Preview: Gillingham

Another week, another hatful of chances, another loss. Once again, we can only hope that our at some point we find some luck and composure in front of goal. In front of a bumper Community Day crowd in this forthcoming game against Gillingham would sure be a good place to start.

Expected Line-Up

Mark Robins intimated last week that he may look to revert to basics over the coming weeks to rebuild confidence and end this winless run. There is a danger that it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water after some good recent performances have gone unrewarded, however, we are in a situation where another month of poor form could put us in the relegation mix with a fairly inexperienced squad. The safer, less exciting approach is likely to prevail.

While the transfer deadline day signing of David Meyler should inject the side with some important experience, physicality and hopefully quality, the loss of Jonson Clarke-Harris leaves us without a target-man. Although Clarke-Harris’ goal return has been underwhelming, losing a player who can hold the ball up to either relieve pressure on the defence or bring other attackers into play could be a glaring oversight from Mark Robins.

Clarke-Harris’ exit probably means the line-up of the front four this week won’t be too dissimilar to the Blackpool game. If Bright Enobakhare can step up as a creative number 10 figure, it lessens the need to have a big man up top who can bring others into play. Furthermore, Amadou Bakayoko will surely be handed opportunities between now and the end of the season to show what he’s all about.

Elsewhere, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Junior Brown started in defence ahead of Brandon Mason in an attempt to add further experience to the side. The central defensive pairing could be any combination of Jordan Willis, Tom Davies, and Dominic Hyam, with perhaps the Willis-Davies partnership being preferred for their battling qualities.

Last Time We Met

Hot off the back of a gloomy mid-week defeat at Blackpool, the Sky Blues travelled to Gillingham looking for a reaction and so nearly got the desired result. With the creative axis of Tom Bayliss and Tony Andreu buzzing, along with the physical presence of Jonson Clarke-Harris up front and Luke Thomas’ enterprising wing play, the Sky Blues dominated the first hour of the contest, taking the lead in the second-half via Clarke-Harris nodding in a Brandon Mason cross. However, we were unable to extend our lead while we were on top, giving Gillingham the chance, which they duly took, to work their way back into the game and salvage a point.

The Opposition

Manager – Steve Lovell

Something of a hero at Gillingham from his playing days, Lovell has had an interesting journey into the managerial hot-seat at Priestfield, managing in non-league in the 90’s and early 00’s before becoming part of the coaching staff at Gillingham and eventually stepping up during a successful caretaker spell last season when the Gills had looked destined for relegation.

Lovell is someone who seems perfectly aware of the limitations at Gillingham, building a hard-working and honest set of players and tending to stick fairly rigidly to a 4-4-2 diamond or 3-4-1-2 system designed to get the best out of target-man Tom Eaves in attack. While Gillingham are firmly part of the relegation dogfight this season, they are probably performing around par given their resources.

Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For?

As mentioned, Tom Eaves in attack is the key player for Gillingham. In a side that leaks goals and with an otherwise fairly ordinary attacking line, his 13 goals this season are the difference between having a chance of staying up and being cut adrift. Forever dogged with the ‘lower-league Andy Carroll’ tag due to his style of play and physical appearance, Eaves is in his element attacking crosses – which is a severe Achilles Heel for us at the moment – but also has some impressive highly-technical finishes on his CV this season.

Lovell has sought to get the best out of Eaves by first building a side designed to get crosses in the box, mainly via full-backs Bradley Garmston and Luke O’Neill, but also by having mobile pacey forwards playing off their big man up top. Winger Elliot List scored an excellent equaliser in our last meeting and is a talented, if slightly inconsistent, performer, while Regan Charles-Cook, Brandon Hanlan and, the now-departed, Josh Parker have been useful auxiliary options.

Over the past couple of days, Lovell has bolstered his attacking options – perhaps suggesting a shift to a system with more natural wide-men – by bringing in wingers Billy King, Leonardo da Silva Lopes and Ricky Holmes on loan, as well as the pacey Irish international Graham Burke up front alongside the inconsistent Tahvon Campbell from Forest Green. Holmes and Burke in particular look like excellent signings who can add another dimension to Gillingham’s play.

In addition, Gillingham have some good set-piece takers in midfield in the form of ex-Sky Blue loanee Callum Reilly and former AFC Wimbledon man Dean Parrett. While Gillingham’s midfield can be described as honest and hard-working, in Parrett, Reilly and academy graduate Darren Oldaker, they also possess some useful ball-players to mix play up.

Areas To Exploit

While Gillingham have some formidably physical centre-backs in Max Ehmer and Gabriel Zakuani, along with the giant Czech Tomas Holy in goal, the lack of a holding midfielder leaves them exposed to the counter-attack. Although Mark Robins may be looking to implement a simpler, more physical approach to rectify our recent run of results, the nature of the opposition may make it wiser to deploy quicker, more technical attackers to exploit the space between Gillingham’s midfield and defence as well as punish them on the counter-attack.

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