Justin Edinburgh set Gillingham up last season to bring the best out of star man, Bradley Dack. In his absence, however, Edinburgh should operate with a lone striker, with a supporting trio behind him.
The fluidity of this system furthers creativity while allowing an amalgam of attacking options from the bench. However, it would also get the best out of the players Edinburgh currently has at his disposal, and here’s why.
The Case for Defence:
On too many occasions towards the latter end of the 2015-2016 League One season, Gillingham were overrun in midfield. When Dack, the two strikers and, often, the two wing-backs drove forward in search of goals, the three central midfielders were left exposed.
A 4-2-3-1 formation would allow two of Gillingham’s many central play-makers to operate in the defensive midfield role. Josh Wright, who sat in at the base of the pyramid throughout last season, would no longer be restrained to a purely protective role. Furthermore, his potential companion would have the assurance that they would also be covered when bringing the ball out of defence.
Yet it would establish a vital and resilient layer of protection.
A two-man sweeping shield provides a greater width in the defensive setup and therefore grants a licence for Ryan Jackson and Bradley Garmston to exploit the wings. It would, simultaneously, be hard to imagine teams playing through the heart of Gillingham’s defence in this formation. Furthermore, the extra body may allow the Gills to retain possession and control the game from deep.
Square Pegs in Square Holes:
The players whom Justin Edinburgh has recruited so far suit the fluidity the formation offers in attack. Billy Knott, Lee Martin and Scott Wagstaff are all capable of playing across the three, in support of a lone striker. They possess a flair that could flourish when unrestrained by oppressive duties tracking back, given the protection of two defensive midfielders.
They are experienced play-makers at this level and above with the nous to unlock defences. The pace of Emanuel Osadebe, Jackson and Garmston, in addition to this trio, will pose serious questions of League One defences.
The cohesion of Gillingham’s team, tactically, was disrupted by the necessity of playing Dack in behind the two strikers. When he was marked out of the game, there was an absence of a plan B. Jermaine McGlashan was one player that obviously suffered. Indeed, Edinburgh’s desire to fit him into the XI directly induced the collapses at Wigan and Doncaster.
In the 4-2-3-1 formation, there is a place for every man in Edinburgh’s squad.
A Lone Forward Reduces Burden on Strikers:
Dack’s talent, Gillingham’s explosive, goal-scoring start to the season, and Cody McDonald’s injury masked the major flaw of Edinburgh’s squad. The strikers failed to score on a regular enough basis to secure a play-off position.
A lone forward would allow forwards the option to lead the line with a better service from behind. The four strikers at Edinburgh’s disposal present very different threats in attack, offering a horses-for-courses solution week in, week out.
Joe Quigley would bring height, work-rate and the ability to bring the three midfielders behind him into threatening positions. Although he is still unproven, his physique and power could be the perfect foil for those operating around him.
Fundamentally, Cody McDonald is a goal-scorer at this level. He operates on the shoulder of the last defender which always presents the option of the through-ball between (or over) the centre-backs. Additionally, he always possesses the trick or burst of pace to create goal-scoring opportunities.
Luke Norris hassles, harries and occupies both centre-backs through his physique. It is this role that initially allowed Bradley Dack the space to take League One by storm, dropping in behind the muscular forward.
Rory Donnelly, again, works like a Trojan, chasing the back four around. However, he could equally deployed in one of the wide positions. Donnelly still possesses the trickery of feet and pace to threaten at this level, despite a drop in confidence he suffered towards the end of the season. The goals he scored in bursts, including a beauty against Fleetwood, also indicate he has the potential to blossom this season.
Lone Strike to Promotion?
Gillingham’s strike force does not currently look capable of blazing a trail to promotion.
However, if Edinburgh uses them in rotation, and plays to their strengths, then Gillingham’s midfield could provide the gunpowder for a promotion charge,