A draw was not ideal but Akinfenwa made an instant impression. (©PAphotos)
Gillingham were held to a stalemate on a frustrating first day of the season. The Gills enjoyed the lion’s share of possession yet struggled to find the net as they couldn’t break down a Cheltenham side clearly intent on playing for the draw.
And the Robins couldn’t believe their luck when the ball bounced around the Gillingham penalty box to drop at the feet of Wesley Thomas to prod in from six yards.
A goal which should have been avoided. It was a harsh blow for Andy Hessenthaler’s men on the legend's return, as the Blue & Black army were in control of the game.
Andy Barcham provided a constant threat on the wing, consistently beating his full back, only to be crowded out upon entering the Cheltenham penalty area by the oppositions whole back line.
Among the frustration there were many good points to the Gills start, as well as the threat of Barcham, also to impress was the midfield of Danny Spiller and Jack Payne. Spiller was covering every inch of the field, winning headers, making tackles and looking to set up attacking play.
Payne was playing the holding midfield role, he impressed with his tough tackles and honest hard work and passing ability. It is reassuring to know that in this time of limited young English talent, there are still opportunities for young stars such as Payne to impress, and he duly did, deservedly winning the Man of the Match award.
Another good point was the introduction of big man Adebayo Akinfenwa. Although not fully fit, Hessenthaler had said in pre-match interviews that if things weren’t working out, then he would throw the new hit man on.
Akinfenwa added bite to the Gills attack, with superb hold up play, good passing and surprisingly quick feet. He almost scored within seconds of coming on, with an audacious overhead kick forcing a smart save from the opposition goalkeeper.
Bayo was a constant threat, with his sheer presence creating space for players such as Luke Rooney to exploit, still to be frustrated by ten men behind the ball, last ditch tackles and blocks galore, the Gills couldn’t find the goal.
Finally that illusive break through came, on 75 minutes, Jack Payne put a long throw into the box for that man Akinfenwa to flick on, for the ball to deflect off a defender and nestle into the far corner of the net.
Cue the celebrations as the relief was clear to see. The Gillingham players celebrated with the debutant scorer, clearly delighted to find the net and the Gills fans and players ecstatic to break the oppositions desperate defence.
The Gills carried on with authority, clearly in control of the game, but the Cheltenham players were evidently playing for the draw at this stage and were throwing themselves at every shot. Weston, Rooney and Sinclair all went close, but to no avail.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.