Sat 27 Sep – Gills 1 – 0 Port Vale

I think the cliché goes “the really good sides win when they play badly” which should mean we’re very, very good after the 1-0 win over Port Vale but all it really confirmed was that Port Vale were even worse in a contest that was of such poor quality that it stunned many onlookers into bemused silence. The fabled 0-0 with Yeovil back in October 2005 is widely recognised as the dullest game since our demotion from the “promised land” and this wasn’t dull in the “nothing happened, how fucking tedious” manner of that game, it was just the astounding lack of quality on display from both teams left all our minds boggled.

I arrived at Priestfield not in the best of moods, I’d just witnessed the last rites of Kent’s cricket season, they’d lost to Durham in the County Championship who were confirmed as Champions later in the day whilst Kent had contrived to get relegated having bizarrely been in the position of had they won their previous game at Lancashire would have been serious title contenders! With the rain turning everything into a bit of a lottery Kent simply ran out of steam losing the two big one-day finals, missing out on promotion in the Pro40 and now to put the tin lid on everything getting themselves relegated for the first time… Coupled with that was some smouldering resentment over what happened with various innocent fans at Aldershot the previous week not to mention our last two results(!) I wasn’t in the mood to be entertained which was lucky because I wasn’t.

Vale arrived having sacked just their manager Sinnott, angry Vale fans having showed their feelings in no uncertain terms after their 4-1 home stuffing by Macclesfield. We had yet another new arrival on loan to get our heads round, another non-scoring striker, Andy Barcham, a bit of an eager beaver nippy short-arse really, but hey beggars can’t be choosers with McCammon suspended and Mulligan injured. Predictably Vale had a bit of a go to begin with, trying to impress any prospective new manager I suppose, it didn’t come to much but by then, even ten minutes into the game, the 4,986 spectators had begun to realise that neither team seemed capable of controlling the pesky spherical thing which kept sailing aimlessly up in the air or off the pitch all together. It was a mess. We’d give it to them, they’d give it back, we’d slice it out for a throw, they’d give away a clumsy free-kick and so on. On and on it went, a comedy of errors except not very funny, think ITV sitcom trying too hard. You couldn’t question our commitment, just the levels of skill, imagination and basic talent. It wasn’t even humdrum, it was soporifically aimless. The worst thing was the gradual realisation that yes, we really are this bad and that stinks. Sporadically something would happen but with Jackson enduring his poorest game in a Gills shirt it was left to others to relieve the malaise.

Nutter, Crofts and Daniels had all threatened but the much needed breakthrough came on 34 minutes from an unexpected source. A fairly routine free-kick from out wide on the left was curled in by Nutter, Bentley flicked it on and McCombe nodded it firmly into his own net at the far post. At the time I thought Bentley’s deflection had sent the ball right into the danger zone but television revealed McCombe was six yards out and had plenty to do. Fair play he stooped down and got a solid contact and took it well. It summed up the game really. We gratefully accepted the gift and trundled along to half-time unscathed.

Thankfully the second half was significantly more eventful, still comically bad and a few people in the Rainham End did doze off in the warm sunshine, but at least there were a few outbreaks of football amid the great steaming pile of crap we were watching. The 100 or so Vale fans opted to make their own entertainment demonstrating against their owners with some home made banners and choreographed waving whilst we settled for goading their keeper who showed plenty of humour in adversity.

Barcham was lively on occasions but perhaps more of the headless chicken variety but he did skip down the wing and cause a bit of confusion, outpacing his defender, cutting inside and dinking the ball over the onrushing keeper only to see the ball cleared off the line. The rebound came to nowt. A Daniels free-kick did stir us from our sullen slumbers and at the other end Nutter was forced to clear but Vale’s best chance came on 77 minutes from a central free kick which went through the wall but was competently smothered by Royce when he could have “Bartramed” it…

The Gills could and perhaps should have made it 2-0 on the break through Jackson but his typically jinking run finished with a bit of a soft shot but the Vale keeper made a total hash of it allowing the ball to hit the post and rebound back into the six yard box but the Vale defence cleared. Albert Jarrett then came on for his debut with five minutes left and really caught the eye on the wing. He didn’t mess about, his runs were direct and he curled in a trio of inviting crosses. We couldn’t take advantage but he certainly looked worthy of the short-term contract he’d just signed. A late flurry of activity saw Jackson’s overhead kick leave the Vale keeper scrambling around in his area but the game was destined to be decided by an own goal. The final whistle brought muted applause. The bottom line as ever is simple – a win, is a win, is a win. No complaints with the result and the Gills moved up to eighth only below Aldershot in the last remaining play-off place on goal difference which probably says more about the “quality” of the division than our own promotion chances.

Champagne Moment:- Scally is rarely if ever lost for words and an expert at putting a positive spin on anything, but even he was lost for words by the Shrewsbury debacle. “Our away defeat at Shrewsbury two weeks ago, our worst in 48 years, has been a difficult one for me to get my head around and I’m sure a great number of you have shared my discomfort. I’ve tried to find reasons and excuses but sadly I’ve failed and I can offer no comfort in what was clearly a very bad result for the team and for us all.” That raised my first smile of the day, the second came when I discovered a little more detail about the shenanigans at the Beehive in Aldershot the previous week. The fact that the Hampshire police tried to put two Aldershot season ticket holders who live in Aldershot on the train to London with the Gills fans made me smile, the description of how they kept some innocent local Irish guy imprisoned in the pub for two hours despite his protestations that he’d only popped in for a quick pint before going to work and that he was now late for work brought belly laughs. Shame on the police and shame on the local paper who should have been a bit more robust in their subsequent coverage…

The Bored Binman.

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