With the January transfer window just around the corner, it was about time those dreaded words were made public….
“If players go, then we are balancing the budget, but we have a good squad and that’s the squad we have pretty much until the end of the season now”
Gillingham’s chairman Paul Scally told Kent Online this week. And so, like the majority of lower league football fans up and down the country, it looks as though dreams of a promotion-clinching signing can be stored away for another six months.
No money in the wallet. No loose change down the back of the sofas. Just make do with what you’ve got. Yet, without denying another signing or two would be welcome – when would it not – the majority of Gillingham fans will be reasonably happy with the squad heading into the new year. There are areas where the team could have extra cover, but with an already large squad and some decent acquisitions last summer it may be a case of trying to get the best from what is at the club already.
That may not be a bad thing, either. The players used so far have set the foundations for a play-off campaign, while hopes of a top-three finish have not yet been extinguished. As we approach halfway in the league season, the dial is pointing more towards success than it is failure.
If the club needed any reminder of progress that has been made of late, it only needs to take one look at last season. After 20 league games in 2010/11, they were recovering from a poor start and had just been dumped out of the FA Cup by non-league Dover. League form had been indifferent, occupying ninth place with only eight goals in nine home games. Strikingly, their third away in 37 league games had just been achieved.
Yet now Gillingham are in the play-offs and five points ahead of last season. The squad is also stronger with goals coming from a wider range of sources. Saturday’s 0-0 draw away at Macclesfield was the side’s third clean sheet in a row and they go into a busy Christmas period seven games unbeaten.
The club has also managed to reach the third round of the FA Cup to set up a tie with former manager Tony Pulis and his Europa troopers. Sadly, toughened Stoke are quite possibly the best-prepared side for a cold and atmospheric Priestfield Stadium, but ticket revenue and a Premier League challenge will be most welcome.
Yet there still are a couple of snagging problems. One is a new contract for Luke Rooney, with player and club failing to reach a settlement. Rooney has a spark of genius that can turn games around – it would be a great shame to lose him, but with praise coming from the likes of Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio, this could well be a possibility.
Bigger still though, is the problem of finding a replacement for Frank Nouble – currently on loan from West Ham – and trying to grab Jo Kuffour on a permanent deal in January. Nouble looks likely to return to his parent club permanently, while Kuffour’s form could interest teams in higher leagues.
Which brings me back to the chairman’s quote on the playing budget. While he has done everything to provide Andy Hessenthaler with a squad capable of challenging in League Two, the club may need just one more financial miracle to attract Kuffour from Mr. Scally.
The striker is in the final four weeks of a three-month loan spell, then there’s a chance of a permanent move. Agree a deal and the club will be looking good heading into the new year. If he heads elsewhere, Gillingham will be back to only having a couple of strikers and the goals could dry up.
While the foundations of a decent season have been set, the January transfer window represents a crucial moment. And if signing Kuffour means balancing the books, there could be some nervous faces around the dressing room over the next few weeks.
Written by Ben Curtis, We Are Going Up’s Gillingham blogger
Ben tweets at @benjamin_curtis