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Time for Gills to add more signings
Time for Gills to add more signings

I really enjoyed being back at the football for Gillingham’s first game of the 2022/23 season on Saturday.

It was great to see some old faces – on and off the pitch – and some new, mainly on it, although Dennis Wise did scurry past me during half time, chased by Paul Scally.

The good thing about a friendly like Folkestone against Gillingham is how relaxed it is. I saw several members of the coaching and playing staff from the Gills speaking to fans, and I managed to have a chat with a couple myself.

I approached Alex MacDonald before kick-off to catch up about how we’re both getting on, it turned out. I know Macca well from press duties so it was nice to chat, and he was really interested in how I’m getting on and what I’m up to, which I thought was nice.

He said he could’ve played on the day but Neil Harris didn’t want to take any risks – especially after such a long injury lay-off – which explained the absences of Jake Turner and Will Wright too.

Not everything Macca said can be disclosed but he did say he’s hoping for some minutes at Dover and is expecting to play out wide this season – after he spilt his tea all down his hand.

The first half of the game was slow, and had a real genuine training session feel. On paper, the Gills’ first half team looked stronger, but it didn’t quite click for whatever reason, and Folkestone were probably the better team.

It was clear as day how light the team is in central defence. Max Ehmer was marshalling youth player Sam Gale though the half – Gale’s not even a defender, so you know you need reinforcements when you’re having to play a scholar out of position to fill gaps.

Scott Kashket is probably the signing I’m most excited by so far and he seemed to limp off after 35 minutes. Panic set in, for me anyway, as it seemed our only senior striker was injured, but I spoke to him over the barrier and he said it was planned and that he’s fine. Good news.

The midfield disappointed most in the half for me. Shaun Williams and Dom Jefferies played in a pivot in what was mostly a 4231, but both players seemed far from their best and both sat incredibly deep which made it hard for Gillingham to get up the pitch. I suppose that’s what pre-season is for.

Ashley Maynard-Brewer was in goal and he made some decent saves to keep Gillingham level in the half. I think he’ll be number one this season over Turner – he’s young and energetic and epitomises the modern goalkeeper.

There were several trialists named in the game – Leon Davies and Bruno Andrade played the first half and I thought both did fine without setting the world alight.

Davies put some good crosses in and I think the club will need to sign another right back despite Harris saying Wright will be used there – Davies may fit the bill.

Andrade comes with good pedigree but looked a bit off the pace. Worth another look though, maybe.

A shoutout to Bailey Akehurst, too, who, after signing his first pro deal in the summer, has clearly bulked up and looks like a man now rather than a young player, which Harris has said himself.

The second half was much quicker and Gillingham were the better team and well worth their eventual 2-0 win (we’ll ignore a clear penalty for the hosts that wasn’t given at the end of the first half). It’s important to remember however that the hosts rotated too.

The player of the match for me was a youngster in the form of Matthew MacArthur. He was brought on for Kashket and subbed late in the second period, but he lit the game up with his pace.

You can tell he’s a kid in terms of his physique but he was mighty impressive. He beat the offside trap and almost scored himself before setting up trialist Jordan Green to open the scoring.

He took in the applause when he was subbed off – one to keep an eye on for sure.

Green impressed the most out of the trialists, winning what Folkestone’s Twitter account described as “possibly the most debatable penalty you’ll ever see” before Olly Lee slotted home.

Maybe we’re just blinded by the fact it feels like it’s been an age since Gillingham had some decent natural wide players. Jordan Graham of course stands out, but it was an area that was seriously lacking last year.

The second half also saw a 4231 and the three of Green, Lee and MacArthur was what won Gillingham the game.

It’s great to see Olly Lee back in the attacking midfield role after really struggling deeper last year. If he can make that spot his own, he really will be one of the best players in League Two. I can understand why Steve Lovell and then Neil Harris played him deep – they wanted him on the ball as much as possible when the team were struggling to create anything at all – but it was painful viewing.

Stuart O’Keefe led the team as we know he does, belting orders and chatting to the trialists after the game. Again, everything he said isn’t to be repeated, but Henry Wise – son of Dennis – and Lewis Walker – son of Des – were the other two trying to impress the management team.

Wise was decent and played better than Williams and Jefferies did in the first half, but Walker disappointed with an imposing three behind him. But Harris is the man to impress and what he thinks will decide if any of them are still at the club next week.

That pretty much sums it up. Nine of the 23 players on show were first team players, which proved how much work is still to be done in the transfer market. The five on trial will continue trying to impress when they can, whilst the youngsters will have gained some decent experience and a few new fans, with Gills supporters rarely able to watch the youth team in action.

A few more chats and a fist bump from David Tutonda later, the day was done. Unfortunately I won’t be at another game now until Rochdale at home for work and holiday reasons, but I really enjoyed Saturday and am hoping for a positive season.

Now, Neil, get some more signatures on that dotted line…

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.