League One Club-by-Club Preview for 2017/2018: Gillingham

Best Blog or Account to Follow: Gills in the Blood (the name says it all): Twitter, blog and an excellent YouTube channel, which is rare in my experience for clubs outside the top two tiers.

2016/2017

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League One - 20th; W 12 / D 14 / L 20 / F 59 / A 79 / Pts 50

Pretty abysmal, especially after expectations were high that then-manager Justin Edinburgh could lead the Gills to a top six finish. Two wins from their opening two matches proved to be a false dawn. The Kent outfit couldn’t buy a clean sheet for love nor money and the board persisted with Edinburgh until a gutless home defeat to Oxford United left them little option but to appoint someone else with most of the January transfer window still available for the new incumbent. Ady Pennock took over and his side ground out many draws but few wins and the four triumphs owed more to backs-to-the-wall defensive performances than anything that was going to take them forwards. That said, survival was achieved on the last day of 2016/2017 with an extremely rare stalemate at Northampton Town.

Top Goalscorer: Josh Wright (13 goals in 41 starts/3,635 minutes)

Top Creator: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (5 assists in 23 starts/1,972 minutes)

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Losing Bradley Dack was one thing but if Josh Wright leaves this summer as well and Peter Taylor cannot secure the services of at least one goalscoring midfielder, then things look grim

2017/2018

Manager/Head Coach: Ady Pennock; enjoyed seven years as a player at the Priestfield Stadium and was a much-loved figure at the club by supporters. Stepped into the management role in January with the single goal of keeping the Gills in League One and he managed just that. The methods he employed to do so however were not met with universal approval and the ‘tactics’, such as they were, often amounted to hoofing the ball up to Cody McDonald. Often outspoken and gruff, Pennock was retained but under the ‘head coach’ moniker, with my namesake Peter Taylor, another figure familiar to the fans after two previous stints in charge, appointed Director of Football. Between them, they have been trying to root out the ‘bad apples’ in the roster and as the transfers below show, they’ve already been very active.

Ins: Alex Lacey (Yeovil Town), Luke O’Neill (Southend United), Tom Eaves (Yeovil Town), Gabriel Zakuani (Northampton Town), Conor Wilkinson (Bolton Wanderers), Connor Ogilvie (Tottenham Hotspur on loan) & Billy Bingham (Crewe Alexandra).

Outs: Bradley Dack (Blackburn Rovers), Ryan Jackson (Colchester United), Zesh Rehman (Southern District), Billy Knott (Lincoln City), Emmanuel Osadebe (Cambridge United), Cody McDonald (AFC Wimbledon), Rory Donnelly (free agent), Chris Herd (free agent) & Oliver Muldoon (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Gillingham1718

Tactics: The main question on fans’ minds, other than whether captain Josh Wright will stay, is will ‘Pennockball’ make its unwelcome return? If the signings of target man Tom Eaves and Conor Wilkinson are anything to go by, then yes. They will need to retain the ball much better than their predecessors if the gambit is still employed. One of the main reasons Gillingham conceded so many goals last season was that their defence, which was often makeshift to begin with (and especially under Edinburgh), was always under concerted pressure for the vast majority of matches. A new-look back four should go some way to decreasing the tally against them in 2017/2018 – as a unit, they will do the basics well and both Connor Ogilvie and Luke O’Neill will look to push up when the opportunities present themselves.

Max Ehmer or new singing Billy Bingham could be the screen for the defence again, allowing Wright to surge forward and feed off Eaves and Wilkinson’s scraps. The duo up top will be ably supported by Scott Wagastaff and Josh Parker; the latter in particular can rove up and down the flank for the 90 minutes and also has the added advantage of being a handful in the air. The onus is on at least one of the forward line to start producing to make up for Cody McDonald’s departure. His ‘role’ has yet to be replaced in the likely XI, so there is less nuance in how the Gills can currently attack teams.

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The signing of Tom Eaves represents a big gamble by Taylor and Pennock

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain. The structure at Priestfield seems better with Taylor now in place, which takes some of the focus away from Pennock. Losing Bradley Dack to Blackburn (despite having an underwhelming campaign by his lofty standards) and McDonald to AFC Wimbledon were both blows; if they are followed by Josh Wright also departing, then it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from. The front two’s track records are abysmal but perhaps Gillingham is where one them can start to blossom. They’ll certainly see a lot of the ball.

Granted, they ought to be much more assured defensively but might suffer the same problems Oldham Athletic encountered in 2016/2017 unless someone can step up to ‘answer’ that conundrum. Pennock has far from convinced in his six months in the dugout to date and despite amassing some quietly impressive additions to the squad, another year of struggle is on the cards.

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