Sunday, 24 April 2016

Gillingham 2 Shrewsbury Town 3

Match 91/15/1296 - Saturday, 23rd April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 McDonald 45+2, Hessenthaler 61
Shrewsbury Town (1) 3 KaiKai 16, Mangan 56, Akpa Akpro 81
Attendance: 6,906

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/6,485

Match Report

Fat ladies singing, the hare and the tortoise, they think it's all over.

The fat lady might not be quite finished singing her aria, but she has cleared her throat and is warbling her way through the chorus. Sadly, it is all over. It was a great run, almost a complete season in the top four, but when it mattered most, Gillingham have fell just short. Three successive defeats at home and no win in six is relegation form that has taken the situation out of their own hands and relying on snookers.

In comparison to the defeat by Port Vale, this was a much improved performance and Gillingham can quite rightly claim that they didn't get the rub of the green but naivety born out of desperation led to the back door being left wide open and a relegation-threatened Shrewsbury were hungry to gobble up the opportunity.

So where did it all go wrong? I guess if I could categorically answer that question I should be the manager and not Justin Edinburgh, I cannot. My observations date back to one of the highlights of the season, that fantastic victory at The New Den on the Saturday before Christmas. Gillingham didn't just beat Millwall, they thrashed them. But it came at a cost with the long-term loss of Cody McDonald. Cody wasn't exactly a goal machine, but he was part of a settled line-up and a diamond formation that was working. This was the time when the depth of the squad was first exposed and the tinkering started.

And so to the tale of the tortoise and the hare. Following that game at the Den, Millwall were mid-table and a full 10 points in arrears of the Gills, whilst Barnsley were entrenched in the bottom three.

The January window brought uncertainty. Bradley Dack was the subject of speculation as to whether he would move on as was John Egan. I can remember writing, probably on Facebook, following the end of the window that keeping them both was like making to good signings. Ultimately, were Gillingham so concerned on that front that the thought of a replacement for McDonald passed them by? At the time of Cody's departure we had scored 47 goals, today we have scored 68.

Into January and the loss of two goal leads at Doncaster and Wigan was the beginning of a very poor run of form away from home. Could it be the loss of those leads drained the confidence from a young squad? Defeats at relegation-threatened Blackpool and Oldham Athletic certainly set alarm bells ringing.

As the squad started to thin with the loss to injury of Egan and Dack, plus the not always appreciated Doug Loft, Edinburgh was forced into changing formations to match the personnel available and results suffered. Deji Oshilaja, so commanding as a central defender that he kept Max Ehmer out of the side in his first spell was shuffled to a full back position and loan moves for Adam Chicksen, who did alright but was injured and had to return to Brighton and Andrew Crofts just didn't work out as hoped.

So my own conclusion as to why it has gone wrong since Christmas was the same as the one I was making when Gillingham were top of the league, the squad was too small to cope when injuries began to bite.

There was, of course, a football match that led to this inquest and Gillingham suffered from the same malaise that they have inflicted upon themselves for the last six games. Early dominance that doesn't lead to the opening goal and when they go behind they are chasing the game and desperation quickly sets in.

McDonald clipped the top of the crossbar after just five minutes and a well struck free kick from Egan brought a fine parrying save from Jayson Leutwiler after 15 minutes. But a minute later, a speculative shot from 25 yards by Sullay KaiKai found its way past Stuart Nelson and into the bottom corner.

Despite possession dominance it took until the time added on in the first half for Gillingham to find an equaliser. A free kick from 20 yards out was touched to McDonald who unleashed a thunderbolt into the top corner that wasn't going to be stopped by two goalkeepers.

As Gillingham pressed on in the opening minutes of the second half they once again fell foul of the sucker punch. A corner was met with cries of foul as it appeared that a Gillingham defender was climbed upon but the ball fell to Andy Mangan who hooked in from 12 yards.

The home side were quickly level just after the hour when Aaron Morris laid the ball back to Jake Hessenthaler to score from the edge of the box.

Ten minutes remained when Gillingham appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears and from the result break, KaiKai found Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro whose shot took a wicked deflection to curl past Nelson.

Gillingham fans will quite right feel aggrieved that the officials didn't help their cause, but they can't hide behind them. There were more than enough chances to win the game and when they were not taken, they failed to defend properly because desperation had led to a gung-ho approach.

Miracles are now needed, and personally I don't believe in them.

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