Gillingham chairman Paul Scally delivers his latest set of programme notes.
Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for today’s game against Shrewsbury Town.
I'd like to extend my welcome to the directors, management, players and supporters from Shrewsbury, and I hope their visit to Kent is a safe and pleasant one.
It's over three weeks since I wrote my last set of programme notes, and a lot has happened in and around the club in that time. After the disappointing performance and result against Oxford United on January 2, I felt that urgent change was needed to alter the course of the first team and quickly improve our Sky Bet League One position.
For me, appointing Ady Pennock as the club's new head coach was a no-brainer. I have known him for over 20 years; relatively speaking, he was one of the first players I brought into the club. In addition to his likeable personality and his passion for Gillingham Football Club, his work ethic is exemplary, he's extremely determined and focused, and his ideas on how to rectify the club's fortunes on the pitch made him the perfect appointment.
Ady's management record speaks for itself. This, combined with the experience he gained working in the Premier League with Stoke City, leaves me with little doubt that we'll move up the table in the coming weeks, and end the season in a far healthier position to the one we occupied at the turn of 2017.
I'm sure everybody inside the MEMS Priestfield Stadium will give Ady a great reception when he walks out onto the pitch just before kick-off. I trust that warm welcome will also be extended to Jamie Day, Steve Lovell and Neil Withington, all of whom form part of the club's exciting new coaching team.
Jamie has been on my radar for many years now, as his record of working with clubs around the county proves he's one of the brightest young coaches in England right now. Steve needs little introduction, given his past achievements and loyal service at the club both on and off the pitch, while Neil's track record when it comes to getting players in excellent condition made his appointment an obvious one. While I urge every one of the club's employees to keep themselves physically fit, I'm not sure too many would want to experience his training plans!
I was extremely concerned about the level of coaching and quality of match preparation the players were receiving under the club's previous management team; by all accounts, things under Ady, Jamie, Steve and Neil have been far more in-depth, professional and resourceful.
This was evident in our performance against Sheffield United on Saturday. The team looked organised, they defended as one and they frustrated a table-topping side who had won 16 out of their previous 20 games in all competitions before kick-off.
I read that United manager Chris Wilder said that his side threw two points away, but given our performance in the second half, I don't think many would have argued if we had come away from Bramall Lane with the victory. Josh Wright deserved his two goals for his committed performance, and I can't have been the only person in the stadium who thought Bradley Dack's long-range volley in stoppage time was heading for the bottom corner.
Stuart Nelson also delivered one of his best performances for the club, an impressive feat given his service over the past four-and-a-half years, as he made spectacular save after spectacular save.
The point was just reward for the 300 or so Gills fans who travelled to South Yorkshire and backed the team as passionately as ever. January is never the easiest month for people's finances after the excesses of Christmas, and for so many to travel in excess of 500 miles a week after another northern away game against Oldham Athletic only outlines the dedication of our fans.
Those supporters who travelled to Oldham 14 days ago will have been disappointed with the result. While I have no doubt that this was a defeat we'll look back on in three months' time as a blip, in a league of this nature, one in which shock results crop up every weekend, we should not let it affect our confidence and support for Ady and his coaching team.
Work continues at pace behind the scenes to strengthen the first-team squad as the transfer window closure draws ever closer. The new rules introduced for this season, which do not allow any permanent signings or loan moves after February 1, add plenty of pressure for managers and chairman up and down the country. Ady and I have worked tirelessly, and will continue to do so over the next few days, to both assess our squad in great detail and seek to strengthen it in key areas.
We have already signed goalkeeper Tomas Holy, a product of Sparta Prague's Academy, on a two-and-a-half-year contract following a successful trial. He's six-foot-nine, so he's certainly a presence, and his arrival hopefully won’t be the last in this transfer window.
As I've said previously, the January window is always a difficult period to do business in. However, rest assured, we will be doing everything in our powers in our attempts to bring those players Ady has identified as his targets into the club.
Given this is only our third home game since the start of December, our backroom staff's proactive efforts have been a key source of revenue for the club in recent weeks. For example, the Gills Megastore's sale runs until the end of the month, and our replica shirt promotion (buy one adult shirt, get a red away one free) is better than any offer other clubs are running right now.
Everybody here was extremely frustrated that Tuesday’s fixture against AFC Wimbledon was postponed, but the decision was the correct one. The Gordon Road side of the pitch was completely frozen on Monday afternoon, when an inspection took place, and remained the case come 6pm on Tuesday. It would not have been safe to play on. Despite being a far from ideal situation, the decisive action taken well in advance of the kick-off by everybody involved meant supporters were not inconvenienced. Compare this to the Oxford United versus Bradford City game in the Checkatrade Trophy, which was cancelled just minutes ahead of kick-off on the same night, leaving those supporters who had travelled to the game extremely angry.
Back to today’s match, let's make sure we give Ady and the players a great reception as they seek to pick up three valuable points.
Up the Gills!
Paul D P Scally