2020-21 season preview: Gillingham
Gillingham FC's Priestfield Stadium | Photo by Julian Finney'Getty Images

After a promising run of form was cut short by the covid-19 pandemic, Steve Evans' Gillingham side will be looking to improve on their final position of 10th place in the last League One campaign.

Evans wasn't exactly a popular appointment when he became the Gills manager in June 2019, due to his previous touchline antics and the fact he was replacing the much beloved Steve Lovell at the helm.  

However, the Scot was able to turn many fans around after a mixed first couple of months of the season, as he orchestrated a 15 match unbeaten run in the league lasting from December to February. 

A short run in the FA Cup didn't hurt his approval rating either, as a televised third round home tie against Premier League side West Ham United was earned. A solid performance on the night wasn't enough to overcome the Hammers, as they came out 2-0 winners, but much praise was received for the players' efforts. 

Evans eventually characterised the Gills as a hard-working and disciplined side, known not to score many, but not to concede many either. In fact they had the fourth-best defensive record in the division, letting in 34 goals in 35 games. Scoring only 42 in the same period might be seen as an area to improve on though, as they also ended up as the side with the most draws in the league at 15. 

  • Player Changes 

Next season will be a crucial barometer to see where the side is at, considering the loss of a few established players, including captain Max Ehmer, Regan Charles-Cook, Mark Byrne and Mikael Mandron. Veteran defender Barry Fuller also departed via mutual consent. 

Evans has been very busy in the transfer window to find replacements though, drawing much praise from many fans who potentially see a promotion push because of it. 

One in particular that's caught the eye as impressive is the acquisition of midfielder Kyle Dempsey, who had been at Fleetwood Town last season. He'd already played under Evans during a loan spell at Peterborough United during the 2018/19 season, and the manager was very pleased to win the race for the highly-rated 24-year-old. 

Dempsey wasn't the only player Evans had managed previously to be bought in. Midfielders Jacob Mellis and Alex MacDonald, who had both been at Mansfield Town last season, were acquired and should add some dynamism in the middle of the park. 

Options going forward were bolstered as well with Vadaine Oliver's arrival, as the striker helped Northampton Town to promotion last season. His prowess in terms of his ability in the air and his strength should ideally fit to Evans' direct style of play, and provide a solid choice alongside John Akinde. There’s still some uncertainty on if the Gills’ other striker, Brandon Hanlan, will be playing at the club next season due to contract issues. 

Evans also dipped into the loan market, bringing in promising youngsters Zech Medley and Trae Coyle from Arsenal for the season. Medley will come in to strengthen the defence at Centre-Back, with his impressive height of 6ft 5in making him a difficult prospect to come up against. Meanwhile Coyle operates as a winger, providing competition for Jordan Graham who joined on a permanent deal from Wolverhampton Wanderers, after spending a short period of last season on loan at the club. 

Medley was just one of a few signings brought in to cover the defensive areas. Right-Back Ryan Jackson returns to the club having spent three years at Colchester United, whilst Centre-Back Robbie McKenzie was also added having played at Hull City all his career up until now. 

Whilst playing in defence for a side that finished bottom of the Championship last season would usually be seen as an area of concern, McKenzie has impressed so far in pre-season playing in a variety of positions across the defence. At just 21-years-old, he has a lot of promise and may prove to be a very astute signing. 

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Another relative youngster in 22-year-old Christian Maghoma was the most recent signing Evans made, with the central defender having played his trade in Poland for the past two years at Arka Gdynia. He helped them to win the Polish Super Cup in his first season, and was a highly-sought after prospect, with Gillingham having to compete with several other League One sides to secure his signing. 

The only concern in the defence may be a lack of experience, with only left-back Conor Ogilvie and Goalkeeper Jack Bonham being over the age of 24. Regardless, it shouldn't take too many games for the players to adjust as a unit. 

  • Season Prediction 

With a more fruitful than usual transfer window in terms of the calibre of player bought in, expectations have been raised higher than usual for an attempt at a promotion push. 

Those aspirations may have to be tempered though with the quality of competition that they’ll have to go up against. The likes of Portsmouth, Peterborough, Sunderland, Fleetwood and Swindon Town will all be vying for a place in the Championship and will provide a tough test to beat out.

Reaching the form they achieved at the end of last season may prove to be a difficult challenge in its own right.

The season begins on Saturday 5th September at 1pm when Gillingham go up against Southend United in the first round of the League Cup. This is then followed with a tie versus Crawley Town in the EFL Trophy group stage, before the League One campaign properly starts as the Gills welcome Hull City to Priestfield Stadium. 

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