If Saturday’s away trip to Peterborough last weekend was a free swing for caretaker boss Steve Lovell, he certainly took full advantage.
In a match few, if any, Gillingham fans believed we’d take anything from, Lovell’s rejuvenated side not only scored first through Lee Martin, they held on relatively comfortably to pick up a much-deserved and much-needed 1-0 away win.
Now the Gills return to action at home with dressing room morale boosted and a sense of optimism beginning to percolate through the fanbase. We’re not fixed by any means, but when your caretaker boss is talking about actually attacking sides rather than sitting back and waiting for the inevitable, you can’t help but be stirred a little.
Tuesday night’s clash at Priestfield brings a whole new set of challenges for Lovell.
Firstly, it sees the Gills take on the best team we’ve faced so far this season. Wigan Athletic are top of the league, have the best attack, best defence and are coming off a resounding 3-0 win over Southend United at the weekend. They’re currently riding a four-match win streak.
And secondly, there’s the pressure of playing in front of the home fans. That’s not to say the Priestfield faithful actively put their own players under the cosh – far from it. But the fans have been so browbeaten with negative performances they’re on edge from the very first misplaced pass these days. Given what’s been served up so far this season, that’s understandable.
It means Lovell has to not only look to get the crowd on side, he also needs to cope with the toughest opposition of the season.
In situations like this, the best form of defence might just be attack.
All too often this season we’ve turned in tepid performances in games that were there for the taking against average opposition. And under Peter Taylor we might as well have walked out the tunnel waving a white flag, so negative was our approach to games.
But Lovell’s approach to managing the side suggests he’s cut from different cloth. And that can only be a good thing as we scratch around for whatever points we can gather during a tricky run of fixtures this month.
Gillingham’s attacking prowess – or rather, the lack of it – has been a topic of conversation among the Gills fanbase and beyond this season. But Gillingham do have a handful of players who, if played together in a positive lineup, might just do something to surprise people.
Liam Nash hasn’t found his feet at League One level yet, but he hasn’t been given more than the occasional substitute appearance. Maybe this is an opportunity for him to shine alongside a returning Tom Eaves up front.
In a midfield full of endeavour, but lacking in creativity, Lee Martin showed a glimpse of what he’s capable of at Peterborough. But there’s also the option of throwing young Darren Oldaker into the fray. His delivery from set pieces and willingness to try something out of the ordinary could prove decisive in a close game.
And pace will also be key. It’s been refreshing to see Elliott List brought into the first team, and his presence, along with that of Sean Clare and the returning Bradley Garmston, could give the side some real impetus where before there was little.
Lovell’s interviews since taking over have been full of effervescence and positivity, which is great to hear. If his team selections reflect that mindset, the Gills will at least put out a side capable of having a go, which is all most fair-minded fans are asking for at this stage of the campaign.
Clearly the team has regressed in terms of outright quality, and the loss of key players in the summer has hurt the team badly, particularly in forward areas.
But even though the players we have might not have achieved the same level of success as some of those who have departed, fans will back them to the hilt if they’re playing positively and giving their all.
With Lovell’s enthusiasm and optimism, hopefully he can instil some new-found fearlessness into the players so they can go out there and take the game to the Latics.
Much like Peterborough at the weekend, this game is one few give us a chance of taking points from. We beat the odds to win at London Road. Can we repeat the feat tonight?