Tuesday 1 January – Leyton Orient 0 – 0 Gills
I had planned this to be my first away game in over a year back in the time when Gills away game = certain defeat and a miserable afternoon. Things, however, had definitely been looking up, even if our away record was still looking distinctly sub-standard.
Despite the excellent performance against Forest I was, however, determined to travel to Brisbane Road with low expectations, reasoning that at least that way I wouldn’t end up being all cross and everything.
A nice chicken kebab along Leyton High Road and a decent pre-match pint in the Birkbeck Tavern reminded me of what made away games bearable during those times when the Gills have been shite – the camaraderie, the chance to catch up on gossip, and the opportunity to interact with the local nutter (and the Birkbeck had a classic example, an incoherent goon who appeared to have forgotten to stop drinking having seen in the New Year (and judging by the stains on his Orient shirt, had forgotten to stop doing his laundry having seen in the previous New Year).
On arrival at the ground we discovered a sub 1000 Gills turn out (which had apparently caught out the home club, who were excepting about 400, as that is how many tickets we had sold in advance.) We took our seats, admired the Christmas tree in the adjacent flat, and pondered on the possibilities.
The game began in sombre mood with a minute’s silence in memory of Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell, who had died so tragically at the weekend. At least, the mood would have been sombre, had the silence not been enlivened by the theme tune from the A Team, which could be heard ever so slightly in the background.
A positive start saw Gills create several half chances, and as was the case against Forest we looked a solid and balanced unit. Regular readers of away match reports on this site may like to take time out and consult their dictionaries for the meanings of the words `solid`, `balanced` and `unit` , as you probably won’t recognise them.
At the back, the comforting presence of Simon Royce has now been augmented by the increasingly impressive King – Bygrave partnership in the middle, while John Nutter definitely brings something to the left back spot that Craig Armstrong did not (pace, awareness, passing/crossing ability, a funny name … feel free to add to this list at your leisure). Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Andrew Crofts was enjoying his best game in ages, whilst Mark Bentley did what Mark Bentley does with his usual reliability and Windy Miller continually worried the home defenders into conceding free kicks by the simple tactic of trying to run past them with the ball. Up front there is little doubt that Gary Mulligan adds something to Delroy Facey’s battering ram approach (and large calves apparently).
After about half an hour I asked of my fellows, who had suffered a seemingly relentless array of gutless Gills displays during my gap year, how this performance rated alongside the normal away display. The general consensus was that it was on another planet, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to witness a Gills team competing on equal terms rather than just folding meekly at the first sign of opposition pressure.
The second half continued in much the same vein, the game finely balanced. Despite the lack of goals it was an entertaining game, with both teams going for the winner. The O’s did have the ball in the net late on, but it was correctly adjudged offside (we were sitting level and there were at least 3 O’s players beyond the last defender).
Now a radical concept once more came into play – the Gills finished the stronger – Mark Stimson’s fitness regime is clearly beginning to have an effect, as not for the first time in recent matches we were in the ascendancy as an attacking force as the game entered its final stages. Andrew Crofts almost snatched victory at the death, and several other efforts fizzed around the Orient goal as injury time ebbed away.
So definitely a point well earned, and a performance that was a pleasure to watch. It’s still early days, but the signs are there that Stimson’s Gills are moving in the right direction, and that the relationship between team and fans is being rebuilt.
Champagne Moment:– Watching the long suffering Binman going `Oh shit` and `Bollocks` everytime Orient put the ball anywhere near our penalty area. I guess he has become conditioned to expect disaster over the last few years.