Gary Wade does the maths on Gillingham's best starts to a season...
Understandably the confidence amongst many supporters is high and quite rightly so. If I said the start of the season was exceptional it would probably raise quite a few eyebrows when, in reality, what the side have achieved in their four opening victories and more is quite unique. Firstly (whilst four consecutive wins may not be the stuff of fantasy and is something achieved most seasons) four victories in a row in the opening matches of a new season is quite rare, so rare in fact it hadn’t happened since the 1897/8 season when the Gills beat Chatham, Swindon and Tottenham in the Southern League and Northfleet in the cup. Furthermore, if we exclude the inaugural campaign back in the 1894/5 season when the Gills (or should I say New Brompton) won all but one league match (the only season to better it with eight opening wins), a win against Middlesbrough in the cup would leave us with the best start for a 117 years!
Secondly, away wins have always seemed to be the Achilles Heel in the majority of our campaigns. Last season delivered eight victories but the first three wins took eight games to achieve. The 2008/9 season registered ten away wins and took nine attempts to earn those initial three and yet this season it is an impressive three out of three. How impressive I hear you ask! The Wycombe victory meant the Gills had won away twice in the opening month of the campaign for the first time since the 2003/4 season. They had, however, never managed to do so three times in their history so arriving back from their exploits in Dagenham with another haul of maximum points meant this was like no other start to a campaign we had become accustomed to.
Thirdly, should a draw be the final result against Chesterfield on Saturday, it would mean the start to this league season would be no different to that of last season and would highlight just how carried away we supporters can get. What could be different however would be the goals scored, perhaps the one area most felt needed little or no change from our last attempt. After seven games last season in a year where the most goals had been scored for twelve years, the team had managed a total of eight goals, the same tally after only four this time out. Of course these things ebb and flow and is hardly likely to continue throughout in the same manner but it does show just how well we have hit the ground running. It is probably just as well really as, so far this season, already four penalties have been converted, a total that took seven games last year in a season many thought contained far too many!
I believe the reason decent winning streaks at the very start of the season are so rare is down to the fact there is often a tricky League Cup tie in amongst them, ones we notoriously struggle to win and this season is no different. The Bristol City win meant the Gills not only won the opening match of a season on their travels for the first time since the 2002/3 season but also the Gills beat higher league opposition away in the first round of the competition for the first time ever! Our record in the second round though is hardly inspiring. Having only progressed past the round eight times in the competition’s fifty-two year history, this will be only our second appearance in nine seasons in it. Our last visit was back in the 2009/10 campaign when we left the tournament at home to Premier League Blackburn Rovers. Before that it was another Premier League side at home, this time the Gills running out victors against Portsmouth four seasons before.
If the Gills broke their duck in the last round by beating the Robins (something they had already achieved in Round 2 back in 1971 when they beat Notts County) then life is a little less complicated in this round. There have been four victories over higher league opposition at home with the aforementioned Portsmouth game the most recent. Before that, the 1996/7 season saw the Gills leave Barnsley victorious after a second leg in a season that would see them exit at the joint furthest point of the competition, eventually losing to Ipswich in Round 4. Eleven years after the Notts County game, the remaining victory saw the side beating Oldham before losing the second leg and finally crashing out in Round 3 to Spurs.
Whatever happens Tuesday night it has been a glorious start to the season providing valuable momentum. Regardless we will still be unbeaten in the league for seven games with five wins in a row spanning either side of the summer. Here’s hoping we will be looking ahead to Chesterfield at the weekend saying it is six in a row and unbeaten in nine. Well it’s good to dream isn’t it – it certainly feels as if we still are now!
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