Gillingham v Portsmouth. It’s arguably the biggest game the club will have this season from an outreach perspective – international break, live on Sky Sports and broadcast to the world through the EFL’s other agreements with obscure TV networks. A win would be ideal, but more important is playing good football, as an outreach to not only the wider world but the rest of Kent and Medway.
There are 280,000 people living in the Medway Towns. Almost all of them know that the football club exists, but yet this season our average gate of home fans has been not much higher than 4,000 (that’s 1.42% of the population of the Medway Towns, for reference).
I could guarantee that at least 25% of people in Medway have access to Sky Sports in some form. So to say that yesterday was potentially massive for trying to attract new fans through the door would be an understatement.
And with clubs in the surrounding area charging up the pyramid – the prospect of Dover being in the EFL next year looks likely, along with Ebbsfleet and Maidstone slowly rising – capturing the hearts of Kentish people is more important than ever.
So, to set the scene, the injury list is longer than a Tomas Holy drop-kick, most of the list consisting of defenders – so in a game few people expected us to get a result from, why not play an ambitious and attacking formation and see what sticks?
Well, we have Peter Taylor in charge, who has been known in his previous spells at Gillingham for boring everyone to sleep, so he elects to play a 5-4-1. Oh, and that lone striker up front? He hasn’t scored in over a year and his confidence is currently as low as it could be.
Imagine what those strikers left on the bench were thinking. Liam Nash, who scored 36 goals for Maldon & Tiptree last year, for example.
We may be four tiers above them (even if our performances beg to differ), but the goal is the same size and shape whether you’re playing down the Garrison against Valley Colts or at the Camp Nou against Barcelona. If you can score goals consistently at that level, you can score them at our level too as far as I’m concerned.
He may not be as prolific at this level, but even if Nash got 15 goals out of the same amount of appearances as he had last season, it would take a very harsh supporter of the club to agree with him sitting on the bench.
Greg Cundle too, a youth product of the club and one that everyone speaks very highly of from the centre of excellence. Again, is he likely to set our world on fire in his first few appearances? Not at all. But could he produce little sparks of magic that could bring us potential goals? Absolutely.
Even Darren Oldaker, whose appearance yesterday couldn’t be described as much more than a cameo, must be wondering what he can do to get a place in the starting XI.
Given that our only hope of goals this season appear to be from set pieces, why the rest of the squad isn’t built around Oldaker is a complete mystery to me given that’s one of his strongest areas.
The current climate in the stands isn’t great at all, but everyone would rally behind these young lads because they have generated the most exciting football we’ve seen this season.
The same happened with Bradley Dack when he first broke through – glimpses of excellence which were twinned with the mistakes that came with inexperience. Four years later, he was voted Player of the Year in the division above where he started.
How will those lads sitting on the bench ever get the chance to gain some real experience if they’re limited to 15 minutes at the end of a game when nine times out of 10 we’re fighting from behind?
Conor Wilkinson has been here over three months now and I still can’t work out what kind of striker he is meant to be. He’s not strong enough in the air or physical enough to be a target man, he’s not quick enough to be a counter attacker and he isn’t good enough with his feet to be a playmaker.
The only two people that Wilkinson appears to have genuinely impressed are Adrian Pennock and Peter Taylor. Unfortunately, those are two people that have been choosing the starting XI this season.
And if Wilkinson is the future that we are choosing over the other young players, then so is an empty stadium in League 2 – or lower.