Gillingham games at Gresty Road are becoming somewhat of a treat for the neutrals. Last season we saw two very last minute goals win it for us after being 3-1 down, whilst last night was slightly less dramatic; there was certainly no shortage of entertainment.
Before kick-off there was mixed news on the team sheet. Julien Baudet replaced Mat Bailey at centre back, much to the relief of most fans, whilst injured Ben Rix was replaced by loanee Elliott Bennett... much to the relief of most fans? Up front saw Nicky Maynard return to the side, but in place of fan favourite Ryan Lowe. Maybe a win would have papered over that one, but it seems the general consensus is that dropping Lowe was a by move by Holland.
It's a hard view to buy though as it's not as if the team fell apart without Lowe. Maynard and Church up front with Moore and Bennett on either wing were more than a handful and maybe 2 or 3 games down the line we could have a real force up there. The pace of all four players was more than enough to create chances in our favour.
So it wasn't the lack of Lowe that was the worry, it was much deeper - it was something lacking in defence. It had to happen sooner or later though, everyone was behind Ben Williams, he'd put in some amazing performances in the past few weeks and was looking every inch the keeper we need. Then he flaps at a corner 8 minutes in, a header bounces off the post straight onto the head of Gillingham's Mark Bentley who nods it in from all of 2 yards.
That was about it for Gillingham's first half chances though. We took a lot of control in search of an equaliser whilst Gillingham took to trying to take out as many players as they possibly could. Late tackles flew in galore and how they went in at half time with 11 men is something only the referee could answer.
In the mean time we should have been equalising and some, but excellent goal keeping put a stop to that for much of the half The best chances fell to Church, Moore (forgive me if I mix up Bennett, Maynard and Moore up) and Elliott Bennett.
Church had a wonderful volley tipped into the path of Moore whose header was cleared off the line, whilst Elliot Bennett's delflected shot nearly looped over the keeper but Simon Royce was just about equal to it.
The equaliser finally came just as it was looking 'like one of those games'. A very long and very high throw from Bennett pinged about in the box a bit before the wonder boy Nick Maynard stroked home the ball as if he'd never been away. Welcome back Nicky.
1-1 at half time was good enough, we could now go on and take a couple more chances, comfortably move up to 1 point off the play-offs and celebrate a routine victory. If only football was that simple.
It was that simple for the first three minutes of the second half. We passed it around and got forward. Gillingham battered and bruised our players. It was actually a very late (by about 3 minutes) tackle that led to the 2nd goal. A free kick just past the half way line, hit long and layed off to Gary Roberts who ran onto it and powered it into the back of the net from outside the area.
After that, who knows what happened? It seems familiar under Holland this sitting back on a one goal lead. I don't know how many times I've said it, but the players simply do not know how to play whilst winning a game. You can go back to 'comfortable' wins against the likes of Huddersfield and Yeovil and still find us struggling for the last 20 minutes.
It was the same story last night. Gillingham were there for the taking, 2-1 would have just about shredded the last crumb of confidence they had. Instead of going on to finish the game off we sat back and gave them an open invitation to come at us. When was the last time we scored three in one match?
For seven minutes Gillingham pounded us and got their reward when Chris McCready pulled at Chris Dickson as he went up for a header. The penalty was stuck away without fuss .
After that there was only one team in it, as there had been all match. Only we'd swapped places. Gillingham were now on top and Chris Dickson, who had been utterly useless for the first hour of the match, was starting to show he could actually play football.
We did have the ball in the net though. A Roberts shot from the edge of the area was parried by Royce, both Church and Maynard ran onto it and after Maynard had laid it off to Church it only had to be poked into the net. However, the linesman was in no mood to give the benefit of the doubt Church's way and flagged offside. At what point either Maynard or Church were offside, I do not know.
Dickson meanwhile was being every inch the player he wasn't here. He even showed he could score goals, cracking goals too. From the tightest of angles, and I mean virtually on the byline, he chipped the ball over Williams and into the far top left hand corner. Think Marco Van Basten, but not as good and without volleying it.
The next twenty minutes don't need explaining. They were a dreadful, gutless waste of time and the people leaving with 10-15 minutes to go had the right idea. There wasn't much left to see except a complete lack of urgency from the players.
Still, at least Vale are bottom.
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