Saturday 13 September – Shrewsbury Town 7-0 Gills
Just when you thought it was safe to open your eyes….getting dicked 6-0 at Wolves in the Championship was one of those things you were prepared to put up with given our unprecedented lofty status; getting gubbed 6-0 at Ashton Gate in League One was bloody annoying but hardly out of character in those days of kamikaze defending and an utter lack of confidence as we slid through the division on a tide of reckless hidings. But, but, how do I put it? Some wise old crows once sung that they’d “been done seen about everything when I see an elephant fly” – well those wise old crows got to see Dumbo take to the air but they sure hadn’t seen everything. I really never thought the day would come when I witnessed GIllingham equal their record margin of defeat in a sleepy Shropshire market town.
We appear to have located Square One and need to find our drawing board pretty damn quick. Yet, difficult though it is to explain away a 7-0 defeat, this was a curious game. I’m not going to draw any positives from it because there aren’t any, but we have played far worse recently and got away with tepid 2-0 defeats. There wasn’t any of the shock or anger that recent hammerings at places like Northampton, Colchester or Swindon engendered. The Gills support simply sat in sullen silence, watching aghast as another catastrophe unfolded, most simply wondering where it will all end.
Firstly, I agreed to go to Shrewsbury as it’s a lovely town, with many wonderful pubs and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself at Gay Meadow in the past (aside from the days when Carl Griffiths inflicted is unique brand of evil upon us in the early 90s). I had a stinking cold, the symptoms of which left me with manky eyes and erratic hearing, hence a lack of depth perception and little sense of balance. This made crossing the road an entertaining ordeal, but made watching our football club a little easier. Brave little soldier that I am, I wrapped up warm and marched onwards, only to emerge into warm sunshine at the other end wearing a ludicrously chunky jacket.
The New Meadow is miles and miles and miles out of town, preventing a languid pub crawl, so we piled into a couple of cabs, our rendez-vous being a hotel near the ground which I feared would be the equivalent of that pit at Scunthorpe, but actually turned out to be very pleasant, with three splendid real ales to choose from. The Binman had brought three nephews along (as a treat, not as any kind of punishment) and they had spent their pocket money on cake, so all was well with the world.
Shrewsbury’s new ground has absolutely none of the charm of the old place – four identical stands full of blue seats which do little to inspire any kind of atmosphere. On the plus side it doesn’t flood every ten minutes and the pies were smashing. The conviviality continued as the game started, Gills playing what I considered to be our strongest starting line-up, something I have since considered further and decided is perhaps not the case. We sprayed the ball around with the sort of tempo we acheived at Bournemouth, comfortably retained possession, got behind the full backs and clocked up a few corners. What a breeze. When a rasping Weston volley was superbly saved by Daniels in the home goal I sat back and waited for away win number two to materialise. It astounds me that having watched the club for 30 years I can still be an idiotically naive twat.
The Shrews won a corner and it was routinely headed home at the far past to muted cheers around the arena. Within 15 minutes we were 4-0 down, all the demons from last season gleefully dancing before our eyes chanting “Easy Easy Easy”. Now, it has to be said that a four goal deficit had been clocked up in somewhat freaky conditions. The second goal was hailed as a wonder strike by the PA announcer but took a mighty deflection off Simon King, while the third and fourth arrived with Richards off the pitch having his head stitched back together. All we really learned from this was that in an emergency Dennis Oli should never be considered as a centre back. Richards was off for nearly ten minutes, it was a gamble to play with ten men for that long but most managers would have done the same. Off we went at half time to a crescendo of boos nonetheless.
The second half was a disaster. A side with belief would have emerged fighting, whipped the away support up into a proud frenzy and succombed maybe 4-1 or 5-2. We found ourselves six down within a few minutes of the restart, the deflating fifth being the sort of infuriating fucktard defending that has epitomised the last five years and got us into the mess we’re in. There were over a million (I’ve watched the replays and counted them) opportunities to larrup the ball into the shiney new stand but no, we minced around like tippy-tappy ballerinas and allowed some chap in a blue shirt to slide the ball into the net with no resistance whatsoever. A stone-wall penalty was dispatched for the sixth.
A stupor fell upon the away end. The game largely petered out. We hit the bar at one stage but no-one stirred a muscle. The home fans were so bored they started a Mexican Wave (inexcusable in any circumstances). The Binman’s clan ate cake and looked a bit embarrassed. Simon Royce muttered darkly to himself. We had a couple of pot shots and chalked up some unnecessary bookings. A late freekick given for obstruction was curled beautifully into our net direct from Davies’ boot, his second long range freekick goal of the afternoon. Stimson was technically correct in berating the referee for allowing that one, and could have had a gripe about the other as it was awarded for a non-existent foul following which the victim aimed a retaliatory kick at Barry Fuller – a red card offence but both got yellows. But to turn attention on the referee when you’ve just suffered a seven goal defeat is a bit pathetic in my opinion.
Some have expressed grief that they missed a record-breaking afternoon, but there was nothing momentous about it. We probably should have lost 4-1. It was a disorganised stroll in the sunshine and a wake-up call to anyone who thought we had got over the defensive fragility that sent us down in the first place. Confidence is on a knife-edge and when we go behind this is invariably going to happen against any attack minded side – there is simply no leadership on the pitch to prevent it. Shrewsbury were an attack minded side, they were good but by no means exceptional.
Problems? No need to panic, we’ll get over this. No-one should have expected us to walk the division after three straight wins, and no-one should expect relegation after a sobering afternoon like this one. Knee-jerk Gills fans desperate to see Stimson fail will do just that of course, just like knee-jerk tabloids judge England on their last performance and their last performance alone. What is obvious is that Oli / Miller / Weston / Daniels is not going to work away from home unless the opposition is terminally hopeless. We’ve already conceded half the goals we did in the promotion year under Pulis – Pulis employed players like O’Connor and Bailey with no defensive duties safe in the knowledge that Simon Ratcliffe and Dave Martin would protect the defence through the middle in an uncompromising fashion. Miller was awful in this rout (the only player I would single out as having a really bad day) but has a role to play in this side, it’s just that that role is not alongside Weston away from home. If I was Stimson I wouldn’t be looking to make wholesale changes at Aldershot, just bring Crofts back for Miller. Fuller looked a mug in the second half and Oli didn’t cut it either but these problems are not insurmountable. The crisis of confidence that means we keep suffering such heavy beatings needs to heal however. It’s astonishing to think that in the period 1989-95 during which we had a shockingly awful side, we never let in more than four goals anywhere. Yet now with what I’d consider to be a vastly more talented side we can go to harmless little towns like this and ship seven goals.
Champagne Moment :
Any abuse on Saturday was naturally aimed at Stimson and the players, but when an isolated cry of “Scally Out” rang out, it was unbelievably followed by a counter claim that “It’s hardly his fault, without him we wouldn’t have a club”. But I’m not in a Scally bashing mood so for the champagne I’ll nominate the look on Royce’s face when we conceded the daft penalty…
The Morty Vicker