Just when it looked like this team had been found wanting against a superior opponent, a comeback for the ages – from two goals and two men down – generates the belief that this vintage of Coventry City might be able to stick around the higher end of this division for a while longer.
The concern heading into this upcoming Gillingham game is how this team can recover from Tuesday’s physical and psychological effort in time to battle for another three points in the league. This would otherwise be a good opportunity to keep building the momentum we’ve begun the campaign with, but to do so is likely to require another big effort from the players.
Suspensions to Fankaty Dabo and Gervane Kastaneer couldn’t have come at a worse time, stretching an already thin-looking squad with a few looking in need of a rest, based on the closing stages of the Portsmouth game. Mark Robins may have been looking at this game – with another Tuesday-Saturday run ahead next week – as a chance to freshen things up, instead, his options to change things are limited.
The biggest selection conundrum for this game is who plays at right-back, with Fankaty Dabo suspended, Josh Pask injured and not even an under-23 right-back to promote. Young left-back, Sam McCallum, seems the likeliest candidate to fill in there for this game, having looked solid when thrown in there on Tuesday night. McCallum’s performance there probably rules out moving Mason, as a more experienced left-back, over to the right or something more unexpected such as Michael Rose or Zain Westbrooke being asked to fill in there.
The addition of Callum O’Hare this week adds much-needed creativity to the centre of the pitch. Although a starting debut is a possibility, Mark Robins may prefer not to unsettle a side that has started the season well by changing systems to accomodate O’Hare in his preferred central attacking midfield role. With Wesley Jobello having looked tired on Tuesday night, O’Hare starting on the right of the attack is a consideration, but the Aston Villa loanee seems likeliest to be an impact sub for his first few games.
Last Time We Met
Out last meeting with Gillingham was one of many home games last season that fell into the category of ‘dominated, but didn’t win’. After much huffing and puffing, Bright Enobakhare looked to have won us the game, running half the length of the pitch and slamming the ball home after Amadou Bakayoko fluffed a shot after being sent clean through by the Wolves loanee.
In a nervy end to the game, a defensive mix-up between Jordan Willis and Lee Burge forced the latter into felling Gillingham’s Brandon Hanlan for a penalty. After a protracted wait due to the knock Burge sustained in conceding away the penalty, Tom Eaves coolly stroked the Gills level from the spot – a 92nd minute equaliser.
Manager – Steve Evans
Always a controversial appointment wherever he goes, Evans’ arrival at Gillingham was especially so, having replaced the popular Steve Lovell, with his predecessor having done little to merit the sack. Evans is a curious appointment as Gillingham manager regardless of the circumstances of his arrival, tending to only manage sides with significant transfer funds, with Gillingham decidedly not fitting that profile of club.
A notably boisterous presence on the touch-line, Evans likes to create a tetchy atmosphere around his sides, tending not to forgive poor performances. At his best, this can lead to aggressive, dominant teams that get the ball forward quickly and overwhelming teams with great insentient. At his worst, he can completely alienate the players he is managing, forcing him to constantly bring in new faces until he runs out of options.
Who To Look Out For?
Having lost Tom Eaves over the summer, the key concern for Gillingham has been replacing the giant and prolific centre-forward. Watford loanee, Alex Jakubiak, has made a strong case for being the Gills’ main man in attack this season, with three goals to his name in three league appearances, playing nominally out wide and demonstrating good pace and poacher’s instincts in his finishes thus far.
Gillingham’s attack is clearly built around raw pace, with Elliott List, Mikael Ndjoli, Brandon Hanlan, Mark Marshall and Regan Charles-Cook all absolutely rapid forwards who will provide their team with a significant threat on the counter-attack and will give our defence little time to settle on the ball in our own half.
With Mark Marshall an excellent set-piece taker, it provides the opportunity for some of Gillingham’s more physical players to present a threat to our back-line. Midfielder Ousseynou Cisse, along with defenders Alfie Jones and Max Ehmer are likely to be the key targets for Marshall to pick out from set-pieces. Marko Marosi’s command of his area is likely to be under the microscope in this game.
Others to look out for are the industrious Stuart O’Keefe in central midfield, and goalkeeper Jack Bonham – an excellent shot-stopper who kept the 4th-most clean sheets in the division last season with Bristol Rovers.
Areas To Exploit
Gillingham’s performances thus far this season have been characterised by plenty of energy, but have tended to fizzle out over the course of 90 minutes, allowing their opponents to come back into the game. Lacking a natural holding midfield player, the space leave between defence and midfield looks like a big area to exploit – Evans has already attempted to deploy a centre-back, Alfie Jones, in that role to counter that weakness. If we can withstand an energetic start from Gillingham, we should be able to turn the screws on them as the game wears on.
This game looks likely to be a test of our patience, as well as our ability to resist an opponent trying to catch us cold at the start of the game – it may even involve having to recover from falling behind, always a big test of a side that starts the season well.