Wednesday 26 December – Gills 1-1 Southend United
Well, there wasn’t a great deal of Christmas goodwill but we should be grateful to escape with a point from this nasty, horrible pig of a game. But a big and largely silent crowd (I hate these early kick-offs – we’ve had countless explosive Boxing Day games over the years and the best ones have all ended under the cover of darkness….) deserved better than another disjointed performance in which we were outplayed and certainly out-thought for long periods.
The new era at the krbs Scallydome opened quietly. I thought he might have stamped his personality on the ground he will soon own with a few soft furnishings in the Rainham End, some anger-surpressing curtains in the tea-bars and pictures of his various kids and weddings throughout the Blues Rock Cafe. Maybe a picture of Lisa Marie in the bogs, but there was nothing obvious. The opening exchanges were even and rather open, but Southend quickly took a grip and would have run up a rampant lead if Leon Clarke had been able to shoot anything like straight. When they did get the goal in their sights, they once again found Simon Royce in sensational form. He’s made a number of wonder saves this season, and his instinctive block from point blank range drew another standing ovation. Seconds later he was parrying header, a more routine save and this time to the backdrop of disgruntled Gills fans urging the defence to give him some kind of protection.
The defence. I dunno. Bentley is playing well above what can reasonably be expected, but King – he looks classy 95% of the time but is prone to daft lapses which undoes all his good work. It was remarked by Ed Head that he’s a throwback to Gary Breen, and this is not a reassuring observation. Southall replaced Clohessy and had another inept performance, his distribution letting him down (he wasn’t the only one), while Armstrong turned in his standard showing, summed up by the eerie hush that descended as he was substituted.
Through the first half hour, Gills only threat up front came from a Miller cross shot and a good opening for Crofts that left him wrong-footed, not the sort of composure in front of goal that is going to bring us a hatful of goals in Dickson’s absence. To be fair to Stimson, he didn’t hang about in making changes and removed Stone before the break to revert to 4-2-2 and it worked to an extent.
An early goal in the second half gave the visitors a deserved lead, and if they’d had any sense they would have clung on with ease. Instead, they started timewasting and play-acting scandalously, whipping the Priestfield crowd into an unsympathetic frenzy which is usually when we’re at our best. Tommy Black, afforded a warm welcome thanks to his successful loan period here, was one of the worst offenders, recalling some of his Palace antics at this ground in the past. The keeper was clattered at one point -a clear foul but an inoffensive one – but their players reacted as if Crofts had smacked him in the head with a knuckle-duster. Clark in particular proved to be an obnoxious twat, getting involved in all the pushing and shoving and winding up the polite audience wherever he could.
The side certainly does not lack honest endeavour and that was all we could draw on given the woeful lack of quality. Oli was again ineffective and was withdrawn, while Facely laboured yet again – he seems to be permanently on his heels, unable to read the game, and lacking pace he has only his strength to rely on. Mulligan has a better touch and channels his energy far better, and following his introduction we finally equalised with a cross-shot from Miller, our only attempt on target. Clark found himself retrieving the ball from the back of the net, surrounded by wanker-sign wielding Gills fans, some of whom he chose to gob at.
With several minutes of theatrical tumbling time to add on, there was one final twist as Thurgood (staggeringly awarded the man of the match award by the day’s match sponsors – were their seats not facing the pitch?) stamped good and proper on their number 8. The consensus was that both the stamp and the red card were well deserved, one of the few decisions the inconsistent man in yellow (from Essex – how did he get appointed for a game like this?) got right.
But we can hardly blame the ref. We should have lost. Southend are a pretty decent side, if somewhat brainless. If Gills had fielded one of last year’s keepers and Southend had retained the services of Freddie Eastwood up front, we would have lost 33-1. But we have to keep faith and hope that we can continue to scramble points together until Stimson is able to do something about our predicament. Which is a club at least 8 players short of a promotion challenging team.
Last year on Boxing Day, Orient’s Gutteridge wound us up, we got him sent off and won it with some late goals. This year Clark wound us up, we got got a late goal and shoved it in his face. Wanker. Oh, and I enjoyed the steward behind the Rainham End goal getting knocked off his stool by a wayward strike. With no Morecambe & Wise these days you have to look for Christmas slapstick wherever you can…
The Morty Vicker