People in football always talk about how the best sides in the game find ways to win matches when not at their best, but also how they react to adversity.
I believe it was Ian Dowie who coined the now famous phrase ‘bouncebackability‘, and we all know how much Brendan Rodgers loves to talk about ‘character‘.
After back to back away defeats to Colchester and Barnsley the Gills and their gaffer Justin Edinburgh – who had suffered back to back losses for the first time since arriving in Kent – went into last nights home game with Fleetwood having to answer such questions.
Were the two reversals merely a blip, or was this a more substantial slump after a promising start to the campaign?
After fifteen minutes it looked more like the latter, as they trailed 1-0 despite bossing the opening exchanges.
The defensive lapses that had become apparent during the away defeats – and even the home victory over Blackpool – reared their ugly heads again.
Clearances were rushed, headers were missed, and a needles foul from Brennan Dickenson lead to the concession of the opener.
Now where was that character, that bouncebackability?
Could the boys in blue turn things around and prevent a third defeat on the spin?
The emphatic answer was yes.
A nicely crafted leveller arrived six minutes after going behind, Rory Donnelly sweeping home after Max Ehmer had flicked on Ryan Jackson’s long throw.
For the remainder of the first period they were virtually unplayable.
They moved the ball quickly, Dickenson and Jackson pushed on at full back, and they repeatedly got good delivery into dangerous areas.
The lads celebrate Jordan Houghton’s first for the club.
The away side were simply unable to get near them as they scored three more without reply.
Jordan Houghton and John Egan both netted smartly before Donnelly took centre stage with his own goal of the season contender.
Skipping away on halfway after receiving the ball off skipper Doug Loft, he glided past away defenders before nonchalantly lifting the ball over Chris Maxwell from 25 yards.
Donnelly’s second was the pick of the Gills goals.
The second period was never going to reach the same levels, but the Gills were professional in all that they did.
They managed the game well enough to ensure no fight back, the defensive solidity returned, and the added bonus was a first of the season for substitute and legend in the making Cody McDonald.
Oohhh Cody McDonald!! Back amongst the goals after coming off the bench.
So all the questions that needed to be answered were answered, and emphatically.
After early nerves they grew stronger at the back, and further forward they created plenty and three players got off the mark for the campaign.
Any number of those involved on the night could have been named Man of the Match, but for me Rory Donnelly’s tireless running and two well taken goals earned him that accolade.
But more importantly he and his teammates showed all the traits of a good side.
Bouncebackability and character in abundance, plus no shortage of quality.
This young Gillingham side perhaps now has to be taken seriously.
GFC Player Ratings
Stuart Nelson – 7: A couple of odd incidents early on, he regained his composure to make one or two vital stops. His passion was clear when running 80 yards to celebrate the final goal.
Ryan Jackson – 7.5: Involved in the first two goals before sadly going off injured. Swiftly becoming a real bargain.
John Egan – 8: Mr Consistent was just that again, consistent. Seemingly never has a bad game, he won pretty much everything in the air and on the deck. Took his goal smartly.
Max Ehmer – 8: Got stronger as the game went on, and by the end he looked back to somewhere near his best. He and Egan look to have rediscovered last seasons understanding.
Brennan Dickenson – 7: Still has a tendency to dive in defensively, which cost him a yellow card and his side the opener. Recovered enough to set up the third goal before being hooked at the interval.
Josh Wright – 8: A lot of his work goes unnoticed, which seems to suit him. Positionally astute, his calmness on the ball means he rarely wastes a pass. A vital cog at the base of the diamond.
Jordan Houghton – 8: Back to the levels of earlier in the campaign, he pressed and harried the opposition for 90 minutes. Capped a fine display by starting and finishing the move for his sides second goal, his first for the club.
Doug Loft – 7.5: Proved to any doubters – myself included – that he has the ability to play a high energy, pressing game. Used the ball well – it was his pass that set Donnelly away for his second – and always put his foot in, a real captains performance.
Bradley Dack – 7: Not as involved as others in an offensive sense, but such is his ability he can always burst into life. Did exactly that with a sublime ball for the fifth goal.
Luke Norris – 7.5: Not quite his night in front of goal – one overhead kick going narrowly over and one effort blocked after nicking a loose ball – but he was a constant menace. Occupied defenders all game to such an extent it lead to Jonsson’s dismissal.
Well played sir: Rory takes the acclaim after his outrageous second.
Rory Donnelly – 9: His second goal was as outrageous as his first was smartly taken, but there’s more to him than goals. Works tirelessly off the ball and never gives defenders a moments peace. Well worth his starting place.
Aaron Morris (Jackson) – 7: By no means a natural right back, but he was solid enough defensively and used the ball well enough. Will benefit from the minutes.
Bradley Garmston (Dickenson) – 7: Looked more assured than in recent appearances after coming on at the interval and tried to get forward wherever possible.
Cody McDonald (Donnelly) – 7: His rustiness is still there, as shown by wanting too much time for his first chance, but despite a heavy first touch shortly after he showed all his class with a superb finish in off the post.
Pre-match minutes applause for Nick Nicolaou.
On a night where the club paid tribute to General Sales Manager Nick Nicolaou, who sadly passed away recently, this was a performance he will hopefully have been proud of.
UP THE GILLS!!