It is probably a good thing Steve Evans has left Gillingham because doubtless this preview would otherwise mostly have been about him, writes Tom Morton.
Then again, Stacey West readers probably wouldn’t mind a bit of a diatribe against Evans. Perhaps I will indulge later.
On paper Gillingham are having a dire season; barely five wins and seventeen losses so far this season. We should win tomorrow. The reality is we must win tomorrow. Not because it might be the end of our manager or our season, but for simple math – we are going to have to beat some of the teams in the relegation zone to be sure of staying in league one.
The problem is that since shedding Evans in January, Gillingham have had a slight turn of form. Over the last six matches they actually have better results than us, chalking up two of their five wins of the season alongside two draws and two losses. Across the same number of matches we have just one win and four losses. Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Go a bit further back and you will remember they were comprehensively thumped 7-2 by Oxford. And for all of the uptick in form they are not a high scoring side – putting away just three in the last six. By comparison we are beginning to score freely.
One stat I quite like is the Both-Teams-To-Score (BTTS), probably because we do surprisingly well here in recent weeks. On the face of it this seems an odd statistic to like (surely we want clean sheets?) but for me what it says about a team in our position is “even if they concede they are scoring too”. Our season BTTS stat stands at 58%, but more importantly both teams have scored in five of our six recent games. By contrast for Gillingham it is one in six. So in theory, we are scoring more, they are scoring less and are not guaranteed to net one. On a good season this would be a statistic I hate, but for now it suggests promise.
It comes down to this; get an earlyish goal and the statistics suggest they will struggle to come back (by the way; they tend to let in a lot of last minute goals so keep an eye out for that sort of finish too!).
Ones to Watch
It’s likely to be another tough game without too much end-to-end action. Gillingham tend to play a pretty deep midfield (3-4-1-2 is their standard formation at the minute). Those four midfield look to play very tight to their box so expect to see a lot of build up play in our half whilst we try to push back and break through. Going forward I don’t see much threat, they appear to struggle in front of goal even more than we do this season and will likely rely on set pieces to threaten.
I feel like this would be a great game for either Hopper’s return or for Marquis (who did not impress on Tuesday) to find form again. We need a strong holding player to win the first ball and set up the second. Hopper impressed with his flick-ons in the few minutes he had on Tuesday and it would be great to see how he links up with Norton-Cuffy on his forward runs. Despite his dipping defensive form, I hope to see Bramall play again behind Scully. The pair are getting back their early-season form and some of our best recent play has been their link-up down the left.
On the Gills side, there are two names to keep an eye on. Former Imps man Vadaine Oliver is their top scorer (six goals) this season and is a decent player. Also watch out for right-back Ryan Jackson. Defensively he seems as so-so as you’d expect for a team with a poor record. However, he has a decent long throw and this has been a bit of a thorn in our side through the season.
Head to Head
Gillingham away was our first game of the current season and action packed for many of the wrong reasons. Oh, it started brightly. Tayo Edun scoring after just four minutes. But that was rather unfortunately followed by a four minute stoppage over alleged racism directed at Bramall during the celebration. The Gills equalised just before half time, we faded a little in the second half and to be honest the most memorable moment from then on was Evans being Evans on the touchline. There were certainly cheers as he earned yet another yellow for mouthing off (see, I knew I couldn’t help myself).
Last season we traded 3-0 away wins in the latter part of the season. Gillingham was actually one of the teams we played twice in the 19/20 season, but neither game really stood out (a home draw and an away loss). Before that comes the infamous 4-0 home-loss (in which Josh Gowling scored) late in our 10/11 relegation season.
Given the history and the somewhat reversed situation, a 4-0 home win would be a rather pleasant way to spend a Saturday. Here’s hoping!