Preview: Gillingham v Wycombe

The Basics

As it stands: Gillingham 6-132 (18th, 6 pts) | Wycombe 7-430 (1st, 15 pts)

League form: Gillingham LDLWD | Wycombe WDWDW

The last time: Wycombe 0-1 Gillingham (23/02/19, League One)

Coming into the Game

Much like Wycombe, Gillingham dug themselves out of relegation trouble and finished fairly comfortably last season, ending up two points and four places above the Blues in 13th. That wasn’t enough to keep manager Steve Lovell in the job, though, so along came Steve Evans – and the customary squad overhaul which follows that appointment. So many new players taking time to gel may well be one reason that the Gills haven’t hit the ground running at the start of 2019/20, but that can only go on for so long. Their sole win was a 5-0 success over Bolton – they were the last team to benefit from playing the Trotters before their takeover – although they have drawn with high-flyers Blackpool and Doncaster. Clean sheets have been hard to come by – they’ve kept just that one – but the goals have been largely flowing freely at the other end; no team in the bottom half has scored more than their 11.

What about the league leaders (or co-leaders, depending on who you ask)? Well, if we’d picked up just one away win so far, we’d be top rather than jOiNt ToP. We’ve only tasted victory once in our last 12 games on the road – on that day at Southend in April – losing seven of them. Of course, we’ve opened the new campaign with three straight  away draws, which is encouraging, but how about going one better on the ground where things started to unravel in the pissing rain last December? Having scored on our last seven visits to the Priestfield Stadium and lost on only one of those occasions, the omens aren’t bad. Oh, and if you pretend that penalty shootouts don’t exist, we’re nine games unbeaten heading into this one.

In Their Dugout: Steve Evans

A character who needs little introduction, Evans made Gillingham the seventh League club of his managerial career when he was appointed in May. The 56-year-old Scotsman didn’t last the season at Peterborough in 2018/19, but he has previously guided Rotherham to promotion from this division – to back-to-back promotions from League Two and League One, for that matter. He’s currently 3-2 down in the head-to-head battle with Gareth Ainsworth, while there have also been two draws between them.

The Danger Man for Them: Alex Jakubiak

It felt weird typing that. While Jakubiak will forever be known by Wycombe fans for a goal he didn’t score, he’s already set about banging them in down in Kent. The 23-year-old striker, now in his eighth loan spell away from Watford, has made his mark with four in six league appearances so far – including a brace in the 2-2 with Blackpool – opening the scoring with three of those goals. Skilful, direct and an instinctive finisher, Jakubiak has come on leaps and bounds from what we saw of him in 2017.

The Opposition View with Matt Boosey from Gills In The Blood

Six games into 2019/20, what’s your assessment of your start? I think we’ve looked promising in patches but been hindered by defensive lapses all too regularly. In our six fixtures we’ve scored first in five, and been 2-0 up in three but have contrived to only win once. Attacking wise I’ve been impressed considering we lost Tom Eaves, but there’s work to be done at the back if we have aspirations of a tilt at the top six like Steve Evans has alluded to more than once.

Steve Evans is likely to be a divisive appointment wherever he goes. How did you feel when he was announced, and has your opinion changed since? I will happily admit it wasn’t an appointment I backed when his name was first linked. However, he’s done nothing untoward since arriving and I’ve been happy with the vast majority of his additions. Some of the attacking stuff we’ve played has been decent on the eye, but clearly we need to turn these periods of being on top into wins and points.

What are your realistic expectations for the season? Would a mid-table finish be acceptable or do fans want more? Having sacked a manager in Steve Lovell who guided us to 13th last time out, I think the minimum aim would have to be top half to justify his sacking towards the back end of last season. I said in my season preview that we would finish 9th so I will stick to that at the moment.

Just sum up your playing style for those who might not be aware. I think anyone who watches Steve Evans’ teams knows he likes to get balls out wide and then deliveries into the mixer. He’s a direct manager without necessarily being ‘long ball’, but in fairness we have played some good stuff so far, albeit in patches. Having drawn away last time out I cannot see loads of changes, so I think the majority – if not all – of the eleven who started at Tranmere will do so again.

Finally, how do you think the game will go? Feel free to make a prediction. I will admit that I didn’t envisage you making the start (or some of the signings) that you have, so fair play to Gareth Ainsworth – a manager I’ve previously said I wouldn’t mind seeing at Gills – his staff and all the players. I think we have the players to hurt you, and if (and it’s a big if at the moment) we can stay solid defensively I will tentatively predict we can pinch it by the odd goal. If we are slack at the back though, you could easily extend that unbeaten run to eight.

A Deeper Look

GILLINGHAM

At a glance, Gillingham are a very similar team to Wycombe. They rank low on possession, high on chance creation and like scoring from set-pieces. In fact only we have enjoyed more action in the final third than the Gills in League One (37% v 36%). In terms of average goals per game, they’re sixth in the division with 1.83, just behind us (1.85). Offensively, they’re in very good nick.

That’s in no small part down to the goals of Jakubiak, but he’s not the only man to worry about in an array of striking options. At Tranmere, he started in a front two alongside the towering Mikael Mandron – who was later replaced by his namesake, decidedly rapid Bournemouth loanee Mikael Ndjoli. Mandron and Ndjoli are yet to get off the mark in the league but have both netted in cup action (although the latter’s goal was a penalty). Evans could also potentially to turn Brandon Hanlan, who scored from the spot in the same game as Ndjoli – the Carabao Cup loss to Newport. Previously of Colchester and Charlton, he’s notched seven times in his last 20 Gills appearances.

In the last two league games, Evans has opted for a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with former Luton man Olly Lee at the tip of the diamond in both cases. The 28-year-old made an instant impact after arriving on loan from Hearts until January, bagging a brace against Bolton on his debut. It’s a good thing Ryan Allsop lives on his line, because Lee can do this:

Alfie Jones, a centre-back by trade, could continue at the base – he bagged the Gills’ second goal at Tranmere – with Mark Byrne on the right and Ben Pringle on the left. Byrne and Pringle can both cause problems with their set-pieces and are both strong in possession. Veteran Barry Fuller and young Southampton loanee Thomas O’Connor augment the wide threat from right and left-back respectively. Gillingham are among the most regular crossers in League One, although they’ve not had any luck in terms of creating goals that way.

Defensively, the Gills’ performance have been sound in general, with their eight goals against nothing to set alarm bells ringing. The problem is they’ve been prone to lapses. Evans’ men have led five of their six league games but, as mentioned by Matt earlier on, have held on to win only one of them. Twice they’ve led 2-0 and drawn 2-2. Granted, they’re yet to concede later than the 70th minute – in fact, they hadn’t conceded in the second half until last weekend – but in those games against Blackpool and Tranmere, their 2-0 lead was wiped out in the space of five and four minutes respectively. That adage that 2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline is a load of bollocks – statistically proven bollocks – but not to Gillingham right now, it would seem.

For what it’s worth, Wycombe have gone 2-0 down in 12 league games since the start of last season but, in spite of our propensity for the improbable, only salvaged anything from three of them.

Goalkeeper Jack Bonham may be best known to Blues fans as the man between the sticks in a certain 4-3 win over Carlisle – when he saved a Joe Jacobson penalty. He’s impressed since joining Gillingham on a free from Brentford this summer – and kept out two spot-kicks – but must be frustrated by the funny turns taking place in front of him. The back four has actually barely been affected by Evans’ raft of new additions, which makes these apparent miscommunications even stranger really. Centre-back Connor Ogilvie did sign in the summer but had spent the last two seasons with the Gills on loan from Spurs, while experienced skipper Max Ehmer has made over 200 appearances for the club. Fuller is in the second campaign of his second spell at the club, leaving only O’Connor as a new face. Right-back Lee Hodson did also join in the window, but he’s not even made the bench for either of the last two league games.

The question you’re probably asking is “How do they deal with corners?!”. Well, they haven’t let any sail straight in. Yet.

WYCOMBE

There’s not really a whole lot of deep analysis to do here, is there? As much as we know we don’t have strongest 11, I think it’s fair to assume the gaffer won’t stray to far from those who turned in one of the great Wycombe performances against Lincoln. According to the official club site, a late decision will be made on Matt Bloomfield‘s involvement, but Fred OnyedinmaSido Jombati and Curtis Thompson could potentially feature – although let’s not forget we have a Tuesday night game which could be useful for easing players back in.

After some recent wobbles, Ryan Allsop was back to his best against his former club, and he’ll need to be so again with the contrasting threats of Jakubiak and Lee looming. While Gillingham won’t exhibit same kind of wide overload as, say, MK Dons, Jack Grimmer and Joe Jacobson could be busy due to our opponents’ tendency to attack the wings and whip it into the box. Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles may well start a fifth straight game together in the heart of defence, but it seems like we now have a full centre-half contingent upon which to call.

While there may be the temptation to switch to a midfield four to help combat the hosts’ diamond and the  you’d expect Ainsworth to continue with the tried and trusted 4-3-3. Nick Freeman was superb last Saturday and came SO close to the goal he so badly deserves, and the through ball is a big weakness of the Gills’, so he could have another fun day out. Dom Gape‘s reading of the game will be crucial up against a system in which, in basic terms, there can be a whole lot going on, while if Bloomfield doesn’t make it, Nnamdi Ofoborh showed a technical, attacking prowess on his debut which belies his billing as a defensive midfielder. Expect to see Alex Pattison involved in some capacity too with a busy eight days coming up.

Up front, I anticipate one change, if that: Rolando Aarons for Scott Kashket, given, you know, the fact that he’s Rolando Aarons. That said, Kashket and David Wheeler were instrumental in nullifying Lincoln’s full-backs so could both continue where they left off. Gillingham are fifth in the division when it comes to success in aerial duels, winning, on average, 29.5 a game – although that’s still more than 10 off Wycombe, who you won’t be surprised to know top the pile in that respect. Alex Samuel should continue through the middle then, especially after long balls to Adebayo Akinfenwa just did not work against AFC Wimbledon – but the big man will surely feature at some point on his old stomping ground. Josh Parker, who’s not had much chance to show us what he can do so far, is also a former Gill, of course, and arguably enjoyed the best period of his career at the Priestfield.

Possible Line-ups

GILLINGHAM

lineup (25)

WYCOMBE

lineup (30)

The Man in the Middle: James Adcock

The reasons why are unclear, but in 2018/19, Adcock refereed just one EFL game – and none in 2017/18. Prior to that gap in the records, he’d risen through the ranks to become a Championship referee and had taken charge of an all-Premier League EFL Cup tie between Southampton and Crystal Palace. Anyway, he’s back now and has been in the middle five times so far in 2019/20, three times in League Two and twice in League One. His last Wycombe match? Our 2-0 home win over Hartlepool in November 2016, when Scott Kashket scored twice eight appearances into his Wanderers career.

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