Key player: Kyle Dempsey
Kyle Dempsey is a player with plenty of experience in the lower leagues, and he could be just what Gills need as they look to build on a decent season last time around. He’d have had plenty of potential suitors after leaving Fleetwood in the summer, but he appears to have made a decent choice in plumping for Gillingham. He was made captain for the Cup clash against Southend at the weekend, demonstrating just how highly he is valued at Priestfield.
Dempsey, a player we listed as a potential free agent signing for Argyle this summer, can add some much-needed dynamism to the Gillingham midfield. He has 232 football league appearances to his name at the relatively young age of 24, and he has all the attributes to contribute to Gills’ cause in both boxes. He fell out of favour with Joey Barton as the season drew to a close, but he’ll have the chance to impress again under another…questionable manager.
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Manager: Steve Evans
Cards on the table, I’m not a fan of Steve Evans. There can’t really be many more odious men around. Yet, he is now in his second full season at Gillingham, having somehow convinced another chairman to climb aboard the Glasgow-grifter’s roller-coaster.
If I had more words to play with I’d probably delve deeper into my personal agenda against him. For now though, we’ll have to have a look at his ability as a manager, and that may be difficult to judge in the current climate.
Evans, generally speaking, has always operated with significant financial backing at the likes of Crawley, Peterborough, Mansfield and HMRC. He doesn’t have the same backing at Gillingham, yet his side managed a 10th placed finish last season and this season is another chance to prove he can do it without the bank playing on his side.
Shot stopper: Jack Bonham
Jack Bonham is preparing for his second season as first-choice goalkeeper at Gillingham, following a successful spell during the 2019/20 campaign. He’ll turn 27 this month, which is still relatively young for a goalkeeper, and he’ll be hoping for another impressive campaign to keep his stock high.
Bonham started his career as a youngster at Watford, and it was really through loan spells at the likes of Carlisle and Bristol Rovers that he started to make a name for himself. Gillingham is the first permanent home he’s had a run of games at and crucially his manager seems to rate him. Following the win over Southend at the weekend, Evans mentioned that Bonham’s “pre-season work has been hard, focused and intense at times but it’s great to see him playing the way he has.”
Last season: 10th in League One
As discussed earlier, Gillingham did manage a 10th-place finish last term. That was largely thanks to a 15-game unbeaten run from the start of December to the end of February. Before that, Gills were languishing in the lower region of mid-table. They were never really in relegation trouble, but that was more to do with the respective financial collapses of Bury and Bolton, and how useless Southend were.
Still, the turnaround was good. They were 11th when the season was suspended, and finished 10th on points per game. With all three promoted teams still to play, they were never likely to trouble the top six if the season continued, but that’s not a problem. 10th place, after finishing 13th the year before, will be seen as adequate progress.
Key transfer: Jacob Mellis
There’s plenty of players who could be considered Gills’ star signing of the summer. Jordan Graham is an important addition following his loan spell last term; Trae Coyle looks like an exciting prospect on loan from Arsenal. In the end, as we’ve already mentioned Dempsey, we’ll plump for Jacob Mellis, who joins Evans’ side on a free transfer from Bolton this summer.
Another who looked a decent potential addition for Argyle before he completed his move, Mellis came through the Chelsea academy, and won caps with England at youth level before departing the Stamford Bridge side. He actually spent most of last season at Mansfield but was released from the club after an “alleged serious breach of club discipline”, before Bolton took a punt on him as their relegation situation got more desperate. That didn’t work out, but Mellis generally has a decent lower league record. If he hits the ground running, Gillingham could be the ideal place for the 29-year-old to shine, alongside Dempsey as a hard-working midfield duo with the quality to add something the club were lacking last year.
Annoyingly, Evans seems to have put together a fairly decent squad for the year ahead. The addition of Dempsey, as well as the likes of Coyle and Mellis, will strengthen a side that had an adequate campaign last term, whilst ‘keeper Bonham will surely be at the forefront of Evans thinking once more.
There’s no doubt they’ll be looking to improve on the previous campaign, and that can only really mean a play-off push. That may prove to be slightly beyond their reach as we reach the latter stages of the season, but there is no doubt that’s what they’ll be aiming for at this stage. Get off to a good start, and Gills may just start dreaming of a first appearance in the second tier since 2005.
(provided by Gillingham vlog Gills in the Blood)
I think the Gills can approach their league campaign with some cautious optimism after a productive, if all too short, pre season, coupled with back to back wins in their opening two competitive fixtures. Another summer of upheaval has seen plenty leave the club and, as it stands, ten new arrivals pitch up in Kent.
Of those who have come in, I think the stand outs have to be Kyle Dempsey & Jordan Graham based on pedigree but, alongside them, there is the intrigue of the two Arsenal loanees Zech Medley & Trae Coyle. Others of note are the returning Ryan Jackson, League 2 Play Off winner Vadaine Oliver & the once very highly rated former Chelsea youngster Jacob Mellis.
Having finished 10th last time around on PPG, I see no reason why we cannot aim to, at the very least, match that, but I’m sure the manager Steve Evans will be aiming for one of those top six berths that he was adamant we could have sneaked into if the 2019-20 had not been curtailed early.
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