"...Floating in the summer sky..."
By Matt Rowson
Barcelona. The City of Gaudí. Second busiest port in the Mediterranean, but without the sweaty dirtiness of Marseilles - thanks in no small part to the redevelopment kick-started by the 1992 Olympics. A city of much to see, do, eat and drink... a fine weekend break destination, in other words.
Another factor central to this appeal is the transport infrastructure... a modern, efficient Metro not least, which spans the city comprehensively and remarkably cheaply. At the height of summer, the heat on the platforms can be suffocating but precious relief is offered by the cool, air conditioned trains. Diving into a carriage as the doors slide open can be a bit like thrusting your head up for air after too long spent swimming along the bottom of a pool...
This last weekend, our route into the centre of town almost invariably took us through the "Diagonal" tube station, named after the arterial multi-laned dual carriageway that crosses the city from Northwest to Southeast on which it is located. We would change lines here, and sit sweltering as the clocks marking the arrival of the next train counted downwards.
The first journey through this station was last Thursday. It didn't take long to notice an eighties feel to the soundtrack played gently through the tannoy onto the platform... first, a snatch of "This Charming Man" by the Smiths, then a break before a few bars of "Catch" by the Cure, followed by a slight downhill turn and Nena's "99 Red Balloons" and twenty seconds or so of Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer".
Which was fine, and a talking point. Quite pleasing, in a quirky sort of way.
The first time.
By Tuesday evening, having passed through Diagonal on countless occasions and heard the same loop through eighties pop on (it seemed) each occasion, the appeal had begun to wane. If, in under a week, it's been possible to reach the point where one can count down to Morrissey being faded out, imagine the tongue-chewing insanity that would result from a regular commute through this station. Doesn't bear thinking about.
Not all irritations and imperfections are as subtle as this, of course. Take the inability of your side to score a goal, for example, a situation not unfamiliar to fans of Watford and Gillingham, who have managed one League goal between them thus far. Not the sort of annoyance that takes much building up, all things considered, or something that you'd need to be particularly perceptive to pick out as a flaw.
But here we are, and the Gills at least have the excuse of fairly extensive casualties in their forward line to blame for their lack of success in front of goal so far... not to mention the three clean sheets that see them five points and eight places better off than we are as consolation.
A switch in formation over the summer may also have contributed to the problems, with Gillingham's midfield having to cope with a new shape, as well as the loss of the significant Simon Osborn, in creating chances.
One certainty would appear to be Welsh U21 keeper Jason Brown between the sticks... he's keeping out former first-choice Vince Bartram.
At the back, the Gills have played 3-4-1-2 for most of the campaign so far, only switching to 4-4-2 in response to Burnley's one-up-front tactic on Monday, without obvious success. This switch saw former Hornet Barry Ashby pushed out to right-back... those of us that remember his attempts at running in midfield early in his career will rightly shudder at the thought. Let's just say he doesn't quite have the pace for this role... and muttered accusations (metaphorically, like) of old-mate considerations in Ashby's continued selection have been heard (seen) on messageboards.
Assuming that the Gills go back to 3-4-1-2, Ashby ought to partner Ian Cox and Chris Hope in the centre of defence. Cox was a summer recruit from Burnley, and the man responsible for the foul that gave Stephen Glass a pot-shot from a free kick in the Quarter-Final last season. Hope, a mainstay of the Gills' defence since his arrival from Scunthorpe three years ago, made a rare error which lead to the first Burnley goal on Monday... but is also likely to be the only player starting the game with a League goal to his name this season. Other possibilities at centreback include youngster Richard Rose or the left-sided Leon Johnson. Nayron Nosworthy has featured all over the place so far, including up-front as a stop-gap, but went off with an injury on Monday.
Wingbacks are likely to be Nicky Southall, back at the Priestfield after an unproductive spell at Bolton, and John Hills, signed from Blackpool in the summer as a replacement for Roland Edge, who has joined Hibs.
In the centre, injuries to Hessenthaler (hamstring), Smith (knee), Saunders (shin) and James (knee) have severely restricted options leaving Danny Spiller, who has been on the edge of the team for a while, and David Perpetuini, who needs little introduction. Hessenthaler and Saunders are the two most likely to be fit to contend for a place on Saturday, which in at least one case we could obviously do without.
Paul Shaw has been playing his favourite role "in the hole" behind the strikers, although his effectiveness so far has been limited. Tommy Johnson has had a run in the side but got himself sent off in a narrow Carling Cup win at Cambridge and begins a three-game ban on Saturday.
This leaves Mamady Sidibe, generally thought to lack a killer instinct despite his awesome showing against us last season at the Priestfield, and Marlon King, who has had two half-hour run outs as a sub since damaging ligaments in January. Undoubtedly the Gills' most potent weapon up front, King may be forced back earlier than would be ideal for this one... rumours of a £1.2m bid from Nottingham Forest have been rife all week, but appear to have been ended with Forest's recruitment of Gareth Taylor.
Otherwise, Rod Wallace has been out with a calf injury and may make the bench, and there's always a chance of a loan signing with former Gill Ade Akinbiyi mentioned in a few messageboard conversations.
Two sides without much of a cutting edge, then. A dull nil-nil would be as good as we've managed at home to this lot for a while... Ross Jenkins was the last player to score a winner for us at home to the Kent side. On the other hand, both sides will be fancying their chances of steadying the ship a little. Unlike the soundtrack at Diagonal, our luck has to change some time.