Goodnight Irene

Saturday 19 April – Bristol Rovers 1-1 Gills

We had to win this game, we could have won it, perhaps should have won it and did more than enough to win it but didn’t. When the final reckoning is done for this most crappy of seasons this won’t be the sort of game that got us relegated, the damage was done by all the gutless, shambolic, cruddy away defeats we‘ve endured since August. The shoddy nine-man debacle at Cheltenham on the opening day set the tone somewhat and only an inspired Royce prevented total annihilation at Luton (1-3), Southend (0-3), Forest (0-4) and Swindon (0-5). We got our act together a bit better under Stimson performance-wise away but still lost eight on the trot, the 4-0 tonkings at Northampton and Hartlepool showing that our team sometimes has all the backbone of a chocolate teapot.

The trip to Bristol was always felt to be a crucial opportunity. Rovers were safe but not on great form, especially on their own (cabbage) patch. We needed a win, anything less and we’d be left grasping at straws and dreaming of beating Swindon AND avoiding defeat at Leeds just to give us a mathematical chance. There was certainly a frisson of anticipation mixed with nervous energy as our train pulled into Temple Meads. With time running out on the Gills we all knew the score… We jumped a cab and spent a pleasant enough pre-match session in the Robin Hood’s Retreat, a tad poncy perhaps but Leffe on tap and many of the usual suspects made for a welcome preamble to the main event.

The Memorial Ground is set for a total makeover sometime soon, Rovers are due to move out to Cheltenham for eighteen months whilst an all singing all dancing 18,500 stadium is constructed (with student accommodation in the corners to help finance the ambitious scheme a la Orient) but at the moment it remains a quirky rag-tag assortment of stands and terraces. The Gills were given a couple of blocks of the temporary stand behind one goal (think garden party tented structure) plus some open terracing down one side in the corner. I much prefer terracing and standing at football and all that goes with it, but the timing wasn’t great for such a treat (not many terraces left in League One for away fans) the South West weather got rather damp. Okay, it fecking pissed down and we got drenched. My programme ended up an illegible papier mache lump and to add to the general gloom at the final whistle we didn’t win.

Fair play to Stimson and the players, they played quite well at times given the weather and the pressure they were under. It wasn’t always pretty and passes went astray, shots were muffed and tackles missed but in terms of effort, commitment and the fundamental task of looking like a proper football team it was mission accomplished. It wasn’t enough though and well all knew it.

For the first half an hour we looked nervous and Rovers got on top, we didn‘t look capable to getting anything from the game during a ragged period which saw Rovers create several half chances. We really started to worry when they began to contrive proper whole chances but the much maligned Stillie made partial amends for his Swansea debacle with two saves, one was absolutely brilliant, denying Lambert from close range, parrying the volley when a goal looked certain. On the half hour he was at it again tipping a Lambert header onto the bar. At that point the Gills looked a little forlorn and we felt it, having given the team plenty of vocal backing our reward was hardly an attack, let alone a shot worthy of the name. They did know we needed to win this game didn’t they? To cap it all we were getting an absolute soaking on the terrace.

Jackson raised the spirit’s a little with our first meaningful effort but his finish was lacking in oomph. It did usher in a change in momentum and the Gills then enjoyed their best (and most creative) spell of the game. Some measured play saw a splendid cross into the box, Ba connected well enough but his header crashed against the bar and the rebound was smuggled off the line. Southall also pulled an effort wide but suddenly the Gills were lively and Rovers on the back foot. On 38 minutes Southall found space on the wing and curled over another sublime cross for John Nutter lurking at the far post. He duly, (ahem), nutted it into the net before setting off on an understandably excited old school glory run taking in the seats before curving round to us on the terracing. He really rather looked like he wanted to be in with us as we moshed about, clattering into each other with gay abandon.

The Gills nearly made it 2-0 before the break but Lewis and Crofts were both denied. Unfortunately the Gills opted to shoot when they had men over and pass when a pot shot would have been potentially successful. Nevertheless having battled back into the game and taken the lead they all received a rousing reception before we all scuttled off in search of shelter or hot drinks.

The second half was not nearly as open, it was scruffy and messy and scrappy but whilst we were winning we didn’t really care. A single goal lead is always vulnerable and we began to twitch and worry on the away terrace but Rovers failed to really create much. Lambert did get one great chance out of the blue but the ball got stuck under his feet delaying his effort enough for Stillie to save. We breathed a huge collective sigh of relief whilst eagerly keeping in touch with the other scores on the doors.

We huffed and puffed, slogging our way towards potential salvation, no question the players cared and were committed but once again Lady Luck was not on Gillingham’s side because six minutes from the end Rovers scored from nothing. In keeping with the cliché of things not going for you when you’re scrapping about down the bottom, a midfield tussle saw the ball squirt free twenty five yards out into the path of Elliott who took one step and then slammed the ball hard and high into the top right corner. Stillie didn’t even smell it. We were shattered.

The Gills tried to find a second goal, piling forward but to no avail, the spark of inspiration was extinguished by the rain, the muddy strength-sapping pitch and the simple panic-inducing pressure of needing a goal immediately. Subs Mulligan and Griffiths tried but failed to produce something as the seconds ticked down. We urged them forward but without conviction, we knew our chance had gone.

The final whistle brought resignation that relegation was virtually certain, even four points against Swindon and at Leeds would leave us grasping at straws and relying on Cheltenham losing their last two games. Not impossible but if we were really destined to accomplish the “Great Escape” we’d have won one of the last three games we’d taken the lead in rather than taking just two points.

I’m still willing to back Stimson and what he is trying to do in a short space of time on a meagre budget and had we played like this away from home all season we’d already be safe but we haven’t. In the thirteen games the Gills played before Stimson took over they won fourteen points. In the subsequent thirty one games they have taken thirty one points. A virtually identical record. We might have reduced the games conceded per game by 50% but the bottom line is bleak – three wins in twenty games is relegation form and if we lose to Swindon on Saturday that will indeed be all but confirmed.


Champagne Moment:

Nutter’s goal. It caught one of our number mid-piss in the temporary toilet block just behind the terrace, the roar caused our friend who shall remain nameless to dart across from the back wall to the front trough so as to be able to peer through the convenient head-height window at all the palaver whilst continuing to relieve himself… it had been a very convivial pre-match session after all!


The Binman

6 Responses to Goodnight Irene

  1. worm says:

    “The final whistle brought resignation” – made me do a double-take. If only Stimson would do the honourable thing

  2. billthebikie says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Worm. I must confess to being baffled at the continued support offered to Stimson in these posts… As has been pointed out, his record is as dismal as Jepson/Onoura/Docherty’s. He was supposedly employed to take the club forward and upward; there was no way a good manager would have failed to improve things in terms of playing staff and (crucially) tactics/gameplan. Stimson has shown himself to be a complete and utter failure at this level. The players he has brought in have not achieved any more than the ones he discarded, so he failed there. The way the team plays is as bereft of creativity, skill and any notion of tactical coherence as what existed before, so he has manifestly failed in that regard too. How anyone employed to improve a team (and who was given full backing recruitment-wise by the rattle-thrower) can look at himself in the mirror and even contemplate continuing in his post after getting us relegated (which we are, no delusions now lads) is completely beyond me. Stimson is a disgrace.

  3. The Morty Vicker says:

    I still think the majority back Stimson and I agree with them. The side we have now is in my opinion significantly better than Jepson’s. The squad Stimson inherited was irretrievably rubbish, his only option was to completely overhaul it, a near impossible task mid-season, made more difficult by losing the most impressive performer (Dickson) a month into his reign. Persevering with Lomas, Cogan, Brown and the rest would have been futile. He’s undoubtedly made mistakes (such as sticking with Facey for so long, and some of his signings haven’t been up to it) but to ditch him now would be lunacy. We are down but he has to be given the chance to get some stabability and cohesion in the squad he’s assembled and organise a decent pre-season. We deserve to be relegated, but one defeat (against the Champions) in the last six games – although not enough when we needed wins – has given me enough to think he’s capable of stopping the rot. I don’t see how a fifth manager in three years would be the answer.

  4. Bring Back Les Berry says:

    I think he has to stay because of the points Morty makes, but back him? Certainly not. How on earth didn’t we attack in the second half on Saturday? Why weren’t fresh legs brought on earlier? 1-0 up in four must win games in a row and we won none – abysmal. He’ll have to start next season like a train because he has let us down big time.

    By the way, the policing on Saturday after the game was a disgrace. The prick who made the decision to stop us walking around our own town was commissioner Wedlake (I nearly got nicked for having the audacity to ask). Please all join me in writing to him to let him know what an absolute wanker he is.

  5. SOV says:

    Even 11 Lady Sovereigns could do a better job than the current crop of Gills shiite

  6. PolskaGill says:

    My support for Stimson has wavered somewhat and I am now rather indifferent towards his style and tactics but feel he should be given a chance if, sorry, when we are relegated.

    Interestingly, however, Peter Taylor, yes remember him from the play off final winning era, has said he will quit Stevenage to hopefully join a football league club. Any bets on a welcome return home with Hessy?

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