Preview: Gillingham

Tuesday night’s defeat to Blackpool has raised more than a few alarm bells about the state the team is currently in. Five games into the season, we have registered one win, three defeats, zero goals from open play and failed to even muster a shot on target on Tuesday night.

What is possibly the most worrying element of our start to the season is that we’ve largely been up against sides that are unlikely to even finish in the top-half. While we may well improve as a team over the course of the season, the games are likely to get tougher, starting with this upcoming trip to Gillingham.

Very few of those involved on Tuesday night can be assured of a starting place in this game, although the danger is that making too many changes will only serve to make us an even more disjointed side. Regardless of team selection though, there needs to be a semblance of a plan, otherwise we’re simply hoping that our opponents have an off-day.

The performance of Reise Allassani with the under-23 side on Monday is likely to earn him inclusion in at least the squad, if not starting XI for this game. Jonson Clarke-Harris is likely to benefit from the injury to Maxime Biamou and Amadou Bakyoko’s interpretation of the offside law to earn a place in the side too.

There may be a chance that neither Tony Andreu nor Tom Bayliss make the starting XI for this game, which, on the face of it would be odd. However, with Luke Thomas offering a natural option on the right flank, Tom Bayliss’ current position in the side is under threat. Additionally, Robins may well be looking to revert to the 4-4-2 system that worked for us last season, which doesn’t have a natural role for Tony Andreu to operate it.

Possible Line-Up

Were Robins to opt for a 4-4-2, the saving grace for Andreu or Bayliss could be the breaking up of the Michael Doyle-Abu Ogogo midfield partnership that put us in a rut on Tuesday night at Blackpool. Whether Robins is brave enough in an away game to play Bayliss or Andreu in the centre with just one holding midfielder remains to be seen, although Bayliss’ form in such a role last December-January was crucial in our promotion bid.

Aside from bringing Brandon Mason back into the side at left-back, it’s hard to see any changes to the back four – especially as Tom Davies has been out for a spell with a virus. Unless Lee Burge is still not fully recovered from his injury, it is almost certain that he’ll take Liam O’Brien’s place in goal.

Last Time We Met

Gillingham suffered the ignominy of being the only team to lose in the league to Russell Slade’s Coventry City.

Goals from the two Thomas’ – Kwame and George – rewarded a committed performance from Slade’s side in the first-half, before, in typical manner for our worst ever manager, the team spent the rest of the game camped in our own half holding onto the result for dear life.

Fortunately, Gillingham were only able to summon one goal against our surrender monkey tactics and thus earned a unique place in the Coventry City history books.

How Are They Doing?

Despite losing their past two games, it’s been a positive start to the season for a Gillingham side that looked to be one of the weakest in the division. With a relatively inexperienced manager, a lack of notable summer signings, and ending last season with just one win in their final 11 games, it was easy to see Gills boss Steve Lovell struggling to recapture the excellent form during his caretaker spell last year which saw his side surge up the table.

Instead, Lovell has been able to rekindle that fighting spirit while injecting new life into the squad via some astute signings in the transfer market. It is the energy, motivation and clear sense of a game plan that saw Gillingham convincingly beat Accrington and Burton in the first two games of this season and after being soundly beaten by a clinical Sunderland side that look a cut above in this division, Gillingham will be looking forward to this opportunity to get back to winning ways.

Their chief attacking threat is Tom Eaves – a player who Steven Pressley reportedly tried hard to sign for us a few years ago. An immense physical presence in attack, Eaves had lacked a ruthlessness in front of goal for much of his career until Steve Lovell managed to get the best out of him last season. His ability to get on the end of crosses from full-backs Luke O’Neill and Bradley Garmston, as well as wide-man Regan – brother of Reice – Charles-Cook could be a source of joy for Gillingham given our shakiness in defending wide areas.

Possible Line-Up

It’s not all about Eaves though, as fellow forwards Josh Parker and Brandon Hanlan are also capable of stepping up with goals in support of the big man. Parker and Hanlan both symbolise Steve Lovell’s ability to get performances out of players discarded by other clubs. Parker had dropped out of the English game to pick up experience in Eastern Europe before being signed by Gillingham just before Lovell’s arrival, Hanlan meanwhile was someone who’d struggled for form in the National League last season with Bromley before Lovell took a chance on him over the summer.

While there is a presence in central defence for Gillingham in the form of Gabriel Zakuani and Max Ehmer, the lack of natural width in the side along with a pair of attack-minded full-backs is a potential area that we can look to exploit. That being said, in 6ft 7 Czech goalkeeper Tomas Holy has been one of the best in his position at this level over the past year and could be on form to deny us even if we execute the perfect game plan.

Prediction

This is our toughest game of the season thus far and we are entering it on the back of our worst performance, with their likely to be a swathe of changes to the side that lost so meekly to Blackpool on Tuesday. By contrast, Gillingham have a clear sense of purpose and motivation to add to the home advantage that they will enjoy over us in this game.

This is a moment to pull out the kind of big performance at a key moment that was trademark of us last season, however, it’s hard to see it coming based on what we’ve seen from this team thus far. I can see us losing this game 2-0, it could be worse than that.

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