29 January 1972
Gillingham 0-2 Exeter City
29th January 1972.
NEAR-FROZEN Gillingham fans saw their team's pride severely dented and Exeter virtually handed both points on Saturday writes TERRY OWEN.
But Saturday's performance by a team challenging for promotion honours was the worst seen by fans since Andy Nelson's arrival at Priestfield Stadium. This was an absolute and utter surrender of both points to Exeter. It was all over as early as the 29th minute when Exeter grabbed the opening goal in only their second raid. Before then at least two clear-cut chances had fallen Gillingham's way, but after Exeter's shock goal,any fight disappeared from the Stadium team's make-up. If manager Andy Nelson was looking for an improvement by his changes then he must have been sadly disillusioned. The reshuffled side, Ken Hill replacing skipper Bill Williams and Jimmy McVeigh coming in for Graham Knight, did not provide ground for promotion optimism. Gills lost this vital clash in the middle of the park. McVeigh seemed lost in his new midfield role and the three against five situation for most of the game, because Dave Peach and Dick Tydeman were unable to give support to the front runners, gave the Exeter an easy time after their early frights. Peach, in particular, was strangely subdued. Missing was the drive and enthusiasm which have been seen in the past. His support for the front runners could be counted on one hand although he was desperately unlucky to have a "goal" ruled out in the 33rd minute. If manager Nelson is to persist in his new set-up with McVeigh then it might be better for McVeigh to slot back into his defensive role on the right flank and allow Terry Parmenter, who has the speed and flair for attack, to move up into midfield. Young Hill can look back on the game with some satisfaction. He was never extended, but when he did come under pressure he acted coolly and with safety.
There was no pattern in Gillingham's play and once Exeter had soaked up the initial pressure there was no way through a solid defence which was well-marshalled by Jimmy Giles.
But Gillingham's case was not helped by a persistence to play the ball close and down. the middle in raids. These were easily smothered by a packed defence whereas a more adven turous approach, had the front men had support, might have stretched the defence and paid a dividend.
Yeo was marked out of the game by Steve Stacey who did a wonderful job to contain the top scorer. Yeo wandered to either flank in a bid to find some space and always found Stacey tied to his bootlaces. But Gillingham should have profited from set-pieces early in the game which the Exeter defence had little answer to.
Facing the icy wind, Exeter were pushed back and after just three minutes Galvin rose high above everyone and saw his header touched off Bickle's head by 'keeper Wilson. From the resultant corner it was the turn of Bickle to move in quickly on Tydeman's precision kick and force a fine save from Wilson.
On both occasions Galvin and Bickle rose unchallenged and could have made certain. In the fifth minute Peach swung over a free-kick to the far post and Galvin was there again but not sharp enough to take the chance.
Gillingham repeatedly penet rated the Exeter defence in these early minutes and Wilson had to race from his line to clear off Tydeman's boot after he had been put through by Bickle.
Another long ball to the far post by Peach again had the Devon defence all at sea. Galvin again stole in on the blind side as Wilson missed the cross and this time Giles cleared but only as far as Wilks whose 25-yard drive shaved the upright.
Then Stacey made a mistake with a pass back to Wilson which did not carry. Bickle was on the chance but Wilson was quick off his line.
A Gillingham goal at this stage was always on and it nearly came when Bickle seized on a poor pass back from Stacey in the 19th minute. Wilson was left stranded and Bickle's flick was cleared by Giles, who moved in too sharply for Yeo.
It was not until the 24th minute that Exeter were able to make a first real attack and then Barry Rowan's shooting power tested Shearing who turned the shot over. This seemed to signal relaxation from Gillingham. The game slipped away from them and in the 29th minute Banks lost Ken Hill and nodded down for ROWAN, a former team mate of Gillingham Youth coach Irvine Gray at Dover, to half-volley past Shearing. A stunned Gillingham tried to find an answer but couldn't. Error followed error as the Exeter defence grew in strength and Gills scoring efforts petered out to be confined to long distance and hopeful shots. Wilson saved a shot from Wilks at the second attempt and in the 33rd minute Wilks hit the ball hard and low into the six-yard box where Peach fired home only to be ruled offside. The Exeter 'keeper, who did not show a safe pair of hands, found himself in trouble with a freekick and the ball ran to Galvin whose hurried lob went over. He then failed to cleanly hold a 35-yard drive from Tydeman and was forced to throw himself at Yeo's feet. But the narrowest escape was at the other end when indecision in going for a high ball left Shearing helpless. It fell to Banks who flicked it aside and Tydeman was back to clear Binney's shot off the line.
Referee Mike Kerkhof (Bicester) pulled a muscle and did not come out for the second half. Linesman Mr. B. K. Robinson took over and Med way Sunday League secretary Colin Boswell, who had been in charge of a Gillingham youth match in the morning, went on the line. Faced now by the strong wind, Gillingham were never able to make any impression in the second half. As the minutes ticked by it became more and more obvious that Gills did not have the attacking flair to worry the visitors. As time wore on so Wilson became just a spectator. And at the other end Shearing was only called on once to extend himself to save a power drive from Rowan at full stretch.
That was in the 82nd minute, but 15 minutes earlier the points had been sealed. Galvin pushed Balson just inside the box and ROWAN sent Shearing the wrong way with his spot kick. Gillingham's fight to wipe out Exeter's lead produced no clear-cut chance in this half. And the scoring efforts could be counted on one hand. Wilks fired over and then tried a snap shot which succeeded only in finding Tydeman near the corner flag. Then Wilks, the most industrious of the front runners, beat his man in the box and played the ball back for McVeigh to fire narrowly wide in the 75th minute.