It was with a great sense of sadness that a new football season kicked off over the weekend without fans in attendance. It is a sign of the times that even a midweek away trip to Gillingham in the League Cup would be warmly welcomed as an opportunity to watch a game in person. That not being the case, this is another glorified fitness exercise for the two teams involved here.
Having tired in the latter stages of Saturday’s game against Bristol City, the chance to build fitness levels here could prove useful for the Sky Blues as we get back used to playing regular competitive football. The League Cup may have lost a lot this season of what little glamour it had but an extended run in this competition may be more of a help than an unnecessary distraction.
This game looks set to be a chance to help build the fitness levels of both Michael Rose and Fankaty Dabo after their respective spells out injured during the break between seasons. In particular, Fankaty Dabo seems an important player to bring back into the side given the lack of an alternative natural option at right wing-back. That said, a couple of hairy moments on the ball for Kyle McFadzean on Saturday also underlined why we may need that extra technical ability at centre-back that Michael Rose provides.
In addition, Tyler Walker and Ben Sheaf are in need of match fitness after signing relatively into pre-season. In light of Liam Kelly suffering a further injury set-back, Ben Sheaf will be needed as a regular starter sooner than expected. Matt Godden’s goal – and all-round performance – on Saturday takes some of the pressure off Tyler Walker to come straight into the side but it would only be a positive to have two strikers in good shape and form at this stage of the season.
In terms of young players who might be involved here, Josh Eccles and Will Bapaga will be looking to use this game as an opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the first-team squad. As a result of the injuries to Liam Kelly and Jodi Jones, there are potential openings in their respective positions for the two youngsters. Their involvement in this game is likely to depend upon whether and where Jordan Shipley is utilised.
Last Time We Met
It was a pretty routine victory for the Sky Blues when we last faced Gillingham. Dominic Hyam nodded in from a corner-kick to put us in front in the first-half and that was that against a pretty passive Gillingham side.
The Manager – Steve Evans
Having typically worked at clubs with big budgets where he could churn through players until he found a team that worked, it’s been a surprise to see Steve Evans operate fairly unfussily at a Gillingham side with relatively meagre resources. Forming a motivated and tight-knit unit with a small squad last season, Gillingham were only a goalscorer short of challenging for the play-offs last season.
The challenge for Evans at Gillingham this season remains the same, the squad is again made up largely of free transfers, young loan players and academy graduates and is still without a centre-forward who can score at a reliable rate. Having been defeated on the opening day to a strong Hull City side, Steve Evans has stated that he will rotate his squad for this game as he figures out his strongest XI from the squad he has assembled.
Who To Look Out For
Despite Steve Evans’ declaration that he will rotate his team here, his. options to do so are limited due to the small size of Gillingham’s squad – only four of their outfield players didn’t get onto the pitch at the weekend.
Evans has built this Gillingham side around a solid defence marshalled by an excellent shot-stopper in Jack Bonham in goal, with a young and talented defensive unit where Connor Ogilvie and Jack Tucker look like players who could soon be playing at a higher-level. The midfield in front of that defence is energetic but will be hoping that the signings of Kyle Dempsey and Jacob Mellis over the summer will provide a greater level of creativity and composure.
With two target-men strikers in John Akinde and Vadaine Oliver their only centre-forward options, Gillingham can be abrasive at the other end of the pitch but will be hoping that the additions of pacey wingers in Jordan Graham and Trae Coyle over the summer offer the ability to get in behind teams.
Where This Game Will Be Won or Lost
The Sky Blues team is likely to be more heavily rotated from the weekend than Gillingham’s. Just what impact that will have on the game remains to be seen, it could mean Gillingham look the more cohesive team unit, it could mean that we’ll be less fatigued as the game wears on. What is also likely to be a factor here is just how intensely both teams will go about trying to win the game. With Gillingham having such a small squad, it feels to me like they may be keen to avoid the extra fixture that victory here would provide.