Are Gillingham short of firepower?

It may seem a strange complaint from a team of top of the table who dismantled favourites Sheffield United 4-0 on opening day, but doubts still remain over Gillingham’s potency up top.

The Gills have four main strikers to call upon: Luke Norris (so far the top scoring forward with two goals), Rory Donnelly, Ben Williamson and Cody McDonald. The latter three are all yet to open their account so far in the league.

Are Gillingham short of firepower?

Instead Gillingham have relied on goals from all around the pitch with Bradley Dack (leading goal scorer for Gillingham and joint top with Coventry’s Adam Armstrong in League One) bearing the greatest burden.

Cody McDonald has been the go-to man in three of Gillingham’s last four seasons and even provided the impetus in the Championship winning season with four goals in seven appearances. The 29 year old scored twenty five goals in his season-long loan period in 2010-11, and has notched thirty three times since joining on a permanent deal. Considering this has come in just ninety appearances it demonstrates a fantastic goals-to-game ratio in a Gillingham team that has struggled down the bottom of table in an often defensive set up.

But with an injury in pre-season (early season injuries seem to be a recurring issue for the Essex-born striker) he is yet to regain the sharpness that sees him grab the majority of his goals. Having said that I have no doubt that soon he will be getting in amongst the goals – his track record is too solid to say otherwise. I would bet on him getting towards a total of fifteen, if not higher, again this season.

Luke Norris has been the focal point of Gillingham’s attack this season and is perhaps slightly unlucky to only have the two goals: one against Sheffield United, and the other a cracker against Bradford. He has hit the woodwork six times and his dipping free kicks are proving to be a real string to his bow, even providing the assist for Loft on Saturday as the Blackpool goalkeeper could only parry his fierce effort.

However the goals just do not seem to flow for Norris for whatever reason. You fancy that he could get on a superb run at some point but he will need loving from the manager and the fans for this to occur. What is perhaps more worrying is that his partnership with McDonald doesn’t seem to have clicked. With McDonald a firm fans favourite (and more importantly a proven goal scoring record at this level) the lack of chemistry could damage Norris’ claims to a first team place.

Rory Donnelly came from Swansea in the summer having previously attracted the attention of Liverpool and Everton when he was scoring for fun at Cliftonville in the Irish leagues. Donnelly is an interesting case. I think that he has real talent. His assist for Jake Hessenthaler’s winning goal was superb. The composure, vision and finally the actual skill to lay the ball on a plate for Hessenthaler showed Premier League class, and he assisted the winning goal for Dack this weekend with a dangerous cross that ended up at the feet of the Gills’ talismanic attacker.

However with players in front of him, it remains to be seen whether Donnelly will get the game time he needs to prove himself.

Ben Williamson completes the attacking quartet for the Gills. Offering work rate, pace and height, it is clear the role Williamson fulfils in Edinburgh’s line up. He will not score twenty goals a season but will do the dirty work, chasing, hassling, jumping to suit the high-tempo pressing game that Edinburgh has instilled this season.

One moment sticks in my mind with Williamson. Away at Port Vale Gillingham were breaking quickly. With a three-on-two situation Williamson had Dack in acres of space on his right. A simple slipped pass would have seen the man of the moment with a clear sight of goal. Instead from more than twenty five yards Williamson unleashed a shot that cleared the bar by metres. I have my doubts over Williamson as a striker, however his effort is an asset that cannot be denied.

So with this in mind, are Gillingham short of a striker?

With the formation we play requiring two strikers, I would say that at present we are lacking a class striker. Cody McDonald holds the key to the rest of the season. If he hits form, as I fully expect him too, then a supporting trio of Norris, Donnelly and Williamson with Dack just behind, should prove enough.

After all, Edinburgh has hardly proved himself a mug so far, and I fully trust his judgement. Against Colchester I would be tempted to revert to Williamson and Norris (not that I want to join the minority band of McDonald ‘bashers’ that seem to be emerging – I view him as an absolute legend and a quality striker), bringing Cody on if we are struggling towards the end of the game. Time and time again we have seen him pick up a goal with that bit of movement, that sharp turn of pace or simply being in the right place at the right time.

Life as a Gills fan doesn’t get much better, and Colchester provide another great opportunity for Gillingham to extend their lead at the top of the table.

 

Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images


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