Morecambe 1 Gillingham 1
Do Gills Nick A Point? No: Nick gifts them one...
Gillingham arrived at the Globe Arena today as runaway leaders of League Two. Under Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen, they appear to be definitely headed back to League One, which is surely the lowest place in the Football Pyramid where a club of their size and fan base ought to be. Last November, Morecambe lost to a last minute goal at Priestfield and Mr Allen was quoted as saying words to the effect of:
"It was a tough match. Morecambe have some good players; good pros; good men; REAL men. Not one of them had a bad game today; not one of them. I shook each and every one of them by the hand in the tunnel afterwards and I meant it".
Noticeably, he did the same thing again today. Maybe he does this at the end of every game the Gills play. But there was something else he did today which makes him unusual - to say the least - as far as most football managers are concerned...
It has rained and rained in the North West of England during the last few days. Yesterday - when I visited the Globe Arena to buy a ticket - I found players, employees and conference venue visitors alike shivering outside together in frozen clumps as the fire alarms went off inside and the wind and sleet-edged rain blasted straight off the Irish Sea to cut through them all straight to the bone - it was very definitely Winter - and an Arctic one at that. (Someone had apparently burnt the toast and set-off the smoke alarms. Again...)
At the risk of going all Shakespearean (Winter of discontent and all that) maybe this was a metaphor for the club, whose long-standing Vice Chairman and Chief Executive have stepped-down this week, at least one of them claiming unhappiness with the way the club is currently being run.
Despite Winter; discontent or whatever else - today was a different season. Although it was still quite cold and the pitch was a mud heap, the wind had dropped and the sun had come out sufficiently strongly to persuade home goalkeeper Barry Roche to wear a peaked cap throughout the second half. Last time the Morecambe custodian played - at Barnet seven days ago - he was issued with a straight red card for a foul on an opposing player who would apparently have scored otherwise. Today, he was booked within three minutes when he was unable to hold a shot and his momentum took him out of his area where he handled the ball. Gillingham were duly awarded a free kick and it was at this point that I started to wonder if I`d had one too many pickled onions to eat for lunch because I started hearing noises of a definitely human origin in very much the bass key which I couldn`t blame on anyone else at the time. The free kick came to nothing and the unsettling noises stopped. Only to start again shortly after the usually impeccable Chris McCready sold his goalkeeper short with a back pass and Big Bazza blocked it with his feet. It seemed as much luck as judgement that he didn't flatten Danny Kedwell as well. Gillingham's Number Nine was just behind the ball - and if he'd fouled him, Mr Roche would have been taking an Early Bath for the second appearance in a row.
I checked my pockets this time - where was this noise coming from? Well - not there.
But the sort-of grunting continued - and actually increased in intensity. I noticed it again as Will Haining galloped up Morecambe's right flank after nine minutes and delivered an excellent cross which was deflected for a corner. It got even louder just before Ryan Williams took this and louder still once Michael Richardson, in trying to clear it, almost scored one of the most spectacular Own Goals you could ever have witnessed - his wild volley only just cleared his own bar. It was then that I belatedly realised where the bass humanoid sounds were coming from: the throat of the visitors' manager down there on the sidelines.
How Martin Allen keeps this up, I really don't know - he probably HAS to shake hands with people after the game because his vocal chords are shot-at and he can't actually say anything to anyone anymore. Fair play to him though: the shouting was exclusively aimed at his own players and he never seemed to yell at the officials or anyone else for that matter. It's no wonder Gillingham are top of the league - you wouldn't dare put a foot wrong with this guy bawling at you from only a few yards away throughout the game, would you?
His ire seemed to be reserved largely for Antonio German for a large period of the first half. The large Gillingham number nineteen didn't press forward quickly enough; drop-off smartly enough or make himself available fast enough from throw-ins.
"MOVE! MOVE!" kept being yelled at him at about a million decibels. Poor lad - he probably didn't know if he was coming or going eventually and he was taken off during the second half.
It's probably just as well that I couldn't hear what the Manager yelled when German cleverly set-up Richardson with a fantastic pass to put the Gills' Number 25 one-on-one with Roche after half an hour: the latter blasted the ball well wide of the target when he should have at least hit it. The young man with a shock of red hair didn't appear again for the second half.
At the other end, deserved Man of the Match Stewart Drummond improvised brilliantly to draw a good save from Stuart Nelson with a volley after 31 minutes. Not long afterwards, a mistake at the back allowed Jack Redshaw a free run on goal but his shot went disappointingly wide.
Despite the Noises Off (which seemed to become even louder at this point, if such a thing is humanly possible), the Gills didn't heed the warning: with forty-one minutes played, Redshaw scored for the fifth time in six games after intelligent interplay with Drummond.
So Morecambe went in one goal to the good albeit with a drastically re-organised defence after injury-prone Captain Will Haining - not for the first time in his career - limped from the field with just two minutes of the half still to play.
Morecambe had the first decent chance of the second period when Chris Holroyd drew a good save from Nelson with just five minutes gone. The match was settled only a minute later, however, when stand-in Shrimps' Captain Nick Fenton arrived at Morecambe's right-hand post to deal with a low cross from the Gillingham left and instead laid the ball on a plate perfectly for Bradley Dack who accepted the gift with aplomb from the edge of the penalty area: his superb first time strike gave Roche absolutely no chance at all in the home goal.
After this, the game ebbed and flowed and both teams had a number of half chances to settle it. Best of these were when A Man Called Fish (Gillingham's number Two, Matt) sent a fantastic volley just over the bar from quite some distance after 75 minutes and when opposing Full Back Robbie Threlfall hit a deflected clearance from a similar distance some time earlier. And missed. By quite a lot.
At the end of the game, a draw was probably a fair result. Gillingham stay at the top and are apparently destined for much greater things. Morecambe remain thirteenth. The match was played in a good spirit and what happened on the field was reasonably entertaining. What happened off it, however, was quite fascinating as well.
'Mad Dog' seems a bit harsh as far as Martin Allen is concerned. Despite the constant yelling, he appeared to behave as a Proper Gent.
So how about... Bad Fog instead of Mad Dog?
Next time they get any down on the Medway, they don't need to bother with foghorns on ships, bells on buoys or whatever. They just need to get Martin Allen to stand by the side of the river and yell 'MOVE!"
I guarantee no ships within twenty miles will run aground...
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (Y); 2 Nick Fenton (C 43 mins+); 6 Will Haining (C) (3 Robbie Threlfall 43 mins); 8 Andrew Wright; 9 Lewis Allesandra; 10 Ryan Williams (14 Jordan Burrow 71 mins); 15 Chris McCready; 16 Stewart Drummond; 18 Gary McDonald (17 Andy Fleming 82 mins); 26 Chris Holroyd; 27 Jack Redshaw.
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 12 Dan Parkinson; 20 Joe Mwasile; 23 Chris Doyle.
Gillingham: 1 Stuart Nelson; 2 Matt Fish; 3 Joe Martin; 6 Leon Legge; 7 Chris Whelpdale (10 Anton Robinson 65 mins); 9 Danny Kedwell; 12 Andy Frampton; 18 Bradley Dack; 19 Antonio German (20 Deon Burton 75 mins); 25 Michael Richardson (14 Charlie Allen [Y] 45 mins); 26 Adam Barrett (C).
Substitutes not used: 21Tommy Forecast; 15 Callum Davies; 37 Sam Muggleton; 8 Charlie Lee.
Ref: Gary Sutton.
Written by Morecambe fan Roger Fitton.