Bradley Dack, Cody McDonald and John Egan could all be in the Gills squad for the visit to Sheffield United at Brammall Lane this Saturday. Will the reintroduction of these injured players be the making of Gillingham’s promotion charge?
This weekend sees the reverse of the opening fixture of the season, and the contrast to the present moment will resonate with Gillingham fans, although this should not be taken as a criticism of Justin Edinburgh’s campaign. Back in August a free-flowing Gillingham team totally dismantled the pre-season favourites with a performance full of pace, flair, power and clinical finishing. The 4-0 result did not flatter the hosts and Dack’s last minute wonder-goal was an indication of a season that would see him become one of League One’s most prized assets.
However in recent weeks, injuries to Egan and Dack added to McDonald’s long-standing absence have seen Gillingham slide from the automatic reckoning and has left them looking nervously over their shoulders. It has been a spell where goals have been hard to come by, although the loan signings of Deji Oshilaja, Adam El-Abd and Adam Crofts have added an experienced and battle-hardened spine to an otherwise youthful squad. Each player will add something different to this squad, and they could represent the final pieces in a jigsaw which resembles a promotion-winning season.
First to John Egan who has been the bedrock of the Gillingham defence over the past few seasons. Although it will be hard choosing the central defender (or two, if Edinburgh decides to revert to the diamond formation) who must miss out, Egan must return. He adds a prowess to set pieces which has been lacking in recent weeks. Too often have dangerous Brennan Dickenson corners been cleared from the penalty spot with no pressure, or Ryan Jackson long throws defended with consummate ease.
He attacks everything, wins most things, and will tie up two defenders in the box, leading to more space for other players to occupy. Egan is clearly a leader, as well as a well-spoken and well-liked member of the squad and he will only improve the squad.
No words can sum up the importance of Bradley Dack to this Gillingham team but, if they could, they would indicate the plethora of final balls which have had just too much juice on them; flicks that have failed to send a striker through on goal; shots comfortably saved by the opposition goalkeeper in games gone by. Dack is the crux of the Gills’ attack and the team as a whole. Everything flows through him, and when he ticks, the team ticks.
Moreover, Dack’s return should bring out the best of the players around him. They can relax as they can concentrate on the more fundamental aspects of their game; it looks as if the need to replace him has led to the attacking thrust of the team becoming strained and forced. If Gillingham are to be promoted, it is vital that he hits the ground running upon his return.
How many chances of Gillingham had in the ten games? Answer: very, very few (the Crewe game aside). At the minute, the Gillingham strikeforce is lacking a player who can score a goal out of absolutely nothing. McDonald, on his best days, can provide that extra spurt of pace, that subtle touch, that sublime piece of skill which sets him apart from the other strikers at the club. McDonald has experience of scoring goals consistently at this level. If a chance was to fall to any player, he appears the most confident to despatch it.
His injury at Millwall was a major blow, as it came just as he was beginning to hit form. Indeed, the way he won that penalty was indicative of what he brings to the team. He chased the ball, hassled the defender, had the pace and foresight to predict and gamble on the error before having the experience to nip in and win the penalty (and the game) for Gillingham. If he can find some match sharpness, he could well be significant, even if it is in the guise of super-sub.
Gillingham’s promotion charge has been wilting of late. These players have the potential and drive to allow the chase for the top two to bloom, and will be invaluable should it come down to the play-off lottery.