Match report for Gillingham vs Plymouth Argyle on 05 May 18
Parker 5, Eaves 30, 36, 51, List 90
Grant 23, Carey 77
THE first game of the season, at Peterborough, seems a lifetime ago, and yet it only seems like yesterday.
On that day, Argyle played well, conceded one freak goal and one goal that could have been a foul, and lost Ryan Taylor to an injury that would take nearly four months to heal.
Cue a trying conclusion to 2017, with only scattered moments of optimism to decorate August, September, and October. November saw some higher points, and on December 9, Argyle played Gillingham at Home Park, and won 2-1, lifting the Pilgrims off of bottom spot in the league.
Things were looking up, but surely no-one felt on that bitterly cold Devon day, that such a turnaround to the campaign would be so forthcoming. At that stage of the season, knowing that the final game meant a journey to the Medway, we would have taken midway.
The season's denoument did not follow the outrageous fairy-tale it could have, but instead saw Gillingham cast as party poopers, winning 5-2 on a day where Argyle were sunk in a tangental Cinque port. Tom Eaves' hat-trick, between Josh Parker's opener and Elliott List's coup de grace, were enough. Joel Grant and Graham Carey scored for Argyle - they were not consolation goals. In effect, the consolation for this loss came in many of the previous games.
At MEMS Priestfield, Argyle's first real chance came after just five minutes, as Ruben Lameiras squared for Grant, but his close-range effort was blocked, and Gillingham broke away. Former Pilgrim loan player Lee Martin got the ball to Parker, who had rather too much time to run forward then toe-poke past Remi Matthews at his near post.
Argyle, though, with Graham Carey playing deeper pulling strings, were well in it. A corner caused havoc, and Grant was again involved as Gillingham somehow scrambled it clear. Third time lucky, though, as the Jamaican got the last touch to a clever, low Carey free-kick that bobbled around but was finally flicked over the line. It took a linesman's flag to confirm it, but the ball did look over.
Eaves heaved his way down the left hand side then crossed wildly with his left foot, to the delight of the Argyle fans, who conveyed their amusement with a song comparing (negatively) the ponytailed Eaves to Andy Carroll.
Carroll was a final-day scorer against Argyle on the final day of the season eight years ago, and Eaves followed his alleged doppelganger into that category by capitalising on Zak Vyner's hesitancy, running through on Matthews, and coolly clipping home.
This second goal galvanised Gillingham in a way the first goal did not, and it was not long before Eaves was heading in at the far post and effectively ending Argyle's season, in case anyone though it had any life left at all.
Scott Wagstaff's low cross really should have been finished by Parker as Argyle toiled their way to half-time, all the while hearing no goal news from Rochdale, for there was none to speak of.
The most blindly optmistic of optimists had their afternoon ended when Eaves grabbed his hat-trick, forcing the ball over the line from a left-wing set-piece, but to be fair to Green Army they continued to sing, chant and bounce their way past the end of a season that, eventually, ended in frustration, but it is frustration that will evaporate quickly, and reveal a season that's legacy will be felt in the future for various reasons.
Here was another: Cameron Sangster came on for his second appearance in the first team, and did nothing to suggest it would be his last. He was calm, assured, and showed promise aplenty. Making debut later on was another teenage Pilgrim; young Alex on in what Luggy used to call 'Battle conditions'.
Alex Battle came on just after Argyle had grabbed a goal to give the Green Army something to cheer. Sonny Bradley, who was now up front, flicked-on a long throw, and Carey headed behind the grasp of goalkeeper Tomas Holy.
Something to ponder: in Derek Adams' first season as manager, Argyle put out a starting 11 in their final game that contained ten player who began the opening match, too. This game ended with a front two of Alex Battle and Sonny Bradley. No Janner Nostradamus called that one in their wildest, Rattler-filled dreams.
Perhaps that is the best metaphor for this season. A season of seven goalkeepers, of myriad injuries; of a grandstand coming to fruition; of young Pilgrims downing Manchester City, and others; of an average Home Park attendance in five figures for the first time in a decade. But most of all, a season of bottom to fifth, but settling in seventh.
It still needs to be remembered as special. It's true legacy, though, will be what we go on and achieve.
Pilgrims, enjoy your summer. Relax, refresh, recharge. We will be back before you know it.
Gillingham (4-1-2-1-2): 13 Tomas Holy (gk); 2 Luke O'Neill, 5 Max Ehmer, 6 Gabriel Zakuani, 3 Bradley Garmston; 33 Mark Byrne; 7 Scott Wagstaff, 26 Callum Reilly; 11 Lee Martin (capt, 8 Jake Hessenthaler); 9 Tom Eaves (10 Conor Wilkinson 73), 14 Josh Parker (21 Elliott List 83). Substitutes (not used): 12 Connor Ogilvie, 19 Ben Nugent, 30 Tom Hadler, 37 Navid Nasseri.
Booked: Zakuani 45.
Argyle (4-1-2-1-2): 34 Remi Matthews; 2 Gary Miller, 22 Zak Vyner, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 4 Yann Songo’o; 24 David Fox 10 Graham Carey; 11 Ruben Lameiras (17 Aaron Taylor-Sinclair 57); 16 Joel Grant (37 Alex Battle 78), 27 Alex Fletcher (33 Cameron Sangster 57). Substitutes (not used): 25 Kyle Letheren (gk), 32 Ryan Law, 36 Dan Rooney, 38 Klaidi Lolos.
Booked: Songo'o 84.
Referee: Brendan Malone.
Attendance: 6,269 (1,461 away)