By Matt Rowson
If there's a given at the start of every season, it's that We Never Get Anything From Gillingham. Of our twelve encounters since the 1978-79 promotion season, we have won just one game; a meaningless if conclusive victory at the Priestfield in 2001, our three hundred and fourteenth and final win under Graham Taylor.
With the hoodoo having extended to the point where nobody expects anything from the Priestfield any more, it's almost as if Gillingham's current injury/suspension crisis has been mischievously timed to ensure that yet another scrappy defeat would be met with the ire and irritation that the fates clearly demand. Before the Gills' warming 1-0 ten-man victory over Wolves at the weekend, they'd lost seven on the trot; Andy Hessenthaler (now assisted by John Gorman - at least until Glenda's ego swaggers back into management) may be the ninth longest serving manager in the country but will have been getting edgy, injuries or no injuries.
One area where the Gills still look strong is in goal, to the extent that Bertrand Bossu, briefly a comedy turn in the starting line up last season, has been loaned to Oldham. Welshman Jason Brown's superior command of his defence appearing to have won him the shirt for the time being ahead of Steve Banks, who was Bolton's keeper in the 1999 play-off final.
The Gills are particularly short of numbers at the back, where Ian Cox's suspension following Saturday's dismissal adds to the absences through injury of last season's scorer John Hills (ankle) and ex-Hornet Barry Ashby (knee). Various permutations are mooted for Tuesday night, none of which seem entirely without risk.
One cert is that Chris Hope will start in the centre; his form has waned in line with some off-field issues over the last year or so, but he had a stormer in the rearguard action to keep out Wolves at the weekend. His partner could be Nyron Nosworthy, a fine footballer who looks like being on his way at the end of the season. Nosworthy would be right-back in the Gills' ideal starting line-up, but his pace in the centre helps cover for Hope's chief deficiency. Alternatively if Nosworthy returns to the right, Leon Johnson, not the most popular or confident player in the squad, could play in the centre. Twenty-one year old Dean Beckwith, yet to make a senior appearance, was on the bench on Saturday.
Nosworthy's move to the centre on Saturday saw last year's player of the year Danny Spiller drop back from midfield to right-back, where at best one could say that his abilities aren't fully exploited. Richard Rose has been playing left back despite being right-sided; an alternative formation would see him move back to the right with Leon Johnson filling in on the left.
There are a few selection problems in midfield also, with Nicky Southall (thigh), Mark Saunders (broken leg), Alan Pouton (knee) and loan signing and pantomime dame John Robinson (hamstring) all out. David Perpetuini is also absent having been released by Hessenthaler following a serious injury; bad news for any player, even if there are other similar stories that might elicit greater sympathy from certain of the Watford faithful. Paul Smith has been out with a groin injury but is back in training and could be rushed back.
Otherwise, Gillingham's midfield diamond is likely to comprise Andy Crofts, Matt Jarvis, Andy Hessenthaler and Spiller, dependent on the defensive selection. Hessenthaler needs no introduction, although he might not have expected to be still playing at the age of thirty-nine and has repeatedly hinted that he may soon hang up his boots. The versatile Crofts can play anywhere in the midfield but played the holding role to some effect on Saturday. Eighteen year old Jarvis, who once cleaned Crofts' boots, is a quick and clever if slightly lightweight winger; he scored his first senior goal to beat Wolves at the weekend. Alternatives in midfield include Leon Johnson (again) who came off the bench to sit in front of the back four at the weekend, as well as strikers Mamady Sidibe, whose lack of aggression limits his value as a target man but did a good job dropping back at the weekend, and Tommy Johnson. Johnson has spent much of his Gillingham career on the treatment table but returned from his latest setback to dig in on the right side of midfield against Wolves.
The Gills have been a bit short of goals, and recent injuries to Darren Byfield (knee) and Patrick Agyemang (hamstring) won't help here. Player-coach Iwan Roberts, another Watford old boy who scored a winner for us against Manchester United many moons ago, will be available again on Tuesday having served a three-match ban for injudicious comments made in his recent autobiography. He will contest a starting role with Tommy Johnson, Sidibe and Darius Henderson, whose habit of running himself into the ground within the first hour limits his usefulness. Matt Bodkin, a former Forest trainee who has yet to make an appearance, is another who could be on the bench.
It should go without saying that relegation for Forest, Cardiff or Wolves might be much more palatable for the dispassionate onlooker than the Gills' demotion, however with a profitable-looking run of games coming up we could do with picking up some momentum here. Gillingham will have been given a fillip by Saturday's result, but we are now protecting, on a points-per-game basis, the second best away record in the division and have enough about us this season to overturn tradition on Tuesday night.