After Gillingham were thrashed 5-0 away at Scunthorpe on Saturday, there weren’t many from Kent predicting that the Gills would get close to Premier League Watford. However, they did more than that to earn themselves a shot at Justin Edinburgh‘s former club, Spurs, at White Hart Lane after a 1-2 win against the Hornets.
A debut goal from Mark Byrne, and an extra-time winner for Bradley Dack saw Gillingham into the third round of the EFL Trophy. This was all after Odion Ighalo, the £37.5 million striker, put Watford ahead and Dack missed a penalty to bring Gillingham level.
Things We Learnt From Watford v Gillingham
It was the first time since 2005 that Gillingham have conquered a foe from the top echelon of English football. Truly, it could not have come at a more important time.
But what will Gillingham manager, Justin Edinburgh, take from Tuesday’s memorable win at Vicarage Road?
The Kids are Alright
Darren Oldaker is 17, Josh Pask 18, and Elliot List 19. All three put in a tremendous shift against highly-vaulted opposition, and this bodes well for Gillingham.
Oldaker only made his debut on Saturday, but he was cool and composed on the ball. He appears to have an instinctive ability to keep possession, recycle play and he is certainly not afraid of a tackle. When Oldaker was introduced in place of Josh Wright, it brought a calm to the midfield and he did not look out of place one jot. Oldaker will get opportunities this season and, at such a young age, he looks destined to play at a higher level than League One.
Josh Pask, unfortunately, is not Gillingham’s player. Nonetheless, he looks certain to play a key role for Gillingham in defence this season. At the heart of a back three, Pask appeared to be playing slightly in front of Deji Oshilaja and Max Ehmer. Pask’s slender frame could not be more of a juxtaposition with the hulking Troy Deeney, yet he handled the striker manfully. Header after header was won in the air, and his timing in the tackle was spot on throughout. Even when Gillingham were under siege from Watford and the penalty area grew frantic, the young West Ham loanee coped with everything that was thrown in his direction.
Elliot List has pace in abundance. He was quick enough to beat Nyom to the ball and earn a penalty within minutes of his introduction in his most tangible contribution to the game. However, most Gills fans are aware of his speed; his defensive aptitude was the real surprise. Tasked with playing the left wing-back role, List performed with a calm beyond his years, shacking the Watford wingers down the right who always looked dangerous. The speedster brought an energy to the away side that revitalised the XI, when they looked likely to sag and came up with several crucial tackles.
Emmanuel-Thomas Must Work Harder
After such an impressive start, it seemed unlikely that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas could keep his form up. The big striker will never put in the work rate of a Rory Donnelly or a Cody McDonald, and this will be frustrating for Gillingham fans. His desire to ‘go it alone’ and failure to jump for the aerial ball (very reminiscent of Luke Norris) will also irk coaching staff, players and supporters alike.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore his talent, and he should score plenty of goals for Gillingham this season. However, Edinburgh is in the market for another forward and Emmanuel-Thomas may well find his position under threat over the coming weeks.
Nelson is Still a Class Act
Stuart Nelson came into the Watford game with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The Gillingham ‘keeper has been directly at fault for 4 goals so far this season, and many expected Tom Hadler to start.
However, Nelson showed his class and pulled off a number of crucial saves and clearances to keep Watford at bay. He remains under pressure – of that, there is no doubt – but his performance will have kept the critics at bay and given him crucial confidence. If Nelson can keep the howlers out of his game then he can prove to everybody that his two year contract was shrewd business and go from strength to strength this season.
Wright has Competition
The midfield was always looking likely to be the strength of Gillingham this season after some shrewd signings. Josh Wright was at the heart of the Gillingham midfield last season after a great show of committment in pre-season, and was consequently given the captain’s armband. Wright at times this season, however, has looked a little rash. Playing the holding role in a diamond requires exemplary discipline and the team did appear to have a greater sense of structure after Wright was substituted. With Oldaker looking strong and O’Hara to come back into the squad, Wright may well feel the heat on his neck at the moment.
This is no overt disparagement, as it is hard to criticise a player who cares so evidently, however at times this can boil over into poor decision-making. His endeavour would normally be praised but his a lack of control in the diamond formation leaves Gillingham open to the counter attack, exposing the heart of the defence to the opposition.
Never Write the Gills Off
Frustrations were beginning to mount for Gillingham supporters. After a terrible end to the previous season, three wins from three appeared to have banished any demons for Edinburgh’s men. However, a stuttering draw against Swindon, and the annihilation by Scunthorpe had brought the doubters rushing back. A mounting injury list only added to the growing chorus of concerns.
The win at Watford will give Gillingham so much confidence going forward. They proved that they can compete with the best, and showed the blueprint that worked so successfully in the first half of the previous season.
With a glamour tie against Spurs to come, and the wind fully in their sails, Gillingham will hoping that their promotion charge can now begin in earnest.