The club's Professional Development Academy Manager details October's matches.
Gillingham’s under-18s recorded a win, draw and two defeats in their four Youth Alliance South East Division league games in October, but showed that their development has continued at pace by beginning November with a 3-1 FA Youth Cup victory over local side Corinthian at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
It’s important to take the hard work we do on the training ground into matches, and I’m pleased to say that in our last few games, this has been the case. Not only does this learning bode well for the forthcoming months, it also brings immediate, and potentially long-lasting benefits.
Nearly every day, one or two of the players get invited to train with the first team. That shows that turning professional is possible for them, but they’ve got to be ready for it. Such opportunities are only earned: they come through hard work in training, impressing manager Justin Edinburgh, his assistant David Kerslake and first-team coach Wayne Hatwsell in and around the club, and good performances.
I was pleased with our application and work rate against Corinthian. I think our use of the ball could have been better; at times I felt we selected a harder pass than what was necessary. But once we went 2-0 up thanks to goals from midfielder Brad Stevenson and striker Noel Mbo, I felt the sting went out the game and I think the Corinthian lads realised it was a long way back from there. Once forward Sam Lawford scored a third barely two minutes after Noel’s goal, that was certainly the case.
I felt we created the better chances, but the longer the game goes on at 0-0, we all knew it takes a mistake or a great bit of skill to go in and put you up against it. We had a warning just before half-time when it took an excellent clearance on the line from centre-half Jack Tucker to prevent them from going ahead. We’d had the better chances before then, but had that have gone in it would have been a different game.
We had a chat at half-time about what we needed to do to get ahead and how we were going to do that, but also the players were reminded that it was vital to play the game and not the occasion. We thought that the Corinthian lads might tire towards the end as they had put in a tremendous amount of work and, with two wide men on the pitch, we would be able to keep them penned in more. As the game went on, this is what happened. The players are now looking forward to travelling to Plymouth in round two of the competition, a team who we won't face in our league this season.
The one victory in October, a 2-1 home win against MK Dons on October 8, was very satisfying. The one thing about MK is that they pass, pass and pass. Some people are critical of this, saying they overplay in dangerous areas, but that’s their style. It’s up to the opposition teams to find a way of shutting that down; if you chase the ball up the pitch, they’ll play around you, so you’ve got to get into good positions and be organised.
We took a 2-0 lead in the first-half thanks to goals from Theo White, a first-year midfielder, and central-midfielder Ben Chapman. Theo’s goal was well worked: Sam Lawford got down the line and, just as it looked like he was going to shoot, he held the ball up, pulled it back into the box (taking the keeper and defenders out the game) and gave his team-mate an easy finish from 12 yards.
MK pulled one back after the break, before one of our players got himself sent-off through his stupidity. I won’t name him but, having been booked earlier on in the game for a foul, he unnecessarily got involved following a decision he didn’t like, and was shown a second yellow. There’s no defending things like that; the player knows as much and he’s been told in no uncertain terms his reaction and behaviour wasn’t good enough.
We had to defend for the majority of the final 20 minutes but our lads showed patience and good organisational skills. They frustrated their opponents and, and apart from one situation in which Lawford and Tucker blocked two quick-fire shots when it looked like certain goals for MK, we didn’t look like conceding.
Our opening fixture in October was a 5-1 defeat at Beechings Cross against Stevenage. The scoreline doesn’t reflect the match, and it also showed that the players’ game management needs some work. Having led early on thanks to a header from striker Leroy Hlabi, left-back Henry Arnold was dismissed, with the game level at 1-1, for a tackle which was deemed reckless.
Stevenage scored four times in the final 25 minutes, which changes the way people look at the game. Even with 10 men, we did well for a good amount of time. However, even though the players were trying to be positive once we went behind, at times you have to accept your fate, especially when it’s 3-1 or 4-1. I know some people will say that if you’re 3-1 down, you might as well lose 5-1. But I don’t always think that’s the best attitude. Going gung-ho when you’re losing and down to 10 men isn’t the best idea, and hopefully our players will learn from this experience.
On October 15, we played our part in an exciting 2-2 draw away to Cambridge United, one of the division’s in-form teams. They’re on a good run at present, they’ve scored a lot of goals, and play good, attacking football. We led twice through defenders Finn O’Mara and Tucker, and could have had a third when Lawford went through on goal shortly after half-time. He lobbed the goalkeeper, but the ball ended up going just wide.
For the following 25 minutes, we were under a lot of pressure. Cambridge got balls and bodies in the box, and eventually equalised. A brilliant Will Sykes save, in which he tipped over the bar from a one-on-one, prevented us from going behind. Both teams were strong and competitive and both had a go and enjoyed good spells of pressure throughout. We stood up to the challenge, and centre-halves Tucker, O’Mara and Huckle all put in strong performances.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence; this game came four days after the majority of the Gillingham team who beat Hythe in the first round of the Kent Senior Cup was made up of our under-18s. Hythe played a strong team of experienced non-league players in that game, and I think they appreciated the effort and commitment shown by our youngsters in what was an entertaining and exciting game.
Our final October fixture saw a 2-1 defeat away to Southend United. It was a good game, and we had chances throughout. We went behind in the first half but equalised when Danny Divine fired into the top corner from 25 yards before the break. We conceded again in the final five minutes after a cross-shot came back off the bar, spun free and was knocked in. However, the players performed well again, they showed the levels and consistency that we expect from them.
Ahead of yesterday’s (Saturday) 3-1 away league defeat to Northampton Town, the Gills sat fifth in the Youth Alliance South East Division, but within five points of Luton Town in second.
The original version of this story appeared in our Charlton Athletic matchday programme on October 22.