Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Comebacks: Are Gillingham Title Contenders?

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Jay Emmanuel-Thomas: six goals, two wins and one player

Emmanuel-Thomas’ transfer to Gillingham on Friday seems to have taken the League One club to a new level.  The big striker was instrumental in the team’s two comeback victories against Southend United at Roots Hall as the Gills made a blinding start to the season. So much so that Phil Brown hailed Gillingham as title contenders should he remain at the club beyond January.

Where do Gillingham stand?

It is fair to say that with the season approaching, there was little optimism amongst the fans. John Egan had left the club to join Brentford and a number of severe injuries had rocked Justin Edinburgh‘s team. Not even Bradley Dack’s presence could enliven fans, with many predicting a severe hangover following last season’s collapse.

Power and Pace

The two spectacular comebacks (both 3-1 victories) in the space of four days, however, have rejuvenated spirits. Emmanuel-Thomas excelled in both games; scored three goals; made one assist; and terrified the Southend defence.

Gillingham have been missing a striker in the mould of Emmanuel-Thomas for a number of years. He is powerful, commits defenders and, most importantly, he scores goals. He may be selfish at times, always searching for the spectacular goal, rather than feeding in a team-mate (see Josh Wright on Saturday), but this will be forgiven if he maintains this hot streak.

Another impact that Emmanuel-Thomas will make is that other attackers will begin to find increasingly large pockets of space. Often, he occupied two defenders at the weekend. This means likes of Cody McDonald, Bradley Dack, Billy Knott and Scott Wagstaff will be able to get into dangerous areas unmarked. Compare this to last season. When Dack began to be marked out of games, the Gills frequently failed to take advantage of the extra space this created.

The Real Deal?

But, it is surely too early to tout Gillingham as title-contenders. The League One season is one game in, and already teams will be aware of the danger that Emmanuel-Thomas poses. Additionally, as opposed to last season, they are no longer an unknown quantity; the likes of Dack, Osadebe and Ryan Jackson are more common names now. Stuart Nelson has made two clangers in two games, and needs to start turning in performances without such aberrations.

However, there does look to be a certain strength in depth to this Gillingham squad. Knott made an impressive debut on Tuesday, Deji Oshilaja and Max Ehmer looked strong at the back, while Scott Wagstaff will be making his Gills bow in the next couple of weeks. The reliance on Dack has been removed, the team looks to have a greater width, and they are all one year more experienced.

If Gillingham can start trying to clear their injury back-log (Ehmer and Dack are the latest into the treatment room), then all of a sudden an extremely impressive squad will emerge. Title contenders? Time will tell. Cause for optimism? Plenty.