Tomorrow sees us make our first trip to Priestfield since 2010/11 when a Cian Hughton goal gave us an unlikely win.
Sadly, we were thumped 4-0 in the return game and ended up being relegated, with our trips to Kent constituting being humbled at Crabble by Dover, a side I felt we used to be in a rivalry with. Happy days have prevailed and we’re back playing the biggest team in the Garden of England. It’s a fixture that presents interesting angles for the Imps, not only because we haven’t been there for ages. After all, with Evans in the dugout, it does become a bit spicier.
I’m not going to dwell on him. He’s been surprisingly quiet this season and I feel we’ve moved on from our spats with him. We know what he is and how he operates and I don’t think we’re likely to see a clash of styles on the touchline this time out.
It is interesting that we’re level on points and only goal difference puts us below them. Had we not capitulated against Oxford and maybe only been beaten 3-0, we’d be above them. Similarly, take out their gimme against Bolton and they might be below us again. That’s football I guess, but my gut feeling is we’re more than a match for them if we apply ourselves correctly. That’s not to say they’re relegation fodder though, but they’re plagued by some of the issues we are; they’re not prolific enough in front of goal for a start.
Quite how they’re going to line up is anyone’s guess, so instead of trying to predict the actions of a man who shuffles his pack more often than a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, I’m going to look at their starting XI from their last league home game, a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Rotherham. My gut feeling is they’ll switch things around a bit given that humbling though.
This is one of a number of formations Evans has used, so all of Steve Thompson’s knowledge will be tested as they take to the field tomorrow for the game. They do tend to have a front two, flat back four and just mix it up in the midfield area. Whilst their league position hints at some issues, there are a couple of players I really like on their books.
Regan Charles-Cook is one; he turned down a deal with Charlton after graduating from their academy to sign for the Gills. He recently bagged a winner away at Accrington Stanley and he’s got a bit of quality on the ball. I could see him playing in the hole as he did against Rotherham, but he’s also popped up on the left of a three in a 4-2-3-1 formation. If he plays, he’s going to offer a bit of pace as well as some silky ball skills. He’s definitely one to watch.
23-year-old Connor Ogilvie is another who has caught my eye this season. He’s versatile and can play on the left of the centre back pairing or at left back. He’s a graduate of the Spurs academy and joined in the summer after a loan spell. Both him and Charles-Cook arrived at Gillingham by the same sort of route Michael Appleton wants to bring players to us; out of academies and into full time football. Their proximity to London must help lure these players too and both have the quality to go on to bigger and better things.
Their squad lacks real quality in key areas, but their recruitment policy has (and it pains me to say this) looked sound in theory
At 22, Brandon Hanlan is another who has come from Charlton to the Gills. He’s a young forward, athletic but not prolific. He’s been played as a lone striker and has been partnered with Watford loanee Alex Jakubiak (23). All these players are young and hungry and whilst you won’t win the league with youth, you will always have a threat with pace. I’m not saying we want our squad to be like the Gills, it lacks real quality in key areas, but their recruitment policy has (and it pains me to say this) looked sound in theory. However, those front two have eight goals between them, with 18 and 19 appearances respectively, which is the main problem plaguing Evans.
I’ve not mentioned the keeper either; he raised a few eyebrows when he signed for them this summer. Jack Bonham had a good season on loan with Bristol Rovers and is another young player with scope to develop.
A couple of older hands are not on the tactics graphic. Barry Fuller is a right back, 35-years-old and possibly a player we could look to exploit for pace, as teams seem to do with Neal Eardley at the minute. Olly Lee is an old hand at this level and should be having a bigger impact than he is. He bagged against Sunderland in the FA Cup and I do expect to see him tomorrow.