To confirm what a manic depressive football club we are, the creeping pessimism of last week has been long forgotten after an impressive away win and the subsequent return of two former favourite players in Ben Turner and Gael Bigirimana. We now head into a top-of-the-table clash with Gillingham with a genuine sense of momentum that comes with believing that this is, perhaps, our year.
Of course, it would be just like Coventry City to let everyone down when it really matters, or to completely fall apart after a positive start. It’s important to remember that there are 28 league games after this one, nothing will be decided on Saturday at 5pm. That’s not to say that a win would be bloody marvellous though.
The arrivals of Ben Turner and Gael Bigirimana to the squad and the returns of Ryan Kent and Adam Armstrong from international duty suddenly gives this squad genuine strength in depth. With the same group of players who lost so pitifully to Northampton in the cup having made amends at Colchester last weekend, there are difficult team selection decisions ahead for Tony Mowbray to make.
Jacob Murphy excelled in the centre of that line of three and there must be a strong temptation for Tony Mowbray to leave it as it is. That would mean the returning Adam Armstrong would replace Marc-Antoine Fortuné in the starting line-up, which may affect the effectiveness of that line of three playing behind the striker. Ryan Kent is also a consideration and would be likeliest to replace Ruben Lameiras but might be best used as an impact sub on his return from international duty.
In defence, it’s almost assured that Aaron Phillips will be sacrificed in the team for Ben Turner with Sam Ricketts moving to right-back. By most accounts, Phillips had an excellent game last week and it would be another case of bad luck in his career to miss out after displaying that he has improved after making mistakes. Losing Phillips would also leave us prone to the pace of Gillingham on the counter-attack but you’re not going to not play Ben Turner and Sam Ricketts in such a big game.
Last Time We Met
Never have two games against a single team in one league season come at almost the perfect zenith and nadir of a campaign. The last time we played Gillingham, we lost 3-1, effectively spelling the end of Steven Pressley’s reign. After taking the lead from the spot via Gary Madine, Gillingham equalised in the 82nd minute before taking advantage of a penalty of their own in the 88th and then sealing a remarkable comeback with a third goal in second-half stoppage time.
It was quite different earlier in the season when we Gillingham in our first league game at the Ricoh Arena after over a year in exile. Just under 30,000 Coventry City fans packed into the stadium to witness an event that did not seem likely to happen at all during a dark 13 months for the club. For once, a Coventry City team played up to the big occasion and got the result when Frank Nouble placed Ryan Haynes‘ cut-back into the back of the net, cue delirium.
How Are They Doing?
Ever since returning to League One just over two season ago, Gillingham have largely been also-rans, more likely to leave the division via relegation than promotion. That comeback win over us last January was the beginning of a process that has seen Gillingham transform from being also-rans to being pace-setters.
Manager Justin Edinburgh arrived around about a month after that win and has fully capitalised on the form that the club’s caretaker managers left the team by ending the season strongly and making some astute signings in the transfer market. Edinburgh was left a talented but raw team by his predecessor Peter Taylor but has harnessed every single drop of talent in his squad to put them in the position they currently occupy, top.
The absolute key player for Gillingham is attacking midfielder Bradley Dack. Not only does he have an excellent eye for a pass but he is very mobile which gives him the ability to either play a through-ball or beat or a defender all by himself. Having been a mainstay of the side over the past few seasons, this has been the campaign where he has really broken through and proven himself to be a standout performer at this level.
John Egan in central defence is another young and emerging star who looks to have a bright future ahead of him. The former Sunderland youth-teamer was immaculate for Gillingham during a season of struggle last time out and has continued to show himself to be a class act now that he’s part of a winning team. Another player to watch out for from defence is the pacey Bradley Garmston at left-back.
The rest of the Gillingham team is made up of hard-working runners who help secure the tight team mentality that has been the cornerstone of their season. Josh Wright playing in front of the defence has finally added consistency to the talent he has shown in glimpses throughout his career. Captain Doug Loft, who may not be selected for this game, is another hard-runner who has been an important team player this time out.
Gillingham also have the benefit of having three ex-Coventry City strikers currently on their books. Dominic Samuel, who I’m absolutely mortified has signed for Gillingham, is a player we all know about and will look to catch our slow centre-backs out with his pace. Bad boy Rory Donnelly has been something of a revelation for Gillingham this season and is someone you feel would relish the inevitably hostile reception he’ll receive. Cody McDonald has been out of favour this season but is an absolutely classic goal poacher at League One level when he’s on the pitch.
My mood regarding this game has been swinging violently in either direction during the week. I have two visions with oddly specific details of how this game pans out: the first is that Ben Turner scores from a corner in the 5th minute, Bigi scores a screamer in the 88th and Armstrong scores somewhere in between and we win 3-0. The second is that Dominic Samuel tears through our slow defence in the 18th minutes, Gillingham sit on that lead expertly and Rory Donnelly scores a screamer in the 85th minute, celebrating with glee right in front of Singer’s Corner.
Just in case you couldn’t tell from reading these previews, I don’t have the ability to predict the future, so it’s likely that neither will turn out to be true. What this game is, is a match-up between two teams with momentum, confidence and packed with dangerous match-winning players. I am just about feeling optimistic about this game and my more rational prediction for this game is that we will win 3-2.