You can’t win anything with kids: will Gillingham’s youth work against them?

August 19th 1995 – Alan Hansen’s infamous declamation of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in their title winning season has gone down in footballing folklore. And while Gillingham will not be able to boast six players under the age of 20 in their starting XI (as Manchester United did against Aston Villa in their opening game of that season), they will nonetheless be fielding a highly inexperienced team.

The starting XI will probably look something like this (and McDonald and Loft are currently injury doubts) come August 8th against Sheffield United:

(5-3-2)

Glenn Morris (GK)

John Egan, Max Ehmer, Adedeji Oshilaja (CB)

Bradley Garmston, Ryan Jackson (WB)

Jordan Houghton, Doug Loft, Bradley Dack (CM)

Cody McDonald, Rory Donnelly (ST)

That would be an average age of 23.9 with just Glenn Morris over the age of 31 which, for a goalkeeper, is still relatively youthful!

You can’t win anything with kids: will Gillingham’s youth work against them?

With the likes of Callum Davies (22), Luke Norris (22), Jake Hessenthaler (21) and Aaron Morris (25) waiting in the wings there is no shortage of young faces on the bench either.

Plus, amongst others, Mike Freiter, Tom Hadler, Mitchell Dickenson, Greg Cundle and 16 year old Darren Oldaker have all featured heavily during pre-season and are highly rated by the Youth set-up within Gillingham.

But is having such a young squad advantageous?

A good reference point is perhaps Gillingham’s title-winning campaign in 2012-13. There were seasoned campaigners throughout the line-up.

Deon Burton (35) scored 13 goals and led the line superbly with McDonald for a large proportion of the season. His three goals against Rotherham (two away, one at home) were particularly unforgettable for me.

David Wright (29) replaced  fan-favourite Jack Payne (how I’d love him back this season) in the holding role in midfield during the high period of the season and was crucial in providing an experienced head to cope with the bedlam rife in the typical League 2 midfield.

Defense was crucial however in Martin Allen’s team with Andy Frampton (32) and most importantly the captain, Adam Barrett (32), providing a bed-rock at the heart of defence. Both centre-backs were tough as hobnailed boots; the perfect anti-dote to many a battering ram attack.

19 clean sheets tells its own story.

So, it could be said that the experienced heads, and the composure they brought to the team and squad, played a crucial role in romping to the League 2 Championship.

Last season (again with an incredibly young squad) confidence seemed to be a decisive issue. The restricted football under Peter Taylor led to an increasingly hostile environment around the squad and they struggled to truly express themselves. However the confidence brought by the open and trusting style of the Gang of Four and Justin Edinburgh upon his arrival was instrumental to the barnstorming run the team went on in the New Year.

Wins bred wins as confidence mounted and the style of play also began to delight fans bringing a liberated feel to Priestfield. Much of the same is hoped for this season.

However the flip side of this confidence notion raises the inevitable question: what happens if the Gills slip to a few defeats?

Who is going to be there to raise morale? To keep a steady hand on the rudder?

Loft, McDonald and Glenn Morris provide a spine of experience whilst other players are old beyond their youth. Dack, to me, looks a natural leader despite a hot-headed streak whilst Ehmer has already spoken of his willingness to provide the commanding voice in the centre of defence. Likewise Egan was a strong presence last season and I am sure his combination with Ehmer will be even more stout this year.

It is almost impossible to predict what will occur this season, however I think that by opting for youth, Edinburgh is attempting to create a team that is hungry for success rather than money, and who will run the hard yards for each other. Despite this I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more additions with a bit of experience to add a bit of weight and experience to the squad.

On this note it was a shame to see Jason Brown leave the club from his role as Goalkeeping Coach. It was a very strange and rushed departure amid rumours that he has taken up a full time role as Arsenal Ladies Goalkeeping Coach. He would have been another seasoned campaigner within the squad.


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