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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 05/02/05, 3.00pm
First cold pressing
By Matt Rowson

It's been an odd week already.

Lack of football of a winter weekend for one thing. I know that, by and large, absence of involvement over the F.A. Cup Fourth Round weekend is something that we've had to become accustomed to. But it still doesn't feel right.

And then Monday's visit to the GP, prompted by headaches that are perhaps best described as akin to having knitting needles rammed through your head via the right ear. I would imagine. As ever, the perhaps unreasonable hope and expectation is that the Doc will give me some magic pills which will cure whatever the problem is within an hour or two. Not so. Instead, the advice is to spend the week pouring a daily dose of half a teaspoon of olive oil into each earhole.

Perhaps this is a remedy new only to me. The rest of the world has been conscious of this cure for years, and I am betraying my ignorance by revealing my surprise. In any event, I doubt that I've had a more unusual experience in Tesco than that of trying to choose the best brand of olive oil for pouring into my head (a tricky one... instinct is the cheapest option, but surely if we buy Bertolli to cook with, the same standards as a bare minimum should be applied to this far closer contact?).

The point is, you can't take anything for granted. Not even games against Gillingham, in which we have been singularly unsuccessful over recent years, with only our last ever win under GT to show for the last twelve meetings and twenty-five plus years.

Apart from anything else, this isn't quite the same Gillingham side that's been such a pain in our and everyone else's backsides over the past few years. For one thing, Andy Hessenthaler - a prominent feature of so many of those fruitless recent encounters - has departed to join up with Peter Taylor for the millionth time at Hull for a three month loan. Whilst you would expect Hessie to keep playing until he was ninety, reverting to a playing role at the same club that he managed for four years always looked like a big ask.

The Gills have struggled away from home this season, with only one win (at Burnley in August) and eleven defeats from fifteen games on the road. Goalscoring would appear to be the root of the problem; the Gills' defence is holding up pretty well, but off-form forwards and injuries to critical players in midfield make them quite a blunt instrument at the moment.

Steve Banks, who was Bolton's keeper in the 1999 play-off final, has been keeping goal and impressed in the Gills' last outing, a two-nil defeat at Leicester a fortnight ago. Jason Brown has recovered from injury sufficiently to claim a place on the bench during the last two games.

At the back, Ian Cox and Chris Hope form a solid central pairing with ex-Hornet Barry Ashby likely to be on the bench, however there is less certainty about the full-back positions. On the right Nyron Nosworthy's form has waned this season and he is expected to leave in the summer, but Nicky Southall's withdrawal from the midfield isn't thought to be a viable solution. Richard Rose, who has been playing at left-back, could cross over to the right, which would leave John Hills to come in on the left. Like Southall and Nosworthy, his suitability for a full-back berth has been questioned.

The midfield looks solid but a little pedestrian as it stands; long-time captain Paul Smith still features in the centre and, as prior to every single Gills preview I've done for BSaD, his place in the team is the subject of messageboard discussion. He's currently partnered in the middle by Alan Pouton, beginning to show some form for the first time since his move from Grimsby an injury-packed year ago. Welsh U21 international Andrew Crofts, who I seem to remember being a bit arsey at the Priestfield, should play on the left whilst Southall has been on the right - not to universal approval, although he's the one kinda dependable source of crosses.

Gills have added to their options this week with the recruitment of Mike Flynn, last seen trudging off on fifty minutes at the JJB two weeks ago and presumably none too chuffed at the prospect of seeing Johnnie Jackson again so soon. You can see Stan Ternent's thinking; Flynn's an attacking midfielder, something the Gills are a bit short on, but with the centre of Wigan's midfield their achilles heel and Flynn not able to get a half-regular start despite this, you have to wonder how many trees are likely to be pulled up. In any event, Flynn's recruitment is likely to quell the temptation to rush back either the verve of Danny Spiller or the pace and thrust of Matt Jarvis from broken fibula and hernia op respectively. The gritty Mark Saunders is also out.

Up front, Ternent has paired the largely fruitless industry of Darius Henderson with the rather less bothered Darren Byfield. Craig Bellamy lookalike Matt Bodkin and player-coach Iwan Roberts are both candidates for a place on the bench, but "Big Mama" Sidibe is out with an achilles problem and Tommy Johnson had his contract cancelled this week in anticipation of a return to Notts County.

Our most recent failure to beat Gillingham came when two points were dropped at the Priestfield at the start of November, a game which saw Danny Webber's last involvement of 2004. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise to see him starting on Saturday, and with the exciting Chris Eagles also looking at a home debut and Johnnie Jackson promising much with his ferocious display at Wigan, I'm feeling uncommonly positive about the Gills' visit this weekend. Which is what pouring olive oil into your ears does for you, I suppose.