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Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Inside Line: Gillingham (31/08/13)

So, here we are again!  Just 24 days after City went to the Priestfield Stadium and won their first cup game in five years to set up this week's fantastic victory over Crystal Palace, we return for a league encounter with both sides wallowing in the bottom six on two points after a pair of draws and a matching pair of defeats.  

Last time out James, the fan we spoke to, was still full of beans on the back of a title-winning promotion, but the Gills, like City, remain winless in the league this season, so are things looking  considerably bleaker? 

To keep the thoughts fresh, this time around I spoke to Luke Cawdell, Sports Journalist for Kent Online, and asked his views on the Gills difficult start.

Luke, I guess you’re all hoping for a better result than earlier in the month, what did you think of the cup match and each team’s performance?
The cup match was typical of most of the games we’ve seen Gillingham take part in so far. City were far superior on the ball and dominated possession, with the Gills sitting back and playing with a more direct approach, relying on their power and that did still create some chances for the Gills. I thought City looked decent going forward, with Thomas and Baldock looking likely to cause a lot of teams problems this year.

Do you think Martin Allen will change approach bearing in mind the recent defeat, or stick to his guns and hope it goes better this time?
The last time the sides met Martin Allen made five changes to his starting XI, giving some young players such as Callum Davies, Antonio German and Bradley Dack a start. They are by no means regular starters, so it certainly wasn’t Gillingham’s strongest team. 

He is definitely going to pick his full-strength XI this week. Changing style will only come about with a change of personnel but he has been limited with what he can do in the transfer market due to lack of funds. He is hoping to have made an addition by the weekend.

After coming up as Champions all seemed well with the Gillingham world, but a difficult start – following a poor pre-season – must have the natives feeling a tad worried?
It doesn’t take a lot to make a football fan complain! There will obviously be people looking at the results and hitting the panic button but I don’t think it is realistic to think Gillingham can repeat their feat of last season. In the last two games, however, against Brentford and Swindon we have seen a far improved Gillingham. They really bullied Swindon last weekend, created plenty of chances and were unlucky to have twice gone behind. A draw was the least they deserved. A big loss to Wolves has shown what can happen if the team don’t turn up.

I notice that last season more than a third of your games finished 0-0 or 1-0 and goals seem particularly hard to come by for you again this time around?
The manager has invested in his forward line this year, with Cody McDonald, Adebayo Akinfenwa and Antonio German all arriving permanently in the summer. The defence was already sorted. Last season’s success was built from the back. They would defend, defend and defend some more, nick a goal, and then sit back and wait for full-time. They were a really tough team to break down and Martin Allen, along with assistant John Schofield, really got them organised at the back. It was refreshing to see, as in previous seasons they were conceding for fun. This season they are finding out that defending for long periods against better strikers is a different story.

Martin Allen was naturally lauded for last season’s achievements – are there any signs of discontent brewing yet or does he maintain the benefit of any doubt?
Martin Allen’s approach to everything around the club has been refreshingly different and I think his no-nonsense style and honesty has been a hit with the fans. He may have the Mad Dog nickname, but he has come to Gillingham with a calmer mentality than with previous clubs more level-headed.

Over the summer fans have been watching training from the sidelines and he regularly picks up supporters from street corners to give them a lift on the team bus. He knows how important the fans are and I think they appreciate being valued. That said, previous manager Andy Hessenthaler was voted the club’s biggest legend not long back and when things went wrong, even he couldn’t avoid their derision. Most fans will appreciate League 1 is tough.

So have the season’s aims been realigned, or has consolidation/survival always been the name of the game?
Every season the chairman’s mission is promotion, even if it’s unrealistic. You can’t knock his ambition but I think even he, deep down, will have known a second promotion was a tough ask. I think most people will be happy as long as the club aren’t in another relegation scrap. They have been yo-yoing between the two divisions for several years now and they need to establish themselves back at League 1 level, before considering Championship football. 

There is certainly a massive step up in class from League 2. The Gills are coming up against players signed for millions, rather than peanuts. If the Gills compete and finish mid table, that will be a great job done, particularly with the small squad they have.

Who do you think will be a key player for you in this match?
One player who has impressed this season so far is Charlie Lee, despite being on the transfer list. He was on the verge of joining Southend in the summer but the move fell through. Chairman Paul Scally has already said he is one of the top earners, and I think that’s the motive for selling him more than anything. We haven’t really seen the best of Lee at Gills, but he spoke to me this week and said it was the best start he had made to a season with the club and he is feeling good. He makes things happen from midfield, with energy and vision. On his day a great player who has previously been promoted from League 1 with Peterborough. That said, Martin Allen will probably make changes, surprise us all, and drop him!

And finally, can I have a score prediction for the match?
The Gills will need to be 100% on it and if they are, a 2-1 win is theirs.

The Exiled Robin

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