Sport is often decided by the very smallest of margins: a misjudged ball; a miskicked shot; a mistaken referee. Gillingham’s final game of the Sky Bet League One season proves how a nine-month season can boil down to just 90 minutes of derby action.
It is a season where Gillingham have latterly been on the wrong end of such fine margins. Burton Albion’s last minute winner could have crushed all hope for Justin Edinburgh’s team, in a fine instance of how games have been panning out in 2016.
But then came Benjamin Lapslie’s last-minute goal at Oakwell, as Colchester denied Barnsley all three points despite a man-deficit and a striker-cum-goalkeeper keeping the hosts at bay. It seemed a landslide moment, a reversal of a deluge of disappointing games, goals, moments. The disappointed 800 walking out of the Pirelli Stadium spontaneously burst into cheering; sulking grimaces were upturned to beaming smiles.
Thus, regardless of the events of the entire season Gillingham are faced with a must-win game against their fiercest rivals (even if the opposition would shrug off such an association) at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
The stage is set for Edinburgh’s boys to become men, and it will doubtless be an occasion and an atmosphere that few of them will have experienced before. In the heat of the hottest day of the year 10,000 Gills fans and 1,200 Milwall fans (with maybe a smattering of away fans in the home end) it will be decided whether the 2015-2016 will be remembered as one of excitement and success, or a huge opportunity thrown away.
The prospect of Barnsley or Scunthorpe winning must be irrelevant to Gillingham’s preparation and as such cannot be considered in this article. It must be assumed that they both drop points and that Gillingham have a play-off for the play-offs.
Judging by Ediburgh’s last few line-ups and the form or injuries of certain players, it would seem likely that he starts the following team:
Nelson; Oshilaja, Egan, Ehmer, Dickenson; Wright, Loft, Osadebe, Dack; McDonald, Norris
It could be an XI that, like the opening game of the season, blows away a much-fancied opposition, but the pressure is different and the expectation tangible.
Can the Gills pull-off a great escape and sneak into the play-offs with a crashing wave of momentum, or will they be entering the 2016-17 season shorn of their stars and off the back of a truly devastating collapse?
Only time will tell.