On a rare occasion, a match comes along that you remember and talk about for many years afterwards. The memory of these matches will stay etched on your soul to be thought and reminisced about during the often dark and dismal times you experience, whilst following a lower division, unfashionable club.
Last season such a match took place in March on a glorious night in Swindon. Generally the words glorious and Swindon should never be used in the same sentence, but on a barmy night at the County Ground, the travelling Gills support witnessed one of the finest away-day wins in the club’s recent history. It was our first win at Swindon since the 1981/82 season.
Millwall away on Saturday 19th December 2015 will be one of those such games that’s talked about in years to come. Ten months on from that 3-0 win against the old nemesis Swindon Town, Justin Edinburgh’s young charges grew up into men against the Lions of South East London with a performance and an away win that had all the same hallmarks of our triumph in Wiltshire towards the back end of last season.
Going into the game at the New Den you could forgive the large travelling contingent for being a little apprehensive about the outcome given the recent away defeats at high flying Walsall and Coventry City in the league, as well as the shock and disappointing FA cup trouncing away at League Two Stevenage. Whilst this current squad have been sweeping all before them at Priestfield (Burton aside), away from ME7 it was beginning to feel like our previous away demons in the third tier were continuing to haunt us in the present.
This Millwall side had been playing in the Championship as recently as last season, meaning this was going to be another stiff test for our young squad. If former defender Joe Martin was to be believed, the calibre of Neil Harris’ squad was supposedly at a different standard to one Justin Edinburgh has built at Priestfield in the summer. We would find this out for ourselves of course, but either way a visit to the New Den is always a tough assignment given the boisterous atmosphere and passionate home supporters and this one would be no different.
The whole of this current Gillingham squad had yet to experience and play in a Millwall v Gillingham match, but when they stepped out the tunnel at approximately 14:55pm on Saturday and looked up at the massed ranks of Gillingham fans in the North Stand singing their hearts out, if they didn’t realise how much a win would mean before kick-off then you really hoped they would sense and feel it now.
19/12/2015 – Sky Bet League 1 – Millwall 0 v 3 Gillingham – Att -12,032(1607 away)
During the early exchanges in the game you could tell the team was right up for this one and you just knew after the Burton defeat the week before that Justin would be expecting a response from his players and that’s exactly what he was getting and we were watching.
The midfield axis of Wright, Morris, Hessesnthaler Jnr and Dack were closing down and harassing their counterparts into mistakes in the middle of the park, and when the ball was back in Gillingham’s possession the full backs of Garmston and Jackson pushed high up the pitch as our high pressing game was coming to the fore against a bamboozled Millwall.
Bradley Dack was the player linking and stitching all the play together, with the willing workers of Wright, Hess and Morris always looking to get the ball to Bradley at every opportunity to allow another attack towards the Cold Blow Stand.
Bradley Dack has often been the stand out performer this season, and it was no surprise when his assist led to the first Gills goal. An in-swinging free kick from just outside the box was headed home by Dominic Samuel after he lost his marker in the penalty area. Ten minutes in and already it was advantage Gillingham.
At the back the centre half pairing of John Egan and Adedeji Oshilaja were dealing with what little threat Millwall posed up front, as their long aimless balls to Steve Morrison went without reward. What shots they did get at Nelson’s goal seemed to end up closer to us in the upper tier than near the actual goal.
The front two of McDonald and Samuel were linking up well together, and it was the same two players who helped win the penalty which Dack was to score from on 25 minutes. Dominic Samuel’s through ball allowed McDonald a run at goal, he then shrugged off the attentions of the covering defender before rounding the goalkeeper and being brought to an abrupt halt by Archer who was about to see the red card.
It was the second cry for a penalty from the Gills players in the first 25 minutes, but unlike the first appeal which was waved away and Samuel booked for simulation, the referee this time awarded the spot kick and Dack did the rest from 12 yards.
Two-nil up, a one man advantage and still just over 75 minutes left the play; this was almost uncharted territory for a Gillingham team playing away at the New Den. A few minutes later Bradley Dack was through on goal and it could have been three-nil but for an excellent save by the substitute goalkeeper Forde. Had that gone in then who knows what the final score could have been and instead it was the 89th minute before the Samuel eventually added goal number three to the final Gillingham tally.
Meanwhile, just before half time, Joe Martin attempted to improve his current ‘popularity’ rating further amongst Gillingham fans. A melee near dugouts involving him, Ryan Jackson and most of the other outfield players saw the ref show Martin and Jackson yellow card as tensions threatened to boil over on the pitch.
That unsavoury fracas was the last incident of note before half-time as the Gills team headed into the dressing rooms in full control of the match. At this point it’s probably fair to say the majority of 1,700+ Gillingham fans present were thinking how many will we win by, but this is Gillingham and we know all too well how dangerous a 2-0 scoreline is.
After half-time the Lions’ players were never going to hide – I doubt the home fans would ever stomach that – and with a bit more luck they could have given the Gills some nervous moments had they stuck away one of their second half chances. Nelson was required to pull off a smart save and with another chance cleared off the line, the home side still carried a threat.
The pattern of the second half saw the Gills’ players happy to soak up the pressure and hit Millwall on the break when they could, with Bradley Dack at the heart of everything the team did well. If Millwall had got a goal back I’m in no doubt the Gills’ players would have probably gone up the gears again, but it wasn’t required and Millwall’s threatened comeback faded away with every passing minute.
The Gills could have added a third goal before they did but for a combination of some disappointing final balls and the linesman flag. The sub goalkeeper then almost joined his colleague for an early bath when he took out Samuel near the touchline, but this time the ref only produced a yellow.
Then with a minute to go, Samuel put the finishing touches on a splendid afternoon with a classy goal that was celebrated by the whole team right in front of the packed upper tier full of Gills fans now in full voice.
The only downer on the afternoon had been the sickening abuse directed at former Lion, Josh Wright towards the end of the game about the death of his relative. Josh didn’t deserve that but he can hold his head up high as he had just done his talking on the pitch in a joint Man of match performance with Dack.
Overall a memorable afternoon for those who travelled and a game in years to come when you turn around and say do you remember that 3-0 destruction of Millwall.
Merry Christmas to Gills fans the World over.