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Predictions 2008-9 - 2nd Gillingham
Predictions 2008-9 - 2nd Gillingham
Wednesday, 6th Aug 2008 11:40

We approach the climax of our 2008-9 predictions for League Two, we bring to you the runners up. The side we feel will finish 2nd in the pile - Gillingham FC.

last season at a glance

It was not a good season to be a Gills fans. Whilst other relegated sides like Luton and Bournemouth could point to off the field problems for their relegation, the Gills could offer no excuses for dropping down to the basement division for the first time since they left in 1995-6. They tried changing their manager, they tried splashing the cash but nothing could halt that slide to League Two.

The gaffer - Mark Stimson
Stimson is very much one of those managers who is looked upon as being a non league manager, having managed below the Football League for so many years. His record as a manager is arguably second to none, having experienced success at both of his previous clubs.

He began at Grays Athletic playing in something called the Isthmian League Premier Division, and in that opening season, he avoided relegation. Following that, he got them promoted to the Conference South, and then a subsequent promotion to the Conference in which he secured a 3rd place finish - a long way from where the club was when he first took over. Along the way, he also picked up two FA Trophy wins.

He left Grays before moving on to Stevenage, and whilst he was only with them for just over a year, it was enough for him to take them up to a position of 8th in the Conference, and another FA Trophy win meaning he had won it three times on the trot. Are managers allowed to keep the trophy?

With that sort of record, it's a wonder why it's took so long for a Football League side to take a chance on him. But he took over at Gillingham in November 2007 with the Gills already in the lower half of the table. Stimson was unable to halt the slide earning him the first relegation of his managerial career.

But he comes with plenty of backing if anyone sees the Gills' relegation as proof that Stimson isn't up to the job. His old chairman at Grays said of him: "I would say to any League Chairman, contact Mark Stimson because he’s one hell of a manager. Mark will take his next club to a new level. His footballing knowledge is second to none and the way he plays the game is different gravy”

Reasons for a better season
I don't know what the problems were that led to the Gills' relegation from League One last season but looking at the squad that they have, it doesn't seem to be a lack of quality within the squad. They look to be sound all over the pitch, with quite a bit of money spent at different times over the past year. Whilst admittedly, they've not seen the rewards for that spending as of yet, sometimes in football you have to take a step back before you can start moving forward, and that is how we see this season going.

Relegation will give Stimson the chance to start from scratch, rather than having to do the crisis management role that he had to last season where he already found himself swimming against the tide. He's the right man for the right club at the right time. He knows the area very well, and he knows the level in which he should be looking to strengthen his squad with - as shown with the signing of Jackson from Rushden in January.

Reasons for a worse season

The biggest danger to the Gills' season is the momentum from last season. They were very much a club on the decline, and we can talk all about Stimson's success at non league level till we're blue in the face, but the fact remains that he's yet to be proven at league level. The Gills dropped like a stone last year, and the company they kept in the bottom four last season goes to show just how bad that they actually were.

And it would be easy to lay all the blame at the door of former manager Ronnie Jepson, there was certainly ample time last year for Stimson to make a difference. Indeed, in their roles as caretakers Iffy Onoura and former Dale boss Mick Docherty managed to get fourteen points from nine games, so perhaps they would have been sticking with Iffy and the Doc.

The biggest problems which face relegated sides are changing the mindset of losing becoming acceptable. Once you've been relegated losing something like half your games over the season, it becomes easier to accept defeat. Losing stops hurting quite as much as did when it wasn't expected and it's a difficult cycle to get out of.

Changing manager often works, but it's not had that effect with Stimson, and the suggestion from pre-season seems to be that that mindset isn't ready to change just yet. There's been few signings over the Summer so it's pretty much going with what worked, or rather didn't work last season.

The other major problem is complacency. It sounds ridiculous that a side can lose half their games and then expect to be one of the best sides in the division below, but it happens season after season after season. No team has a divine right to bounce back, yet so few teams believe that.

Season depends on - Simeon Jackson

Dale fans who made that final visit to Rushden will remember the significance of that fixture. We were heading for the Conference make no mistake until Chris Dagnall popped up in the 98th minute or something stupid like that to score an equaliser, "going down with the Torquay" and whatever happened to Rushden?

It was a game in which Rushden tore us apart, and should have hammered us. And the one player who stood out that day was their young striker up front Simeon Jackson. The pacey frontman, marked by an aging Gareth Griffiths on the day, tore us to shreds and we couldn't cope with him, and it was far from just a case of him looking good because he played alongside Drewe Broughton.

He signed for the Gills in a £150,000 deal earlier this year, and he grabbed four goals between then and the end of the season as he settled in at the Priestfield.

The Canadian international's career has been held back a little since Rushden dropped into the Conference, as at one point there was a host of Premiership clubs looking at him, but he'll be looking to take full advantage of this fresh start that the Gills have given him, and with the pace that he has, he'll be a problem for any defence in the division. Prediction

2nd - Automatic Promotion

Reasons for our prediction
We have a feeling that Gillingham will be the hated side in the division by many supporters up and down the country. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm sure I recall reading a few comments from Conference supporters who were less than complimentary about Stimson and his sides, having no doubt come away as losers to one of his sides.

Of course, we don't go to football on a Saturday afternoon to worry about what the opposition supporters think of us. It's not about a side's reputation within the game. It's about entertainment and competition, and if the Gills supporters are happy with what is served up to them on a weekly basis, why should they give a toss what other supporters think about them? I don't remember a side getting promoted on the basis of plaudits before.

Much of our prediction is based upon Stimson. His record at Grays showed that he started off at a struggling side, but once he got his mark on the side then there was no stopping them. He'll have a big athletic side for him at the Gills, and they won't stop running for the full 90 minutes. And with signings like Mark McCammon, I'd guess the plan will be to bully the opposition into submission.

There's an awful lot of strength within the Gillingham side, and we mean strength in terms of quality. Former Barnet defender Simon King is a real rock at the back, as he should be for the price that the Gills paid for him just over a year ago. He's reliable and on the whole injury free, and he's been tipped to be one of the best defenders at this level next year.

The have a regular Welsh international in midfield in the shape of Andrew Crofts. He's a very popular player at Priestfield and swept the board at their Play of the Season awards the season before last. But we think the on field different will be Jackson who we spoke about before.

He's exactly the sort of player that Stimson will get the best out of, and given Stimson's record for working with strikers, we'd not be surprised to see Jackson's career go the same way as it did for Aaron McClean, Freddy Eastwood, Michael Kightly and Glenn Poole. That many successes is not a coincidence.

Photo: Action Images

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