Blood, sweat and tears are the pivotal ingredients needed for any minimal success in a team, it’s the skill and management that can turn a side from mediocracy into a competitive group. However, it’s those three attributes that Gillingham FC have lacked over the last ten months, or you could even suggest they have been absent since January of last year. A campaign of disarray and disappointment has followed the relative, brief period of prosperity in the 2015/16 season.
Last summer was always going to be a transitional period for The Gills, and it’s fair to say the club took advantage of the fortunate form of the year by recruiting some recognisable names and faces. Justin Edinburgh was looking to massively overhaul the squad that dispiritedly failed to finish in the top-six; so in came the very-experienced left-back that is Paul Konchesky and alongside that was the rather surprising arrival of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on loan. Other signings were among the Priestfield acquisitions, including midfielder Jamie O’Hara.
Even before the campaign kicked-off a dark cloud shadowed the Medway towns as major injury news from the pre-season action meant Lee Martin, obtained in the summer, would miss the first six months of the season and Aaron Morris, whom suffered a long-term lay-off in training, would be endured to sit on the side-lines for the entire year.
The inhospitable dawn to the 2016/17 term was swiftly shafted as back-to-back victories on the road against Phil Brown’s Southend United meant Gillingham would be flying high in second following the first week of action in the division and earned themselves a motivating tie at Premier League side Watford in the second round of the EFL Cup. In the coming fortnight Edinburgh’s men would entertain Bury and Swindon Town, four points out of a possible six meant the Gills’ faithful potentially couldn’t ask for much more. A minor blip mid-way through August occurred as Scunthorpe ran out 5-0 victors in the away tie. The month ended on a high, however, as the buoyant encounter with the Hornets resulted in a shock 2-1 win for the team from Kent, as well as a galvanising comeback triumph at Shrewsbury.
September would bring a differing patch for the club, two defeats and a draw would lead the build-up to the stand-out game of the campaign as third-tier Gillingham would travel to north London to face Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately, we were unable to defy all odds and were thumped five goals to nil. This would be followed by a run of dire results as the Priestfield faithful would have to wait until mid-November before another league victory, a memorable encounter against Northampton as Emmanuel-Thomas netted the winner in the dying stages. Just days later a trip to non-league Brackley Town awaited in the FA Cup replay, an abysmal performance meant the Gills would be knocked out of the prestigious competition in the first hurdle. In the remaining seven domestic fixtures of the calendar year, we would rack up three wins, one draw and a trio of defeats – including a feisty tie in the capital at Millwall.
Gillingham’s 2017 would begin with the visit of Oxford United, an unstimulating performance would lead to Justin Edinburgh’s exit and former defender Ady Pennock would be given the job to re-lift the distinct possibility of play-off football. Two points from four outings was the tally for January and the next couple of weeks would be just as agitating as it would take the tenth match since the turn of the year to get the triumph; a comfortable 2-1 home display against Essex side Southend United.
Winter transfer window arrival Tomáš Holý would slowly materialise as first-choice goalkeeper as fan favourite Stuart Nelson would be dropped from the starting eleven. Consecutive wins against northerners Bury and the hat-trick of penalties which salvaged three points over Scunthorpe were followed by a triad of defeats. Going into the final month of the season would be petrifying experience for Gillingham supporters as the realisation of relegation came into fruition and difficult conflicts lied ahead – a loss to MK Dons and then a comfortable Priestfield draw against Millwall meant Pennock’s men would go into the Easter weekend knowing two coups would practically confirm League One status. An exciting encounter with Bristol Rovers turned out as the last triumph of the campaign as we’d be vanquished to one side by Charlton Athletic and promotion-chasers Fleetwood Town. It would, indeed, go down to the final day. The Gills just needed to equal or better Port Vale’s result, and they did the former as both teams played out stalemates as Josh Wright failed to capitalise on an early penalty at Sixfields, in Justin Edinburgh’s new environment at Northampton.
Now the football on the pitch was done and dusted with, we await the news of Ady Pennock’s future at the club and whom will still be remaining in the squad next year. Whether or not you agree with the current managerial regime, there is no denying it has been a rollercoaster of a campaign but at the same time one which needs to be quickly forgotten about as preparation for the 2017/18 season is well underway behind the scenes.