Gillingham head coach Ady Pennock will need a reaction to Tuesday’s 3-1 damaging defeat away at relegation rivals Swindon and a similar result that he enjoyed in their last home game against Southend in order to decrease the Kent side’s own fears of being sucked into a dogfight with 10 games remaining. The triumph over the in-form Shrimpers represents his sole win to date since being appointed two months ago and it is unlikely another change at the helm will be made before the end of the season, regardless of which tier the Gills end up in. Since sacking Justin Edinburgh, fortunes have not improved on the pitch and a very tough looking run of fixtures await them, starting tomorrow against Bury, who have a 100% record under Lee Clark after three straight wins.
The hosts should be unchanged from the hard-fought 2-1 victory against rock-bottom Coventry, providing there have been no knocks. James Vaughan once again underlined his importance to the Shakers on his return to the starting XI after a short lay-off, as did fellow striker Tom Pope, who will be looking to notch once more this season against Gillingham, grabbing the consolation goal back in August.
Much like Bury until the turn of the year, Gillingham’s main problem hasn’t been finding the net themselves but being leaky at the back to the extent that they have kept only two clean sheets all season long, by far the worst record in the third tier. Trailblazing Zesh Rehman, signed as a free agent only a fortnight ago, brings leadership in abundance to the backline that will likely try to match their hosts in terms of shape. They are deeply uncomfortable running back towards their own goal and unlike Bury, Gillingham have wide players who will sit higher up the pitch both in and out of possession in order to supply crosses to a relatively slow front two, so the key battle will actually be out on the flanks instead of in midfield. Both Greg Leigh and Taylor Moore have been growing in confidence in their new roles as of late and this contest will be a good barometer of how far they have come in a short space of time.
Bradley Dack, League One Player of the Year from the 2015-2016 campaign, might pass a late fitness test and if selected, would bolster the creativity and goalscoring potential of the midfield and is by no means a slouch when it comes to a physical battle. If not, the fight for possession and controlling the tempo is likely to be between six players who are still quite unfamiliar with their teammates!
Both teams need maximum points, especially given that the weekend throws up another round of fixtures with sides in and around the relegation zone squaring off. A win for the visitors would be a fillip for Pennock, who has bad experience as a Gillingham player at Gigg Lane and would go some way to halting the alarming slide towards the bottom of the pile. For Clark, it would make it four wins from four and a chance to go into a local derby next week at Oldham with continued belief in what is likely to be a war of attrition.
As for a prediction, I’m going for a 3-1 win for Bury. The hosts are likely to have more options on the bench to affect the game and in Vaughan and Pope, a stronger proposition than Cody McDonald and Joe Quigley. McDonald has a good goal ratio in his career and a very good record at this level and I can see him scoring against a defence that will still be lacking the suspended Antony Kay and looked more than a touch uncertain in his absence on Tuesday. Exile Jr. in the early hours of this morning took a different view, angling for a 2-1 win for the only Kent side in the EFL!