As summer swiftly turns into autumn, I think it’s safe to say that the excitement and promise of the Gills’ early season form has waned somewhat for most, if not all, fans in recent weeks.
One league win in the last six – or one win in ten in all competitions – has lead to some vehement recent criticism of both the players and the coaching staff, and we are at the point now where some are starting to think that is may be the beginning of the end in terms of Justin Edinburgh’s time as our gaffer.
I personally hope this isn’t the case, but certain trends are particularly worrying, so I am going to take a look at the key points that are currently contributing to our inconsistent – and sometimes miserable – performances.
1: Goalkeeper Situation
I, like plenty of other Gillingham fans, am a massive fan of Stuart Nelson. As a man and as a player he has played a huge part in the club’s success over the last few years, but this term he has on the whole done more harm than good.
Off the top of my head I can instantly think of six glaring errors he has made this season directly leading to us conceding, so is his time at the club perhaps coming to an end?
On top of that we released – in my humble opinion – a perfectly adequate replacement in the summer in the form of Glenn Morris. At the back end of 2014-15 he was superb in his dozen or so games, so much so that in the summer of 2015 the club were willing to listen to offers for Nelson.
Stuart Nelson has endured a torrid start to the season.
All credit to Nels for sticking at it and regaining his place – that is admirable – but why oh why did we feel the need to allow Morris to leave this year and then a month into the season bring in Jonathan Bond on loan?
If during pre-season we thought young Tom Hadler could be our number two and challenge Nelson, why after errors versus Southend and Scunthorpe did that suddenly change and we felt had to get someone else in?
I am not saying Bond isn’t a decent young stopper, but where did that faith in Hadler to step up suddenly go?
Especially when we were so woefully short in other areas such as right back and centre back and could have used those wages there?
On top of all this, Bond’s arrival has hardly made us more solid, with no clean sheet to date in the league or any other competition.
In fact, he is currently out injured which has lead to a recall for Nelson, who has come back in and sadly made another error as recently as this past Tuesday at Millwall.
I know injuries are part and parcel of the game, but at the same time the lack of continuity must be tough on our defenders, especially playing in front of a keeper who is struggling for any kind of consistent form.
And all the while this is happening Hadler is sat twiddling his thumbs.
2: Individual Errors
As I have already mentioned, Stuart Nelson has directly contributed to six goals conceded this season with his individual mistakes, but he certainly isn’t the only one who is culpable.
Rory Donnelly decided to go all the way back to his keeper from ten yards inside the opposition half just last Saturday at AFC Wimbledon, leaving it woefully short and Dominic Poleon with a simple chance, before later getting himself sent off for an obscene gesture at the home fans.
In his case this lack of discipline – a real bad lack of it yes – is a first and hopefully a one off, but the lack of thinking for the concession of the penalty in the same game doesn’t seem to be.
Now don’t get me wrong, Josh Pask – the young centre back on loan from West Ham – has at times looked bright, primarily early on in his loan spell, but has now conceded two penalties through deliberate handball and shirt pulling from a set piece.
Josh Pask has shown glimpses of ability but at times looks out of his depth.
Both of these were completely avoidable – it’s not as if they were last ditch tackles that he has to make – and worryingly come about because of a clear lack of thinking.
Fellow centre half Deji Oshilaja – looking to be getting back to his best after an indifferent start to the campaign – has also conceded two spot kicks at Tottenham and at Chesterfield.
Paul Konchesky has given away one in the home game versus Swindon, and Josh Wright and Elliot List one each, at Scunthorpe in August.
So in the first 16 games of the season we have conceded a staggering SEVEN penalties and let in an astonishing SEVEN goals directly from individual errors.
Even the most optimistic of fans know this simply isn’t good enough and cannot carry on.
Throughout the course of a season all football teams – at any level – will have players miss games due to both suspensions and injuries, that’s a given.
However, the treatment room at the MEMS Priestfield must currently be the busiest part of the stadium.
Both Aaron Morris and Lee Martin suffered season ending injuries before the campaign had even got underway, and loan striker Joe Quigley suffered something similar in the first home league game of the season.
Big Miss – Aaron Morris’ pre-season injury has hit the Gills hard.
On top of that Bradley Garmston is yet to be seen due to a dislocated kneecap, Scott Wagstaff missed the first two months with an ankle problem, and is now out again with a muscular strain.
On top of that last term’s star man Bradley Dack has also broken down twice with knee and hamstring issues, and loan goalkeeper Jonathan Bond is currently side lined with a groin strain.
The icing on top of the cake though was the signing of ex Premier League midfielder Jamie O’Hara.
Proof he played – Jamie O’Hara played twice before having his contract terminated.
Captured to fanfare back in August, the former Spurs starlet managed two substitute cameos before having his contract mutually terminated last week due to an ongoing heel problem.
Then finally there is Bailey Cargill, the young centre half signed on loan from Bournemouth on deadline day.
Apparently he’s not even trained with the Gills yet, let alone been available for selection!
There are whispers he may be in contention for selection this coming Saturday, but the whole thing is odd and – along with O’Hara – smacks of panic due to the abolishment of the loan transfer window.
Impact injuries cannot be helped, I understand that, but the repetitive nature of muscle injuries is a little more worrying.
Are the players being trained too hard? Are they being treated incorrectly?
Either way it needs sorting, because it’s currently hindering everything the club is trying to achieve.
Which brings me onto my next point…..
4: No Settled System
4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, and 4-2-3-1.
All systems employed by Justin Edinburgh already this season. To break it down, that’s four games per system on average.
Where is the continuity, the consistency? And more importantly where is the trust in the players to persist with a formation even when things are not always going to plan?
Yes the players have to be held accountable once they are on the pitch, but for me Edinburgh isn’t entirely free from blame with all the chopping and changing.
Last season we got found out playing the diamond at the turn of the year and spent the four final months of the season stumbling between that and playing wing backs as our promotion bid fell tamely away.
Has anything changed sufficiently so far? For me no.
As I’ve already mentioned, the injuries we have suffered have been horrendous – to the point where we seemingly have more players unavailable than available – but we surely still have enough options to set up one way and stick to it?
If it doesn’t work so be it, but it cannot be any worse than this constant changing at the first sign of trouble?
Watching us as the moment is akin to watching a kid playing a computer game and forever chucking on all his attacking players as soon as they go 1-0 down.
That’s fine in the virtual world, but in the hustle and bustle of League One it simply isn’t working.
My personal opinion – due to how we are currently playing – is to go 4-1-4-1, with two banks of four, an extra ‘holding’ midfielder and a lone striker.
We are currently conceding far too many, so let’s build from the back, be solid and go from there.
At the end of the day a 0-0 draw is worth a point, a 3-4 defeat worth none.
But whatever you decide Justin, please just set the lads up one way and then give them the opportunity to settle into it.
5: Missing John Egan
Since January of this year it started to become clear that our star defender of the two previous seasons was going to be leaving the club.
Despite constant talk of contract offers being on the table and discussions being ongoing, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that he would – deservedly – be moving onto bigger things.
Please come back!! John Egan has not been sufficiently replaced.
And that is fine.
But why did we not plan better in terms of planning to get him replaced ready for the start of 2016-17?
Adam El-Abd proved a hit during his loan spell last term, and his experience was there for all to see when the chips were down as our promotion bid faltered in the spring.
But for some reason Edinburgh decided he wasn’t going to pursue him on a permanent basis.
Again that’s fine if you have other more suitable targets, but we simply didn’t. In fact we didn’t seem to have targets full stop, as we started the season with two senior centre backs plus youngster Mitchell Dickenson.
Deji Oshilaja then picked up a knock in pre-season, meaning Emmanuel Osadebe had to fill in throughout the majority of the friendly games.
We finally secured the already mentioned Josh Pask on loan, but his first team experience was limited to just half a dozen League Two appearances for a poor Dagenham & Redbridge side, and then on transfer deadline day we added the seemingly invisible Bailey Cargill.
Where is the experience in the heart of our defence, a key position in any side?
Bailey Cargill – apparently?!?!
Both Oshilaja and Max Ehmer are still relatively young in terms of senior league appearances, Pask isn’t currently cutting it for me and Cargill has yet to set foot on a pitch for us?
What good is that? He can have all the ability in the world but he’s no good to us if not playing?
I am not saying that if we still had Egan we would have kept clean sheet after clean sheet, but at least replacing him with a like for like – or as close to it – player would give us a better platform, because sadly for the opening two months we have been a defensive shambles.
6: 2016 – Annus Horribilis
Quite simply the year of 2016 has so far been one to forget for the fans of Gillingham Football Club.
After the excitement and furore of 2015, form and results have sadly both nosedived, and the contrast couldn’t be much greater.
From February 2015 up until the end of the season everything was lovely as Edinburgh lead us away from the relegation zone to the safety of a 12th place finish after a brief flirt with the Players-Offs.
This form carried over into the start of 2015-16, and by the time of the festive period the Gills were real contenders for not only promotion but perhaps even the title itself.
Sadly though from the euphoria of that we have gone to the despair of 2016.
Just five wins in our final 22 league games meant we slipped away and finished 9th, the lowest position we occupied all campaign.
And in much the same way as the previous year’s good form, our hangover seems to have carried on into this season.
Under threat? Is Edinburgh’s job on the line?
After a bright start the performances and league results have steadily declined to the point where the team was booed off at AFC Wimbledon after one of the most abject efforts of Edinburgh’s entire reign.
No passion, no guts, no work, no points.
It has to change, and soon, because the comparison from 2015 to 2016 is quite frankly frightening.
2015 – P42 W22 (52%) D11 L9 (21%) F75 (1.79) A50 (1.19) GD +25 Pts 77/126 (61%)
2016 – P33 W9 (27%) D10 L14 (42%) F41 (1.24) A48 (1.45) GD -7 Pts 37/99 (37%)
Win % on the slide, loss % on the up, goals scored down, goals conceded up, and points earned down by 24%.
All worrying, worrying signs.
For me his first year in charge still gives Edinburgh time but – such is the nature of the modern game – things needs to start improving now before the vultures start circling and a Mr Scally stars getting a twitchy finger.
UP THE GILLS!!