Well I suppose you could call in “Mission Accomplished” then… not a vintage campaign by any stretch of the imagination, not even Scally’s own uniquely vivid version of the world could claim that, but assuming we don’t go into administration between now and May 5th we’ll be playing in League One again next season. “Hurrah!” I hear you cry; well scoff if you must, but at least our post-Christmas wobble didn’t turn into a terminal slump. We even managed to win away from home again, keeping a clean sheet into the bargain! A mere 365 days after we kept the previous one at Southend.
With things off the pitch seemingly still in limbo, no news is probably good news – but eventually something will have to give… the current hiatus might just be a stay of execution or it could be that Scally has actually begun to turn the corner financially. We are left, as ever in the dark, so with nothing concrete to bemoan, celebrate or berate we’ll just have to chug along taking what pleasure we can from our football club without peering too far into the future in case it gives us the heebeejeebies.
On the pitch things appeared to be going from bad to worse, particularly with the injury to Jarvis, but the presence of Larrieu in goal helped to steady the good ship Gillingham from floundering completely amid the rough spring swells of 2007. To be honest our run of three wins, three draws and nine defeats which culminated in our spectacular late collapse at Carlisle which left us in 19th spot and contemplating Accrington Stanley on a Tuesday night was the last straw for some fans. They can just about cope with rubbish players trying their hardest, but the Class of 2007 didn’t appear to care. Not our greatest collection of players but not the worst either ability-wise and clearly willing and able to dig out results at home but liable to crumble into a pathetic helpless heap at the slightest sign of pressure away.
Some players appeared to be going through the motions, others laughably sloppy, sleepy and accident-prone. They weren’t fit to wear the shirt at Millwall, Carlisle or Rotherham and simply out-played by better sides cruising in the comfort zone at Swansea, Huddersfield, Scunthorpe and Forest. At home we endured an early post-Christmas blip against Oldham and Doncaster, but thereafter could and should have won every game. We were annoyingly mugged by a poor Brighton side, Judas Savage oh so predictably scuffing in the winner and missed a crucial penalty against Blackpool to put us 3-1 up before allowing them to escape with a jammy 2-2 draw. Aside from that we’ve racked up six wins in eight at home taking our tally to fourteen victories this season with one to play.
That fine record shows our potential and will delight those amongst our fanbase that only attend home games, but for the rest of us the Jekyll and Hyde season has been infuriatingly inconsistent. Two steps forward, two steps back. Until the last gasp win at Chesterfield we had managed just two points from twenty-seven post-Tranmere on the road and both those were gallingly missed opportunities, Ian Cox getting senselessly sent-off at Cheltenham and a late error allowing Northampton to equalise.
You can perhaps tell a great deal about the character of a football club via its away record. Tough games grinding out results, heroic defending, clever counter-attacks, lethal finishing, luck, passion, determination, commitment, all essential ingredients missing from the Gillingham recipe too often for it to be a coincidence. Nah, we just aren’t up to the job and some of those responsible will inevitably be shown the door in the summer if Jepson has any sense… and they won’t be missed. Scally’s veiled attack on one player in his Port Vale programme notes suggested that the perpetually injured and when he plays was usually rubbish Jack won’t be welcome next season. The goalkeeping farce this season has most certainly been one reason why we find ourselves in mid-table having flirted with relegation rather than battling it out for the play-offs in what really is a mediocre division.
The lack of a prolific goal scorer remains a stumbling block too, Mulligan has worked hard all season, McDonald has shown flashes of real ability and Ndumbu-Nsungu has flattered to deceive. The injury to Jarvis has cut Mulligan’s supply line which means we should be thankful to the contribution from midfield, most significantly from Flynn and with a late season rush Andrew Crofts who could even steal the Player of the Year trophy if the absence and imminent departure of Jarvis causes the Gills fans to forget the magnificent contribution from Matty in the first half of the campaign when he virtually single-handedly carried our less than prolific and decidedly one-dimensional attack.
In a season of several brilliant goals but not enough scrappy ones, of shoddy defending and an inability to defend under pressure away from home, of stand-in keepers, loan signings and an accident prone defence we are now simply thankful that the campaign is virtually at an end and that we can travel down to Bournemouth for an end of season party in the sunshine. With nothing but pride and a possible top half spot to play for the pressure is off, the long-term future remains unclear but at least our potential fixture list for next season might include Swindon and Leeds rather than Dagenham and Gravesend.
When the dust has settled in May we will be looking back at the highs and lows of a mediocre campaign supporting a mediocre team. Not the best of times, but ultimately not the worst, but Gillingham fans demand and deserve more. If next season brings more of the same or worse than Jepson, Scally and the players can expect to be given short shrift. Four wins in five have bought them a reprieve from some serious bloodletting in the summer but many fans feel it is just papering over some structurally significant cracks that reach right down to the very foundations. See you all at Bournemouth and don’t forget your kazoos!
Up The Gills!