Gillingham 5-1 Old Actonians - We'll be striving for bigger and better things next year, says Gillingham boss Jack Wheeler

Thursday 19th May 2016
Gillingham 5 – 1 Old Actonians
Location Meridian Sports & Social Club, 110 Charlton Park Lane, Charlton, London SE7 8QS
Kickoff 19/05/2016 20:00

The FA Women’s Premier League South East Division One
Thursday 19th May 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Charlton Park Lane

GILLINGHAM manager Jack Wheeler says he’s feeling proud of striker Kallie Balfour following her two goals that clinched the Golden Boot crown.

Gillingham completed their 22-match The FA Women’s Premier League South East Division One campaign as runners-up on 51 points, finishing 11 points adrift of promoted champions Crystal Palace.

The Eagles will take their place in the Southern Division next season – and Wheeler says he wants Gills to win promotion next season.

Old Actonians arrived in Charlton for tonight’s game in the bottom three, having won five and drawn two of their 20 league outings and the west Londoners were the better side during the opening ten minutes.

But Gillingham opened the scoring through left-winger Fiona Constable before plucky Old Actonians equalised just before half-time through the impressive Chelsea Berlin.

Gillingham dominated the entire second half and Balfour levelled Crystal Palace’s Gemma Bryan on 31 league goals before she won the Golden Boot title outright with her 32nd league goal and her 39th in 30 games by scoring her second of the night.

Jade Keogh – who hit the post during the first half – added a fourth goal before America bound midfielder Georgia Reece impressed as she came off the bench to complete the scoring.

“Very pleasing for us to end the season positively,” said Wheeler, 27, following his side’s sixteenth-league win of the season.

“Old Actonians made it very difficult for us, they got one or two opportunities and they took it in the first half. 

“I say we had a fair share of possession, just couldn’t really convert but I think our fitness and our sharpness managed to get us the opportunities and we kind of dominated in the second half from start-to-finish and went on to score quite a convincing win.”

Old Actonians almost grabbed the lead following their first corner of the game with three minutes and 54 seconds on the clock.

Central midfielder Nathalie Randell swung the ball in from the left and Carla Williams timed her run towards the near post to perfection, flicking her shot against the underside of the crossbar from two-yards out before the ball was cleared towards safety.

“Looking at the size of the team you’ll always know they’re going to cause us some sort of danger from set-pieces,” said Wheeler.

“I said to the girls’ try not to concede too many free-kicks or too many corners.  First corner, I think it’s come straight off the crossbar, so it was always going to be one of them when those silly mistakes in and around the box but I think that and their goal was there two opportunities that they created in the first half so I think we done alright in the first half.”

Wheeler added: “They didn’t give us any respect, which is fine, no problems. I’m glad that someone’s come to play rather than set-up to shut up shop, which has happened a few times this year so it’s quite nice to have quite an entertaining game, especially for all the people that have come down and watch a bit of an end-to-end game in the first half so for a spectacle point of view, it was quite good.”

But Gillingham weathered the visitors’ fine opening ten minute spell and opened the scoring with 10 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Emma Tune slipped the ball into Balfour inside Old Actionians half and she flicked a pass into Madison North, who released Constable, who lashed her left-footed drive high over the keeper’s head into the roof of the net from ten-yards.

“Good finish from Fiona in a one-v-one situation, dropped a shoulder and took it to the by-line and then just smashed it straight into the back of the net,” said Wheeler.

“Very pleasing for her because she’s been out on loan for a couple of months to a few other teams to get herself a little bit sharper.  She’s comeback and she’s played the last couple of games and she’s managed to get on the scoresheet tonight and she’s managed to do 90 minutes, so very pleasing for a young striker to come in and start to see her face in the first team.”

Constable put over a low cross from the left which was missed by centre half Leah Taylor but Balfour couldn’t steer her shot into the bottom near corner from a tight angle, her shot blocked by keeper Naoami Swift at the near post before ricocheting off the Gillingham striker and behind for a goal-kick.

Gillingham were enjoying plenty of possession in the middle of the park and Emma Tune latched onto a square pass but her shot lacked conviction and rolled into the hands of the visiting keeper.

Gillingham struck the left-hand post in the 32nd minute when central midfielder Keogh was given time and space to unleash a right-footed drive from 25-yards which crashed against the post and Balfour’s follow-up shot was comfortably saved by Swift.

Wheeler said: “It was end-to-end but when we got the ball they were just trying to frustrate us really.”

Balfour turned provider when her ball into the box was clipped into the keeper’s hands by Constable.

Gillingham’s third corner was swung in by North, the ball was cleared out to Tune, who drove her first time shot over the crossbar from 25-yards.

But Old Actonians equalised with five minutes to go before half-time through a stunning finish from striker Berlin.

Hannah Olofsson and Carla Williams linked up in midfield before Sinthujah Sooriyakumar played the ball inside to Carla Williams, who teed up Berlin, who looped her left-footed shot over Imogen Bullivant’s outstretched left hand as the ball dipped in just underneath the crossbar.

Gillingham’s manager hailed the strike, saying, “Great finish from them, it’s like 25-yards out, straight over the keeper, straight into the goal. A great finish from them. It was kind of a little bit against-the-run-of-play but that’s football, it happens.”

Gillingham’s second-choice goalkeeper was almost left red-faced as Berlin’s up and under from the left sailed over her head and dropped down from a great height and kissed the crossbar and Carla Williams just couldn’t get a shot away from the rebound.

Wheeler added: “It’s one of them where it’s gone up like 50-60 yards and it’s come straight down underneath the crossbar so it’s never, never a nice one for the goalkeeper to take in the first place but she didn’t concede so I’m happy.”

Gillingham had to up their game for the second half and they did exactly that.

When asked what he told his players’ during the interval, Wheeler said: “More of self-reflection really, kind of gave them their own time, give them their own space, let them take ownership of what they’re doing.

“I had them listen to their points what they were looking to do and what they didn’t do too well and what they were doing well and then I went through some of my own stuff that I wanted to speak to them about in terms of their response and their reaction and their willingness to compete and their willingness to be physical.

“I think it changed massively in the second half and credit to us and we went on to score another four goals.”

Taylor lost the ball to Balfour in the final third but the Gillingham striker cut into the penalty area before dragging her shot across Swift and harmlessly past the far post.

Gillingham took the lead, with the clock showing 10:06, courtesy of a quality pass and finish.

A defensive splitting pass from Tune put Balfour through on goal and the striker  produced an equally high-quality finish, chipping the ball from 15-yards over the advancing keeper, the ball dropping into the bottom far corner of the net.

“That was the first time all game that we went direct and it paid off,” admitted Wheeler, who was watched by former Gillingham and Brighton & Hove Albion Ladies manager James Marrs.

“We always look to play football and play the right way, try to play through the thirds and we went a little bit more direct with that one and managed to get ourselves in behind and Kallie had a great finish and it looped it straight over the goalkeeper.

“She’s scored two or three of them against Norwich last weekend so she’s on a fine bit of form at the minute.”

All of Gillingham’s outfield players raced over to congratulate Balfour scoring her Golden Boot clincher with the goal timed at 13:29.

Keogh centred a low pass in from the right towards Wills, who cut the ball back for Balfour to turn and drill her right-footed shot across the keeper into the far corner from 10-yards.

“Kallie’s been wonderful for us all season and the two goals she’s scored tonight has made her the league’s top goalscorer for the whole season,” said Wheeler.

“Without her attacking threat it could’ve been a very different season this year. She’s been a wonderful girl both on and off the pitch for us.

“Obviously scoring the first one meant she was joint top goalscorer but I know she was wanting to get that crown for herself because it’s quite a nice little evening at the start of next season at The FA Women’s Premier League awards.

“It’s always nice for any footballer, male or female, to go to and have that title to yourself that you’re the league top goalscorer.  I think she’s finished with 39 goals this year. She had two years out of football so for her to come back and score 39 goals in her first year has been absolutely fantastic.

“I’m really pleased for her personally, not just managerially but personally because he’s been working hard and she’s a credit to herself and the rest of the team.”

Gillingham’s next two goals came from distance.

Keogh picked up a loose ball, ran forward before lashing a right-footed 35-yard drive into the far corner, over the diminutive goalkeeper’s outstretched left-hand to make it 4-1 in the 63rd minute.

“Jade doesn’t score easy goals, she’ll score, if you give her any space from 25-yards out she’ll find the back of the net,” said Wheeler.

“She doesn’t make anything easy for herself, she’ll always been known to score screamers, the years that I’ve been coaching Jade.  It’s just a trademark Jade finish really. She’s been another one that’s been outstanding, probably since the turn of Christmas, she leads the way.”

Gillingham wrapped up the scoring through Reece in the 68th minute.

The substitute cut inside Old Actonians left-back Odofin and drilled a right-footed screamer past the diving keeper into the middle left-hand corner from 30-yards.

“Georgia was absolutely spot-on tonight and I’m really pleased because Georgia will be leaving us to go to America to do some studies for the next three years but what a way to send-off?!

“I can’t be more proud or more pleased with her really. Great finish, she worked tremendously hard for the whole time she came on to the pitch and I’m just a very happy manager.”

Gillingham substitute Katie Hardaker played the ball inside to Constable, who looped her left-footed 30-yard drive into Swifts hands.

Gillingham’s two other substitutes then created their next chance when striker Paige Baker-Carroll rolled the ball to Reece, who clipped her shot past the near post from the right hand side of the penalty area.

Reece and Keogh linked up well in the visitors’ middle but Baker-Carroll saw her effort go across keeper Swift, who got her frame down to her right to gobble up the ball.

Balfour, who scored six goals in Gillingham’s 8-0 win at Norwich City last weekend, went close to scoring her hat-trick in the final 12 minutes.

Reece fed Balfour, who stroked her right-footed curler agonisingly around the foot of the far post from 20-yards.

Wheeler added: “But she’ll take two or three. I can’t be her biggest critic but she’s done well and it was unlucky for her not to get another one.”

Reece and Baker-Carroll linked up well down the right and Balfour cut the ball back for Hardaker to see her shot bounce past the far post.

Balfour played a fine diagonal pass to 15-goal striker Baker-Carroll, who looped her shot on the turn just over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Gillingham completed their dominant second half performance with Keogh hitting her right-footed shot just over the bar as their campaign came to a close.

Wheeler admitted he was feeling disappointed as Gillingham missed out on the sole promotion place to Crystal Palace.

He said: “Obviously not where we want to be because we wanted to be pushing for the title and pushing for promotion.

“It’s like a transition year and hopefully from next year we’ll push on to bigger and better things.

“In terms of The FA Cup and in terms of the league title, there are two main priorities that I want to focus on next season but slightly disappointed but its’ one of them where I’ll take it on the chin, learning curve this year and then we’ll come back bigger, better and stronger for next year.

“I’m already halfway through planning what we’re going to do for next year, pre-season is actually sorted, I think we’ve only got about one or two slots left available to play anyone, and it’s midweek as well, so all the preparations have gone in, in terms for taking us to the next level.

“The continued support that we get from the man’s team, which is fantastic for us, which means we can push the girls’ progress a little bit quicker than a lot of teams can.

“The backing we get in, very grateful to the club. We’ll be striving for bigger and better things next year.

“I’m quite excited about where we can be moving onto the next season.  Nothing’s missing, we’ll be good, we’ll be fine next year. We’ll be striving on with our own personal targets, the girls’ have got their own targets and one of the targets was to win promotion this year. We didn’t get that this year but I know that will be the number one target next year.

“That hasn’t come from me, that’s come from them. They’re quite a driven team and that’s all you can ask from your players’ as a manager.”

Gillingham: Imogen Bullivant, Ashleigh Loosemoore, Lauren Williams, Emma Tune (Georgia Reece 65), Vanisha Patel, Rachel Ahern, Fiona Constable, Madison North (Katie Hardaker 60), Kallie Balfour, Jade Keogh, Lydia Wills (Paige Baker-Carroll 60).
Sub: Courtney Shanly

Goals: Fiona Constable 11, Kallie Balfour 56, 59, Jade Keogh 63, Georgia Reece 68

Old Actonians: Naoami Swift, Sinead Friel, Sharon Odofin, Hannah Olofsson, Jodie Regan, Leah Taylor, Nathalie Randell, Chelsea Berlin (Clemmie Moodie 64), Carla Williams, Sinthujah Sooriyakumar.

Goal: Chelsea Berlin 40

Attendance: 54
Referee: Tunde Adebayo (Bexleyheath)
Assistants: Mr Dean Firmin (Maidstone) & Mr Peter Worton (Maidstone)