Graham Alexander’s warning this week that despite United’s fine start, it is too early to be predicting promotion, was no better illustrated than what happened last season to our opponents on Saturday.
For most of the season Gillingham were up there near the top of the table looking odds on for promotion. But with the winning tape in sight, something happened. Maybe it was nerves or the pressure of expectation that got to them, but in the last three months of the season they won just two games, and managed not one victory in the last eight matches.
Week by week, thoughts of promotion slipped agonisingly away and as the Iron came late to almost clinch a play-off place, Gillingham ended up ninth.
Such devastating disappointment could have left an irreparable mental scar on the players, but to their credit they seem to have bounced back and started this season well enough with wins against Southend and Bury before slipping up slightly with Tuesday’s home draw against Swindon. And to be fair, this has been achieved despite a glut of pre-season injuries which has cost them the services of summer signings Lee Martin, Joe Quigley (both likely to be out for the season) and Scott Wagstaff.
Injuries have also sidelined two of last season’s campaigners Aaron Morris and Bradley Garmston, while last season’s League One player of the year Bradley Dack, the team’s top scorer with 15 goals from midfield, has recently been out with a knee injury. He could return on Saturday though probably just on the bench as manager Justin Edinburgh eases him back.
In all there have been 10 summer signings, including, in an effort to boost the team’s potency up front, the much-travelled forward Emmanuel Jay Thomas on loan from QPR, plus more experience in the shape of former Spurs midfielder Jamie O’Hara and Paul Konchesky from Leicester. Not only does the former West Ham and Liverpool left-back swing in a mean corner, but along with right-back Ryan Jackson also likes to get forward and pump crosses into the box.
So our lads need to be alert. Not just in this area but all over the pitch against a side desperately looking to make up for the disappointment of last season. On Tuesday’s evidence, we must also make sure we convert more of the chances we create.
Gillingham certainly have a habit of conceding the first goal, twice this season already, against Southend and Swindon. If we can manage all that, then come 5pm on Saturday we could be top.