It took Paul Scally nine league games to come around to the reality that the majority of fans already knew at the end of last season. That Adrian Pennock wasn’t the right man to lead Gillingham Football Club.
The Gills’ 3-0 loss at Rochdale proved the final straw for the Gills chairman who brought the axe down on Pennock’s reign as the club’s head coach. It ended a reign that really should never have been extended in the summer.
That decision – to hand Pennock the reins after an abysmal run in charge that saw him take the side from relative safety in mid-table to within just one goal of relegation to League Two – smacked of a cheap option appointment from the start and, having seen the squad effectively asset-stripped over the last few months, things look pretty bleak.
The official line trotted out by the chairman was that he felt obliged to give Pennock a fair chance, with his own side. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Scally’s concession has put the Gills in even more trouble than they were in this summer.
Back then we’d narrowly avoided relegation, but we had a goalscoring striker in the form of Cody McDonald, a goalscoring midfielder in the form of Josh Wright and a creative midfielder with transfer market value in Bradley Dack.
Dack’s sale was inevitable, but seeing a £750,000 playmaker depart the squad with no replacement brought in, and none of the money reinvested into the squad, showed where the club’s priorities lie. And disappointingly for the fans, it appears those priorities aren’t on the pitch.
Even if we write off Dack’s departure as a necessary move, we still had goals in the side. But we conspired to shoot ourselves in the foot as we let our two biggest goal threats walk away from the club for nothing.
McDonald turned down Gillingham’s contract offer to join AFC Wimbledon, something fans would have considered unthinkable 18 months ago. Was the contract offer derisory? Was McDonald less-than-enthusiastic about playing under Pennock? Or was it a combination of both? Only he can tell us that.
One thing we do know is things went badly off the rails with Josh Wright. The midfielder’s conduct and attitude on the pitch always seemed to be spot-on, but clearly there were issues between him and Pennock and, when Wright called out the manager over social media for supposed untruths regarding his unwillingness to sit on the sub’s bench, the writing was on the wall.
Now Gillingham’s Player of the Year and top goalscorer from last season was ushered out the door and is now at our divisional rivals Southend United, who picked up the 14-goal midfielder for free.
I firmly believe both McDonald and Wright could – and should – still be at the club, and believe that if a new manager had come in during the summer one, or both, may still be here.
Indeed, if Scally had pulled the trigger earlier and not sat idly by to let Pennock’s obviously failing tenure continue, Wright may still be at the club.
I can only imagine how those few fans who stumped up for a two-year season ticket must be feeling right now. They were brave (or daft) enough to put their money down and show their faith in the club – and what’s transpired since has amounted to a slap in a face as the club has noticeably regressed, both on and off the pitch. The goings-on between the chairman and the community trust make for ugly reading, while the performances on the pitch haven’t offered much joy either.
Some fans will rejoice Pennock’s departure but, though I’ve believed from the end of last season that he wasn’t the man for the job, I’m not one of them. I wanted to see him go, but in reality he should never have been reappointed in the first place.
This season should have offered the club and its fans a fresh start, with a new management team, a fresh approach and a real opportunity to attack the division and consolidate our position in League One.
Instead, the chairman went for the cheap option, let a man who was clearly out of his depth bring his own players in, then fired him. In business terms, it’s catastrophic mismanagement by the man at the top.
It also makes the job at Priestfield a far less attractive one. In the summer we were a club on a level playing field. Zero points from zero games played. A full pre-season ahead of us. Potential to wheel and deal to build a team the new man wants.
But that opportunity – and possibly this season – was wasted when it was given to Pennock, who had already shown himself to be not up to the job. By making that decision, Scally effectively threw away the 2017/18 campaign. And for what? To save a few quid for a court case with a caterer? Or just to run the club on the thinnest of shoe-strings? It’s a nonsense.
Now whoever comes in won’t get a clean slate or a level playing field. They won’t get the run-up of a pre-season and they won’t have the potential to wheel and deal to bring in the players they want. Instead, the new manager will come in with one goal – work with the players we have and, somehow, keep us up.
“The time for cheap options, non-league gambles and jobs for the boys has long gone. We need a legit, proven manager to turn this club around, or we’ll be watching the Gills in League Two next season.”
However attractive or otherwise you may have viewed the Gillingham managerial position in the summer, it’s significantly less attractive now, and that’s only going to make Scally’s job of finding a suitable replacement even harder.
Throw in the fact that we’re currently one of the worst teams in the division with a terrible record at creating goalscoring chances and a problem with indiscipline (more red cards than away goals so far this season) and it only makes us even less appealing for an out-of-work manager, let alone anyone we might hope to prise away from another club.
The sorry reality of all it all is it’s all of the chairman’s own making and could – and let’s be honest, should – all have been avoided.
What is absolutely clear now is we need someone proven at this level. Someone capable of taking hold of a squad of players, reinvigorating them, organising them defensively and instilling an ethos of togetherness that translates from the pitch to the terraces.
The time for cheap options, non-league gambles and jobs for the boys has long gone. We need a legit, proven manager to turn this club around, or we’ll be watching the Gills in League Two next season.
For now, Peter Taylor takes the reins on an interim basis and I wish him well as he takes charge for his first game on Tuesday night. It’s unfair to expect an overnight transformation, so the best we can hope for is for the former Gills boss to steady the ship a little until we get someone in full-time.
We’re only nine games in, so all is certainly not lost. But we’ve given the opposition an early-season head-start. It’s time to start gaining ground and moving in the right direction.
Strap yourselves in, boys and girls, the battle for survival starts now.