Preview: Gillingham

This week has seemingly marked the point where a whole series of frustrations against the owners has come to a head, falling bottom of the division and the departure of much-beloved football academic Chris Anderson seemed to have tipped things over the edge. Although we’re in a desperate situation both on and off the pitch, some fervour among the Sky Blues fans is at least better than the apathy that has sucked the life out of this club over the past 15 years, even if it seems unlikely that SISU will be forced out by fan pressure.

The attention on off-the-field matters has deflected some of the pressure that would otherwise be on Tony Mowbray after such a poor start to the season. While he may not be working with a squad capable of challenging for promotion, a manager of his calibre should be capable of coaxing something out of this group of players. The decision last week to go with a one-man midfield against Oldham in the second-half was bizarre and suggestive of a man desperately trying things at random rather than someone using their experience to eek performances on limited resources.

Possible Line-Up
Possible Line-Up

After that failure to score against an Oldham side who looked there for the taking, Tony Mowbray will once again make radical alterations to his attacking line-up in the hope that something falls into place. It’s likely to mean a recall for Dan Agyei, a player who’s been used sparingly despite an impressive debut against Bradford, with Andre Wright possibly coming into the line-up too. After a brace for the under-23s, George Thomas could be back in Tony Mowbray’s thinking, but it might be a thought to also include one or two players who can create chances.

Jamie Sterry will seemingly continue at right-back despite being stretchered off in concerning fashion in the Oldham game, although Dion Kelly-Evans seemed to offer more attacking thrust in Sterry’s stead. The Jordan and Jordan partnership of Willis and Turnbull in central defence should be given more time to develop after some promising, if not fully convincing, signs last week. There is also the chance Chris McCann could return to the side to offer more of a physical presence alongside Gael Bigirimana in midfield, if not, hopefully Ben Stevenson will be given the nod ahead of the off-the-pace Vladimir Gadzhev.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting against Gillingham came at the Kent club’s hospitable Priestfield Stadium with the hosts looking to avenge the 4-1 hammering back last November, a result that looks increasingly like the zenith of Tony Mowbray’s reign. Gillingham weren’t in spectacular form but looked to be easing along comfortably towards the play-offs while we were in the final throes of an implosion that had ended our own hopes of making the top six.

We managed to drag Gillingham down to our level in a tedious 0-0 draw defined by a lack of chances and poor quality finishing. We seemed to contaminate Gillingham with our torpor for the rest of last season, to the extent that Justin Edinburgh’s side somehow managed to finish below us in the final standings.

How Are They Doing?

Gillingham were expected to be picked apart in the summer transfer window not to be seen in the upper echelons of League One for several season at the least. Instead, they managed to hold onto star man Bradley Dack while adding proven quality to their squad in the form of Paul Konchesky, Jamie O’Hara and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Crucially, with bright young manager Justin Edinburgh still in place, Gillingham have ended up looking better equipped for a tilt for promotion than they were last year.

However, things haven’t quite clicked thus far with Gillingham balancing out their considerable attacking threat with ineptitude at the back. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has predictably been the mercurial battering ram that he was during his time at Bristol City at this level while Bradley Dack has remained a key source of creativity after returning to full fitness over the past month. However, a lack of consistency in selection at the back due to injuries, along with some shocking errors, have undermined what looks to be a powerful attacking unit.

Aside from the bigger names, Justin Edinburgh has added strength in depth to Gillingham’s squad from last season, particularly in midfield with Scott Wagstaff and Billy Knott adding proven League One quality to their ranks along with Mark Byrne having made the step up from League Two in comfortable fashion. With the security blanket of Josh Wright in front of the back four and the energetic and improving Emmanuel Osadebe too, Gillingham have so many high-quality options to call upon in the centre of the park.

Possible Line-Up
Possible Line-Up

Someone we really need to be keeping an eye on is the lightning quick right wing-back Ryan Jackson. In addition to his pace, Jackson’s crossing and long throws have been a key source of creativity for Gillingham this season with three assists in just five appearances. If we can keep him quiet, it will probably have been a good afternoon for us.

Gillingham do have a very prominent Achilles’ Heel, their defence, and are currently in possession of the division’s worst defensive record. Uncertainty in goal has played a part, with the fairly reliable Stuart Nelson having dropped some notable clangers this season which led to Justin Edinburgh signing the slightly less error-prone Jonathan Bond on loan from Reading, only for Bond to pick up an injury prior to Wednesday night’s 5-0 defeat to Spurs. Moreover, injuries and suspensions have led to inconsistency in selection at the back, along with the loss of the dominant John Egan on a free transfer over the summer.


Although Gillingham present clear and present danger to our soft back-line with the squad they have, this is a team we can beat if we execute a well-drilled game-plan. Gillingham’s own defensive brittleness is there to be exploited and we should either be looking to press them high to force errors or hit them on the counter to give ourselves a chance of winning this game. If Tony Mowbray is the manager that so many believe him to be, he should be looking at this away trip as an opportunity to secure a morale-boosting victory.

Despite Gillingham’s obvious threats, an optimism that goes against all logical evidence has swept over me heading into this fixture. For some reason, I think this will be the game we’ll register our first league win of the season in a 2-1 win. This winless run has to come to an end at some point, why not this game?

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