27 March ~ Gillingham’s campaign this season has been the club’s history in microcosm. Specifically, the Gills have been reassuringly strong at home but totally atrocious on the road. The club has always had a formidable home record, with much made by chairman Paul Scally in recent years of the "Fortress Priestfield" mentality. Other clubs simply don’t like coming to north Kent.
This season has been no different, with some impressive wins against the highfliers in the division and still only nine goals conceded, which is the best defensive home record in the League One and only matched elsewhere by Man Utd and Newcastle. The Gills are yet to lose at home to any of the sides in the top half of the table and have beaten Swindon (5-0), Millwall (2-0) and, most recently, Huddersfield (2-0). Norwich might also have been a notable scalp to add to that list but for their injury-time equaliser in a thrilling 1-1 draw.
Yet the Gills start this weekend 18th in the table and just two points above the drop zone. The reason is lamentable away form, without a single win on their travels. Before Christmas, 11 out of 12 trips outside Kent ended in defeat. Manager Mark Stimson has been at a loss to explain his side's volatility: “We want to stop this run away from home. It’s getting on my nerves now.” That was in October.
It really has been like watching two completely different teams. Some have accused Stimson of being too defensive in his tactics in away games but, as this has been going on for a lot longer than this season, it’s hard to recall just which came first, the cautious approach or the dreadful results. At least 2010 has seen a slight improvement on the road, with four draws, including the encouraging 2-2 with nearest neighbours Charlton Athletic last weekend, on our first trip to The Valley in 29 years.
Only good home form is keeping the club out of the relegation zone and so there is an added pressure to win every remaining game at Priestfield this season. The Gills cannot pull clear of the relegation battle, weighed down by the millstone of that awful away record. While a win over the MK Dons is always desirable, it is essential just to keep heads above water. Haydn Parry
Haydn Parry is the author of Back With A Vengeance, the story of Gillingham’s 2008-09 promotion season