Tuesday 29 January – Tranmere Rovers 2 – 0 Gills
For the first time since Mark Stimson took over we really didn’t perform. Results have been mixed since the Christmas demolition of Forest and some fans have been grumbling about “Stevenage Athletic” and “Grays Borough” – more so from “home only” fans but in most cases there had been mitigating circumstances over the last two months – the Port Vale game was played out in farcical conditions, we had 80% of the play at Bournemouth and couldn’t finish, were missing our entire midfield against MK Dons, had D’Urso to contend with at home to Northampton and an even more bonkers referee at home to Oldham when reduced to ten men. Even at Walsall we deserved a point against the division’s form side but with nothing up front we were always going to struggle.
Well there were no such straws to cling to on a deeply disappointing night on Merseyside. We were poor in the first half and it was simply a case of damage limitation in the second. It was the first time we’d lost by more than one goal under Stimson and statistically we have halved the rate at which goals are going in our net but sadly at the other end without Chris Dickson it is the same old story. Not good enough. You can just about cope with one non-scoring striker if he holds the ball up well, brings other players into the game, creates chances and contributes but if you have two such players and none confident enough even to shoot and miss, then you’ve got a big fundamental problem.
With the brain-manglingly rapid changeover in players in recent weeks the game at Tranmere saw the full debut of centre back Richards in place of the superb Bygrave (more of that in a moment), plus Barry Fuller at full-back (let’s be kind and just say Southall has not been at his best recently) with Stuart Lewis on the bench. After Facey’s gutless “performance” at Walsall young Cumbers got the nod to start up front which unfortunately didn’t pan out as hoped (not exactly the finished article) although assuming Graham was banished for whatever reason and Oli remained injured the alternative options were not exactly great… the high energy low skill of Griffiths or err, nothing much really!
After a five-hour trip north from Kent we’d spent a convivial enough couple of hours in the pub next to Prenton Park mingling with the friendly locals and the scattering of dedicated Gills fans stupid enough to head for Birkenhead on a chill Tuesday night in January to watch a side struggling to score goals.I have to say my mood had already darkened considerably before the opening goal on seven minutes thanks to the intervention of one Tranmere steward. Now at many grounds the pantomime goes like this, fans stand at the back of the unreserved away seating and sing from kick-off, half the time they quietly get urged to sit down (which grudgingly they do), half the time they get left to their own devices and remain standing unless the performance is really bad and slump in their seats anyway, resigned to their fate. The steward wearily stomped up the steps towards us to ask us to sit down, Big Lee from Thanet was standing next to me and sarcastically asked whether the steward was going to do the same for all the young scallies at the far end of the ground who were clearly standing in the home end. Admittedly it was a bit of a flippant remark but what happened next took us all rather by surprise. The steward totally lost the plot pushing and shoving Lee over in a needlessly aggressive and provocative manner. “Oi!” we said, “what are you doing that for?” Lee reminded the steward that legally he shouldn’t touch him, that is the job for the police and that his responsibility was actually for our health and safety. This didn’t go down well and the inbred fucktard went mental, calling all of us “fucking this” and “fucking that” and challenging us to a fight outside! At this point his fellow stewards arrived to calm the situation and with him continuing to threaten all and sundry with dozens of bemused witnesses, some of which were getting their phones out to record the farce swiftly decided to drag the steward away pretty damn quick! They apologised profusely and made the muppet stand as far away from the general public as possible for the duration.
During this unnecessary kafuffle Tranmere scored. I didn’t really see much of the build-up, a cat-wankingly bonkers local was screaming abuse in our faces at the time, I think it was a short corner, but the bit I did see was the ball falling to an unmarked Rovers player fifteen yards out and he smashed it diagonally into the net with the minimum of fuss at the maximum velocity. McLaren got the credit but our dozy defence clearly got the assist for some sloppy play.
With the local nutter banished we could now concentrate on the game but it was not a pretty sight. Poor “Viv” Richards was having a torrid old time at the back and with the midfield lacking their usual bite and energy Rovers threatened to run riot… We really missed Bygrave at the back but it was a midfield player that gifted Rovers their second killer goal. Some rather scrappy play on the wing to our left initially looked dangerous but Thurgood looked to have snuffed it out only for the ball to fall to Cogan in a central position just outside the box, he dithered fatally, Zola stealing the ball off him, side-stepping two defenders and sliding a precise shot into the corner with Royce an angry bystander. Game over.
It was a bit galling for the 120 or so Gills fans to have spent many hours slogging their way up north for the game to be all but over after fifteen minutes. Last season Rovers went 2-0 up early on and we hit back to score three before half-time and win. There was no danger of that trick getting repeated, Richards was led a merry dance by Zola and our midfield quartet were out of sorts. Up front we were anonymous, Cumbers is just a young lad, not up to the job just yet whilst Mulligan was typical Mulligan, 99% perspiration 1% inspiration.
Myrie-Williams and Zola were a handful all night and to be honest it could and should have been 4-0 by the break but Zola missed a series of excellent chances. The second half was simply a case of damage-limitation, we stiffened our resolve, the midfield finally got to grips with things (although Cogan was poor throughout) Griffiths came on for Cumbers and we managed to frustrate a Rovers side stuck in cruise control and unable to up the momentum late on. Under Jepson we might have folded against a half decent side, we are now made of sterner stuff but until we sign a striker capable of scoring goals we will continue to be drawn into the dogfight at the bottom.
Lewis came on as a sub for his debut in midfield and Bygrave steadied the defence but we rarely threatened aside from the odd pot shot or movement from Miller. We were not amused at the final whistle a few catcalls of “come on Boro” as the game drifted rather boringly to it’s end summed up the frustration. With other results going against us we found ourselves far too close to the drop zone again for comfort (one point). The one other talking point saw Stimson direct the players over to us to applaud us; it was not reciprocated. He then made all the players stand in a circle and then appeared to give them a good old-fashioned bollocking. We hung around for five minutes fascinated by what was going on before the stewards (the human ones) gently ushered us out into the night.
I finally walked in my front door at 2.30, knackered and not a little pissed off. It hadn’t been a vintage night what with the stewarding, the early goals and the limp performance. Many more games like that and we risk a less than welcome trip to Accrington Stanley next season, Stimson knows this and after their very public dressing down so now do the players!
Champagne Moment:- Getting home so quickly, it felt like we were doing 120 mph at times! At the game, hmm, no, can’t think of one single redeeming feature, nope, nada.