New Season, New Signings, New Plans, New Hope

With the European Championships taking up everyone’s attention over the early part of the summer, the Gills’ crushing last day defeat to Millwall now seems a long long time ago.

No bad thing really considering the way our campaign sadly tailed off from the start of January.

But as always, a new season always arrives with new hope, new dreams, new belief.

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Six of the best – the Gills’ new additions, so far.

And looking at the signings Justin Edinburgh has made so far, it looks as though we may be heading into 2016-17 with a more balanced and more flexible squad.

Yes we may have lost John Egan from the heart of defence, and star man Bradley Dack may still depart the club, but the additions to date indicate that we may approach the new term with not only a Plan A, but also Plan B and if the need arises Plan C.

In goal the set up is effectively the same as last season, with Stuart Neslon extending his stay to be the club’s number one and the promising Tom Hadler being promoted to number two in place of the now departed Glenn Morris.

Tom Hadler will be looking to push Nels for the number one spot.

If nobody else is brought in then one would think that youngster Henry Newcombe will join in on match days as Hadler has done in previous seasons.

Defensively we currently look a little bit short – especially in central areas – but I am sure Justin, along with David Kerslake and Paul Scally, is working around the clock at bringing in more reinforcements.

Egan will of course be a miss, but both Max Ehmer (for me our best defender after Christmas last season) and Deji Oshilaja – back on a season long loan – are very capable at this level, so fingers crossed they get to play together during pre-season and build up what could be a promising partnership.

For me though we still need two more centre backs to come in, and someone in the mould of Adam El-Abd would have been great, but this sadly won’t be a deal to happen as he has just joined Shrewsbury on a two year contract. 

His type of experience, talking and organisational skills will be vital if we are to kick on again, and it was very apparent during the second half of last season that this was something we lacked, even more so after he came in on loan and then missed games through injury.

We could then bring in a younger player to compete alongside Mitchell Dickenson for the fourth spot in the main group, and one name that has been constantly mentioned over the close season is Sean Ragget of Dover Athletic.

Whether he is a target remains to be seen, but someone in a similar vein could be a useful younger addition.

At full back I think we are covered on the right hand side, with Aaron Morris more than holding his own in the role last season whenever called upon to replace Ryan Jackson, but on the left I certainly think we need competition for Bradley Garmston, who for me never hit the heights of his 2014-15 loan spell after joining permanently.

Aaron Morris – recently described as a ‘managers dream’.

Midfield is not an area where we should have any issues in terms of numbers or options, either defensively or offensively, even if a certain Mr Dack does move on before the end of August.

Mark Byrne arriving was no secret at all considering his history of playing under Justin, and he looks to be a straight swap for the now departed Doug Loft.

The other arrivals though are intriguing in terms of how we may play next season, but more on that later.

Billy Knott is a superb addition who could player in a couple of positions and in varying systems, but the two real interesting ones for me are Lee Martin and Scott Wagstaff.

I feel they could both be real astute bits of business, because both have real pedigree at this level, and both can naturally play wide, Wagstaff from the right and Martin from the left.

Natural attacking width was one thing that Justin rarely used last season – preferring the narrow midfield diamond or wing backs – so could we be about to see a change in approach?

We shall have to wait and see.

But either way, add all these to the likes of Josh Wright, Aaron Morris, Jake Hessenthaler, Emmanuel Osadebe plus the up and coming youngster Darren Oldaker, and it’s hard to not get excited about how strong we could be going both ways.

And then what if Bradley Dack ends up staying too?

Up top we have now got four out and out front men, all of who will offer different types of attributes.

Cody McDonald is Cody McDonald, and needs no introduction to Gills fans. If we can get a good pre-season into him and keep him fit – unlike last year – then he will surely remain the go to man whenever we need a goal, whether that’s from the start or off the bench, depending on what system we end up employing.

Gills fans will be hoping for a full season from Cody McDonald.

Both Luke Norris and Rory Donnelly had decent enough campaigns in 2015-16, but they should equally be looking to kick on now and both add consistency and more goals to their game, because they both have the tools to be very good at this level.

Norris is able to play with his back to goal, occupy defenders and bring others in to play as well as score goals himself, and Donnelly’s boundless energy and enthusiasm is to be commended, but may have to be harnessed and used more cleverly so that he doesn’t endure the long barren spells of last term.

Joe Quigley coming in from Bournemouth on loan could prove to be shrewd if he can step up, as he looks to have the build and the height to compete with any central defenders that League One may throw at him.

Of course we have to be aware of what level he has played at to date, but his virtually unknown quantity could be a good thing and cause a few surprises, especially early on.

So how will Justin best employ all of these players at his disposal?

Well obviously that will be the call of him and his coaching team, but it doesn’t mean we cannot speculate.

Last season the diamond worked well up to a point, but from January onwards it seemed we just stumbled between that and a 3-5-2 set up, hoping that a win would come and the form would turn around.

To put it bluntly, it didn’t.

As I have already mentioned, it looks as though Justin may be aware of this, and is now building a squad flexible and capable enough of playing one, two or even three different ways.

Obviously the one glaringly obvious factor is that we currently need two more centre backs and perhaps an additional left back for a 3-5-2 to work, but with regards to a 4-4-2 diamond and a 4-2-3-1, we aren’t too far away at all, especially in terms of what some may label a ‘first eleven’.

We have the right blend of players to offer balance, as shown by the graphics below.

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If employing the 4-4-2 diamond we have effectively two players per position in midfield and attacking areas, plus Aaron Morris can fill in at right back to cover Ryan Jackson if required.

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A 4-2-3-1 system brings both Scott Wagstaff and Lee Martin into the equation – not that I am saying they will never be used in other formations  –  as they will add natural balance and width, and their delivery from wide areas could prove crucial if we decide to use Luke Norris or Joe Quigley as the lone front man.

Of course Justin may go and employ something completely different at Southend on the opening day, but I would be very surprised considering who he has brought into the club.

Whatever happens though, that excitement is building again, so we will have to all strap ourselves in for another roller coaster of a season. 

UP THE GILLS!!

* I have left Bradley Dack out of any potential line ups because of all the transfer speculation of the last few months, but obviously him staying would only make us stronger. 

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