16 February – Northampton Town 4-0 Gills
Holy mothering fuck, this was an absolute shocker. I’ve defended Stimson and will continue to do so as I still think our chances of relegation have improved from “inevitable” to “likely” during the transition from Ronnie to Mark, but this was absolutely appalling, as bad as anything we saw under Jepson at the start of the season (though maybe not quite as pathetic as the Swindon and Forest games). Another frightful clobbering, against a strong and energetic but hardly inspirational opposition, and a capitulation which was downright embarrassing by the end.
Forgetting my coat didn’t put me in the best of moods on an abruptly chilly afternoon, but pre-match there seemed to be a little (clearly misplaced) optimism. Stimson’s name was chanted during the warm up and there was a real rallying cry from the off. We looked a little ragged in the early stages, and showed little up front, but Northampton gradually took a grip on proceedings and Royce was forced into a couple of fine saves to keep the game scoreless. The ball flashed across the face of goal alarmingly on a number of occasions but so far so good. Unfortunately, going forward there was absolutely no hope of nicking a goal. Oli was woeful, never showing any inclination to go past his markers through either pace or skill – he simply isn’t good enough. Miller drifted in and out of the game, and when he drifted in it was generally only to upset the largely mute home crowd with the odd “forward’s challenge” – his early booking meant he was on a tightrope throughout. Jackson looks useful but his team-mates aren’t yet on his wavelength, though they bloody well should have been in our one bright spot, an excellent driven cross that had more chance of being slid home by some tumbleweed than a supporting Gillingham player.
Oli compounded his ineptitude by being brushed off the ball on the edge of his own area to gift the Cobblers the opening goal. After seeing a similar bone-headed error by Cogan at Tranmere I demanded young Barry’s execution. Same for Dennis I’m afraid. Seconds later and Akinfenwa out-muscled our defence to nod home from close range and it was all over.
No changes at the break, and so no change on the pitch. It was all too easy for Akinfenwa to notch his second – no-one got tight though his finish was precise. He could so easily have played for us, and it was another one that got away who was running the show. Danny Jackman was outstanding in a free role in midfield – three times he made late runs into the box without our defence wising up, and only the offside flag denied him a goal. Meanwhile the Gills were caving in. The fourth came via a wicked deflection around the hour mark, the look on poor Royce’s face as it looped over his head suggested that he’d had enough. But he kept on until the end, making several spectacular saves as our defence was shredded time and again. Only our worthy keeper – surely the biggest shoe-in for player of the year since Gavin Peacock in 88/89 – and some spectacularly crud finishing by the home side kept the game in single figures. When Coke blazed the ball out of the ground despite having the entire penalty area to himself, he even got a sympathetic pat from the ref.
So what went wrong? I can’t be arsed to analyse it, but I’ll mention a couple of obvious ones. Nicky Southall – give up, mate. Great servant, great player, bloody useless now. New bloke Richards – I’ve seen enough already to suggest that he has the positional sense and awareness of Brent Sancho and the finesse of Brendan Plaice. Dennis Oli – jury’s no longer out, not good enough. Crofts and Thurgood – I think there’s only room for one in the side, and disappointing though Crofts has been this season, he’ll get the nod.
The result is that the side is shot of confidence and the support has lost faith. The wild celebrations when we finally had a futile shot on target says it all. There was some anti-Scally sentiment towards the end, but it’s black humour rather than anything vitriolic – the club might be spiralling out of control but he’ll come up smelling of roses. I still don’t think we’ll go down, but everything from Sixfields suggests that that’s a head-in-the-sand viewpoint.
It was all cold and shite. The Northampton dragon mascot thing forgetting to remove the netting while trying to release some pre-match balloons (which meant a giant balloon jelly-fish drifted into the freezing Northamptonshire countryside) was amusing, but hardly worthy of champagne.
The Morty Vicker