With the campaign now effectively a month old, many fans of opposition clubs have stated how they feel the Gills have built a squad capable of challenging for the League One title come next May.
But one thing keeps rearing it’s ugly head that may hinder any hopes of Championship glory next spring.
At the back end of last term both Justin Edinburgh and the Gills supporters spoke of their frustration at how the side were only performing for periods of time, but not a full 90 minutes.
Gills’ home record needs improving after only two wins in their last ten.
A good half hour here, a good half there, but not a full game.
In the end this inconsistency ultimately cost the boys in blue their place in the end of season Play-Offs, finishing in the lowest position they had occupied all season on the very last day, 9th.
The squad was refreshed and reinvigorated over the summer, and massive credit has to go to not only Justin, but to Chairman Paul Scally and new Director of Football Keith Burt for the calibre of player that has come through the door.
The likes of Scott Wagstaff, Paul Konchesky, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Jamie O’Hara all come with pedigree at a higher level and are names that are not even usually linked with the club, let alone names that we manage to convince to join.
Add to that the likes of Mark Byrne, Billy Knott, Lee Martin, Joe Quigley (both sadly injured shortly after arriving), Josh Pask, Bailey Cargill and Jonathan Bond, plus the returning Deji Oshilaja, and it was clear to see why many were talking us up as potential title contenders.
‘JET’ – a goalscorer, but like his side he needs to be more consistent in his displays.
The early signs were promising with back to back league and cup wins at Southend and then a home victory over Bury in a 100% start, something very important to everyone at the club after the way last season had ended on our own patch.
But even during those opening three fixtures there were signs of slight problems, most notably the fact that regular custodian Stuart Nelson had been at direct fault for two of the three goals conceded, and also that we had gone behind in two of the three games.
Swindon at home on the Tuesday after Bury saw the Gills fall behind again – this time from the penalty spot – and a point was only rescued thanks to Rory Donnelly’s early contender for Goal of the Season.
Justin came out and spoke of his sides character and ability to gain points from losing positions, but surely even he knew that this would not continue forever, and at some point we would come unstuck.
And how we did, the following Saturday at Scunthorpe.
We weren’t just beaten, we were embarrassed and annihilated in a 5-0 reversal that saw two more howlers from Nelson and two more penalties conceded.
Poor performances have seen Nels replaced as the Gills’ No.1
Edinburgh said afterwards that it ‘wasn’t a 5-0 game‘ and that we had matched them for the most part, but how much those who had travelled to watch agreed with him I am not sure??
Credit to everyone involved with the club at how they reacted just three days later at Premier League outfit Watford, again conceding the first goal (standard now it would seem) before fighting back to see off the Hornets in extra time, and Nels redeemed himself somewhat with an outstanding display of goalkeeping to keep the Londoners at bay during normal time.
Again there had been no questioning the desire or effort of the boys, and on this occasion falling behind to a side who had taken Chelsea to the wire the previous weekend was no disgrace.
Passion & desire clear to see in one picture.
So could they take that momentum into the Saturday encounter – a third away game on the bounce – at Shrewsbury?
Well they won the game 3-2 in an absolute thriller, but as well all know they once again went behind in the game, this time 0-2 before a Jay Emmanuel Thomas inspired comeback saw them nick the points in injury through Max Ehmer.
But it was now seven games in, no clean sheets and first goal conceded in six of them, and Edinburgh told the press immediately after the game that his side had to become more resilient and stop being so ‘nice‘ to play against.
A Checkatrade trophy fixture versus Luton Town of League Two surely represented the perfect opportunity to remedy both issues.
Stuart Nelson – replaced at Shrewsbury by Jonathan Bond – was recalled to a side that contained seven senior pros, but he was sadly at fault again for, yes you guessed it, the opening goal – shouting for a cross but getting nowhere near it – as the Gills slipped 0-2 behind inside 30 minutes against what was effectively the Hatters’ youth side, a deficit from which they never recovered despite Darren Oldaker’s first senior goal on his full debut.
Hardly the ideal preparation for the imminent visit of Sheffield United and also the Sky Sports cameras, but despite all the trials of tribulations the Gills started the day in 5th place in the league table having won five of their first eight games in all competitions.
A scrappy first half saw very little created by either side, but a sublime Bradley Dack – yes we have somehow managed to hold onto him after yet another transfer window -free kick meant we lead at the interval.
Now before I continue I want to reiterate the point that I think Justin has done a terrific job since arriving, and I think he will continue to do so, but for me yesterday he got it wrong changing the system when we were winning the game.
The diamond was keeping us compact and keeping us solid enough and preventing them from running through or in behind us, but as soon as we went to what effectively ended up a flat back five – our full backs didn’t do enough to push them back for my liking – we allowed them time and space on the ball so that they could dictate the game.
We all know what happened second period so I will not go into too much detail, but we once again shot ourselves in the foot – so frustrating after working so hard to grab a lead and the initiative – and concede two more sloppy goals.
Ryan Jackson should have just put the ball into touch or down the channel for the first, and then poor Josh Pask had one of them moments that he will probably never repeat again in his career.
Josh Pask – second left – gifted Billy Sharpe’s Blades the points.
The point of this piece isn’t to dig out individuals or the side as a whole, because I am very excited about this group of players and what they can achieve this season, but to do that we need to cut out the silly errors that are currently occurring all too regularly.
We have a manager and a coaching team capable of leading this squad towards another shot at the Play-Offs or perhaps even higher, and we certainly have the players who could get us promoted, but at the moment things are being made difficult by errors and poor decision making that could be so easily avoided.
Nine game in without a shut out – along with only two home wins in ten stretching back to last term – needs improving on, and so does that fact that we have conceded the first goal of the game on seven occasions, and the first two on three occasions.
To compound these slow starts we have already conceded five times directly from individual errors, and three goals from cheap penalties, along with one more that was saved.
These could be the fine lines between a successful campaign or not.
I am sure Justin and his staff are working round the clock with the lads to stop these incidents occurring, and if we can then who knows how far we can go, because we have won five (56%) of our first nine despite these silly mistakes.
UP THE GILLS!!