After starting their League One campaign with back to back victories, Gillingham have taken just 1 point from the last 21 available in the league, and have slipped into the bottom four for the first time this season.
Saturday’s 4-2 home defeat at the hands of Peterborough was the fourth in a row, with the club now finding themselves in an ongoing slump, with little sign of an imminent way out.
From an attacking viewpoint, the Posh defeat hinted at improvements from the previous couple of fixtures, but it’s the volume of goals being conceded that have left Gills in a spell of abysmal form.
The background behind the poor defensive record is an enigmatic one. In the 2017/18 campaign, Steve Lovell’s outfit boasted the seventh strongest back line in the division in terms of goals conceded. Apart from the departure of Ben Nugent and arrival of Barry Fuller, the defensive options are exactly the same as the ones who performed so well last season, so something, somewhere, is going wrong.
In five home matches to date, 11 goals have been conceded – an average of over two per game – making it no surprise that only a solitary win over Burton has been recorded at Priestfield.
Having won just five matches on home soil last term, it was form on the road that essentially kept the club in the division, but with that impressive away record not being sustained so far in 2018/19, it’s led to an inevitable slide into the relegation places.
The bottom line at present is simple, both home and away, results need to improve, and fast.
Despite a run stretching back to last season of just three wins in 21 competitive games, pressure on boss Lovell hasn’t reached tipping point just yet, but should the poor form continue for too much longer, patience from supporters, and the Chairman, may start to dwindle.
Many would argue that the squad of players and the money spent compiling them means that scrapping for survival is to be expected.
However, I know for certain that this crop of players are capable of performing to much better standards than they’ve shown of late. I’m not suggesting they’re promotion material, but I believe that a mid-table target isn’t farfetched. Too many players are ultimately underperforming, and it’s in Lovell’s remit to address the issue and get them back on track.
It goes unquestioned that results orchestrated by the Welshman when he first took over were phenomenal, and ensured the club retained League One status. However, of late, he’s showing signs of inexperience, and as each passing week without a win raises more questions, we’re seeing little in the way of answers.
Publicly criticising players is something I personally have never agreed with or understood, as I struggle to see what benefits will be achieved by hanging players out to dry.
That however was the approach Lovell opted to take in consecutive weeks. After the 1-0 home reverse to AFC Wimbledon, Elliott List and Tom Eaves were singled out for criticism, which was followed up a week later after a 3-0 defeat at Rochdale, with Eaves once more, along with central defenders Max Ehmer and Alex Lacey feeling the wrath of Lovell’s public rants.
What concerns me to a larger extent about the manager, is the seeming lack of knowhow regarding how to improve our disappointing defensive record. From one week to the next, I watch the team play, failing to see anything really changing about the manner in which we attempt to defend, meanwhile goals are continuing to be struck into the back of our net.
Lovell has made it clear in public on numerous occasions that he’s a front foot, attack-minded manager, which I have absolutely no issue with. That said, when in an awful run of form, you have to organise your team in a manner which makes them difficult to score against first and foremost, and at present, we’re the total opposite.
In order to get out of this current rut, the team needs to start shipping goals at a far less regular rate, and my concerns regarding Lovell are that I’m yet to see or be convinced that he has the required capabilities to find the formula and turn the run on its head.
I’m certainly not suggesting that the club should be looking towards a managerial change just yet. However, having now fallen into the bottom four, results have to change soon. If not, calls for a new boss will grow ever louder in the coming weeks should the gap to safety develop into a margin of 4 or 5 points.
The next few fixtures present a couple of opponents where positive results are not just achievable, but absolutely essential, not only for Lovell, but for the entire club, otherwise the dreaded “R” word will begin to emerge as a worrying possibility on the terraces.
Picture Credit: Gillingham FC