Saturday 8 March – Hartlepool Utd 4-0 Gills
All aboard for the glamour trip of the season. And my, what a belter. I really am seriously beginning to think we’re perhaps not quite as good as we were five years ago.
After a few travel traumas recently, in particular a somewhat demoralising 33 hour delay at Salzburg airport last weekend trying to get home from a ski-ing trip (ThomsonFly.com are to sophisticated air travel what Dennis Oli is to dazzling wingplay), I fully expected some sort of energy-sapping cock-up on the trains. But no, all went to plan – train left at 9am and was in York by 11am, we grabbed a pint at Thornaby during the next change less than an hour later (Thornaby, by the way, has had a makeover and now boasts a hygienic pub and a Saab garage…), we admired the Tees and the big bridge in Middlesbrough and Billingham Town’s (or was it Synthonia’s?) ground and all the chimneys pumping out clouds of fumes to sustain the tribes of smog-monsters, and we trundled into Hartlepool with two hours to spare before kick-off. A quick unscheduled tour of the boarded up back streets (somewhat uncomfortable due to two of us being desperate for a piss and one hanging on for a dump) and we found our pub, Jackson’s Tavern. We bought programmes at the bar (they came with free raffle tickets to win a night out at the next home game against Huddersfield, politely passed onto some locals), drank mighty fine beer and watched Manchester United crash out of the FA Cup. So far so good – it was the authentic red brick northern town experience that attracted so many of us in the first place.
We left for the ground. The wind whipped up to full-on hoolie status and it started to rain. I bought a pie the size of Jepson’s arse and made my way into the away end, a not-so-freak gust of wind blowing half my chips into my lap. Only in Hartlepool can you sit three rows from the back of the stand and still get wet. It took me twenty minutes to fully appreciate what was going on (the pie was concentrating my mind up until this point) but the Gills settled first and carved out a few half chances despite playing into the gale. Finally beaten by my pie, I settled down to watch in earnest. And instantly the ball looped up and over Stillie and into the net. And Hartlepool blazed over from point blank range. And Hartlepool hit the bar. And Hartlepool had a goal disallowed for a soft shove on Stillie. And some bloke called Porter turned Cox on the half way line, skipped past King and stuck the ball in the net again. I felt like picking up the remnants of my pie and hurling it at any one of our defenders, though it would have blown straight back in my own face which would have been both messy and embarrassing.
Second half saw the Gills briefly rally, with the sun now shining and the wind having helpfully dropped to a mere breeze. We almost scored when the keeper headed a 40 yard back pass onto his own bar. Jackson received his first decent pass since his arrival and was brought down for a penalty, from which we nearly scored again. We forced three corners following the keeper’s splendid save from Miller’s spot-kick but couldn’t force it home. Hartlepool broke and won a corner of their very own. A bloke called Collins scored with a free header.
Still we scuttled about to little effect. Still we never looked like scoring. Hartlepool ambled forward again, but only because they felt obliged. Free kick on the edge of the area. Loopy scoopy shot. 4-0. “We’re going up, Scally says we are” sang the 173 loons in the away end. The final whistle, the abuse, the boos, the sarcastic applause…it’s all rather familiar.
So – the decison to play Cox instead of Bygrave backfired – who would have thought it? Lumping it forward into a monsoon and hoping Jackson’s going to win it in the air isn’t going to save us from relegation. Dennis Oli really is a hopeless case.
I still have hopes for Stimson. Under Jepson we would have gone down. Under Stimson we are likely to go down. We can easily get out of the mess we’re in with the upcoming games against Crewe, Bournemouth, Port Vale and Luton, but at the moment we don’t look like beating anyone. We’ve let in 43 goals away from home, for Christ’s sake. I haven’t had a proper rant at a referee away from home all season (I didn’t go to Brighton) Why? Because we’ve only got ourselves to blame. I’ve seen us score one goal in seven away fixtures this year (and that a last ditch consolation at Walsall), and only the Orient game has rekindled any enthusiasm.
Facey, Mulligan, Nutter, Miller, Fuller, King, Jackson, Griffiths, and so on…all competent players in their own right and no doubt loved dearly by their mothers but collectively it’s not working and we’ve nowhere to go with the squad. We’re not good enough anywhere, right through the side, so more signings won’t help. We’ve got Royce to come back (Stillie looked jittery all afternoon) but he wouldn’t have been able to do much with Hartlepool’s four goals, just as he couldn’t at Northampton. Whether we’ve got it in us to cobble together the five wins we need remains to be seen but on this evidence we’re going full circle back to League Two.
A slightly socially deficient Cambridge United fan on the train up. He resembled a shaggy haired Harry Potter, and prize exchanges included :
Socially deficient Cambridge Fan : “Where are Gillingham playing today?”
Us : “Hartlepool”
SDCF : “Home or away?” (this on a train travelling north and just arriving in Doncaster)
SDCF : “I bet you can’t guess who I support”
Us : “Cambridge United”
SDCF : “How did you know that?”
Us : “The Cambridge United badge on your tracksuit and your yellow and black scarf”
Prick, but entertaining….
The Morty Vicker