Face-to-Face with the Gills
The Priestfield Stadium hasn`t been a happy hunting ground for the Blues. In ten previous meetings in Kent, we have tasted victory just once. The first time was a historic occasion when the Wanderers made it through to the first round proper of the F.A. Cup in November 1932. The sides drew 1-1 before Gillingham won 4-2 in the replay at Loakes Park which was played on a Wednesday afternoon. It is interesting to note that despite needing to take time off work to attend the game, the crowd of 7,597 is still the highest home attendance for a Wycombe game against the Gills.
The first league meeting in Kent came in February 1994 and would have been the subject of this edition of face-to-face except for one reason. Almost nothing noteworthy happened until the 89th minute when Gary Breen got in the way of goalkeeper Steve Banks and gifted an open goal to Tim Langford, who duly scored. We haven`t won there since.
Your scribe is going to take you back to August 1999 when we made the trip under manager Lawrie Sanchez. We had just completed mission impossible and there was a feel-good factor with not only another season in Division Two but a cup giant-killing fresh in the memory. Wycombe had proved they were the superior WWFC after knocking Wolves out of the League Cup with a 4-2 victory at Molyneux on the previous Wednesday.
Sanchez had to make a couple of changes to the side that recorded that memorable victory with Andy Baird coming in to make his first start of the season in place of Sean Devine who had suffered a groin strain in training. Jamie Bates started in the centre of defence ahead of Jason Cousins and Alan Beeton took the left-back berth to allow Steve Brown to move into the middle of the park as a replacement for Lee Holsgrove who dropped to the bench. Gillingham were managed by none other than Peter Taylor and included current manager Andy Hessenthaler in the centre of their midfield.
The Chairboys` line-up was: (4-4-2)
Matt Lawrence - Jamie Bates - Paul McCarthy - Alan Beeton
Dave Carroll - Michael Simpson - Keith Ryan - Steve Brown
Andy Baird - Jermaine McSporran
Gillingham lined-up as follows: (3-5-2)
Mark Patterson - Barry Ashby - Barry Miller
Mark Saunders - Junior Lewis - Andy Hessenthaler - Paul Smith - Nicky Southall
Robert Taylor - Andy Thomson
The Blues were graced by the presence of none other than David Elleray as Referee and he put in a typically pompous performance, strutting around the field like a puffed-up peacock. The Priestfield was in the middle of being re-built and the Redfearn Avenue site was a building site. The first half hour was a quiet affair with neither side troubling either goalkeeper.
It was the Chairboys who broke the deadlock after 34 minutes when Andy Baird raced clear on goal only to be brought crashing to the turf by Gills defender Barry Fuller and Elleray pointed to the spot. Steve Brown stepped up to smash the ball past home goalkeeper Vince Bartram and make it 1-0 to the Wanderers. It was the Wycombe legend`s first penalty for the club.
Unfortunately the lead lasted for only five minutes when former Brentford striker Robert Taylor dived over Paul McCarthy`s challenge in the area and Elleray had the perfect opportunity to level matters by awarding a spot-kick to the home side. Taylor coolly slotted into the net past his namesake and ensured the sides would go into the half-time break level at 1-1.
The second half started with both sides looking to attack in search of a winner and Gillingham almost went in front when Taylor smashed a shot against the post after 56 minutes. With just ten minutes remaining a quick throw from Dave Carroll allowed Jermaine McSporran the space to cross from the right and Paul McCarthy looped a header over Bartram and although Junior Lewis cleared the ball, it had already crossed the line and Wycombe were 2-1 in front.
Just like the first half the lead didn't last long. Martin Taylor flapped at Mark Saunders` right-wing cross and substitute Brian McGlinchey fired into the net from ten yards to make it 2-2 on 84 minutes. Wycombe had to settle for the third league draw in their opening four games although they did maintain their unbeaten start to the Division Two season. Wycombe finished the season in 12th place whilst Peter Taylor guided the Gills to promotion via the play-offs.