Whilst under-pressure Gillingham manager Justin Edinburgh began 2017 under a lot of criticism that the home defeat to Oxford United, which, to many, was an appalling display, I did not expect to see the news of him getting sacked the following morning. The Gills’ league position of 17th states the reasoning, and the tactical decisions and performances we had the pleasure of seeing were very obscene – leading, presumably, to chairman Paul Scally finally making the decision to wave goodbye to the boss.
The decision does not amaze me at the slightest. It was clear before the season kicked-off that our goal was to assemble another promotion challenge after last season’s downfall. If Gillingham want to retain any hope of a play-off finish then the sacking of Edinburgh had to be done to save this campaign. As the news became disclosed the team were sitting eight points above the drop zone, and ten adrift of the top-six.
He had just reached the 100-game milestone at the Gills and it was apparent that he would make it to the two year mark, which would come next month. The double feat of Southend United in the league and cup, along with the fanciful win at Vicarage Road, seem nothing more than just a distant memory now. It has been a dismal record that followed the rather impressive month of August (albeit the atrocious 5-0 thrashing from Scunthorpe) with just six victories since – one of them coming in the re-formed and controversial Checkatrade Trophy when we had already been knocked out.
I think Scally became agitated months ago, even as far back as last season. His perceived ambition to return this club to the Championship was faltered by the inability from the squad to have consistency, and despite an excellent opening five months of the 2015/16 campaign the Gills would eventually finish ninth in League One. The chairman was clearly patient after criticism began to appear following the month of October this term, when the team failed to pick up a win in seven attempts but November did show signs of improvement. The two encounters with non-league Brackley Town were either side of two pleasing results as Gillingham picked up wins against West Bromwich Albion and Northampton Town. Three matches remained of that month and Justin Edinburgh importantly won two of out the three, only losing to Oxford on a foggy Tuesday evening.
The final month of December followed and supporters would remain high in optimism, only for it to be squashed live on television as promotion contenders Bolton Wanderers drubbed us to a 4-0 defeat. Concerns began to arise again as all four goals could have been avoided, according to some. Having beaten MK Dons at Priestfield a week before Christmas, the Gills would head into the festive schedule on the back of aspiration. Despite dominating both Peterborough United on Boxing Day and Millwall four days later, the team would go into the new year with little to be content about and the pressure on the boss mounted as we headed into the January transfer window.
Oxford United were the visitors to Priestfield at the beginning of this month and one of the worst performances on home turf saw Gillingham men fall to 17th in the League One as they lost to the one goal. It proved to be the final straw for Paul Scally as on Tuesday 3rd January, Justin Edinburgh would be sacked.
When he arrived in February 2015, there was a sense that his club had turned a corner and we would one day in the near future get back to the second-tier of English football. That proved to be the case up until the defeat to Wigan Athletic 12 months ago, which once again was televised. We just seem to get worse after that and having been unexpected promotion contenders it was clearly a disappointment to everyone associated at Gillingham on missing out of the top six.
I give Scally gratitude for allowing Edinburgh the time to rebuild and strengthen the squad as I remained a big supporter of the man – he had his way of playing but somewhere along the line it didn’t translate to the players. There were rumours that he lost the dressing room, and that might have been true, but it was in no way a disaster and I was full of hope heading into the summer’s transfer window. That is where the problem came, in my opinion. The Gills brought in a number of high-profile names, whom I expect were on earning above average wages for this division. Paul Konchesky and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas are without no doubt good players, but I think for the same money the manager could have gone out and made signings who would have been more consistent. Of course I do not want the latter being recalled by his parent club Queens Park Rangers as he’s our topscorer, but if Justin Edinburgh had been a little more clever then he could have picked up a player for less who could do the same job.
His post-match comments have never favoured him either, making many supporters go against him. Such reactions stating ‘we are overachieving’ – something Justin said last season I believe – and ‘this club does not match my ambition’ are never going to have a positive influence on the state of your job. He is basically saying that Gillingham are a ‘small club’ and he should be managing a team of a higher calibre, which is arrogant and never going to get you anywhere.
If you’re reading this, then you can claim that I have a hatred for the man – I don’t. It was Edinburgh’s first job where he could prove his management ability. I am sure he will take it as a learning curve and it would be nice to see him in another role in the near future because he is still young and has potential to be a Premier League boss. Focusing back on the Gills now, whom replaces Justin Edinburgh remains a mystery but I do hope the chairman takes on some fresh blood again, and not Andy Hessenthaler.