So hurrah then, 2007-08 is upon us at last! It can’t be worse than last season can it? Can it really? Well the answers is none of us really know. To say that the squad has been in a state of flux would be an understatement. With twelve of last season’s underachievers having been sold (farewell and good luck Matty) or shown the door (Bye bye Spiller, Johnson, Sancho et al), and ten shiny new arrivals poised to make their mark, the $64,000 question is whether the new team can gel immediately like the fabled assortment of spiky “Pulis invincibles” circa 1995 or will cough and splutter their way through another mediocre campaign in lower mid-table.
If you watched the slow motion car-crash that was the 5-0 drubbing by Charlton that had no redeeming features whatsoever aside from the relief that Charlton “declared” at 5-0 (it could have been that by half-time) you’d be more than a little concerned that the impending campaign could well be a very long one indeed. The £200,000 signing (I bet you didn’t think you’d read that sentence this summer!) Simon King endured an unfortunate home debut conceding an own goal, conceding a soft penalty and getting harshly sent-off to boot left everyone quietly reassessing their expectations.<
Up front Delroy Facey had given an alarmingly convincing impression of a fat lump of lard in between lumbering about in a vain attempt to touch the ball and the whole defence and midfield were sliced open at will by the window-lickers.
Three days later barely 1000 loyalists trooped into Priestfield for the glamour of a visit by Championship big boys Colchester United. Perhaps it was Scally’s deliberate policy to keep attendances to a bare minimum by charging a ludicrous £15 for the privilege but for once the “mugs” that coughed up were royally rewarded. The contrast with the Charlton game was barely believable, the obvious catalyst the presence of Steve Lomas in midfield. He might be the wrong side of thirty and a ginger, but the Northern Ireland player slotted into the old Paul Smith midfield position with professional ease. He pointed and shouted, cajoled and did the simple things well. He broke up play and enabled other players to do their stuff. Crofts diligently buzzed around doing the legwork whilst Brown and Bentley attacked with verve and intent.
Up front Facey played like a man possessed, his first strike parried into the net by the Colchester keeper, the second a penalty he earned with a barnstorming muscular rumble into the box. He crashed the penalty home with enormous ferocity and linked up promisingly with the ever-diligent Mulligan.<
At the back it was simply reassuring to have a “proper” keeper in goal (time for Jack to bugger off methinks – and don’t come back now we’ve got Stillie as back-up). The central defensive duo of Sodje and Cox looked fine but most fans would still prefer to see the highly rated King get the nod to partner the bandana-man. Armstrong and Southall looked more than adequate at fullback and the first choice eleven dominated from start to finish against a woebegone Col U side minus the now departed Cureton and Iwelumo. Perhaps the 4-2 scoreline (their second in injury time after mass-substitutions) said more about United’s failings than our qualities but it was reassuring to see some decent passing, movement and organisation after the Charlton debacle
Had we followed up with a comprehensive showing at Welling pre-season optimism might have continued to grow but an unconvincing 2-2 left most Gills fans unsure what to expect at Cheltenham on Saturday. The schizophrenic nature of the team doesn’t bode well if we want to see some consistency and a proper go at the play-offs but still the general feeling is one of mild optimism, that this season should be better than the last two and that the Gills could even be the dark horses of this fresh season. Probably not, but then who expected Scunthorpe and Blackpool to go up last season?
It isn’t worth just sulking in a corner bemoaning Scally’s grandiose plans, financial troubles and the failings of the team. We might as well embrace the new campaign it and squeeze all the fun we can get out of it. The Pulis years are now a distant memory, the Championship years are history – we have to focus on making a more positive future for the club. Naturally we all fervently hope that the Gills will be able to score with more regularity and keep a few more clean sheets but it might be asking a bit too much for the new team to blend into world-beaters immediately.
The pressure will also be on Jepson. We’re happy to see the backroom strengthened – welcome back Iffy and Big Fat Jim, but this is now Jepson’s team and if they fail he will get it in the neck. Patience has warn thin over the last couple of seasons, performances have been unacceptable over the last two years and the dwindling fan base is in desperate need of some good news. We want to be entertained and we want to see the Gills in the top half of the table. Will it happen? Well the division is as mediocre as ever, with Leeds hampered by their fifteen-point penalty Forest will be favourites but look what happened to them in the play-offs!
We’re all travel to Cheltenham tomorrow hoping for the best (when can fans dream but on the eve of a new season?) but fearing more of the same. We still have a small squad, the forward line still looks a bit samey (and not exactly pacey) and suspicions remain about Jepson’s man-management, his tactics and the ability of the team to grind out results on the road, but we will only know come tomorrow afternoon at Whaddon Road. Enjoy!
IN:- Simon Royce, Derek Stillie, Craig Armstrong, Efe Sodje, Simon King, Steve Lomas, Barry Cogan, Aaron Brown, Delroy Facey, David Graham.
OUT:- Brent Sancho, Clint Easton, Danny Jackman, Leon Johnson, Ben Chorley, Alan Pouton, Danny Spiller, Mike Flynn, Frannie Collin, Dean McDonald, Matty Jarvis & Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu (loan)