Away Day Memories – A Series Of Bad Decisions Ends In Gillingham

Micky Lough recalls an eventful away day at Priestfield in 2019
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When your day starts by being sick opposite The Board Inn at 5am, it is usually safe to assume that your day can only improve from there.

Sadly for me, in December 2019 my football team was managed by Phil Parkinson, so for me to ever assume this was very naive.

If anyone was attempting to make the most mundane film of all time, a freeze frame would have been taken just after I was sick with me looking into the camera saying, ‘so you’re probably wondering how I got here.’

My chain of bad decisions began a few weeks previously when, the morning after we were dumped out of the Leasing.com trophy by Scunthorpe United, I decided to not only buy tickets for Gillingham away to be housed in a ‘temporary’ uncovered stand which was older than MK Dons but to choose to make the almost 12 hour round trip to Kent by branch bus. Two bad decisions for the price of one.

My third bad decision was to decide to stay out after the Wise Men Say Podcast 500th episode live show and drink Aperol Spritz and copious amounts of Neck Oil until 2am.

My fourth bad decision was to not just turn off my alarm, roll over and go back to sleep when it rudely awoke me just before 4.30am.

Sadly, the day didn’t improve and after sleeping for a couple of hours on the coach I made my fifth bad decision, by forcing a few lukewarm stellas down my neck.

Upon arrival in Gillingham, the day peaked as we all watched the early kick off in a pub near the train station, which to be fair had a decent selection of lagers and real ales.

Things soon went downhill again as the team news started to filter through, where Phil Parkinson fielded a team so negative that it would have made August 2016, David Moyes blush.

Laurens De Bock and Connor McLaughlin started as ‘wing backs’, with George Dobson and Grant Leadbitter occupying the holding midfield roles, while Will Grigg partnered Marc McNulty upfront.

I have never quite been sure what a hap is, and quite why not having one is considered such a disadvantage, but hapless is the only word I can think of to describe Will Grigg that day.

A series of long balls were pumped into the channels for him to chase as the game continued to pass the midfield by.

Midway through the first half my sixth bad decision became all too evident as I slowly became colder as the game went on, I realised I had left my coat on the bus.

The action on the pitch did little to warm me up, until it burst into life in the closing ten minutes.

A cross was stood up to the back post which Charlie Wyke nodded home, which led to a smoke bomb being let off in the away end and much hilarity as it looked as though we were set to wrap up all three points despite turning in one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen from a Sunderland side.

Sadly though, Luke O’Nien had decided to be a pest and unnecessarily fouled their goalkeeper leading to the goal being disallowed.

Just minutes later, Gillingham scored the winner, when defender Connor Ogilvie popped up to volley the winner into the back of the net.

As the players trudged off the pitch in front of the away end they were met with a chorus of boos, and general obscenities directed at the players and management.

Travelling back from Gillingham I had never felt less in love with Sunderland and vowed to never go to another Sunderland away game while Parkinson remained in charge…until I realised that I had already sorted my tickets and travel for Doncaster in a few weeks’ time.

Further salt was rubbed into the wounds when Phil Parkinson praised the spirit of his side and claimed that if they’d just defended that corner we would have secured a point, ‘which we would have taken all day.’

I arrived home a little before midnight, with a mild hangover from my warm beers starting to kick in, feeling utterly sick of my life.

A truly awful day was rounded off when the takeaway I had ordered turned up with a pot of chilli sauce rather than my preferred garlic.

In that period of time that Craig Clark dubbed, ‘The Parkinson years’, we very much went from being on loan to League One to feeling like just another League One side, with just a League One manager with owners who were entirely concerned with self preservation.

Let’s hope this Saturday’s visit to Priestfield results in a vital victory to steer our promotion campaign back on course.

Micky Lough