Gillingham FC – Evans’ Experiment

Gillingham FC – Evans’ Experiment

Last update: 17 August 2020 Tags: Steve Evans, Gillingham, Connor Ogilvie, John Akinde, Trae Coyle, Gills. Categories: Featured, League One.

September 12th 2020. The day the footballing world has been waiting for. The Premier League and the EFL announced in July that the 2020/21 season will be underway very shortly. Ahead of the new season, I have decided to take a look into the future of the 24 teams making up League One for the new campaign, with an in depth look at what each team has to offer for the coming year. Tenth on the list, is Steve Evans’ Gillingham:

  • The Club

The 2020/21 season will be Gillingham’s 128th in their history, and their eighth consecutive in League One. Their last venture outside of League One was their promotion campaign from the 2012/13 season, when Martin Allen led his side into League One after winning League Two by four points. The first season back in League One saw them finish 17th, before a 12th placed finish the season after. For the 2015/16 season, they steadily improved once more, finishing 9th, before struggling the next year and falling to 20th. For 2017/18, they climbed slowly to 17th, with the season before last putting them in a mid-table position. This past season saw a steady rise up to 10th after PPG put them above recently relegated Ipswich Town. Gillingham’s slow rise up the table could see them push for a play-off spot when the new season starts.
  • The Gaffer

Steve Evans is heading into his second season with Gillingham, having taken over from Steve Lovall after he left the club just before the 2018/19 season ended. Evans’ managerial career began back in 1994, after he joined up with Stamford and spent four years with the non-league side. After resigning from Stamford, he joined up with Boston United and got them into the Football League. A two-year hiatus split up a nine-year span with Boston, with betting charges and off-the-field cheating causing him to leave his post between 2002 and 2004. In 2007, he left Boston and signed on with Crawley Town, with his five-year spell including a ten-match ban, a wonderful FA Cup run and a promotion. In 2012, he left to join League Two Rotherham, and masterminded consecutive promotions from League Two to the Championship. A short trip across to Yorkshire to Leeds United in 2015, saw him last just over seven months. In November of 2016, he was snapped up by Mansfield and spent two seasons with them. In February 2018, he was appointed the boss of Peterborough, before joining current side Gillingham in May 2019. Its been a long journey for Evans so far. In an interview with Kent Online, Evans revealed how much he is looking forward to a strong League One season next year.
  • The Squad

Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Gillingham have used seven separate formations across four competitions this season. The most used one of those was the 4-1-2-1-2, which was the set-up for 20 of the 43 games. So, for the squad set up, I will be looking only at the 4-1-2-1-2. All of the formations were found using Transfermarkt.

26-year-old Jack Bonham was Gillingham’s first-choice goalkeeper this season, making 39 appearances across four competitions. The back up to him was Joe Walsh, with the academy keeper playing three times this season. All stats supplied by WhoScored. Bonham’s contributions this season should not be underestimated, making 88 saves from his 35 league appearances.On the right-side, 35-year-old Barry Fuller was the most used right full back for Gillingham this season, making 34 appearances last season, getting three assists in that time. Deputising to Fuller was Lee Hodson who played 12 times for Gillingham this season, without any key attacking contributions. Stats wise, Fuller made 51 tackles and 38 interceptions last season, from his 30 league appearances. Was a very effective defensive full back this year.On the left, summer signing Connor Ogilvie was the first-choice left back, despite also spending a lot of the season at centre back. He played 40 times last season, getting four goals. The backup to Ogilvie was Bradley Garmston, who played twice for Gillingham before joining Grimsby in the winter. In terms of the stats, Ogilvie made 37 tackles and 37 interceptions from his 33 league appearances. Not as effective as Fuller, but was more confident moving forward.In the centre of the defence, Gillingham didn’t have many options to work with. Club captain Max Ehmer made 39 appearances last season, scoring once and getting two assists. Despite being a centre back by trade, Alfie Jones would spend a lot of time in midfield, with the loan signing from Southampton playing 34 times this year, scoring twice and getting one assist. Also in the squad was Jack Tucker, playing 33 times and scoring once. Stats wise, Max Ehmer made 37 tackles and 60 interceptions last season. Compare that to Jones and Tucker, with Alfie making 48 tackles and 35 interceptions, and Jack having 43 tackles and 36 interceptions. A very good season from all three of them.Centrally, Stuart O’Keefe was the most used midfielder this year, with the centre midfielder spending a lot of time on the right-hand side of midfield he played 34 times this year, scoring four times. Loan signing Olly Lee was the man pushed into the attacking midfield role, scoring six times and getting eight assists from his 33 games this season. Southampton loanee Thomas O’Connor played 32 games for Gillingham, being used more on the left-hand side of the pitch, getting two goals and five assists. Mark Byrne played 23 games for Gillingham this season, but wasn’t as effective going forward as he might have hoped.Summer signing Matty Willock played only eight times for Gillingham, didn’t make as much of an impact as he would have liked. Stats wise, Stuart O’Keefe had a 71% dribble completion rate, and a 67% pass accuracy. Wasn’t as good as he would have hoped on the right-hand side of midfield. The most effective midfielder was Olly Lee, but the attacking midfielder did only have a 56% dribble completion rate, and a 63% pass accuracy. A strong season in front of goal, but not great with the ball at his feet it seems.On the wing, Gillingham had a few options that weren’t used as much as expected. 34-year-old Mark Marshall played the most of any winger for Gillingham, making 22 appearances without scoring, with 21 of those coming from the bench. He joined Northampton in the winter. Reagan Charles-Cook played 20 times last season, but the right winger was used predominatly from the bench or from the attacking midfield position. Ben Pringle joined Gillingham in September, but only played 11 times for them this season, with his time spent all across the midfield.Jordan Roberts joined the Gills from Ipswich in the winter, playing 10 times and getting two goals from all across the frontline. Jordan Graham was another winter arrival, joining from Wolves on loan. Played seven times without scoring a goal. Stats wise, Charles-Cook completed 75% of his dribbles, and had a 76% pass accuracy.Going forward, Gillingham had a few options to work with. 23-year-old Brandon Hanlan was the main attacking force, getting seven goals and three assists from his 39 appearances this season. Partnered with him on occasion was Alex Jakubiak, who played 29 times for the Gills this season, scoring seven times as well. The third striker who played a fair few games this season was Mikael Mandron, who got six goals from his 28 appearances in all competitions.Mikael Ndjoli joined the club from Bournemouth on loan in the summer, playing 17 times and getting three goals, before leaving the club in the winter. John Akinde was a winter arrival from Lincoln City, after Ndjoli left the club, playing nine games and getting one goal before the season was ended. Stats wise, Hanlan had 77 shots from his 35 league appearances, with 64 of those coming from inside the penalty area.
  • The Transfers

Gillingham seemed to find form at the right time last season, losing only one of their final 17 league games last season, pushing themselves up into the top half. However, they have had a massive turnover of players in the window so far. Their first signing of the summer was Colchester’s Ryan Jackson, with the 30-year-old right back joining on a free transfer from the League Two side. Jackson spent two years with Gillingham before his time with Colchester, so knows the club and fans well. The second signing of the summer was 28-year-old Vadaine Oliver, joining on a free transfer from Northampton. The bulky forward scored eight times for Northampton last season, and will be hoping to replicate that this year.Midfielder Jacob Mellis has joined the Kent side from Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer, and will be hoping for a better League One campaign this year. Zech Medley has swapped Arsenal for Gillingham for the season after they beat off a host of League One teams for his signature. Medley looks to be a very bright prospect for the future. Last year’s loan signing Jordan Graham has rejoined the club after his release from Wolves. The winger spent the final six months of the season with Gillingham, and has now returned.Another loan player from Arsenal was winger Trae Coyle, who has joined for the year. Coyle was considered another big coup for Gillingham, so it will be interesting to see how they do. Finally, Alex McDonald has signed for Gillingham after his release from Mansfield Town, with the 30-year-old midfielder scoring once last season.With seven players coming in, it meant a lot of players had left before the club was restocked. Club captain Max Ehmer has left the club to join Bristol Rovers, a big loss for the club. Also leaving Gillingham for another League One side was Mikael Mandron, who has joined up with Crewe Alexandra. Dropping down a league is Ben Pringle and Ousseynou Cisse who have joined Morecambe and Leyton Orient respectively. Leaving the country is Reagan Charles-Cook, who has gone north of the border to join Ross County. Lee Hodson has left to join Hamilton on loan for the season, whilst Mark Byrne and Barry Fuller have been released. With loan deals expiring last season, it means Jordan Roberts, Alex Jakubiak, Thomas O’Connor and Olly Lee departing.
  • The Problem Areas?

With a big turnaround of players over the past few months, Gillingham will need their squad harmony to be found instantaneously. In goal, Gillingham do still have both Jack Bonham and Joe Walsh, so don’t expect any transfer incomings in this area unless Bonham was to leave. At right back, Gillingham have only Ryan Jackson to work with, so they may look for an alternative. Same as the left, with only Connor Ogilvie being around for them. In the centre of defence, Jack Tucker and Zech Medley are the only registered central defenders this season. With only four defenders to work with, Gillingham will need to bring in at least two more. Centrally, Gillingham have Stuart O’Keefe, Jacob Mellis and Matty Willock are still with the Gills, but without Thomas O’Connor, Olly Lee and Mark Byrne, the club is looking quite light in midfield. Expect movement here. On the wing, Alex McDonald, Jordan Graham and Trae Coyle are the options, so they have a few good players to work with if they keep to a 4-1-2-1-2. Going forward, Gillingham have John Akinde, Vadaine Oliver and Brandon Hanlan available next season. A good set of attackers, so it may not be a priority right now.
  • The Fixes?

I’m not suggesting by any means that I am a scouting guru who has an extensive knowledge of the world of football, but I do like the process of the transfer windows, and trying to be someone who can identify talent when it becomes available. For each team, after identifying the problem areas, I want to try and see if I can find any players for a specific set of positions who could be suited to each club, based on previous transfer years and the club’s reputation surrounding incomings:
  1. Centre Back –
Ben Heneghen – Sheffield United – 26 y/o – Free AgentSpent last season on loan with Blackpool. Could be enticed into a move to Gillingham if they can prove that they are play-off contenders this year.Robbie McKenzie – Hull – 21 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Hull in the summer, could be the perfect defender for a whole host of League One teams this summer.Donervon Daniels – Luton - 26 y/o – Free AgentJust been released by Luton but is a very good League One defender. Could be an ideal place to get his career restarted.Rhys Bennett – Peterborough – 28 y/o – Free AgentWas at Peterborough when Steve Evans was there, so don’t be surprised if he makes the move.Joel Lynch – Sunderland – 32 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Sunderland in the summer, could be the ideal experienced head for Gillingham with two 20 y/o’s the only CB’s so far. Matthew Connolly – Cardiff – 32 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Cardiff in the summer, could be the ideal experienced head for Gillingham’s young defenders.
  1. Left Back –
Stephen Kingsley – Hull City – 26 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Hull in the summer, after playing eight games in the Championship. Would be a very good left back in League One.Jordan Obita – Reading – 26 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Reading in the summer, but probably won’t get a club in the Championship. Could make the drop down a league.Brad Smith – Bournemouth – 26 y/o – Free AgentWould probably move to a Championship side, but what a coup this would be for any League One side, let alone Gillingham.Cheick Keita – Birmingham – 24 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Birmingham in the summer, if he doesn’t go abroad then League One is his best option. Jonathan Grounds – Birmingham – 32 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Birmingham in the summer, would be the ideal experienced head for a League One side for the new season.Sean Kelly – Ross County – 26 y/o – Free AgentReleased by the Scottish side in the summer, and could be a very good player for Championship or League One sides if he wants to make the move down.
  1. Centre Midfield –
Kyle Dempsey – Fleetwood – 24 y/o – Free AgentHas been linked with the club in the last few days, and could be the ideal player for Gillingham to improve their midfield for cheap.Lewis MacLeod – Wigan – 26 y/o – Free AgentContract ran out with Wigan this summer. Linked to a lot of Scottish teams. Could be the ideal player for Doncaster in the midfield this season. Adam May – Portsmouth – 22 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Portsmouth in the summer. Wanted by a lot of League Two sides, but could be good enough to keep himself in League One.Luke Murphy – Bolton – 30 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Bolton, could be an adequate, experienced head in the changing room for Gillingham.Charlie Adam – Reading – 34 y/o – Free AgentReleased by Reading, isn’t good enough for the Championship anymore. Another experienced head in the dressing room.Jack Roles – Tottenham – 21 y/o – Loan DealSpent season with Cambridge. 5 goals in 23 games. Excellent midfielder who deserves a step up to League One.
  • The Verdict

It’s always difficult to tell how each team is going to fair in the new season, because we haven’t seen many signings nor the influence of pre-season friendlies. Just by going off how each team is expected to deal with the current COVID-19 financial troubles, and what each team is capable of doing under much greater restraint right now, I think that Gillingham could be in for another season of top half football, depending on the depth they can add to the defence. What do you guys think? How do you think Gillingham will fair in the new season? Will Steve Evans’ continue the upward trajectory that the club is currently on? Or will the lack of squad depth be a problem? Let me know in the comments below and make sure to follow All Out Football on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.