Nightmare before Christmas

Saturday 15 Decebember – Bournemouth 1-0 Gills

On the train home from Nottingham in May 2005, weeping into our beer and clutching fistfuls of straws, we concluded that one of the few redeeming features of relegation was the prospect of more cheer on our travels. In the subsequent two and a half years at a lower level, I have witnessed 30 away games which have yielded one win and eight draws, which is depressing enough to limit my journeys to just four this season (all defeats, no goals scored). This shambles was not on par with the frightful tonkings handed out at Colchester, Bristol City, Carlisle, Forest and Swindon, but it was hugely disappointing simply because Bournemouth were so awful.

There’s no point over-reacting to consecutive defeats against the bottom side. Gills fans rightly have a very low tolerance for crud these days, and the side was booed off yet again, but to suggest (as some already are) that we have gone backwards under Stimson is utter bollocks. He inherited a team of unfit prats during a closed transfer window. Unfit prats that Iffy had stabalised, but Iffy had no remit to go out and sign players (understandable given his caretaker role). So Stimson pursued his only option – fresh blood from markets he knows well.

If, when the opportunity to bring in new players in January arrives, we are not floundering in the bottom four (still possible despite a tough Christmas programme) and have identified a couple of new options from his loanees from Stevenage and Grays, then that’s progress. And I suspect that will be the case as I think two are certainly good enough – for me, Thurgood can win the ball and is composed in possession (he always seems to have time and will generally look to play the easy ball, though the game at Bournemouth was far from his best performance for us), while Miller is ragged but will attack with pace and bust a gut to defend from the front. He made a mess of our best chance, blazing over hurriedly when on the end of our one decent move of the afternoon, but he deserves his place in the side. Oli – well, the jury’s still out. He caused a stir against Hartlepool but was largely anonymous at Dean Court as he has been in most of his appearances, while Griffiths (who came on when Dickson was mysteriously withdrawn) is not good enough.

But what else can Stimson do? If you think the answer lies with our experienced pros, Southall’s absolute shocker will have changed your mind. We still need more new blood because turning round what Jepson left behind isn’t going to take two weeks or even two months. In my opinion the problem areas remain at fullback (Armstrong is steady but lacks pace and has an alarming tendancy to put team-mates in trouble with insane passes; and I just don’t like Clohessy – defensively he can be ok but he seems to zone out at times and is not the quickest to close players down or get tight, though I admit my judgement is clouded by my view that he’s a bit of a nutjob – a view developed from incidents such as stupidly getting sent off against Brentford in 2006, unnecessarily play-acting to get Leeds’ Beckford sent off in September and reacting angrily to the abuse handed out by Gills fans at Swindon – if he thinks he deserved adulation after that pile of shite then he’s a clueless fuckwit…but he’s still a young clueless fuckwit so maybe it’s not too late). Other worries remain the lack of genuine quality on the wings, plus the thorny issue of where the goals will come from once Dickson goes back to Charlton.

That said, I do think Stimson made a tactical error in starting with just one up front. We remain dodgy at the back and we’ve achieved recent success by out-scoring opponents. Bournemouth were there for the taking, prepared to concede ground right up to the edge of their area, but we had no idea what to do with the acres of space and our final delivery was hopeless. Dickson needs support and he had very little. We carved out a few chances – both Crofts and Thurgood should have hit the target when teed up on the edge of the area and Oli nearly backheeled one over the line – but the home side soon realised that we were as scared of losing as they were and came out of their shells. They were prone to lumping the ball out of play, giving away cheap possession and falling over, but still Royce made two exceptional saves and we were twice indebted to the inside of the same post. For me, Bentley was our man of the match for a towering display holding the back four together.

So it was cold and grim and a vocal away support was silenced within twenty minutes of the first whistle as it became increasingly clear that Bournemouth would pick up their first home win of the season. And I’m sure there’s plenty more of the same to come. But I’m still quietly confident that Stimson will organise what he’s given to pick up the points to keep us out of bother, even if those points are mostly going to come at Priestfield. We need to forget about this season and concentrate on staying up and laying the foundations for 2008.

Champagne Moment

The pork and cranberry sausage rolls on the train down, and the pub back in London. Nothing in between…

The Morty Vicker

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