Nikita Whinnet was the main attraction of this Sunday’s game as the former Gillingham player returned home for the first time.
It’s always tough for a player to return to their former clubs. Will the fans love me or hate me? Will the players and staff welcome me back with open arms? But Whinnet would have been well aware of how this story would unfold.
After all, this is the woman who went to Millwall as part of the mass exodus Gillingham suffered during the summer. She then returned to the club in October claiming that her decision to depart was ‘the biggest mistake of my life.’
But then, on 7th November Charlton Ladies announced their latest signing.
Whinnet has managed to play for 3 different teams since the start of the Women’s Premier South league 2014/15 at the end of August.
The disloyalty was clearly not forgiven or forgotten by her ex-teammates.
Whinnet collided with goalkeeper Courtney Shanly twice and was tackled to the ground on numerous occasions. Maybe it was just a coincidence? Or maybe she had a point to prove.
Emma Tune appeared to be particularly frustrated on the pitch with Whinnet. The pair did not come into too much contact on the pitch but that did not stop them sharing a few choice words.
“It was quite disappointing. When she came back the club showed her a lot of loyalty and then she didn’t stick around so obviously today was always going to be a little bit feisty but you’ve just got to get on with it in football,“ said Tune in her post match interview. But it was clear she held back and kept what she really thought to herself.
This is a building season for the Gills who lost their manager and 11 of their first team players before the summer.
This season, manager Simon Ratcliffe has had to dip into the reserves team a few times this season to make up for the loss.
This week they were missing Ashlee Hincks upfront who is away on holiday, but welcomed back Sokhara Goodall in defence who has just come back from China.
The final score did not reflect the play of the game. If you did not know you would not have guessed there was seven places between the two teams in their league.
Gillingham worked hard putting in some good tackles but seemed to panic when they received the ball. Often they had plenty of time to play with it but would clear it without looking to see who was there to help them.
The first goal came in the 20th minute when Graham outran the Gills defence to take a shot at goal. Shanly got a hand to it but was unable to stop it, allowing Graham to open the scoring for Charlton.
Ellie Manning was yellow carded in the 27th minute after a late tackle on Whinnet. Manning only joined Gillingham at the beginning of the season and has been important to the team as a fast and brave addition to the wing.
The free kick that followed, taken by Stef Simmons resulted in goal number two.
The shot was on target and cleared by Shanly but it fell into the path of Graham who found the net for the second time this game.
Graham was soon on the attack again, showing great pace down the centre of the pitch towards goal. Captain Lauren Williams stopped Graham and received a yellow card for the tackle.
A goal in the first half may have changed the game and injected some confidence back into the blues. But when Lauren Philips did find the goal it was called offside.
Louise Lorton showed great pace down the wing and into the box in a rare lapse of concentration from Charlton’s defence.
Megan Lynch met Lorton inside the box as she passed the ball over her to Philips. The number 10 looked to return the ball to Lorton but instead found the net.
They celebrated; the referee and linesman deliberated, and offside was given.
Gillingham came back in the second half looking ready to attack. Natalie Crinean made a great run down the centre. She put the ball into the box but no one was there to receive and the ball was cleared.
Charlton’s third goal came in the 64th minute and it was a hat trick for Graham. Coombs fed the ball into Graham who chipped it over goalkeeper Shanly.
The Gills were denied a second goal in the 71st minute after some excellent teamwork.
Tune set up Crinean outside the box who passed it in to Danielle Farmer, who had come on to replace Phillips, crossed it in beautifully, only for it to be called offside again.
The final goal came in the 84th minute as substitute Dominique Harris was in the right place at the right time to receive the ball from Samantha Pittuck and forced the ball over the line.
It was a disappointing result for the Gills who had had a recent change in form. They drew with Copeswood last Sunday and beat Parkwood Rangers 8-0 in the Kent cup the week before. Before that they were suffering from 7 straight defeats.
Manager Simon Ratcliffe was disappointed with the result but not with the overall performance of his young squad.
“I think we made some catastrophic errors in the way we conceded the goals. But, that said I think we played quite well and I don’t think they were 4-0 better than us today.
“We will by and large play the same formation because that is the way I want to play and over time hopefully we’ll get the players in to add to what we’ve got to enhance the way we play. The gap between us, third from bottom, and them third top is not huge on todays evidence and we will try and bridge that gap.”
He did not directly discuss Whinnet but he was disappointed with the referee’s decision in regards to her collisions with goalkeeper Shanly.
He said: “I do believe that when the centre forward wipes out your goal keeper twice and fouls are given both times then at least once the referee should take his card out his pocket.”