WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | League One: Handicaps
No, your eyes are not deceiving you!
For those of you who read my article on this exact subject last season will again note a familiarity in that I am backing Gillingham to heavily over-perform their pre-season promotion odds. Considering the previous season technically didn’t end, or at least in the manner it did, it’s tough to say if many teams in the league were necessarily happy with how it went.
There was still some time remaining for some to perhaps go from mid-table towards the play-offs, or in any kind of direction in the standings. Gillingham were allocated a 10th place finish on a points-per-game basis, which actually saw them jump above Ipswich, who had one point extra by that stage. Nevertheless, I think the Gills had a very good season and have built up a good foundation to really kick on.
The impact of Evans
Moving back towards last season, a big reason for me tipping up the Kent club to do alright was the appointment of Steve Evans. I felt it was a bit of a coup for the club to get him into the building and I still maintain that. He quite simply would not have taken on the role if he didn’t feel as though he could get them into the Championship, or at least consistently compete to do so.
They proved incredibly hard to beat over their 35 league matches, and only champions Coventry and play-off semi-finalists Fleetwood lost fewer clashes in this division. They were draw specialists however and topped the league in that regard with their 15 stalemates, but a draw is certainly better than a defeat!
The club was actually in favour of ending the season when it did, even though they were still in the hunt for the play-offs, but that was perhaps more a financial decision than anything. They made Priestfield a very tough place to go, and that will again have to be the case if they’re to mount a challenge.
All bar two of their draws came away, so Evans clearly set them up in a certain manner whereby they really go for it at home, and on the road they look to do a job. That is normally a framework which will get you a play-off berth in this league.
Improvements in attack
Certainly one area they need to improve upon is attack and that is in the form of finding that precious 20-goal a season striker. That is of course easier said than done, but their joint-top scorers from last season had four goals, those being striker Brandon Hanlon and also defender Connor Ogilivie.
Vadaine Oliver has not been a prolific scorer for a while now, but he adds a focal point in attack that so often does well in an Evans team.
Building a relationship with Premier League giants Arsenal is never a bad thing, so the loan additions of Zech Medley and Trae Coyle are bound to excite the supporters, when they are allowed back in the ground of course.
Alex MacDonald is someone Evans knows from his Mansfield days, whilst making Jordan Graham’s loan permanent could be a masterstroke considering a few seasons ago he was a top Championship player. Jacob Mellis is another that could easily thrive upon this management team, whilst the club have made a lot of noise about how Kyle Dempsey, a signing from Fleetwood, could be the difference for them this time around.
Ryan Jackson and Robbie McKenzie also come in to further bolster defensive strength in depth. The late addition of Christian Maghoma should make a few stand up and take notice, especially after they beat off Championship and League One competition for the central defence.
Max Ehmer did depart for Bristol Rovers and he has been a mainstay in their backline since joining in 2015, whilst veteran Barry Fuller saw his second spell at the club come to an end. It is natural between the footballing seasons to make changes, even when things are going well, so it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a negative.
The duo were part of a defence where only three other teams in the division managed more clean sheets, but Evans wouldn’t have led them go without replacing them. Brandon Hanlon is supposedly set to leave the club as he is yet to sign a new contract, but he has hardly been prolific for the club by scoring 13 in 74 appearances after the last two seasons. He has been involved in pre-season.
Gills in a good place
Evans maintains the club are ‘in a good place’, and the fact some of his players are linked with moves elsewhere proves they are doing something that and that he can ultimately develop them into better players, which serves well for those coming into the club. He still hopes to add a few more before the window shuts.
The club in general will also be keen for them to have a real go at getting out of this league. They’ve spent the previous seven seasons at this level, and only have two top-10 finishes to show for it. One of those was of course their latest attempt however, so they do have some momentum in a way to try and make something happen.
Whilst they’ve added several new faces already, Evans insists that there is more to come, which can only fuel the excitement amongst the Gills faithful.
They certainly don’t deserve to be as big in the betting as they do. Of course there are plenty of big fish in this league, with the likes of Sunderland, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Oxford, Hull and Charlton are knocking about. But Gillingham were a team with momentum last term and if the season had of continued then there is every chance they might be lining up in the Championship now after a successful play-off campaign.
They most definitely deserve to be treated with respect, even if it is just because of having a certain Mr Evans in the dugout. He has had near enough exactly one year in the job, and has a top-10 finish to boot, so I only see them kicking on as opposed to dwindling in the other direction.
League One 2020/21 – Gillingham +17 handicap (18/1 Bet365)