It was a turbulent off season for Gillingham FC and not one, in an ideal world, that the club would chose to have prior to embarking on another League One campaign in a division that is, arguably, its strongest ever.
The club are suing former caterers Centerplate for breach of contract and are hoping to win back in the region of £2million in compensation but the cost of taking the case to the high court have been, according to Paul Scally “staggering” and to help the club stay afloat they released two year season tickets!
Prices varied but as an example the club were selling a two year season ticket for the Rainham End for £700, saving the fans around £50 over the two years but providing a short term cash boost that the club so desperately needed.
All this off the field rancour clearly had its effect on the playing budget and, despite manager Adrian Penock bringing in eight players or more he still had to contend with the loss of Bradley Dack (£750k to Blackburn) and Cody McDonald (free to Wimbledon). It was clear that the squad needed over hauling after survival was only secured by a single point last term but on a tighter budget and competing against some big clubs and small ones with bigger budgets it was always going to be a difficult task. The most difficult task a club the size of Gillingham always faces is that of bringing in players that can score. Although Dack only netted 5 times last season he did bag 13 during the 2015-16 campaign and was also the creative fulcrum in midfield. McDonald has been a prolific scorer for a number of years and he reached double figures last season.
So who did Pennock turn to to replace the goals he potentially lost? Tom Eaves arrived from League Two Yeovil and Conor Wilkinson arrived from Bolton, having been on loan at Chesterfield last season. Liam Nash was also signed from non-league Maldon & Tiptree, a club based in the English 8th tier.
Wilkinson had been at Bolton all his career but had been out on loan to seven different clubs, scoring a total of 10 goals including 4 while on loan at Chesterfield last season, the team that finished rock bottom of League One. He has shown plenty of promise and is still only 22 so has plenty of time to improve but, as of yet, is not what you would call a proven goal scorer.
Tom Eaves was a hotly touted prospect who shone at youth level with Oldham, hence why Bolton Wanderers decided to pay an undisclosed fee to sign him in 201o. Eaves was sent out on loan and his first spells with Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury were quite fruitful as he scored 13 times in just 25 appearances for the two clubs combined. Since then he has struggled and further loan moves were not successful. He was released by Bolton at the end of the 2015-16 season and joined League Two Yeovil but his struggles continued in Somerset and he was released after only managing 4 goals in 40 appearances for The Glovers. He joined Gillingham this summer with a record of 20 league goals in some 131 appearances in a career dating back to 2009, hardly a record to pin your survival hopes on.
Liam Nash, however, looks like he could be a real find for Pennock. He bagged 37 goals in non-league football last season and looked lively in the brief playing time he has been given so far but if any of these forwards are going to score they will need to get better service than they have been supplied with so far.
In Josh Wright Gillingham have an excellent midfield player and he will likely be the one Pennock leans on to fill the void left by Dack’s departure and defensively too Gillingham look solid. In the three league matches so far this season they have only conceded twice and Gabriel Zakuani, Max Ehmer, Luke O’Neil and Alex Lacey are all solid defenders at a League One level. Conor Ogilvie, signed on loan from Spurs in the summer, has also shown a lot of promise and was excellent at Stevenage last season so the back line is not really a concern for Gillingham.
Creating chances is the problem and in the three games they have only managed a measly 6 shots on target, an average of 2 per game. Not a tally that will be good enough to win many games in League One this season. It is not panic stations yet though as 3 games is a tiny sample size and things could quickly turn around but Pennock and Gillingham fans will be hoping that it is sooner rather than later…
words James Richards