In the absence of a proper preview on the podcast this week, I’m going to do a short one here and back it up for patrons with some video content before the end of the day.
The obvious focus ahead of tomorrow’s game is on two men: Steve Evans and John Akinde. Steve is a man we love to hate, as I covered in yesterday’s dog walk video, and Big John is a player who is expected to come back and score against us. It’s amusing of course; few of our fans ever felt he’d score for us, but are utterly convinced he’ll put one away against us. Let’s just hope his finishing is less ‘Bolton’ and a little more ‘Ipswich FA Cup’.
Aside from that, we’re coming up against a team bang in form. They’re unbeaten in 13 and are just four points outside the play-off spots. I have to confess to having a grudging respect for what they’ve done this season; they’re resolute, tough to break down and will fight until the end. They’re the image of some of the Evans’ teams of old, particularly Rotherham United and Crawley I think.
They beat Southend 1-0 in their last encounter, starting with Akinde and Mandron up top in a 4-4-2 formation. we know all about this pair; one played for us, the other was incessantly linked with us and yet neither can be described as ‘prolific’. I said that about Mandron before we played them at the end of last year and he scored, so hopefully I’ve banished that curse!
What they are is physical Neither player will shirk a tackle and both will give our centre backs a real rough ride. Couple that with the constant threat of Jordan Roberts, another player known to us, and you have a serious concern for our back four. At the other end of the field, their back four is a tough unit. Max Ehmer impressed me earlier in the season, Conor Ogilvie is coveted by bigger clubs and 35-year-old Barry Fuller is proof you don’t necessarily need young legs to be a strong full back.
The Gills last defeat on the road in League One came on November 23rd when Wimbledon beat them 1-0, since then they’ve registered five draws (Fleetwood, Ipswich, Peterborough, Burton and Rochdale) and two wins (Blackpool and Southend). It’s perhaps worth noting the wins have come against sides bang out of form (worrying), whilst their draws have been predominately against sides above them in the league. They’re able to close games down, make them uninteresting and stale but effective too.
That’s not to say they’re a boring side, but they have great game management and a style that stops other sides playing as much as it allows them to play. Given that our defeats have mostly been of our own doing and that teams have struggled to truly dominate us in the past (be honest, Pompey and Rotherham were games we handed to our opponents) we could be in for a dour afternoon. Right now, if you offered me a dour 0-0, I’d probably take it.
Gillingham’s 4-4-2 has seen them score less than a goal a game on their travels in the league (0.81) and concede less than a goal a game too (0.94). On average they have 10 shots on goal in their away game and concede 10 shots at their own goal, but their accuracy is 29%, with 34% against. They do tend to have less possession on their travels though, 43% compared to their opponents 57%. What those numbers tell me is exactly what I’ve already told you; they can soak up pressure, let other teams play and don’t score or concede in huge numbers.
When you contrast that with our home record, it’s surprising how well we stand up. We score 1.67 goals per game at home (helped by beating Southend 4-0 and Bolton 5-1 of course), but concede 1.07 (helped by Oxford’s 6-0 win). We take 11 shots at goal per game (on average remember), with 32.3% accuracy, whilst we also allow 11 shots at our goal at 29.4% accuracy. We do have slightly less possession, 49.3% compared to 50.4% against, but it’s relatively close. In truth, were it not for form, we’d surely be slight favourites for this game.
Usually, my analysis is focused entirely on the opposition, but I’ve been crunching some stats and found a few interesting angles within our own side from last weekend I want to finish on.