Fan’s View – 18/19 – No.44 – Gillingham Away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, March 10th, 2019  


Pre-match thinking

Although we gained maximum points from the two games prior, in no way had that alleviated the pressure. Depending on the way the results were to go on Saturday come five o’clock we could be anywhere in the table from 21st (boo) to 13th (hurrah!).

All games are tough games. That’s a given at this stage of the season with our league position being what it is. The same can obviously be said regarding almost every other club in L1.  They’ve either got relegation worries or at least an outside hope of the play-offs. There’s a case to argue that Burton and Wycombe are safe in mid table but respectively they’re only four and five points above us.

Gillingham’s current form is similar to ours. They seem unable to cope with the very best teams in the division, having conceded four to both Sunderland and Barnsley, but have a very good defensive record against the also rans. Other than the two aforementioned games, in the last five they’ve kept clean sheets against Wycombe, Scunthorpe and Accrington.

As to be expected we’ll have to work very hard for the spoils. Whenever we play Gillingham the name of Tom Eaves crops up. He’s third top scorer in L1 having dropped from number one when they came to the Kassam in November. As Rob Dickie has come in for a lot of what I consider to be vastly unfair criticism in the last couple of games, I thought I’d lift a quote from the Fan’s View back then: “Interestingly some Gills fans thought Dickie had Eaves in his pocket. If that is so could this be the coming of age game for RD?” Hope repeating this is not tempting fate.

I usually think I’d swap Eaves for what we’ve got but based on Jerome Sinclair’s last two performances I’d stick on this occasion.

I await with great interest the starting line up where I’m expecting KR to make some changes. Our manager has to do it for real. Me, and every other fan, can play around with the team in our heads with no consequence whatsoever. Easy isn’t it?

Gillingham 1 Oxford United 0

Darn it. The worst case scenario described above became reality and we are now in the relegation places once more. It now seems to be a case of in, out, in, out, etc. A bit like watching a rowing race when one boat jerks ahead on stroke only to fall behind again when their rivals next pull on the oars. If we’re still in such a contest when we visit Kenilworth Road on 4 May I fear for our survival.

Leaving the ground I heard mutterings of how crap Karl Robinson is and some already just about have us starting 2019/20 in League Two.

Our next two opponents, Bradford and Rochdale who are both still below us, have recently parted company with their managers. David Hopkin was fired by the Bantams on 25 February and Keith Hill got the boot from the Dale on 4 March. Both won at home as we were losing this one. Change of manager a good thing? I’d say in our circumstances, no. My vote is to get behind KR and see this season out and then see what happens.

As for the chances of relegation, well they’ve obviously increased with another three points dropped and to a rival to make it worse. But given the tightness of the table, for any supporters to throw the towel in would be crazy beyond belief. We’re just three points behind 14th placed Southend.

At half time the assessment I texted to Mrs FV was “neither team looks relegation material at the moment”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word material and should have said on this showing neither should go down.

Whilst posing little attacking threat we restricted the hosts and had good defensive shape. Given the way we had played at home against Scunthorpe a week before would suggest this may well be a tactical ploy with the intention to unleash Gavin Whyte around the 60 minute mark and then begin to attack with meaning. After all as I keep saying, a game is won, or lost, over 90 minutes with the possibility of using 14 different players.

The Gills looked a mid-table side. Eaves was a nuisance down the middle. The home side were knocking the ball long and to either flank. The player that appeared to me to be collecting the ball each time whether on the left or right was Eaves. Yet for all his influence we were handling him quite well and they weren’t actually creating a lot.

Our finishing was atrocious. Efforts at goal were just giving the ball away. Even if the size of the goal frame was 10 yards wide and 10 feet high instead of the regulatory 8×8 I doubt we’d have registered. Mark Sykes hit one over the top and Luke Garbutt put a shot well wide. I like the way the latter was going about his business though.

We came out after the interval without John Mousinho due to a tight calf muscle. His replacement, Ahmed Kashi, did a sound enough job. He’s quietly effective and can pass a ball. The trouble was that this enforced change probably screwed up some of the manager’s planned tactical substitutions later in the game.

Five minutes into this period we nearly came a cropper. The Dickster, who I thought had put on quite a commanding display up to that point, got in a bit of a mess trying to deal with a tricky high ball. Stretching, he was unable to get enough purchase to send his header decisively back to Simon Eastwood and ended up stumbling after connection. As he ended up on the deck he took Brandon Hanlan with him. At the time I feared the worst. A penalty given and scored with Rob Dickie being sent to the dressing room. Having seen the incident again in slow motion I’m not so sure what to make of it. Dickie doesn’t appear to do anything deliberate and you could say it was just a coming together. Plus this coming together first started outside the box.

Eastwood went low to his right to make a good save from, truth be told, not the best struck penalty ever. The taker, Eaves. So perhaps not that great after all. On the day though I would very much have had him in our colours given what he did and what Jerome Sinclair did for us. It wasn’t Sinclair’s sort of game at any time really. When the ball was there to be won with a strong centre half breathing down his neck he lost out just about every time. I wonder if this was more of a Jamie Mackie type encounter but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Whyte did indeed enter the fray just gone the hour mark. The player who departed was Garbutt. Fair play to KR I suppose for trying to win it. I would have been more conservative and waited until later leaving the more defensive Garbutt on, or if replacing him, doing so with Cameron Brannagan. I feared we would become more open and much more likely to lose the game but to be fair that wasn’t why we went home with nothing. It was that for once we didn’t defend a corner effectively.

And we did start attacking more but our shooting mostly continued to be what it was in the first half and in the final third of the pitch our decision making was very poor. There were quite a few examples of this.

After Kashi had fed Sinclair he got into the area and cut the ball back but it was just behind Sykes. No problem because it ended up with the totally unmarked Whyte. Then came the problem, his woeful finish. Blazed over. He had plenty of time to stop the thing, set himself up and pick his spot. Our final shooting stats were nine but only one on target. Why the hell we didn’t keep the ball low with a giant in goal I can’t understand. It would have taken him a couple of minutes to reach the floor.

After he’d picked up possession in midfield, James Henry dissected the Gillingham back line with an excellent ball to Whyte whose pass into the six yard box Sinclair couldn’t quite get on the end of. Okay, perhaps good defending in this instance.

Even after we’d gone a goal down we still failed miserably to do the right thing when we got within smelling distance of the goal we were supposed to be putting the ball in. Kashi played a quick one two with Henry and his cross after a slight touch off a Gillingham head ended up with Graham past the far stick. Josh Ruffels was all alone on the edge of the area screaming for the pass. Instead he just plonked it into no man’s land from where it was easily cleared. In his defence Henry was yelling for it too but whilst he is a very good footballer this was nowhere near good enough from JG. It’s decisions and passes like that which could be the difference between survival and the drop. Even if he had been granted possession Ruff may of course have copied his team mates and pinged the thing well high or wide into the scaffolding.

We have to do better.

As for that 89th minute bummer, a corner on the left was played beyond the far post where Max Ehmer nodded back across goal. We had seven outfield players and Easty. They had five and it was one of those, Brandon Hanlon, who got the decisive touch. Was it Sam Long who was his marker?

That was a reasonable corner quite well played but they didn’t have to work that hard to get the ball over the line. That was their fifth corner. We had nine. I can’t remember any of ours being noteworthy in any way. They didn’t cause our opponents any true danger and that could be said for every free-kick we had.

I don’t go along with those, and there are some, who thought we were the better team for the reasons in this piece. It is however fine margins and we could so easily have come away with a point and perhaps should have had a penalty ourselves when according to reports Tomas Holy clearly pushed Sinclair. I didn’t see it. Nor did I see the alleged rake of studs down Whyte’s leg.

Depressing yes, but I still have hope. Hope that at Spotland we put right the wrongs we produced here and there were quite a few. We shouldn’t need to be thinking this way at this stage of the season but that’s the way it is.

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