I can’t imagine we are going to have many 45 minutes as easy as the second half at Gillingham last night. We totally and utterly bossed this one. By the end, rather than the side in front wanting the final whistle to blow, you felt that Gillingham had played for quarter of an hour thinking, “please let this end”.
We started with the same team as we had at West Brom. It is nice when you get continuity like that. We also now have a real football shape: solid central midfield of Healy and Whitely with two out and out wingers playing on their natural side. I felt pretty confident in the first half in that I thought we looked comfortable taking the ball to them. However, we weren’t testing the goalkeeper at all. As so often we had control of the areas around the box but were not converting that into telling balls in for men in the box. Gillingham had had a couple of early chances but had then retreated. It was frustrating therefore that, near the end of the first half, Arca let a ball run down the wing (I though it had curved out but no-one else seemed to) and go for their first corner of the night. Our defending generally has been pretty good this season – thanks particularly to Gary Breen. However, it was shocking from this corner. The ball was pitched into the front of the six-yard box and one of their players rose particularly well to get a good knock-on. Unfortunately he had taken about three of our main defenders with him, leaving acres of space in the area into which he headed. Standing there, all on his own, was a grateful Gillingham attacker who had an easy free header into the net. I still thought we could win this one but we did then have an uncomfortable patch – the only one in the game where Gillingham looked like the better side. Nevertheless in that patch Stewart coming in at the right post had managed to hit a ball against the post when, from our vantage point at the other end of the ground, it looked easier to score. And then, just before half time, we got the equaliser that made all the difference to the tone of the second half. Oster had had a canny first half but he was frustrating me by running towards the corner flag with the ball when I thought there were more opportunities for attacking the penalty box. So he did again but he got in a very decent cross (might even have been a Magic-type cut back and cross with his left foot unless my memory deceives me). Remember what I was bleating on about after Norwich in particular about getting men into the box? Well obviously our young smogmonster reads me reports. I’m not sure if Oster meant to hit it to the far post or he just hit it too long. Doesn’t matter. Kylie and Stewart attached the six-yard box and took the defence with them. But as the ball went over there was smoggie in exactly the right position and in space. Halle-bloody-lulllia. Actually he still had a lot of work to do but he did it well and sent the ball back across the keeper and into the net,
Second half, we were wind assisted. I’d thought that had helped Gillingham in the first half and now it seemed to help us, although we played less balls in the air than they did. In some ways I’m surprised it took us almost a quarter of an hour to get in front – we certainly looked like we were going to. The goal was close to a mirror image of our first. However, rather than being wide out on the wing, Downing managed to charge into the left of the box and send the ball across the face of goal. This time it was Oster who was in space at the side of the box and he sent his shot across goal and into the net. Jolly good.
It was strange how dominant we were and yet still neither Kyle nor Stewart were having great games. Kyle was getting in decent positions and had one lovely turn and shot smash against the bar. He also had one glorious opportunity after he got himself free coming into the box but agonisingly skewed his shot right. Stewart I personally thought was weaker. He seemed much too hesitant on the ball and lost the momentum of an attack on more than one occasion. Fortunately Stew got a goal (15 mins before the end) to buck up his confidence and what a goal it was. The ball was played out of defence to Kyle in the centre in the pitch. Kylie was pure Zinedine Zidane (honestly), he brought it forward, shimmied, feigned to send it down the left but then sent it down the right to the breaking Oster who went for goal (he’d learned since the first half) and sent in an accurate ball for Stew (well done for getting into position) to score (although the goalie got rather more hand to it than I’d have liked).
Kylie was subbed for Smith with 10 minutes left. Kylie got a really nice warm ovation from the travelling support. I’d have liked to see him stay on as a goal would have been good for him but I can see that Mick Mac needs Smith to be getting match practice. Smith for Stew may have been a bit more logical but maybe Mick wants to try different striking ideas rather than repeat the big provider with scoring partner combination.
The last ten minutes were really just passy around time. Gillingham had given up looking for two goals to get a point and we were happy to play the game out. Even Dermot Gallagher seemed to sense this, as I’m sure he didn’t play the full amount of injury time signalled.
So what did we learn? Well Downing is bloody good but Oster is even better. Whitely is making those of us who thought he was pap pre-season eat our worlds. Him and Healy can really command the central midfield and with Downing and Oster not only being wide to receive the ball but also prepared to get in the box, we have a winning combination. I’d still like to see Healy charging into the box a bit more mind and I’d like to see Kyle and Stew closer to the form they were showing before we went on our mini-goal drought. But all in all a good night. I’ll try not to linger too long on the fact that Oster is going to be start his 3 game suspension soon or that Downing is only on short-term loan (it would be nice to get him longer even though there is no chance he’ll come permanently).
One final thought (only for the male readers): do you sometimes sit watching a football match and think, “you know what would be good now? Someone taking a sharp knife to my testicles”? There were times during the seventies when I was worried someone was going to do that but I can’t say a football match has ever driven me to want someone to leap out and do that to me. Reason I ask is that one of Gillingham’s advertising hoardings was for vasectomies so someone obviously thinks that watching Gillingham is likely to produce the desire to have slices taken off your balls. I trust none of the impressive travelling support took up the offer.