(Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Martin Allen)
The day after I wrote about Port Vale, Gillingham surged past them back to the top of League Two by beating third placed Northampton at Priestfield in front of a creditable 5,600 fans for a Tuesday night. It wasn’t a walk in the park, by all accounts, with Northampton threatening to pull back Cody McDonald’s opener during the first half, but the Kent side held on through that barrage and added a late second that won Mrs Marco a bit of bounce in her step, and a bit of money for a scorecast.
After a stuttering recent home run, the early goal must have settled the nerves (Port Vale visited and won recently, and York left with a point at the weekend) and the Cobblers ended up taking ex-Gillingham striker Adebayo Akinfenwa home empty handed. The difference, recently, seems to be the re-capture of McDonald, who left a Coventry team who have been resurgent (and scoring loads – look at that victory at Doncaster) under Mark Robins (and whom I might cover at a later date) to a club he scored 25 goals for the season before last.
Ever Decreasing Form?
The Gills set off this season like a train to St Pancras, winning seven of their first eight games. They’ve slowed down a little since then, necessarily, but an average PPG of 1.96 is nothing to be sniffed at.
The running PPG graph (you may remember from Port Vale) of 6-game form shows that run at the start as being a very definite high point, while the rest of the season, the Gills have been generally between 1.5 and 2. It looks a little bit as if they’ve been fighting against the tide since that early impetus, and certainly they’ve been drawing more games in the last fourteen than they did in the first fourteen (2 v 5), which has probably accounted for a lot of it. Draws are more common in the winter, as we know, but I’ll lead onto the running goals tallies and see if that shows anything up.
The Converging Of The Goals
Following on from the form, if we look at the same graph of running 6 games tallies, for goals for and against, there’s an obvious trend towards one another – a trend towards not winning games.
Gillingham’s season has been built on defence – they’ve conceded only 9 goals at home so far – but even when not letting goals in, you have to score them – you can see that the goals have come into gradually short supply on a simple bar chart.
Earlier on in the season, Martin Allen brought in the
excellently-named and, equally sturdily-craniumed, Romain Vincelot on loan. He scored on his debut, but then didn’t net in the other 8 games he featured. Meantime, Danny Kedwell, after scoring 8 goals in the first 10 games, has only scored 2 in the 18 since then. Deon Burton’s 9 goals have been more well spread, but Ben Strevens not having the desired impact; even Miles Weston and Chris Whelpdale ‘weighing in’ hasn’t made up the shortfall. This is, presumably, why Allen has used Adam Birchall after his loan spell at Dartford and, more to the point, why he has brought in Cody McDonald on loan now.
The Vagaries Of Attack
I wasn’t entirely sure how to represent these figures – there’s no dominant Gillingham player as Port Vale have Tom Pope (which is good in a way, it allows rotation) but the players who have been contributing are contributing less as the season goes on (as Kedwell, mentioned above). This graph represents the balance between shots and goals for the forward players used by Martin Allen this season; basically telling how clinical each player is within the side; whether they make their shots count or not. There’s a lot of lines on this graph – I’ve divided the midfielders and forwards by colour (forwards are blue, midfielders red – the team as a whole in black) – it all makes it quite difficult to read, but there’s an overwhelming trend.
Gillingham, then, have scoring fewer chances as the season has progressed. Accordingly, Cody McDonald comes into the team and starts performing – albeit for two games so far – at a rate head and shoulders above his team mates; see the sky blue line on the right. If Cody matches Danny Kedwell’s current shot rate over the season, and maintains his own current scoring rate, he’ll end up on 11 goals. That would be useful indeed for the Gills – particularly if Kedewll finds his scoring boots again.
What Chance Of That?
Though the goals have dried up a little for the Gills, it is perhaps of most import whether the chances have.
This is where the encouragement comes in; look at the amount of shots on goal each game (faded bars) and the rolling average. That figure remains above 10, and is creeping up as the season goes on. With the addition of a striker who can take the chances that come along (at least on recent and previous form), Gillingham look an even more frightening proposition, and the gap they’ve already established over the teams who are in fourth place is sizeable (now 10 points with a game in hand). Improving on what they’ve done so far will be tough, but taking more chances will always do that. Its just a case of making sure the chances fall to the right people. As much as Weston and Whelpdale can do their bit, and Danny Kedwell has had a wonderful spell, as time has gone on we saw it is more difficult to tell who that person is. No longer.
After starting as strongly as they did, it would have been easy for Martin Allen to rest on his laurels at the top of the table. A shrewd operator like Allen was never likely to do that and, when it became apparent that his team needed more goals, he experimented. Firstly, he brought in Romain Vincelot – he got the winner on his debut, but that didn’t work out. At the next opportunity, he brought in Cody McDonald, who has repaid his faith with two goals in his first two games. Having looked at Port Vale yesterday, and concluding they’ve concentrated on improving on their strength; its interesting to note that Gillingham’s focus has been improving their weakness. It really is going to be an interesting ding-dong at the top.