Chatham Town 2-3 Gillingham - I think we're stronger than we were last season, says Chatham Town boss James Collins

Friday 19th July 2019
Chatham Town 2 – 3 Gillingham
Location Maidstone Road Sports Ground, Bournville Avenue, Chatham, Kent ME4 6LR
Kickoff 19/07/2019 19:00

Pre-Season Friendly
Friday 19 July 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Maidstone Road

GILLINGHAM manager Craig Stone says many of his teenage players' impressed first team manager Steve Evans during their pre-season win over Chatham Town.

Fielding only three professional players in Roman Campbell, Josh Rees and Roman Campbell, the League One club’s youngsters fought back from being 2-1 down to beat the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division hosts.

Gillingham’s central midfielder Woods became the first player to score a goal on the newly-laid 3G playing surface at Maidstone Road, drilling a 30-yarder into the top corner inside the opening seven minutes.

Chatham Town started the second half on the front foot and deserved their 2-1 lead, courtesy of Harry Harding’s first time finish and Leon Smith’s header.

Substitute centre-half Smith then had to go in goal after Dan Ellis was forced off the pitch due to suffering a migraine and with stand-in keeper, striker Paul Vines unavailable this weekend as he is getting married tomorrow, this gave Gillingham a chance to seal the victory as Toby Bancroft came off the bench to score twice, the winning goal coming from the penalty spot.

“Absolutely superb! I couldn’t have asked for any more of the boys,” said Stone, who started his career at Gillingham as a sixteen-year-old.

“Back four of sixteen-year-olds, the goalkeeper was 16, our right-sided midfielder was 16 and to put a performance like that both bravery on the ball and aggressive off it and willing to win their tackles and win their headers, that could’ve been a really, really difficult game for them and it was and they stood up to it.  I was so, so, so proud of them, they did really well.

“It’s going to be tough for the lads and it was at times but they learnt very quickly and they dealt with it.

“We looked at the end there, the last 15 minutes and they’re just stroking the ball around and willing to keep it moving and manage the game.

“They’re 3-2 up and at 16 years of age to be managing it to slow the game down and keep the mall moving and they don’t have to force things and put things in the box at 3-2 up.

“There’s plenty to work with and I said to the boys afterwards, if there’s ever an opportunity in front of the first team manager to make your first impressions that was the way to do it!”

“It was a good work-out for us.  I thought we did ok first half but I felt we showed them a bit too much respect,” admitted Chatham Town manager James Collins, who takes his side to Crayford on Saturday to play Isthmian League South East Division side VCD Athletic.

“We showed what we’re capable of and second half got a good reaction, which I was pleased with.

“Dan Ellis gets injured and comes off. He said he came over with a migraine and couldn’t see anything.  We put Leon Smith in goal and changed things and the sheer amount of changes disrupts the flow of the game and we were mindful that we’ve got a game tomorrow as well so we had to try to take care of that so it was a good useful work-out for us.”

Gillingham created their first opening after only three minutes and 32 seconds when good link-up play from central midfielder Rees, winger Gerald Sithole and right-back Harvey Lintott saw the ball crossed into the near post for striker Campbell to steer his header past the near post from eight-yards.

Gillingham opened the scoring with only six minutes and 39 seconds on the clock and former Bromley midfielder Rees played a part.

Rees rolled the ball inside for Woods to drill a right-footed shot straight into the top left-hand corner from 30-yards, leaving Ellis rooted to the spot before the keeper shouted out to his team-mates why the goalscorer was left in oceans of space.

“A great strike. He just took it out of his feet and drove in and he’s hit a great shot,” said Stone.

“I’m pleased for him because he deserves it. Another one that’s been working hard. Sometimes you play in these games and you can maybe take it the wrong way but Henry hasn’t.  He’s done really well.  He’s played as well as he possibly could and I felt he had a great game.

“He was playing in a different position than he played last time but he did really well and took his goal well.”

Collins said: “Well, I saw him score a couple of goals like that against Sheppey last year in pre-season and went to Sittingbourne and I kept an eye on him.

“He’s got a good strike. It’s a goal from distance, which we always say if people score goals from distance you have to say well done but in the build-up to that we gave the ball away cheaply and I think all of their chances in the first half came from us giving the ball away in possession, which was a little bit frustrating but on the flip side of that I thought we contained them pretty well.”

Poor Chatham Town defending saw Jack Evans play a pass back that got his centre-half Justyn Roberts in trouble but he made a tackle from inside the D and the ball came out to Ben Allen, who lashed his shot high over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Chatham Town created a good opening just 74 seconds later.

Jon Pilbeam played the ball out to Michael Hagan and the winger floated in a great cross, which was flapped at by Gillingham goalkeeper Charlie Walker and Harding glanced his header across goal and past the far post from four-yards out.

“I thought we looked neat and tidy and we looked pretty good on the ball until we got into the final third,” admitted Collins.

“We weren’t getting enough people past Harry and I don’t think we were really positive enough. That was a good move, slow build-up play but it was a good move but he just didn’t score it.”

Former Gillingham midfielder Evans was putting in some high-quality deliveries for the part-timers and his free-kick was met by Ronnie Nelson’s back-header, which was caught by his own goalkeeper in his midriff.

Chatham Town lost possession in the 27th minute in their final third and Campbell stung Ellis’ fingers with a fiercely struck right-footed drive from 25-yards.

Chatham Town were a threat from set-pieces and they won the corner-count by 8-3 and they went close following their second flag-kick.

Evans swung the ball in from the left and Reece Butler glanced his near-post header just over the crossbar.

Right-winger Sithole played the ball inside for Rees, who drilled his left-footed drive screaming past the far post from 28-yards, this time Ellis went for it.

Gillingham’s holding midfielder Tommy Lamb drove forward with the ball before playing the ball to Allen but the former Phoenix Sports player rolled his shot into Ellis’ gloves for a comfortable save.

Sithole delivered a deep cross from the right and Allen got the better of his marker at the far post to steer his header wide from six-yards.

“I thought we showed them a little bit too much respect if I’m honest,” admitted Collins, who finished in the top four in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division last season and won the Kent Senior Trophy and Challenge Cup.

“I felt we weren’t positive enough and I didn’t think we expressed ourselves enough and showed how good we were on the ball. I thought it was all very safe.

“I only thought there were three players that really went out there and really took the game by the scruff of the neck and tried to make things happen.

“We said to them at half time if you want to play for this club and you want to be in the side you’ve all got to be match winners within your own right. 

“I just wanted them to show everyone who was here and show me what they’re capable of and I felt we got that reaction in the second half.”

Stone revealed: “The gaffer (Steve Evans) came in at half-time and said to some of the boys this is the first time that he’s seen that group and he’s got some talent in there and he’s really, really optimistic about what’s in there as well and what he can use himself, which is great and that’s exactly what it’s about.

“Realistically we’re trying to get them ready for men’s football so the earlier they can get that the better and to be able to play against men and get used to them being bashed around and that physicality that you’ve got to compete with and also you have to work out how if you can’t be physical up against them and win the battle how else are you going to get around them? What we did was we moved the ball around quickly.

Chatham Town created some decent openings during the early stages of the second half.

Winger Pilbeam latched onto a long ball over the top of Jimmy Witt and Nelson and cut into the penalty area only to stroke a weak left-footed shot which was comfortably held by Walker after two and a half minutes.

Lamb was given time and space to float in a cross into the Chatham Town box and Campbell was sandwiched by two Chatham players at the near post and rose to see his downward header bounce past the post from four-yards out.

Evans’ free-kick was met by Roberts at the far post and he knocked the ball down and the ball came back out to Evans who stung the keepers fingers with a first time left-footed drive from 25-yards.

“We started off on the front foot, a good positive response which is what we asked for and that’s pleasing because in pre-season it’s all gone our way so far,” said Collins, whose side suffered their first defeat in six pre-season outings here tonight.

“Tonight, I wanted us to be a little bit better in the first half so I’m pleased that we’ve challenged them and they’ve upped their levels, which is good to know.”

Sixteen-year-old Gillingham goalkeeper Walker pulled off a world-class save to deny Chatham Town equalising ten minutes in.

Beadle won the ball in midfield to prevent a Gillingham break and space opened up in front of him as he burst forward before drilling a right-footed shot towards the top left-hand corner from 35-yards.  Walker dived high to his right and got a strong right-hand to push the ball over for Chatham’s seventh corner of the night.

“It was all about being positive, I felt, in the final third,” said Collins.

“I said can somebody have a shot from 30-yards, or hit a tackle, to get the crowd going and he did that. It was a cracking save, a cracking shot.  We started on the front foot and I was pleased with the reaction from half-time.”

Stone added: “A great save! To be honest, I thought it was going in and it was a good bit of play from them.  Again, we won the ball and lost it a little bit too cheapy and it drove it well and had a great strike. That’s another player who can take loads of credit from it. It was a superb save.”

Chatham Town deservedly equalised with 12 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock.

Pilbeam won the ball off Allen down the right touch-line and stroke forward into the bottom channel before playing in a low cross into the box to Beadle, who rolled the ball inside for Harding to place his left-footed shot across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from 10-yards.

“A good finish. Harry had a good chance in the first half, which I thought he should’ve done better with,” Collins said of the former Erith & Belvedere record marksman.

“I thought he held the ball up really well. He scored a lot of goals last season and he’s got three so far in pre-season so I hope that carries on in the season.”

Stone added: “A good bit of football from them. We probably could’ve denied the opportunity but they moved the ball and credit to them.

“Chatham are a good side, they’ve got some good players in there and you could see they’re going to do really, really well in their league so times like that are going to happen.

“We’ll have a look at the video, we’ll sit and watch it with the boys so they can learn but that happens.”

Chatham Town switched off and Ellis had to be at full-stretch to prevent Allen dinking the ball over him into the top far corner.  The keeper stretched high to his left to palm the ball towards safety.

Chatham Town deserved their 2-1 lead at the time when it came with 17 minutes and 39 seconds on the clock.

Evans whipped in a great corner from the left and Smith glanced his near-post header across the keeper to find the bottom far corner.

“Set-pieces were something that we said we wanted to work on and we needed to be better at last year,” revealed Collins.

“It was a great header, great goal.  We looked dangerous all night from set-pieces so it’s pleasing to get one and go 2-1 up.”

Stone said: “If I’m honest I didn’t see it because I was turning round sorting out the substitutes as it actually happened, poor timing for me!

“But I’ll have a look at it, maybe lost the flight of it slightly, far post free-header but we’ve got 16 year-olds playing against fully grown men, so we expected that to happen.”

The turning point of the game came before Gillingham could re-start as Ellis was guided off the pitch, suffering with a migraine.

Neither side had a substitute goalkeeper so Smith walked over to the dug-out and took the gloves from Ellis and bravely went in goal.

Collins said: “It’s usually Paul Vines or one of the sub goalkeeper’s that I’ve had on the bench all of pre-season. It’s the way it goes but listen we’ve got Sin Bins this year and if Dan Ellis gets sinbinned you’ll have to have someone to go in goal.

“You lose Leon Smith coming out of centre-back and you’ve got to make another change and you naturally drop off a little bit and protect your back four.  It’s a shame that happened because it would’ve been interesting to see what happened after. I would rather have it happen now than when the season starts.”

Stone said: “They asked if we had a goalkeeper. We would’ve quite happily offered them a goalkeeper but we didn’t have one either so we only had two goalkeepers between us so unfortunately that’s how it worked.”

Gillingham forced their way back into the game by scoring with 25 minutes and 4 seconds on the clock, as Pat Geddis switched off at right-back.

A man in a blank Gillingham shirt crossed the ball low from the right and the ball found Bancroft unmarked at the far post and he drilled his right-footed shot under Smith to find the bottom near corner from 10-yards.

Stone said: “Toby’s another lad disappointed not to be starting and he proved that when he came on and he scored two great goals.

“We had to move inside which was probably not what he wanted to do.  He’s just comfortable to get on a football, he’s brave on it and he’s just confident to have a go and when you do that and you work hard and you have that little bit of bravery, the quality comes through and he’s got bundles and bundles of ability, same as a lot of these boys out there.

“It’s a pleasure to be working with and the future looks good for them, it definitely does.”

Collins said: “I thought we got a little bit unlucky.  I actually thought it was good play from them. We defended very narrow and the guy hung out at the back post and I said to Brad (Sandeman, assistant manager) where has he come from?  He’s finished it well. It was a good goal from their point of view.”

Bancroft certainly impressed for the 25 minutes that he was on the pitch and he cut in from Witt’s pass and drilled a shot which was heading towards the far corner, only for Roberts to be harshly penalised for handball at the near post and referee Nick Dunn pointed to the spot.

Bancroft placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner to give Gillingham the victory, the goal timed at 29 minutes and 36 seconds.

Stone said: “I was right behind it, it was going in the top corner anyway. It probably took away the glory of the finish but credit to Toby, that’s what I was hoping for. I was standing on the sideline and I said I hope he picks up the ball and make sure you go and take the ball and he did.  He won the penalty and took the ball and struck it away and scored his two goals so he deserved it.”

“The boys said it was a little bit harsh. I couldn’t really see, it’s one of those things. It’s come off his head and hit his arm.  I won’t worry about it too much, it's pre-season,” added Collins.

Chatham Town have four more warm-up games before their trip to relegated side Greenwich Borough on Saturday 3 August for their first league game of the season.

“There’s always pressure on me, I say this in every interview. Regardless of any club I’m at, I want to win the league.  I don’t think anyone can put any pressure on me than I do myself,” said Collins.

“I think we’ve got a very good squad. I think we did very well last season to win the double and this season I think we’re stronger than what we were last season.

“Hopefully we’ll hit the ground running and try to grab one of those two   promotion places.”

Collins added that “after tomorrow, the last three games we’ll go with 16 players and treat them as games that we’re going to win but at the minute it’s just a case of giving everyone minutes and getting everyone fit.  You want to try to give the boys the best possible opportunity, especially some of the younger lads, to see how close they are and if they can show it against teams.  It’s still a case of learning but we’ll get tomorrow out of the way and assess where we’re at and build a sixteen man squad against Sittingbourne and Cray Valley.”

Having helped Tonbridge Angels win promotion in to the Vanarama National League South last season, Stone, 30, has taken his first managerial role.

“It’s a good opportunity for me and I’m chuffed to bits and I’m grateful to the gaffer for giving me the opportunity and to Bryan Bell to put me in the situation I’m in now and for believing in me.

“I’ve got a good group of boys there that I’m really looking forward to developing. I know I can help them on and off the field and make them better footballers as well as good people.  I’m loving every minute of it!

“Credit to them, they didn’t drop their head when they could’ve done but they didn’t. They had another go and they stepped up another gear again and the subs that came on changed the game.

“We started winning the ball in midfield areas and created a lot of opportunities and we got our rewards in my opinion.”

Chatham Town: Dan Ellis (Danny Fitzsimons 66), Joe Kane, George Sheminant (Josh Mclleron 76), Reece Butler (Josh Regan 84), Fikayo Ajayi (Leon Smith 61), Justyn Roberts, Jon Pilbeam (Luis Dos Santos 61), Josh Beadle (Matt Bodkin 61), Harry Harding (Jude Arthurs 76), Jack Evans (Pat Geddis 76), Michael Hagan (Zak Wells 84).
Subs: Eitel Goueth, Alfie Spears

Goals: Harry Harding 58, Leon Smith 63

Gillingham: Charlie Walker, Harvey Lintott (Trialist 76), Jimmy Witt, Tommy Lamb (Trialist 79), Matthew Baker, Ronnie Nelson, Gerald Sithole (Toby Bancroft 65), Josh Rees (Harry Maher 79), Roman Campbell (Trialist 65), Henry Woods (Jay Hards 65), Ben Allen (Harry Laing 65)

Goals: Henry Woods 7, Toby Bancroft 71, 76 (penalty)

Attendance: 851
Referee: Mr Nick Dunn (Deal)
Assistants: Mr Paul Yates (Maidstone) & Mr Dan Bonneywell (Herne Bay)
Fourth Official: Mr Ben Fuller