The manager has taken to Zoom to answer a selection of questions asked by supporters.
From a personal point of view would you rather get Gillingham to the play-offs this season or see Scotland beat England in the Euros?
Get promotion of course! The one thing I can’t do, unless we unearth a gem very quickly, we cannot affect what my country will do in the Euros. I’ll leave that to Steve Clarke! He’s done an absolutely stunning job, which I thought he would when he came in. It was a brilliant appointment. He’s a gifted coach.
What did you and Paul Raynor do on your ‘day off’?
We were both at games. We are all out there working; looking at future opposition, potential recruits. The staff were working hard. The players needed a little down time both physically and mentally.
Are there specific attributes you look for in certain players and certain positions? If so, what are they?
We didn’t hide it back in the summer, we had to go younger and with that came athleticism and ability. The remit we are looking for is age, pace and being technically good. Height and build is a factor as well. For us, it is about energy and desire.
Will you be looking to strengthen the squad in January or are you happy with what you currently have in the squad?
We are not happy, we are a little bit frustrated. I think first and foremost we have a lot of new players and there is a lot more to come from these players. We hope to strengthen in the window. We have to be careful with every penny we spend and the numbers have to balance. We will be making one or two additions and moving one or two on as well because we have to balance it.
We are eleven games in now. Is our current league position below your personal expectations and if it is, what do we need to do to improve that position?
That is a good question. I feel frustrated when I look at the league table because I don’t think there is any doubt we should have seven or eight more points on the board. If you add on the seven or eight more points that would take us to maybe eighth, ninth or tenth in the table, just below that play-off group. Over the season you have to play everyone home and away. We’ve had an extremely tough start, but it doesn’t mean that we are going to beat the other teams. We are going to win a lot more games as we go forward.
Considering the injuries we have had, are you pleased with how the team has performed so far?
Yes, absolutely. We lost Mark Byrne, he was going to be a big part of what we were going to be about. We quickly lost Stuart O’Keefe, who is out for a long time. We lost Kyle Dempsey on the opening day. We lost Scott Robertson and Eccles within about a week of each other. We lost Jack Bonham with concussion. We lost Jordan Graham for a few days as well.
We have lost key players at key times, but the good thing about this group is we don’t make anyone any promises that they will start football matches. They have to be working hard in training. If you work hard in training then you are going to be starting matches because they have all got ability.
There have been some strange results in the league this season. Do you think our division is more open this season or do you believe there are stand-out sides?
I believe for sure it is more open. I think this is as tough as it has been since Leeds United were last in League One. The big clubs in the league do have the big resources. They have got massive players. You look at Sunderland when they visited Priestfield. They had seven on the bench that would start every week for other clubs in League One.
But that doesn’t give you a right to win football matches. I think these are unprecedented times without supporters. We are one of the clubs that will suffer more than most because that Rainham End gets you eight or nine points a season.
We have absolutely brilliant supporters that get behind us. You only need to give them a chink of effort and spirit and they will get the best out of you. They hate losing, but they make up for it when they are winning, that is for sure!
Have you found it difficult to motivate players without fans in the stadium?
No, not really. From my point of view, we are young. It’s still exciting for some of our players to be playing in League One. I’m still excited. The first thing I said when I woke up last Saturday to my daughter, “It’s FA Cup day for us!”
FA Cup day is magical. When I wake up on a match day or get ready for training, I’m excited. I feel like we are playing Sunderland, Portsmouth, Ipswich and they are fantastic games. If I am feeling like that, and I’m over twenty years a manager, then I know our players are feeling it.
We have drawn Exeter in Round 2 of the FA Cup. What are your thoughts on that draw?
They are a good team. It’s been a long time since they have lost a football match. Good young manager, good players. They are attack minded and they work their socks off. They are the most dangerous opponent from their level, especially on their current run of form.
With the lack of fans in the stadiums, is it more challenging for the players? Does it make away games easier to play in?
Is it easier in away games? I think that depends on home fans. It certainly makes it easier for teams to come to Priestfield because our fans are very vocal. Not all grounds have a hum dinging atmosphere, so it is a bit mixed.
When you are not scouting players yourself, how much trust do you need to place in your coaches and scouts to know that they are looking for the same type of player you are looking for?
We judge that with the member of staff that we have scouting for us around the country. We judge it over a period of time. First we send them to matches, and we have players in mind at those matches. We may send them with the brief of looking for the best players in a match.
Then there are times when we have identified a player. There may be more specific tasks if Paul Raynor has looked and I’ve looked we might send a scout to give their opinion.
You have to trust them. I trust Paul Raynor with my life.
If you are watching a player from a lower division, what makes you firmly believe that they are capable of making the step up?
You have to go with your own football opinion. You have to look for them in certain situations in a match. If he is a striker, does he get hold of the ball? Is he going to be instinctive in the box?
You have to match that with the fit you are looking to add. You take a measurement through the opposition. If we were looking at League Two players yesterday, we would be looking for ones playing against good players as well.
How frustrating has it been this season to not name a consistent starting 11?
It’s very, very frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when kick off comes because you are going in to battle without some of our big players. We are not claiming to be one of the big seven or eight squads in the league in terms of resources. It’s a very frustrating start to the season. Hopefully, in the next two weeks we get a little bit of luck and we get these boys back.
Have you had to adjust how you manage younger players?
Very much so. You can’t be a manager for 22 years and have a very successful track record without being able to adapt to the times. You have to evolve with the times.
How you tell them is the same content. How we deliver that message now can be slightly different. It has to be more positive.
Is it easier or more enjoyable managing younger players?
Yes, it is easier to the extent that the right type of younger player wants to learn. If I look at Eccles and Drysdale from Coventry. Robertson, who has come down from Celtic, and the Arsenal kids, these have got some of the best youth coaches in the land working with them at their parent clubs.
It’s easier to manage younger players for a number of reasons, providing you have the right ones.
With your experience in management, can you identify which players would make a good manager?
By talking to them and chatting with them, it gives you good ideas to who you think will go and progress into either coaching or managing. We have people in our camp who in future years I can see them becoming a manger. I think in time Paul Raynor will want to be a manger, I would want to be a manager if I was him. He’s had opportunities but he’s always said no.
I can see Max Ehmer, now at Bristol Rovers, as someone who is going to coach or manage. We’ve got Stuart O’Keefe in the building and young Kyle Dempsey. I see them as players who could be managers.
From this point until Christmas, at the turn of the year where would you ideally like us to be in the table?
Ideally it’s top! I think the answer if we are in the top half and four or five points off the play-off group then it will be outstanding. It we are in the top 10 then I would take it now. My teams are always better in the second half of the season. Everyone has had opportunities to show us what they can do.
At the start of every season, particularly this one, is the first objective to better what you did the previous season?
It depends on what club you are at. My personal objective is to improve on what we did last year, when we finished tenth. If we can get into the top half of the table by January, let’s fine tune it and we will finish where we were last year.
Is there one particular manager that you look up to?
Apart from the great Sir Alex Ferguson, there are two managers that I look up to very much. Craig Brown, the ex-Scotland manager. I still speak to him a few times a week.
Also, Brendan Rodgers at Leicester. What a job he is doing, it is incredible.
Do you contact fellow managers for advice?
Very much so. The days you are not asking for opinions then you are lost. I pick up the phone to Brendan, David Moyes, Neil Lennon… I could keep going.
Are there any youth team players that have caught your eye and can maybe become a first-team player?
The answer is that I have not seen enough of them and neither has Paul, because of Covid issues and because of social bubbles.
The pivotal time for these players is going to be December/January. That’s when decisions get made. When they get to the end of their two-year-cycle they have to be good enough to play for our U23 team. I will be more qualified to make that call over the Christmas period.
What’s your favourite goals as the Gillingham boss so far?
I think everyone already knows it. If there is one stuck in my mind it is Connor Ogilvie. He hits a fantastic finish like Van Persie. It was late against a good calibre of competition and it was a fantastic finish.
Do you think increasing substitutions to five players would be a good idea?
If we all had the same quality of substitutes it would be. I would say if you are at the top level I would understand why they voted for it but if you are at the other end you can understand why you would be against it.
If League One managers were asked to vote, would you vote for five substitutes?
No. There will be a number of soft-tissue injuries because of the time we have had off with Covid. But I wouldn’t vote for it because we are in the same situation as the Premier League. Just look at the bench Sunderland had when they played us. It is an unfair advantage.
Are we likely to see the likes of Stuart O’Keefe and Jacob Mellis before the end of the season?
I think Jacob has got a real chance. I’ve had an update and the prognosis is good. We should see him in the next three or four weeks. He is on a rehabilitation programme and we wait to see him back in training.
Stuart is making huge progress because he is a great athlete. I could see him back in the camp and playing in March. We miss Stuart. We miss his energy, we miss his passion, we miss his leadership. We don’t miss his banter… it’s awful!
How much trust do you need to put in your sports science team to make sure your players recover properly?
We have got some of the best. Their job is to get players ready for selection, not having busy treatment rooms. I give them a tough time because of their remit, but we have two of the best in Jamie and Gary. They are capable of working at a much higher level.
What is your assessment of the season and have you changed your objectives?
My objectives have not changed, which is to finish higher than we did last year. That objective doesn’t change. I think we are capable of getting into the top ten.