City travel to Priestfield tomorrow night, looking to get back on the horse quickly after last weekend’s reverse against Doncaster Rovers.
It could be a big weekend for City – Doncaster host in-form Oxford United, whilst Portsmouth host a Plymouth side who have only lost twice in ten matches. That means a chance to get a jump on some of our rivals and ensure we remain in contention despite the cup distraction.
We won’t be doing a podcast for tomorrow, instead, we will be bringing you a match review and preview of Tuesday’s trip to Hull over the weekend instead. That means the scope for me to do you a quick preview on here.
We know a bit about Gillingham, their manager is an old friend (loosely speaking), and their two target men have both plied their trade here. One was a title winner in 2019 (Big John), whilst another helped save us from relegation to the National League North, Vadaine Oliver. It’s Oliver who starts for Gillingham at present, and his threat is likely to be the one we have to deal with most.
That said, Gillingham have a few top players (in my opinion), and they’re unbeaten in four. That doesn’t tell the whole story, ahead of this run they lost six in seven, but as with any Evans side, we do know what well get. Case point – Gills only made 50% of the passes opponents Crewe and Sunderland made in recent fixtures and when they met Gillingham, air traffic control had to be notified (one of those facts isn’t strictly true). They like to get the ball forward quickly, but joking aside we shouldn’t sniff. We’ve done it before, had success, and like us they’ve got good players around the target men too.
They’re likely to go 4-4-1-1, although Evans has employed a 4-2-3-1 before too. The one is likely to be Oliver, but the other support cast can adjust accordingly. Olly Lee recently returned to the club from Hearts and is a real threat. He has previously won League Two with Luton Town and plays just behind Oliver. On the right, Jordan Graham is a big threat, he’s in wonderful form this season after resurrecting his career under Evans, with seven goals and four assists in the league. Think Jorge Grant but with outright goals instead of a share of penalties. The 25-year-old had been with Wolves and Aston Villa as a youngster but never seemed to hit form until being given a run in the Gills side.
I really like their left-back too, Connor Ogilvie. He gets forward and supports the attack, and their attack in very much like being hit with a blunt force instrument. It’s quick, it is damaging but it can be effective and shouldn’t be underestimated. If that long ball doesn’t stick to Oliver, then the players looking to mop up and create are effective, dangerous and hard to contain.
There’s also Alex MacDonald, a player I have often termed as a ‘horrible little bastard’, which may not sound like a compliment, but is. When I dislike a player, it is usually for three reasons. He’s either played for us and annoyed me (Ollie Palmer), done something blatant to annoy me (Danny Hylton), or is a good player I hate seeing us come up against (MacDonald, John Marquis, etc). Whenever Alex MacDonald plays against us, he works hard, grinds and grafts and gets right under my skin. Fair play to him for doing the right way (not celebrating a penalty in front of us, a kick that sent us to the National League like Hylton).
The Gills do have injury concerns. Both Kyle Dempsey and Callum Slattery came off during their recent game against Sunderland, which could mean starts for Stuart O’Keefe and Tom O’Connor, himself coming back from injury. Slattery has been in good form since arriving on loan from Southampton, whilst Dempsey was a player I shouted in pre-season as a strong signing. I did pour scorn on them as play-off candidates in the summer, signing the likes of Jacob Mellis, Matty Willock and Oliver made me think they’d struggle. Mellis has gone, Willock is a fringe player and I confess, I was wrong about Oliver. They do have a plan they stick to, but they’re not bad at it and much like the second game against Northampton, I fancy a mixture of direct football, very heavy pressing and some rather surprising pace and width in attack.
It has been hard to get this far without pouring a bit of scorn on our favourite villain, Evans. He’s been spouting his rubbish, but laced with some really kind words, claiming in an interview with Horncastle-educated Kent Messenger journalist Luke Cawdell: “They have a big budget, they won’t be in the realms of a Sunderland or Ipswich, but it’s three or four times what we’ve got. Credit to Michael Appleton, huge credit, they have a super team. It is alright having those kinds of resources but look at Ipswich, with even bigger resources, they are not in the same class as Lincoln. You can have resources but you have to spend them wisely. Michael Appleton and Liam Scully the chief exec in my opinion have done an outstanding job beyond words.”
It is my understanding we have a budget that would place us somewhere around 14th in the division, which is a strong testament to our business model, but we are far from well-financed when it comes to a promotion race. Gillingham may have a smaller budget than us, but three or four times? Jeez, my budget for the weekly shop wouldn’t be much less if that were true.
We know what Evans does and whilst I’m not a fan, part of me actually has gained a bit of admiration for him recently. When he’s had a big budget, he gets greedy and does too much business, but he’s proven to me at Gillingham that he is a good manager at this level – personality aside. It took a lot for me to write that, but credit where it is due. Before he went in there, they were on a collision course with League Two, and yet now they are comfortable mid-table and a couple of wins from an outside run for the top seven.
Of course, the added spice of it being on Sky makes it a little interesting, but it would be nice to pick up a result against the only side we haven’t seen first-hand yet this season, and go into the weekend once again looking down on the rest of the division, shifting the pressure onto our promotion challengers.
Our last win at Priestfield came 11 years ago, when Cian Hughton’s ninth-minute goal gave us an early three points, Chris Sutton left not long after and we ended up being relegated, but we also won there in 2008/09, 2-1. Prior to last season, a woeful afternoon for City, Gillingham’s last win against us at home came in 1998/99, when they hammered us 4-0. Overall, The Gills have beaten us 20 times, we have beaten them 15 times and drawn on 13 occasions.