Walsall, Returning Stars & The Automatic Dream

So we are right into the business end of the season now, and the fixture versus Walsall this evening couldn’t really be any bigger.

With both us and the Saddlers having games in hand over those around us, it really is the proverbial ‘six pointer‘.

Some are labelling it the biggest game of the season, and some think it’s as big as anything since the Championship days.

And they probably aren’t too far off with that assessment.

The Gills have picked up recently, and after the blip in February we have now gone six games unbeaten.

Yes we have only won two of those six, but during that time we have kept five clean sheets and conceded just once, while having to contend with key personnel missing in all areas of the pitch, all who are now returning at a crucial time.

The Gills have five shut outs in the seven games that Adam El-Abd has played.

It is credit to Adam El-Abd, Max Ehmer and more recently Deji Oshilaja that John Egan has not been missed as much as originally feared – especially in recent weeks as they’ve built up an understanding alongside each other – but it will obviously be great having him available for the remainder of the campaign.

Further forward Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald both made their return from injury at Sheffield United, and the pairs energy, flair and (hopefully) goals from now until May could prove pivotal, especially as the goals have dried up a little recently, the 3-0 home win over Crewe aside.

Goals from these two over the final games could be pivotal.

Of course we would have loved to have had the trio all available for the whole of the season, but the nature of the beast means that isn’t always possible, so we have to look at the positives from a tough situation, and they are that all three should be fresh and raring to go for the final six regular games, and perhaps up to three beyond that.

On top of that striker Luke Norris missed a large chunk of football as autumn turned into winter, and there are signs that he – three goals in his last seven games – is running into form at the right time too.

Crucial with Reading loanee Dominic Samuel currently nursing a knee problem.

Luke Norris is back on the goal trail.

Some fans still seemingly don’t rate ‘Nozza’, and I agree last season I found him frustrating.

However, this term I think he has been a real success story, and although he will never score you 30 goals a season, his link play and bringing others into the game has been crucial.

It was no surprise that the goals of both Dack and Rory Donnelly dried up when he was absent at the back end of 2015.

I feel he can have a big say between now and the end of the season.

Back to tonight, I think the difference between automatic promotion and having to settle for the Play Offs all depends on this Walsall game.

If we get beat I think we can say goodbye to the top two, but a win will not only move us clear of this evenings opponents – who have won just three from eleven and lost their last two away without netting –  but will see us rise to 3rd, just five points behind Burton in 2nd.

A Burton side in something of a rut – collecting only one point from four games, scoring a solitary goal – who we still have to visit.

More importantly, it will give even more impetus and momentum to our drive over the final five fixtures as we try to hunt them down.

I say them rather than Wigan Athletic, because I honestly cannot see the Latics blowing things now, because having recovered from a slow start they are now absolutely flying, currently 20 matches unbeaten.

But you never know in football; we just have to keep taking care of our own business over the next few weeks.

It will be interesting to see what team Justin Edinburgh will field tonight considering the players all returning.

I am sure he will have several headaches regarding who to select, but you can guarantee it is a headache he will relish, and our starting eleven and bench could be as strong as its been for months.

Yes, losing crucial players has been – and always is – frustrating, but if the likes of Egan, Dack and Cody can hit the ground running, then for me automatic promotion is still very much on.

But wherever we end up  – the top two or the Play Offs – this season has been an absolute blast.

And it isn’t over just yet…….

UP THE GILLS!!!

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