9 August 2008 – Bournemouth 1-1 Gills
Facing a football season with less enthusiasm than I can ever remember, I have to say I saw more at Dean Court to make me happy than I could have envisaged at any point over the summer. An away point on the opening day of the season is always welcome and with so many yearning quietly for Mark Stimson to fall flat on his face, they’ll going to have to put their whingeing on ice for at least a few more days.
Even if we had lost, I would have come away from the ground moaning more about the utterly shite weather than what we witnessed on the field, and I certainly would have been vastly more positive than the desperate and hopeless outlook as we drifted away from Cheltenham this time last year in bewildered alarm. But the equaliser was absolutely vital for the sake of our season. That sounds melodramatic, but well over 1200 Gills fans made the journey, all in good voice, a staggering turnout given everything we’ve had to put up with. It illustrates that our supporters are willing to rally round the club, but goodwill is on a knife-edge. A defeat to very poor opponents, regardless of the performance, would have sent out all the wrong grim signals and whatever little patience left would dissipate within a fortnight. Those who weren’t there would have batted away our claims of pretty football, dominance of possession and fluffed chances, and simply chundered out the tired “non-league” rubbish, a “same old same old” response to a single goal loss, justifying their assertion that nothing has changed since our sad 1-0 defeat at the same venue just before Christmas.
I was expecting 500-600 Gills fans but even on the train down and in the pre-match pubs it seemed a lot more were up for a scorcher at the seaside. By kickoff, the away end was nearly full with people cowering from the elements, and at that point the coaches hadn’t even arrived. Surely there is no other ground in the country where you can wave at coachloads of frustrated delayed supporters as they drive behind one goal, serenading them with “That’s why we take the train…”? There are many days when monumental cock-ups on the railways mean a reversing of that fortune, but as a veteran of the trip to Hartlepool in 1989 when we turned up at 4.20pm I know there is nothing worse than being cooped up in a smelly coach listening to the radio, desperate for a pie and a piss, when you should be in a football ground.
Some of them didn’t miss much. The opening exchanges were pretty tame, with our defence occasionally retreating alarmingly in disarray when Bournemouth did attack, and Royce was forced to make a couple of routine saves. Gradually we took a grip, and seemingly spent the last hour of the game with the ball. We kept the ball brilliantly, won it back with relative ease and got behind the home side on countless occasions. Jackson missed two sitters, following visionary work from Miller and McCammon. The big chap, despite a lack of match fitness, looked pretty useful – good touch, pacey and a reassuring willingness to shove people out of the way (for which he picked up a yellow card midway through the second half, I suspect it won’t be his first). Jackson will start snaffling those chances, I’m sure.
Then of course we let in a goal. A weak header from Richards allowed Anderton to run at a stretched defence, and a classy finish beat Royce. Behind undeservedly at the break, it would have been easy to lose heart, but the second half saw something of an onslaught and aside from a few dangerous crosses flashed across our goalmouth the home side didn’t have a worthwhile attempt on goal.
However, despite a flurry of corners we rarely looked like equalising due to a woeful inability to hit the target, or even keep the ball in the ground. Weston was replaced by Tyrone Berry after an impressive debut – with a little more understanding his supply could have brought more reward, and Berry didn’t disappoint either. Miller, central to a lot of our more clever play but too often drifting out of the game, made way for a fired up Mullers, who within seconds actually had a shot. He scuffed it wide, but as the game sped into injury time and with his ever-vocal detractors already frothing in cliched glee, he lashed home from the edge of the area to spark pandemonium in the away end as the celebrating players splashed towards us.
It wasn’t all fantastic by any means. There are still weak links – Fuller still looks shakey in comparison to Nutter (who is increasingly dependable), and Richards is no Adie Pennock though I think his willingness to clatter through anything in his way will endear him to his critics over time. I thought the midfield was excellent with no-one standing out but much as I like him, I think Bentley is just too off the pace in central midfield.
As for the support – all very buoyant but we could have done without the numpties who were there purely to cause trouble. Or at least posture pathetically – around 20 of them wouldn’t have looked out of place among the comedy 40-50 year olds that stink out the New Den to the left of the away end. Hope they never return, and hope the individual comedians who think it’s hilarious to slag off individual players to absolutely no public acclaim continue to have their words rammed down their throats by the results on the field. Things are far from right yet, but there is no Facey, Armstrong or Lomas poncing around wasting everyone’s time.
Waving at the latecomers as their coaches meandered through the Dean Court car park at regular intervals through the first half. And Mulligan’s beautiful contribution to my weekend’s outlook.
The Morty Vicker