Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Monday, April 5, 2021

Yet another masterclass: the Mighty vs Gillingham

Prevailing wisdom would have it that Gillingham are some sort of evil stain on the otherwise beautifully white purity of the game of football. I'm not wholly buying that. Think of Star Wars  If the Empire were pure shite (all shithousery and no quality), then the film wouldn't be much cop as the rebel triumph wouldn't be a particularly great achievement. As it is, they've clearly got some talent on the dark side to have got as far as they have. Death Stars don't just build themselves after all. What I'm trying to say is, Gillingham might use the dark arts, but they're also pretty decent at other stuff as well.

Secondly, and just as importantly, if there were no Empire, then then the film would have no narrative thrust to hold it together. It would just be a load of lads, lasses and aliens mucking about in space. Kind of 'Carry on Astronaut' or something and whilst that would have it's charms, it wouldn't be the same thing at all. 

'Ooh Matron'

People love to moan about teams who play 'the wrong way' but it would be rubbish if football were just played between jolly public school types who said stuff like 'tell you what chaps, it seems we're winning by a few, so hows about we score a few own goals to liven it up and give you one of our boys as well to make it fairer, what ho?' - It's the fact that not everyone sees the game like Cruyff that makes Cruyff interesting. The darkness makes the light more welcome so to speak. 

Not Steve Evans (front row, centre)

I've completely lost track of what I was on about. Something about Star Wars I think. Imagine if Steve Evans takes off his face and says "Neil, I am your father" at the end though. Actually, seen as he gave the shirtless one his professional debut, it might be even better, if he takes off his top and says the same to Jerry. 

Shall we move on? I think we should. 

'Ping it at the big lad and we'll play off him'


(pause) We're well prepared, we'll look to play our own game. Mike, nip out and some plasters, this lot are a bit rough. Sullay, Embo, tie them in knots, Dan, just head it son, you know you love it, Jerry, use the force. Ethan, go and get me a brew, there's a good lad. 

Again Critch has done stuff I wouldn't have done. I was setting up 4-5-1 and trying to football the fuck out of Gillingham but we've got a 4-4-2 with Thorniley and Ballard back in the side for the Viking and Jordan Gabriel. Big Marvin is on the bench. Hurray! Big Gaz is not. Boo! 

We were frankly shite against them at beginning of the year and today is a big test of my recently stated theory that Critch has evolved from a naive gnome of football purity into a streetwise tactical masterclass dispensing imp of wisdom. 

C'mon Pool! 

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The Gills start well, hitting the corners, getting players high up the pitch and their early pressure yields a crisply hit effort a yard or so over the top from just inside the box. We react with a nice bit of passing and a Grant Ward shot miles over the top. 

Ward is in the action again, climbing and nodding a clearance down in the centre circle, it bounces up to Simms with a defender. The two battle and the ball looks to be flicked on. Yates picks it up in miles of space. The flag doesn't go up. Maybe it wasn't flicked on. Maybe the defender poked it backwards in the challenge. Jerry is one on one. Jerry is the rebirth of a Russian sniper in an embattled Soviet city in 1941 blowing the brains out of the Nazi insurgents if they so much as offer him half a glimpse of their nasty fascist heads. Jerry rolls it home. Jerry is GOD.  

Ballard is wrestling on the goal line, he lets it roll. He shouldn't have as Oliver nicks it, puts it across the face of goal. Somehow it's clipped away by Garbutt with the goal gaping. Maxwell is completely thrown by the moment, but he does brilliantly, chucking himself on the loose ball despite already being on the ground and facing the wrong way. 

There's a series of unlikely events as Thorniley sells a dummy and shimmies away from an oncoming forward, then Sullay booms a massive header forward. 

Pool work it nicely, shuffling it side to side, probing, looking for the cross. When it comes, Embleton delivers a dream ball, Yates has pulled away, his movement is fabulous, but sadly the header isn't, his timing is wrong and the ball comes of him awkwardly past the near post and into the advertising boards. 

Gillingham are not short of spirit and are unbowed by our good start. In their next foray forward, Akinde turns in the box, he pulls it across and Jordan Graham spins and finishes crisply, despite Ballard getting a toe in. Fuck's sake... Back to the flimsy shit against a rough opponent. Fucking hell. 

But what's this? A foul on Yates wide left. Garbutt puts a cross in, it doesn't at first look to be the greatest ball, low and flat to the near post, but here's Yates, darting out the crowd, skipping onto it and tucking it away. So simple! The man is a genius. 

I've barely had time to note anything, so fast paced has the opening been. Elbows have been flailing. Simms catches Dempsey. Ballard earlier took a massive whack. It's one attack after another. Gillingham create trouble from a long throw, they've got real presence up front and they look really well drilled as an attacking unit. Graham on the right looks a silky touch and is giving Garbutt no rest. If anything, the surprising thing, is their defence looks there to be got at. 

Turton and Ward combine brilliantly in a tight spot on the right and free Yates, he skims a low ball that Kaikai meets, but it cannons off a defender and a Pool player. Kaikai gets another go a few moment later, Pool are now playing lovely, lovely football, moving it beautifully, Kaikai has it on the left, tight to the touchline. He give it to Yates and starts moving infield, completely unmarked, Yates, takes a touch, lays it off to Ward, Sullay is still on the move as Ward receives it, Ward has seen him and feeds him with a lovely pass, Sullay takes one touch just to the right hand side of the D, then lashes the ball into the opposite corner. YES!!! That was a fucking beauty! 

We nearly have a repeat of the Yates goal in reverse as there's no flag when a Gills forward seems miles offside, again, maybe it was a Pool foot that stabbed it away. Pool race back and the Gills are crowded out. Embleton though gifts possession to O'Keefe on the edge of the box. The Gills man takes it well and takes a stride or two and drills it low, just inside the near post, Maxwell is equal to it, flinging himself full stretch and tipping it round the post. A terrific stop at an important moment. 

The half ends with Gillingham on top, putting a couple of dangerous balls in, then finally Oliver clipping a half volley wide from just inside the box with Maxwell looking a bit out of position

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Yes, there's been some shithousery. Of course there has. Ballard getting some rough treatment and a nasty moment were Sullay was victim of a studs up challenge, but Gillingham have shown real intent in an attacking sense as well. It's a mark of our recent improvement that we've weathered that and found a way to play some lovely football. Sullay has been mobile, Embleton doing the same on the other side, Dougall solid and Ward has oozed quality. Simms hasn't done badly as a presence and Yates, well, what can you say about him? A brilliant half. At the back, we've held up well. Thorniley got turned for the goal, but he's played his part in keeping their big lads relatively quiet and the 4 of them have done pretty well against a unit that it looks very hard work playing against as its big, mobile and skillful in equal measure. 

I wonder if 3-1 flatters us slightly. I wonder if the wind has been our friend this half and may turn into a hindrance the second, but mostly, I am purring at the class of the third goal which was a thing of absolutely beauty. This has been a terrific half and again, Gillingham may have a reputation with many but I'd take them 50 times over the boring technical dross served up by MK Dons as they've had a go. 

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Come on Pool. This is going to be another battle. 

The Gills have an another aerial attack from a free kick, winning the first two flicks but finding Maxwell very alert to cut it out. We work another lovely move on the edge of the box, Sullay shimmying and playing a through ball that is just half a yard too heavy for the late run of Garbutt. 

There's a 10 minute spell of quality defence. We face long throws and lots of stretching for headers, there's a break on the left, a low ball and a stunning sliding block from Ballard. There's a ball over the top and the same player back peddling, falling but getting the header in anyway and then a lovely moment of pure class, where he goes in with one of their forwards, levers him away, chests the ball back, spins and lays it back to Maxwell. Absolutely brilliant. 

Gillingham start to make changes. They've probably had the balance of play. This isn't over. 

Then the fourth comes and kills the game. Kaikai is fed very well by Simms, strong as an ox as he takes the ball in, spins and slides it forward for the enigmatic genius to race on to, he goes inside his man, then cuts outside, it looks like he might have done too much but then he cuts it back so cleverly, bisecting two on rushing defenders. He finds Embleton on the penalty spot, who hits it low and hard past the keeper who has no chance at all. Exactly what we needed. 

The goalscorer is off for Pool's first change, Gabriel coming on the play wide right. Such is the novelty of being 4-1 up, I can't help but think it's a shame that there aren't any of the kids on the bench this week. 

Pool take the sting out the game with lots of sideways passing and then, the linesman goes down with an injury so we have a good 5 minutes waiting for the 4th official to go and get set up to be a lino. Just give the lad a flag and get on with it! 

Chissy wishes the injured party well of course, and Gillingham launch an up and under ball that takes a sliding tackle from Garbutt to clear from the box. Pool spend a while probing but not really fashioning a chance other than Garbutt having a shot deflected wide. 

Critch brings on Demi and Ethan Robson for Yates and Kaikai, both of whom have had very decent games today.  Ellis Simms spins on the halfway line and charges forward. No one can stop him, he often looks a bit languid, trotting about, but then, when he explodes like this, he looks magic, he cuts inside, drives it hard and somehow it's deflected an inch over the bar. From the second of two corners, he gets his head to at the near post and glances it back across goal, it looks for all the world as if it's heading in the opposite corner, but it sneaks across the face and away. He's done really well at times today. This is exactly the sort of game/opponent I didn't think would suit him, but he's been a key part in the machine. 

Gillingham launch a novel tactic in the final stages of the game of throwing themselves on the ground which only serves us nicely in wasting time with pointless delays and harmless free kicks. 10 minutes of injury time are shown, but there's no real fear of them getting back into it. Even when they get free kick near the box, they can't beat the first man. 

The whistle goes on a stunningly good victory. Critch ambles out. How is he so calm?. There's fist bumps and back pats aplenty but his face doesn't even break into a smile. How is he not screaming YES!? and racing across the turf, arms aloft beating his chest? Because he's Critch, the ice cool grand wizard of the tangerines and he'll already be plotting the next masterclass. Maybe not. Maybe he's just keeping it all in for when he gets back to the dressing room and lets it all out. I hope so. He deserves to feel like I do. 

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Again, he's done me over. I instinctively didn't like the starting line up but we were utterly brilliant. The difference between the showing of this team and the team at the beginning of the year couldn't have been more stark. We were clinical when we had a chance and went toe to toe with Gillingham. Such was our dominance, that we earned the right to play football after taking them on physically and when we did, we produced two goals of sheer quality. There was possibly a degree of fortune about both of the first two (I'm still not sure if Simms or their defender touched the first on and the second was shocking defending), but the brilliance of the third and the quality of the fourth render any questions about the victory utterly moot. 

To a man, we've been superb. Yates is obviously the star again, Ballard was special at the back, Sullay and Embleton both deserved their goals and I think Ward also deserve picking out for his utter tirelessness and class, as does Ollie Turton. In fact, no one doesn't deserve a mention, even Maxwell, who had little to do made the stop he needed to make when he needed to make it (as he often does) and kicked and handled well throughout (as again, he very often does) 

This is a result we needed. Not simply because Gillingham were potential rivals, but for what it says to us about who else we face and our own self belief.  We've beaten some of the very best in the division convincingly. We've struggled against some of the more physical, more well drilled teams. Gillingham are one of the best of those teams. We knew we could beat, say, Oxford or Peterborough but deep down, we could have feared this game as it's this sort of opponent (and indeed, inferior versions of this sort of opponent) who have been our undoing all year. Now, who, really do we fear? We didn't just beat this lot, we hammered them in the end. 

5th and with a game in hand, it's realistic that we could have a 7 point cushion and a massive advantage in goal difference on the teams outside. In the form we're in, I can't help eye the top 2. It's a big ask, but they'll slip up somewhen and if we can keep going like this... 

Fig 1: The nippy and mobile forward line race away after destroying the myth that we can't take on shithouse sides and beat them. 

What a team this is. Now for a lie down. What a masterclass. What wizardry! 

utmp

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