Well this is harder than we remembered. Three games in, three defeats, zero goals scored. This isn’t in the script.
We’re the champions. But defeats to Colchester, Bristol City and Wolves, which followed defeats in the last four friendlies, have bought a heavy dose of reality to Priestfield. Three games in is no time to press the panic button, but pre season expectations from some quarters definitely have to be reassessed.
It’s no surprise that fans expectations were a bit high ahead of the big kick-off, with much of the pre-season bravado coming from the manager himself. Even before the end of last season Martin Allen was talking about “smashing” League One, a league that he recently referred to as being “no great shakes.” Whilst much of Allen’s press should be taken with a pinch of salt given how often he hypes his team up to the media, it isn’t just the fans that have been bought back to earth with a bump.
The legacy of 2010 has probably led to higher expectations of this season. Ask any Gills fan about the last time the Gills were in League One, in 2010, and you will usually get a similar answer: we shouldn’t have gone down.
A tad arrogant perhaps, but certainly justifiable. The home record that season was brilliant, but the players seemed to forget the concept of the game of football as soon as they hit the M2, with no away wins all season. Despite that the squad nearly survived, only dropping into the relegation zone seven minutes from time on the final day of the season. With manager at the time Mark Stimson rated by few fans, and a squad that have since mainly faded into non-league, it’s easy to see why Gills fans may have underestimated the difficulty of League One this time around.
But what is a reasonable expectation for the season?
Personally, as it stands, I think that the squad is probably suited to mid-table rather than a promotion push, but should be safe. The fixture computer hasn’t been kind, with a tough start continuing on Saturday, but there are worse teams in the league.
Stuart Nelson and his defence should be ok, although the centre-back area could do with some more pace and needs to quickly cut out the schoolboy defending on show at Wolves. Nobody closed down Leigh Griffiths before the first goal, giving him time to control, turn and shoot unmarked, whilst Adam Barrett again stood off for the third, and Leon Legge chopped down Griffiths for the fourth.
If Charlie Lee’s return from the transfer list is a permanent one, then the midfield should also be ok, although the lack of bodies means that Gills are gambling on at least one of Charlie Allen and Bradley Dack successfully stepping up to League One. With the additions of Cody McDonald and Bayo Akinfenwa to play alongside Danny Kedwell the forward line looks stronger than in recent years and has the genuine competition for places to keep the strikers on their toes.
For the first season back, it must be about consolidation. Who knows what might have happened had the class of 2010 survived, strengthened and reproduced some of their home form away from home the next season. Would Stimson still be manager?
The current squad looks too small for anything above mid-table, and after six seasons of fighting the League One/League Two divide, I would definitely take a season of mid-table comfort.