Lower league fans love to have a dig at those who support top-four Premier League sides and their demand to see three points every week, retorting with “come and support a real team” and the like. Yet having been top of League Two for the bulk of this season, a chunk of Gillingham’s support are beginning to show a similar attitude after Martin Allen and his men surprised all by heading into the final months of the season at the summit of English football’s fourth tier.
Granted, performances have been indifferent at home and the results largely similar. Priestfield has become something of a bogey ground in recent months as opposition teams come and outplay a team seemingly filled with nerves and lacking confidence. Yet record-breaking away form – 11 wins in a season is the best of any Gillingham side ever – has kept the team’s nose in front of any other side, raising expectations with only 11 games to go.
What is the indifferent home form down to? Allen claims teams are raising their games when they visit, making it doubly difficult for the Gills to dominate. Shouldn’t it be down to the team to ramp up its performance once more, though? You’d think so, but it’s hard to remember the last time Gillingham convincingly won at home – perhaps stretching back to beating Scunthorpe 4-0 in the FA Cup last November.
Since then, the Gills have won three out of 11 at home with only one of these victories coming by a two-goal margin. In the league, Gillingham have not scored three at home since beating Burton 4-1 on October 20th and a few midfield departures have left the side lacking the creativity to do the same again. Supporters then have their backs up, this affects the team and performance levels drop.
The players would be well within their rights to blame a poor atmosphere for contributing to disappointing displays, while the fans will say it is up to the squad to give them something to shout about. As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
But away from home, Allen and his men have cracked it. Eleven wins, five draws and just the one defeat against Torquay in October have propelled the club to top position. The formula seems simple enough: nick a goal and then soak up the pressure. Just ten away goals conceded shows how the Gills are among the best in the country on their travels, with a high-performing back five of Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Joe Martin, Adam Barrett and Leon Legge are key.
The big questions, of course, are ‘will Gillingham get promoted?’ and ‘will they win the league?’ The team are still eight points clear of fourth place with 11 games remaining, so the club are on track for promotion. But with only one title in the club’s history – the old Fourth Division in 1963-64 – the fans are demanding more.
Gillingham have a remarkable four away games still in March, with only two at home. If they can somehow remain unbeaten across this month and continue their exceptional away record, then they’d be in an excellent position to win the title.
With fans’ expectations higher than ever, there’s no better time to rediscover the very best form at home and pull away from Port Vale and Burton. It certainly won’t be easy with a crowded fixture list, but it’s the same for everyone. Gillingham’s record-breakers are only potentially eight weeks away from truly making it a season to remember – then the supporters may finally have something to cheer at Priestfield.
Written by Ben Curtis, We Are Going Up’s Gillingham Blogger
Ben tweets at @benjamin_curtis