Gillingham really do have what it takes to get promoted this season. That’s if the first eleven results of the campaign are anything to go by and judging by the mood around the club, nobody is settling for the play-offs in May. Yes, it’s too early to be certain. But the players have given themselves the almost-perfect foundations from which to charge towards League One, steamrollering their way through teams without breaking into too much of a sweat and pacing into a three-point lead.
In fact, that’s been the biggest eyebrow-raiser so far: how the squad have killed games off early and taken it down a gear. There’s still plenty to come, too, as we head into the second quarter of the campaign. Whichever eleven players Martin Allen has put out – often he’s been making five changes a game – there has always been the feeling they are nowhere near their peak.
And when they do peak, there won’t be a team capable of stopping them.
A lot of this early-season positivity is down to Allen’s introduction. Following the departure of Andy Hessenthaler, ‘Mad Dog’ has taken a more-than-capable squad of players, made a couple of additions, got them fitter and more organised. Hessenthaler didn’t fail in bringing together a decent group of footballers, but couldn’t get them working together. Allen’s taken on the baton and set about turning them into record breakers.
Five league away wins in a row – and, with that, a new club record – and 26 points from 33 is very different to argue with. We’ve already played a number of the bigger teams, including Wycombe, Chesterfield, Port Vale, Oxford and Bradford. We’ve already beaten bogey teams (Southend and Barnet) and recovered from defeat (winning at Northampton). We have one of the league’s top scorers in Danny Kedwell, the league’s best defence and best goal difference. Youngsters like Bradley Dack are coming through and showing promise, while the more experienced 36-year-old Deon Burton looks to be an excellent signing.
What could go wrong, then? Plenty over 35 games, of course. The odd injury or suspension is unlikely to affect things due to the size and quality of the squad, but a prolonged and widespread problem could provide some turbulence. Players of quality, like Jack Payne, could leave in January, though the club is in a place where it could turn down offers for most of the squad. Four red cards in five games is far from ideal in keeping first-team consistency, so perhaps ill-discipline could hinder in the months to come.
Yet with a strong financial backing, you wouldn’t think so. Having previously been saddled with large debt caused by an overspend on the Medway Stand’s construction and relegation from the Championship, the club has found itself in better shape from a wedge of transfer money. Matt Jarvis’ move from Wolves to West Ham is thought to have netted Gillingham around £1 million, while former youngster Ryan Betrand continues to pull in £100,000 for every ten appearances he makes up to 40. An England call-up also earned the club £200,000.
And Paulo Gazzaniga’s move to Southampton – for anything between £750,000 and £2.5 million, depending on where you read about it – has left Gillingham near-debt free, if not in the black. Even if Gillingham are still in the red, it’s clear that money would be made available to Allen in January if the squad is in any kind of strife.
Key to Gillingham’s progress, though, is Allen. He’s already said temptations from anything below the Premiership will not lead to him leaving. He and Paul Scally have been working well together thus far, but few relationships in football are long-term. If Allen is still the Gillingham manager at the end of the season, it is hard to see how Gillingham couldn’t take one of the top three positions. Even if not, they’d be a strong contender in the play-offs.
Martin’s messages through the club’s website, where he updates supporters on squads, friendlies, new contracts and invites to the training ground, have helped him quickly become a fans’ favourite. Training at the local outdoor swimming pool in the summer and other quirky training methods have kept the players on board. All of this leaves Gillingham fans ominously wondering: where could it all go wrong?
Written by Ben Curtis, We Are Going Up’s Gillingham Blogger
Ben tweets at @benjamin_curtis