, Royce made two further point blank saves to preserve the lead.
In truth, we held on relatively comfortably. Of the new boys, Oli obviously shone through but Thurgood looked assured (I saw him play for Grays against Stevenage last season in the FA Trophy – he was an arch nutjob, a complete wind-up merchant who eventually got himself sent off….I reckon we’ll warm to him no problem) and Miller ran around like a demented gazelle, winning more balls than he had any right to, putting over a few decent crosses and even screaming at the keeper when he charged down clearances. The jury’s still out on Griffiths – as at Yeovil, he seemed rather off the pace – while young Freeman can clearly look after himself even if he should really still be arsing about with skateboards. Ten games unbeaten at Priestfield and a bit of breathing space at the bottom, but the crunch is going to come in our ability to start grinding out a few points away from home.
It should of course be Dennis Oli’s brace, but I’m a sucker for the “ball off the Gordon Road Stand roof and onto the slaphead linesman” routine – it only happens about once a decade…
The Morty Vicker