They say karma’s a bitch, and it came back to bite Gillingham Football Club firmly in the rear end today. But whatever you might read about this game elsewhere, let me tell you, as a lifelong Gillingham fan, that this was anything but an FA Cup shock. We all saw it coming.
Dover Athletic out-fought, out-thought, out-passed and out-manoeuvred Gillingham for 90 minutes, comprehensively beating the League Two side by two goals to nil in what was, at times, a startlingly one-sided contest at Priestfield Stadium.
Gillingham had prised manager Andy Hessenthaler and coaches Nicky Southall and Darren Hare from Dover in the off-season. Clearly it was a situation that Dover were less than happy about.
Dover, partly on Hessenthaler’s recommendation, appointed former Barnet boss Ian Hendon as a replacement, but Gillingham managed to swipe him away from the Crabble too, taking advantage of Dover not giving Hendon a contract before announcing his appointment.
It meant Dover arrived at Priestfield with a point to prove, and boy did they play like it. Led by manager Martin Hayes Dover tore into Gillingham from the first minute, earning a corner and very nearly converting it.
It set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Whites dominated the territory, looked sharper on the ball, harder in the tackle and an all-round better side. If I’d brought a football newbie to the game today, they’d have thought Gillingham were the non-league team of part-timers, not Dover.
Dover’s star of the show was Adam Birchall, who made his own personal point to Gillingham’s assistant Hendon with a wonder-strike that will be the talk of the highlights show on ITV tonight.
Birchall skipped past two lame challenges before unleashing an absolute screamer from all of 30 yards that arrowed into the top corner to put Dover in front. Birchall was released by Hendon while both men were at Barnet. If the livewire striker was looking to demonstrate that Hendon was wrong, he couldn’t have done so in more spectacular fashion.
From that moment on the game looked up for Gillingham. They don’t come back from deficits these days, sadly, and with a total lack of any passing game, Gillingham, who were already playing direct football, resorted to hoofing it 60 yards for the less than mobile (and less than match fit) striker Adebayo Akinfenwa to chase.
Every single Gills fan in the stadium knew it wasn’t going to work. By then most knew they were going out of the cup, too.
But the fans still lent their vocal support throughout in a vain attempt to stir the Gills from their near comatose state. Players were running around like headless chickens, there was no communication, no shape, no obvious plan and no clue. It was a repeat of Tuesday night’s debacle against Wycombe. Only this time it was against a side who were four divisions below them last year.
When Luke I’Anson tucked away Dover’s second after half an hour, the writing was on the wall for the Gills.
With their only natural leader, Matty Lawrence, forced off injured and with a makeshift back four with an off-form left back playing centre half and Gillingham’s top scorer Chris Palmer playing left back, it was clear that just keeping the score down to 2-0 would be something of a success for the home side in the second half.
But to their credit the Gills came out with a little more fire in their bellies. Sadly the quality still wasn’t there. And when they did carve out a chance, they found Dover goalkeeper Ross Flitney in outstanding form as he repeatedly denied efforts from substitute Stefan Payne who, along with namesake Jack Payne, was the only bright spot in an otherwise dreadful performance by the Gills.
The fulltime whistle went with a combination of silence from some, boos from some, and a torrent of abuse from others. Dover’s fans went wild and their team celebrated in style. They deserved it, cup football is a two-sided coin. When the league side loses it’s unforgivable and, while the performance by Gillingham was a disgrace, the performance by Dover was superb. I wish them well in the next round.
I know of plenty of Gillingham fans who backed their side to lose today. Not because they’re not loyal, but because they knew we’d lose. They bought their cup tickets nonetheless, so their support for their club isn’t to be called into question. I’d say that winning back a few quid by way of compensation is fair enough.
In a previous blog I asked the question “Where on earth do we go from here?” Based on today’s performance, the only answer I can offer right now is down.
I can’t explain just how much it hurts to see how far the club I love has fallen over the last ten years. The biggest worry is, I just can’t see how we’re going to get out of the mess we now find ourselves in.
I’m off to have a beer…
Our hat is doffed to Simon for having the bollocks to come back and give his views on the game.
Simon Head is the presenter of The Football Pubcast (www.footballpubcast.co.uk) and editor of independent Gillingham FC fan site Gills365 (www.gills365.co.uk) and you can follow him on Twitter @SimonHead