Saturday 4 October – Exeter City 3-0 Gills
My match reports on this site usually follow a similar pattern, particularly for away games. A few inane ramblings and dark mutterings, an inarticulate rant over the incompetence of the side and a summing up drawing on the positives to try to lighten the mood. Well, after witnessing two wins in the last 65 away games I’ve attended, quite frankly I’ve had enough. I’m not sure how I’ve contrived to miss our last six victories on our travels (going back over two years) but the lack of success is one thing – the number of utter tonkings is reaching ridiculous proportions and it’s got to stop.
So I’ll start with the positives. For me the whole weekend was salvaged by staying near Bath and having an uncomplicated Saturday night in a quite splendid pub in Bradford-upon-Avon (where the conversation never veered far from how nob-grindingly shite the standard of football is at this level, and how far Gillingham themselves have plummetted – my companion has hardly seen us play over the last couple of years and it all came as a bit of shock to the poor chap). Exeter is a perfectly nice city with a quaint ground (the authentic gents overgrown with weeds, and voracious stinging nettles lining the back of the tiny away terrace, ready in waiting to attack anyone who tries to hang a flag near them…), and awesome pasties. Take away the ear-piecingly squeaky schoolkids in the main stand (who tortured those Gills fans who chose to sit) and the intermittent rain, and you had the makings of a respectable day out.
Suffice to say the main event was utter shite. I thought Jarrett looked useful – good touch, strong holding on to the ball, willing to take the home side on – but there were few other glimmers of hope out there. The second half performance was a massive improvement on the first and had we changed round with our goal intact it would have been cause for optimism, but by then Exeter had given up chasing further goals and were content to sit back. Well, not even sit back – they did the basic “defend from the front” exceedingly well, and though we enjoyed a lot of possession our players were always under pressure from a hassling opponent which led to constant errors of distribution and meant the three goal half time lead was comfortably maintained. Jarrett (hitting the post) and Barcham both tried manfully to reduce the arrears and we could have pulled it back to 3-2 with a bit of luck, but the damage had long been done.
As for the first half – what a fucking shambles. How many more times? To say we have a degree of fragility when we fall behind is a monumental understatement, and we are learning nothing from the regular massive beatings we are taking. Exeter didn’t carve out many chances but they didn’t need to. Defensively it’s a combination of supreme disorganisation, individual errors, gormless concentration and lack of cover from a midfield who often don’t seem to take any responsibility for defensive duties.
A free header from a left wing cross opened the scoring. The second resulted from an almighty scramble in our penalty area slotted home at about the fourth attempt after a great block by King and save by Royce, but Adam Stansfield was left in so much space lurking near the penalty spot that Lisa Stansfield would have been disappointed not to score. Number three rapidly followed two after a misplaced pass by Nutter gave Stansfield a free run on goal and left Royce bemoaning his exposure once again. By this time the atmosphere was turning ugly and Stimson yet again had to endure the faces contorted with rage as he entered the tunnel, which was unfortunately for him located right by the Gills fans.
Weston was poor for the second week running. The front two battled gamely with no service and little hope. Bentley offers no pace or strength. There is absolutely no leadership on the pitch whatsoever – the only evidence that Crofts was captain came from the toss-up and when the idiot ref (who had no concept of the advantage rule and clearly thought he was deserving of far more “respect” than he earned) called him over because one of our players had spoken out of turn. As soon as we concede the heads drop and no-one’s willing to take the game by the scruff of the neck and rally everyone round. Remember under Peter Taylor when we went 2-0 down at places like Millwall and Stoke – we stayed patient and played our way back into the game by having belief in ourselves, that belief being transmitted from players like Hess, Smith and Ashby. At St James Park we just crumbled, just like we did at Shrewsbury and countless times last season. And the season before.
To date I’ve defended Stimson and pleaded for patience on his behalf. We’re ninth in the table and anyone with a brain should know that we have no divine right to be challenging for the championship. We’ve lost consecutive away games to teams promoted to the Conference, teams that were three or more divisions below us a couple of years ago, but that’s irrelevent, that’s the sort of reliance on past glories that led supporters of former European Champions Nottingham Forest to fail to comprehend why they kept losing to plucky Gillingham. Missing Mulligan, Miller and McCammon Stimson had little scope to pick another side, and little opportunity to change things round with the lack of experience or quality on the bench.
But Stimson – surely – is a fighter, and he’s got to get his side fighting for him, the club and the supporters, 400 of whom are still prepared to trek to Devon to watch his side play. I’m certainly not advocating a change of manager for many well-documented reasons, not least of which is we absolutely cannot afford to start afresh again, for the fourth time in four years. We’re 9th in the table with no need to panic, but Christ this sort of capitulation simply cannot go on. The list of clubs who think we’re a laughing stock is growing by the month.
The pasty and the triffid-esqe stinging nettles devouring the flag-wielding Binman. Both happened before kick-off.
The Morty Vicker