Back at the turn of the year when Gills’ chairman Paul Scally decided that Peter Taylor’s time at the club was up, it was hard to envisage anything other than a winter of struggle against relegation.
Dark clouds hung literally and metaphorically over the club as the weather and our performances both took a turn for the worse.
We were in serious danger of drifting into the league’s basement division.
Fast forward a couple of months and things could not be more different.
The work that the ‘Fab Four’ put in whilst in caretaker charge paid dividends, and that has been brilliantly built upon since the arrival of new gaffer Justin Edinburgh.
But this new found sense of belief is not just restricted to the first team, as last night the club reached the final of the Kent FA Senior Trophy after a 6-5 shoot out win over Margate at the MEMS Priestfield.
The team for these fixtures is generally a mix of first team fringe players and youth team players, so RainhamEndViews decided to pop along and have a look at those who we perhaps do not see regularly on a Saturday.
We were not disappointed.
Boss Mark Patterson put out a strong line up that included senior stars Glenn Morris, Leon Legge, Danny Galbraith, Jermaine McGlashan and Brennan Dickensen.
Captaining the side was Devante McKain and at right back was Mahlon Romeo, both of whom have featured on the bench for the first team squad this season.
The slightly lesser known names starting the game were Callum Emptage (left back), Mitchell Dickenson (centre back), Aidan Blanchard (centre midfield) and Charlie Webster (attacking midfield), and on the bench the only recognisable name was young striker Greg Cundle, who recently netted in a development fixture.
First half action from last night’s semi final.
To be perfectly honest, after the first half there was not much to shout about from a home point of view, the visitors leading 1-0 and the boys in blue struggling to find any rhythm.
Mitchell Dickenson had shown himself well at the heart of defence, snuffing out numerous forays forward from a robust and hard working Margate side, but the rest – particularly the ‘big names’ – had been poor.
Thankfully the second period improved greatly, and a number of the youngsters grew into the game.
A stunning equaliser immediately after half time from the impressive Galbraith sparked Gillingham into life, and this coupled with the improved showing and some decent banter between the two sets of fans made for an entertaining evening.
Most of the banter centred around the Margate right back Tambeson Eyong, who did nothing to endear himself to the home fans, firstly with his constant going down at the slightest of contact, and then for kicking Brennan Dickensen off the ball, an altercation for which he was lucky to receive only a yellow card.
Sadly for the Gills this, and his fine penalty in the shoot out, were to be poor Brennan’s only contributions of note on a night he will want to swiftly forget.
Full Time, and the players prepare for penalties.
But our trip to the game was not about first team players, but more to see what the future may have in store.
It may have only been one game, but the signs are promising.
Callum Emptage – The young left back grew into the game, and as the Gills’ performance improved so did his. He was unlucky to play a part in the visitors goal, but during the second half he came to the fore. His natural athleticism allowed him to get up and down the left flank, and he enjoyed the tussle with Eyong, and was never intimidated by his opponents larger frame. One tackle on the Gate player lead to booing from the away fans, but it did not faze him one bit.
Mitchell Dickenson – Superb at the heart of defence alongside the more experienced Leon Legge, the rangy left footer did not put a foot wrong all night. He was quick across the ground, won most things in the air, and two crunching tackles showed he enjoyed the physical side of the game. A man of the match display.
Aidan Blanchard – Not the greatest display, but the fact that he constantly wanted the ball even if his passing was going slightly astray is a positive sign. Got slightly overpowered by a bigger Margate side, but kept working hard.
Charlie Webster – Looks a real prospect. Can play through the middle, but last night he tended to start from the side with a license to drift. A bundle of energy, he has two good feet and can see a pass. If he continues to work hard – and perhaps bulk up a little – he could become a very decent player.
Greg Cundle – Came on early for the injured skipper McKain, he showed plenty of energy and enthusiasm without having a huge effect on the game. As with all the youngsters he still looks quite gangly, but there is definitely plenty to work with.
All in all the game turned out to be well worth the admission fee, and the good feeling from the first team has clearly filtered down to other areas of the club.
Mark Patterson is doing a fine job with the youngsters, and it will be great for everyone if they can now go on and complete the job by winning the final.
Just a couple of months ago the mood around the club was one of doom and gloom, yet now we have a final to look forward to and the first team are still in with an outside chance of reaching the Play Offs.
The future certainly looks very bright.