Headley: Anyone else still croaking?

Last updated : 09 August 2005 By Simon Head

As I write this inaugural, some say debut, some say first, column, I am still nursing the effects of last Saturday's delirium. As well as an extremely croaky voice, I have now picked up the cold that seems to do the rounds every Christmas and New Year. Still, I may be all congested and croaky, but I am an extremely happy man.

The FA Cup match against Charlton could well be the best performance I have ever seen at Priestfield. There have been other memorable games, the most obvious contenders being the FA Cup demolitions of Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City in 1999/2000, and my personal favourite until last weekend, Gillingham 5-0 Preston North End. Each of those games had something special about them, but Saturday's match was almost perfect.

As we kicked off, I shouted my encouragement to the team, asking, somewhat sarcastically, to avoid any first-minute cock-ups (a-la Preston two weeks earlier). However, I soon shut up when Nyron failed to hit the mythical Priestfield "Row Z". One backheel and one driven cross later and we were one-nil down. Bugger! It was Chelsea at home all over again (remember Ashby and Bartram's first-minute mix up three seasons ago?) and things looked bleak.

TJ & Spiller: Magnificent against the Addicks
Our recovery from that early setback was nothing short of breathtaking. Spiller was magnificent - and surely can be handed a regular place in the side, and the much-maligned Tommy Johnson proved what those who believed in him have always been saying; give him decent service and he will score goals. His movement was one of the most interesting things to watch during the match, as he pulled the Charlton defenders all over the place with his clever running. He doesn't have the engine of a few seasons ago, but against arguably the hardest-working side in the Premiership, Tommy ran them ragged. I've always thought he could do a "Super Bob" and win the fans over with his class, but injuries have so far prevented him from doing so. Now he's back, I just hope he can stay injury-free and get a good run in the side.

Mama Sidibe was also excellent up front, the "fairy", if you will, on top of Hessenthaler's all-new Christmas Tree formation. His touch is getting better and better and it appears he has also been working hard on his aerial power. What a goal! Alan Shearer himself would have been proud to have scored that one. A lot has also been said about the role of Dean Kiely in our victory. Indeed, BBC's (ahem) esteemed panel of experts were onto Kiely like a flash, immediately blaming him for two of Gillingham's three goals. Had Kiely not had a blinder in the second half, it wouldn't have been three, it would have been six - fact. Credit must go to the Gills and it was both refreshing and heartening to hear Charlton boss Alan Curbishley heap praise on the Gills in his post-match comments and again on Five Live on Monday night. Top man.

The festive period proved to be an excellent one in footballing terms. Three points against Watford (we even got a dodgy penalty! It must have been Christmas!), then the last-minute winner by Kevin James to sink Millwall again (last-minute winners are becoming a bit of a tradition against the Lions), then the Charlton game and top billing on Match of the Day. You couldn't have asked for more. Just as well really, as the subsequent cup draw did us no favours whatsoever. Burnley away in the next round will certainly bring us down to earth with a bump. I can't think of a duller draw (Coventry away maybe) but we have had some memorable away victories at Burnley in the past so a trip to Turf Moor should hold no fears for the Gills. A win would take us into the last 16, then it really is game on. One point to consider, with four all-Premiership Fourth Round ties in the FA Cup, there could be a clear run to the quarter finals and beyond for at least one lucky Nationwide League team. Remember Chesterfield a few years back? Maybe the Gills could emulate the Spireites and, who knows, maybe even go all the way to Cardiff.
You never know...