Saturday 20th December 2008 CCL2. Gills 1 Brentford 1.
This was always going to be a tricky game. Brentford looked to be the best of the rest chasing Wycombe’s coat tails and given the quirky imbalance of the fixture list with the Gills playing mostly teams from the top half away and bottom half at home before Christmas this was by some distance our toughest assignment at Priestfield thus far. It was never going to be easy although with a bit of a promotion band-wagon gathering momentum at Griffin Park it was amazing to see less than 600 make the trip down from West London – albeit just before Christmas.
The first half was tight, highly competitive, a little scrappy and perhaps Brentford edged it but the manner in which we fell behind on 28 minutes was galling in the extreme. The Bees weren’t a bad side, we knew it would be tough, so to gift them the opening goal after 28 minutes of only sporadic goalmouth action was mental. It all stemmed from the ever willing but not overly gifted Richards, his routine defensive back header was misjudged with the ball destined for either a sloppy corner or even a through-ball for the lurking Brentford player, Royce erred too, racing out to clear the ball only to get there a distant second, the Bees player collected and with Royce stranded out by the touchline (not for the first time this season it has to be said) squared it. Help was at hand in the form of Simon King but having done well to get back on his line he then got his knickers in a twist contriving to wrong foot himself and with our star defender bizarrely rooted to the spot with lead in his boots, Charlie MacDonald had the easiest task of the day to roll the loose ball into the Rainham End net. What a bloody shambles!
To be honest I was relieved we suffered no further damage before the break, a second goal would have killed it against well organised opponents. The referee, Langford wasn’t exactly helping with a series of bafflingly inconsistent and petty decisions against us. Nevertheless a late flurry of activity before half-time saw one Barcham effort cleared of the line and Hamer save from Weston.
The second half was a significant improvement from the Gills’ point of view, Priestfield got going a bit and the players responded, we should have equalised when Richards fired across the face of the goal but it was neither one thing nor the other. Thankfully with an hour gone and the tempo and intensity rising we deservedly scored. Nutter’s cross was headed on by Bentley, a routine save for Hamer was on the cards until Jackson reacted quickly to deflect the ball deftly into the net with a flick of his noggin from close range. Game on.
Well it was rumbustious and increasingly bad tempered, the erratic officiating didn’t help, but with momentum and confidence the Gills looked the more likely winners. They were inches away from the lead in bizarre circumstances when one attack appeared to fizzle out only for indecision between a Bees defender and Hamer allow Barcham to nip in, Hamer had no option but to smash the loose ball away but he did so against the onrushing Barcham only to see it rebound, screaming just wide of the unguarded goal. It all then got a bit silly on 69 minutes with a clumsy challenge by Bentley on the half-way line. Before you could shout “bundle!” the two teams came together in a melee of pushing, shoving, finger wagging and forehead touching. Amid the resultant twenty-man mass-brawl Elder was picked out for an initial push on King and was sent off, Fuller booked and Richards who’d got involved himself escaped “Scott free” until the post-match recriminations began to fly and Bees manager Andy Scott went whining to the authorities and got him suspended too the fucking little scrote.
The last twenty minutes were played out to a baying mob, each challenge got meatier and meatier, it was perhaps a bit too much thud and blunder for the purists but the rest of us dined on some red blooded football fare, all high tempo, niggly, nasty, passionate stuff, biff bash bosh. We could and really should have won, credit to the Bees who defended resolutely but as is too often the case this season our final ball let us down at the crucial moment – nevertheless Weston nodded a great chance wide and Hamer did well to save a Bentley header. With two minutes remaining Fuller received a red card for an innocuous but clumsy challenge down by the Gordon Road stand. A bit rash given his earlier booking, he did risk a second caution and a red card (one match ban) but the entire ground were utterly bemused and stunned when the referee pulled out a straight red card. A disgusting decision symptomatic of a weak and stupid referee out of his depth and unable to control the game or officiate with any feel for the game. After a day of really rather random decisions this last one would cost Captain Fuller his chance to play against The Villa… sad, but in keeping with the officials we’ve seen at Priestfield over the last couple of months.
We could have still won it but spurned two late chances for glory, Richards headed a Southall corner wide when it looked easier to stick it in the bloody net and the with seconds remaining Hamer denied us once more, parrying Oli’s thunderbolt to save a point for the Londoners. The final whistle brought initial anger at the officials and frustration with the result but having gone behind and had a few wobbles in the first half it wasn’t the end of the world and our unbeaten home record in the League since August remained unscathed.
Champagne Moment:– The mass brawl, haven’t had many of those recently, it got the adrenalin going if nothing else.
The Frustrated Binman.