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Gillingham have an improved pitch, but what they really need is improved home form

Gillingham have forked out on an expensive new pitch, but will the improved surface deliver improved results?

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Simon Head

After a hit-and-miss start to their League 1 campaign Gillingham face a period of crucial matches as they look to establish a foothold in the middle third of the divisional table.

There are reasons to be optimistic, with the Gills handing Portsmouth a 2-0 away defeat – Pompey’s first loss of the campaign – thanks to Tom Eaves’ Goal of the Season contender and Alex Lacey’s close-range effort. But concerns remain very real after the team’s lacklustre 2-0 home reverse against Southend United.

Steve Lovell’s side have struggled to find form this season. The Priestfield pitch – a cow field of a surface previously – has been ripped up and re-turfed at significant cost (per http://www.gillinghamfootballclub.com/news/2018/october/pitch-gallery/), and the club will no doubt be hoping that the improved surface will result in improved football, and improved results.

An upturn in form wasn’t evident at the weekend, when the side produced a disappointing display against the Shrimpers, conceding two soft second-half goals after a semi-encouraging first-half display.

The Gills now face back-to-back away games, as they travel to promotion-chasing Doncaster and divisional strugglers Plymouth. But then they return to Priestfield to face another mid-table side struggling to find form, Bradford City.

After a patchy start and just one home win so far this season – their 3-1 home opener against Burton – the upcoming games are crucial. We’ve already lost one of the two home games against teams around us in the table. To lose both would be unthinkable.

Injury concerns

Despite the optimism of Gillingham’s away win at Portsmouth, the team heads into the upcoming run of games with key players nursing injuries.

The Gills’ midweek Checkatrade Trophy loss to Tottenham’s Under-21s saw a host of players picking up knocks in a game that ultimately meant little to the club’s season.

Reports suggested that Tom Eaves and Luke O’Neill looked to be labouring at times during the match, while a host of other players are either carrying knocks or ruled out altogether.

Midfielders Regan Charles-Cook and Billy Bingham are major doubts for selection against Southend, as is striker Brandan Hanlan (per http://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/sport/striker-facing-fitness-battle-191309/).

Lovell will be desperate to get Charles-Cook and Hanlan back in particular, with the pair giving the team added pace and impetus going forward at the start of the season, only for injuries to prevent them from building up a partnership over the opening stages of the season.

The Gills are more confident of Eaves being fit, however, and that’s probably just as well. The big striker led the way last season and appears to have his confidence back after being dropped from the side a few weeks back.

Beat the drop

At time of writing, the Gills are fourth favourites for relegation, according to bookmakers Paddy Power (per https://www.paddypower.com/football) and with the Gills set to face teams who are in a similar – or worse – position to their own, the Kent side has a real opportunity to pull away from the wrong end of the table and build momentum as they head towards the busy festive period.

Home form is always crucial to any side’s ability to survive, and Gillingham need to add to their tally of home wins as quickly as possible. Failure to do so in the next couple of months could see the side plunged into yet another relegation dogfight.