We looked set to be seeing out a rare win on Tuesday night, but somehow the three points never felt certain, and thus, it was with dull inevitability that AFC Wimbledon found an equaliser in the dying seconds of the game. It feels like I write this before every game, but we really are in a dire situation right now, and it’s looking like a case of when, not if, we’ll be relegated.
The next three games (against Gillingham, Swindon and Bury) are absolutely crucial, and we probably need to win all three just to give ourselves an outside chances of survival. We’re currently eleven points adrift of Port Vale, but you would hope that three straight wins would reduce that gap by at least five points, and maybe that would probably change the feeling around the club. But what ever a run of victories means for our survival bid is immaterial right now, we need those victories to come now, just to keep ourselves in the conversation.
As was ever thus, Russell Slade drew criticism for a cautious team selection on Tuesday night. Although it almost worked, it highlighted why he’s not the right manager for the situation we’re in. Slade is a defensive manager, but we’re in a situation now where draws are no good, so he’s either going to have to change his approach entirely, or we’ve got to hope that we can edge our way to the nine or ten victories we require for survival.
The team selection for this game feels like it will again be something of a mystery, especially with Jordan Willis and Stuart Beavon likely to be available again. Both seem like they’ll come straight back into the side, which could see us play a back four entirely made-up of central defenders and it’ll be a case of Marcus Tudgay, Kwame Thomas or Yakubu up front alongside Beavon.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting against Gillingham was a fairly routine 2-1 defeat at the Priestfield Stadium back in September. With not much to write about that game, it is worth returning to our last meeting with Gillingham at the Ricoh Arena, which feels like a lifetime ago. Back in November 2015, Coventry versus Gillingham was a top of the table clash between two of the division’s surprise packages. We produced a 15-minute spell of explosive and clinical football to blow Gillingham away as Jacob Murphy stormed his way to a hat-trick and Ben Turner headed home from a corner-kick to secure victory that was ultimately the high-water mark of Tony Mowbray’s reign at the club.
How Are They Doing?
Gillingham have been remarkably flat this season for a club that came close to promotion the previous season and only lost one key player from that squad, centre-back John Egan, and added proven quality over the summer in the likes of Scott Wagstaff, Paul Konchesky and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. However, a poor run towards the end of last season seemed to pervade the mentality for the first half of the campaign with manager Justin Edinburgh looking increasingly clueless as to how to reverse the decline.
Edinburgh was swiftly sacked in January with the Gills in danger of dropping into a relegation battle, and he was surprisingly replaced by Ady Pennock, whose only managerial experience came in non-league with Forest Green Rovers. Not only was it a surprise appointment, but also something of a sea-change going from the tidy football of Edinburgh to a manager who had a reputation for physical and direct football at Forest Green.
Pennock is without a win thus far, having lost his first game and drawing the next five, but he seems to have instilled a tougher mentality to a squad that was probably in need of a kick up the backside. As expected, plenty of Gillingham’s goals under Pennock have come from crosses and set-pieces, which, given our inability to defend crosses into the box, stands Gillingham in good stead to get their first win under new management.
On paper, the key threats of this Gillingham side look to be Bradley Dack and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, both of whom have been, at different times, the best player at this level. However, both have flattered to deceive this season and have not been in great form over the past few months, yet, they’re still players who can win games on their own, regardless of form.
The one player we should probably be playing close attention to is right-back Ryan Jackson, who is not only a menace with his pace and directness from a full-back position, but possesses one of the most potent long throws at this level – again, our inability to defend balls into the box should be ringing the alarm bells.
Elsewhere, Max Ehmer at centre-back has been in decent form of late, getting on the end of one of Ryan Jackson’s long throws in their last game when they so nearly beat Chesterfield. Although similar can’t be said of Cody McDonald, he is a fairly reliable goalscorer at this level and he is a former player, so….
At some point, this horrendous winless run will end, but it’s looking like it will be too late to save our season. Gillingham aren’t in great form at the moment, which probably makes this our best opportunity in a while to pick up that elusive win. If we are to give ourselves the faintest hope of survival, we have got to win this game.
However, I just can’t predict us to win at the moment, so I think this will be a 2-1 defeat.