Although the Gills came away from Roots Hall with just a point, it was a performance that restored optimism among the away fans as Gillingham’s new spine gave cause for optimism.
With Bradley Dack, John Egan and captain Doug Loft missing, the previous backbone of the team had been ripped out. This seems to have contributed to the poor form recently which may have put pay to aspirations of automatic promotion and left the Gills looking nervously over their shoulder.
However, a Gillingham’s new spine has emerged in the shape of Deji Oshilaja, Andrew Crofts, and Luke Norris.
The back three has served Gillingham well since Justin Edinburgh reintroduced the system with only an unfortunate Jermain McGlashan clearance denying them a third successive clean sheet. Oshilaja compliments the more cultured Aaron Morris and the traditional centre half Max Ehmer, with his pace and strength forging a strong backline. Although the strikeforce of Southend posed problems at time, there was an assurance and leadership that seemed likely to keep them at at bay. With Egan set to return in the near future, it will be a formidable back three with Adam El-Abd as a back up with bags of experience and strength. Moreover, Brennan Dickenson has been fantastic since he has been back in the starting line-up and his delivery from set pieces and from the flanks is the best service the forwards will receive form out wide.
The midfield at times has looked a little lost in the poor run but Crofts, returning to his hometown club adds strength, running and more experience in an otherwise youthful team. Alongside Wright, who has been the signing of the season for the Kent club, Crofts allows the more stylish, skillful players to expresss themselves and he will be a fantastic foil for Dack when he returns in a couple of weeks. In many ways it was a shame that Edinburgh opted for the more conservative option of Jake Hessenthaler over the stylish George Williams who may have added a much-needed guile to the Gills’ attack. Gillingham have sorely missed the guile of the number 23, Dack, with the last ball proving the downfall of many forward moves in recent weeks. His goals have certainly been lacking, but his assists have also been a vital mainstay of Gillingham’s attacking prowess which has proved hard to replace.
Up front, Norris has returned from injury and despite still struggling to win over the more skeptical Gills faithful, he provides power and a focal point for the Gillingham strike-force. It is no surprise that Gillingham win more games, pose more problems and play fundamentally better when he is in the team. Dominic Samuel and Rory Donnelly are two extremely promising players but they appear a bit too similar when paired together and lack the physicality that brings the midfield and wide men in to play.
The difference in the game at Southend was that Gillingham appeared once more to dictate the tempo of the game, and were exerting themselves in the middle of the park.
The next few games are going to be challenging and will define the fortunes of this campaign. Away games at Bury and Sheffield United, two mid-table teams, should offer opportunities for Edinburgh’s men to break their away duck while home games against a spluttering Coventry and a Walsall team that has refound its form should hold no demons for a team that has excelled at MEMS Priestfield.
However, most importantly, the Gills again look like a team that can dominate games and the fans can begin to look forward with optimism to the exciting climax of the season, and even beyond. Gillingham’s new spine has added a steel that can carry this team to the Championship.