Saturday 30 Aug – Gills 1 -0 Accrington Stanley
Anyone old enough to remember the bratish scouser kid in the late 1980’s milk advert “Accrington Stanley – who are they? Exactly!” probably never thought the Gills would be playing them in a League game at Priestfield twenty years later. 47 years after we last beat them 5-1 (on 2nd December 1961, a result later expunged as Stanley withdrew in March from Division Four) we found ourselves facing a club that had eventually reformed and gradually edged their way back up the pyramid before rejoining the League two seasons ago. Four years ago we were winning 2-1 at Burnley to go 10th in the Championship with Sunderland next on our fixture list, Stanley were fresh from beating Crawley in the Conference.
Nothing illustrates our dramatic fall from grace (and the heart-warming progress at Accrington) more than our meeting – with the Gills chasing a first home goal, win and point this season, not to mention revenge for the last meeting to stand which saw a 3-0 loss in Lancashire back on Monday 12th September 1960…
After the Luton debacle and the degree of widespread disgruntlement it was vital that the Gills built on the last gasp win at Darlington the previous week. What we got was a 1-0 annihilation. Sheesh, how it only ended up 1-0 only the Gillingham strikers and the Stanley keeper Arthur could tell you. Stanley had two great shouts for penalties for handball, one looked blatant, and headed a late chance wide, but aside from that is was a procession as the Gills created chance after chance only to contrive to miss them in more and more desperate fashion. The finally tally of shots was apparently twenty for (plus nine corners) and seven against, but seriously Stanley couldn’t have complained had it finished 4 or 5-0.
With the 3,000 seater Brian More Stand closed to home fans for the first time ever in a League game it fell to the travelling Stanley Ultras (all 74 of them) to generate some atmosphere at the Town End, they didn’t bother, but did add plenty of colour to the afternoon with their hugely impressive banners, “FC Stanley of Accrington” and “Stanley Ultras” adorned the serried ranks of distinctly under populated green seats, arguably the lowest number of people to witness a League game from that end in our history aside from the Newport game in ’81 when snow closed the whole end… The displaced young Town-enders migrated to the Rainham End and were welcomed with chants of “Squatters!” and “Can you hear the Town End sing?” – although the influx of young blood didn’t harm the atmosphere in the Rainham End which was quite lively given the sub-5000 crowd.
Obviously what really helped the atmosphere was the simple fact that the Gills got on top and stayed on top. McCammon looked a bit off the pace but the rest of the team were on their game, Jackson as ever looked lively but Weston was the guy to catch the eye throughout along with the young Stanley keeper who was a very busy boy by the end of the game.
The best of the first half chances saw the Stanley defence set the tone blocking McCammon’s header on the line (nine minutes), then deflecting a mean Jackson drive wide and clearing Richard’s towering header off the line. The closest chance saw an unmarked McCammon head down and over when it looked easier to score. It wasn’t his finest moment. At the other end the sporadic Accrington attacks saw one effort whistle wide and two good shouts for handball but referee Phillips waved them away – although he swapped sides at half-time and allowed some hefty challenges and blatant time-wasting go unchecked. An erratic showing from the man in the middle. Arthur was quick to come out and block another McCammon chance just before the break to ensure a goalless first half…
The second half saw more of the same, incessant Gills pressure and more and more time wasting from the visitors. They were gamely hanging on, it was just a mater of whether or not we could score… with that in mind the out of sorts McCammon was replaced by the lively Mulligan (55). Jackson had already muffed one chance getting the ball stuck under his feet, before he forced Arthur into action once again turning it round for a corner. Mulligan glanced the resulting set piece across the face of goal and the home fans began to wonder whether it was going to be the “same old same old”. With Weston increasing his influence, Oli and Daniels marauding down the wings, Mulligan chasing every lost cause and Jackson looking sharp and tricky it became a case of “attack verses defence” which bodes well in some ways for the Gills, they played some decent stuff, the passing wasn’t bad but it also illustrated the lack of composure in front of goal as the misses stacked up.
Unfortunately amid the mayhem a lot of efforts were going just wide, Crofts (header), Daniels (free-kick) and Richards (header, perhaps he should have back-heeled it?) set a frustrating trend. Stanley then decided to try to get out of their half and nearly stole a cheeky goal of their own but Mullin headed wide (perhaps miss-itis was contagious?). Soon the swine in the Stanley goal was at it again, in between all the time wasting he was called into action again, tipping over a solid Crofts header. Mulligan then dragged another glorious chance wide, shooting across the face of the goal with the Rainham End fully expecting the net to bulge. With the home fans baying for a goal it was Oli that finally provided it on 75 minutes, not a classic but we didn’t care. Daniels crossed to Oli twelve yards out, he turned and hooked the ball towards goal, it deceived the otherwise inspired Arthur and deflected in off him, trickling agonizingly slowly over the line. Cue pandemonium, it all got a bit manic considering this was August against Accrington Stanley in the sunshine in what was Division Four but the relief was palpable all round Priestfield.
There was to be no let up as the Gills went in search of a second clinching goal, but Mulligan twated the best chance over the bar. Still the final whistle signalled victory at last, for only the fourth time at home all year(!?!) – and the first since April 1st. Warm applause from everyone and for the first time in months consecutive wins, up to ninth, three points off the top and perhaps the green shoots of a much needed recovery. We certainly need one. The last time we won more games than we lost in a full League campaign was 99-00, Stanley were in the Unibond 1st Division…
Champagne Moment:- It might seem a bit harsh on the young lad but the cynical gamesmanship and time wasting to the Stanley keeper Arthur got right on the wick of everyone so to see him scampering around to get the ball and kick it quickly after we’d made the breakthrough was funny.
The Milk Swigging Binman.