I think it’s safe to say that 2016-17 has so far not been the season that any Gills fans would have hoped for back in August.
After the euphoria created by a raft of promising signings during the close season, and the bright start to the campaign, things swiftly started to unravel.
Despite recovering well from a 5-0 hiding at Scunthorpe in mid August to fight back from behind to claim victories over Watford and Shrewsbury, the signs were already ominous.
Too many individual errors were being committed and too many penalties were being conceded (*I have discussed these in more detail in previous blogs) and this theme continued as the boys in blue claimed just a solitary win from six games – at home to then bottom side Coventry – throughout September.
Gills seemed to peak in the first three games of the season.
After three straight victories to get the season underway, we had managed only three wins in our next eleven, and the poor home form from the final part of 2015-16 was still in evidence, the MEMS Priestfield faithful only able to cheer two wins from the first six games on our own patch.
October was to be even worse though, and by now plenty of fans were starting to turn on the players and manager Justin Edinburgh.
Performances were now unbearable for some, and the biggest frustration for myself was that we were losing games the same way over and over again.
Justin & David Kerslake with that look of resignation at AFC Wimbledon.
An inability to keep a clean sheet – something that’s still not been rectified – meant we were having to score at least once just to have a chance of claiming a draw in games.
After the Shrewsbury win at the end of August Justin had spoken of us being ‘too nice‘ to play against, but since then it was clear this was still sadly a big problem as we developed a habit of letting in goals late on in games.
Conceding in the 90th minute versus Sheffield United, 84th versus Port Vale, 88th versus Millwall, 89th versus Oldham, 82nd and 90th versus Bristol Rovers, 90th versus Charlton and 82nd versus Fleetwood had cost us 10 league points and seen us knocked out of the Football League Trophy.
October yielded no wins in seven games as we drew two and lost an alarming five, but as I have already touched on it was the manner in which we were losing that was the biggest concern.
At Wimbledon it was two individual errors that cost us in one of the most inept displays I have seen in recent seasons, compounded further by a needless red card for Rory Donnelly.
After this we conceded in the last ten minutes to surrender three games on the bounce before two home draws, where we got our noses in front and again couldn’t see out the game.
Bradley Dack celebrates versus Charlton, but the Gills could not hold on again.
But were these two home games the very start of the smallest of recoveries?
The Walsall draw meant we at least stopped the rot of four consecutive defeats, and at home to Charlton there were at least signs that the players were still right behind Justin and his staff despite conceding another late goal.
Those two stalemates are now part of a four game unbeaten run at the MEMS Priestfield (two wins and two draws) – and looking back a little further we have been defeated at home only once (Oldham) in seven games since falling to a late defeat to Sheffield United in front of the Sky Sports cameras at the start of September, winning two and drawing four.
I agree that these are not statistics to exactly get the pulses racing – for now at least – but after such a difficult period progress has to be put into context.
On top of this the Fleetwood reverse at the end of October is our only league defeat in our last five (two wins, two draws) meaning we have picked up eight points from the last fifteen available, having taken only four from the previous same amount on offer.
In fact of our last eight games in all competitions we have lost just the once inside 90 minutes.
Both the 2-2 FA Cup home draw and the 4-3 extra time replay defeat – a game after which Chairman Paul Scally confirmed he had been in dialect with Edinburgh regarding the team’s continuing deficiencies – to Conference North side Brackley Town show that our issues are by no means cleared up just yet and there is still plenty of work to do in order to turn things around completely.
He’s not yet on the blower to new managerial targets, but Paul Scally hasn’t been happy.
However, we have won three of our last four games, and even managed a first clean sheet since April – a run stretching back well over 20 games – in the Football League Trophy win over West Brom Under 23 side.
Back to back wins now mean that, despite being sat in 15th and only five points from the drop zone, we are also only four away from the Play-Off places.
In this together – the players celebrate ‘JET’s’ late winner versus Northampton.
Of course, the performances are not yet setting the world alight or sending shock waves through the football world, but credit where credit is due.
Justin has changed the system to a more attacking and fluid 4-3-3 over the last few games, and has stuck to his guns even when games aren’t always going our way.
This is, for me, very refreshing and a welcome change from stumbling between the diamond and the wing back systems he has so rigidly and stubbornly stuck to previously, and we are slowly starting to reap the rewards.
‘JET’ and Frank Nouble are part of Justin Edinburgh’s new attacking system.
Big players are starting to recapture their form, injuries are slowly starting to clear up leading to increased competition, and things are slowly turning for the good.
There is still a lot of improving to be done, but we can only take it one game or one week at a time, starting tomorrow night at Oxford.
I am happy to admit that I have at times over the last couple of months doubted whether Justin was still the right man to lead us forward, but the bottom line is I am a supporter of Gillingham Football Club.
Like him, his staff and the players I only want what’s best for us, so all the time he is in charge I will continue to cheer on the boys from the stands or from at home, and there will be nobody happier if he continues to lead us up the table.
Also, in the trigger happy world of modern football where success seemingly has to come yesterday, perhaps a little credit is due to Mr Scally for sticking with his man.
Let’s hope his loyalty is rewarded.
UP THE GILLS!!