The League position is a little worrying at the moment. Of course, we do have games in hand on most of the Division, but those games include Leeds away and Charlton at home, so we need opportunities for three points to be taken. One of those crops up tomorrow, with the trip to Kent and Gillingham. At least, that’s the way it ought to be, as they are languishing in 19th place. That, as usual, doesn’t tell the whole story, however, and such is the way of this League, that a defeat for the Saddlers tomorrow will see the Gills level on points with us.
That makes this something of a pivotal game in the season and it’s strange how big an influence our opponents have had on the recent history of the club. It was, after all, the abject defeat at the Priestfield (now horribly renamed the KRBS Priestfield) that put the final nail in the coffin of Colin Lee as Manager, not to mention their draw at Joke City in the final game of that season which finally relegated us on goal difference. What we want now is for them to play a role again in getting the team back on track, following the confidence sapping defeat on Tuesday to Norwich City. That’s something that’s needed, as our next run of fixtures are Charlton at home, Bristol Rovers at home, Bristol Rovers away, Leeds away and, crucially, Oldham, the team fourth from bottom and now just five points in arrears, away. We badly need a haul of at least seven points from that lot.
All that having been said, Chris Hutchings has got problems for the game. Captain Mark Hughes is unlikely to return as he missed the defeat to Norwich having sustained an ankle injury against Brighton and he remains extremely doubtful for the trip to the Priestfield. At least we have a ready made replacement there, in the shape of Clayotn MacDonald.
That isn’t the case with his other two problems. Dwayne Mattis may well miss out after he picked up a calf problem against the Canaries. O’Keefe came on in that game, of course, but therein lies one of our problems, in that I think O’Keefe, Bradley and Mattis are too similar. It may be time to give a more defensively minded midfielder a chance, in the shape of Taundry, allowing his partner, be it O’Keefe or Bradley, to get forward more.
Steve Jones, meanwhile, is the other likely absentee, having suffered a setback in his recovery from a troublesome groin injury. The former Burnley man had returned to training after seven weeks on the sidelines but experienced unexpected pain on Monday. Till deputised on Tuesday, but I just don’t think we have anyone anywhere near the same class to bring in, which is one place we struggle.
As for the opposition, Danny Jackman could make his long-awaited return to Gillingham’s squad. The defender, who rejoined the Gills from Northampton in the summer, has been sidelined for four months after dislocating his shoulder at Southampton. But the 27-year-old is nearing full fitness and could come into the reckoning against the Saddlers.
Midfielder Curtis Weston is also in the frame to return after recovering from a hip injury and defender Josh Gowling is also set to feature after missing the 1-1 draw at Hartlepool in midweek with a groin injury.
Long-term absentee Simon King will definitely not feature due to ankle ligament damage, but the central defender hopes to get the green light to start jogging again next week.
Walsall go into the encounter desperate for points having picked up just one from their previous 15. It is our away record that is keeping us mid table, however. Only six teams have won away from home more than we have, while only four have won fewer at home. For those looking at their League position being an indicator of form, however, it has to be pointed out that Gillingham are not one of them. At home they’ve won 7, drawn 4 at lost just 2, a record that only the top seven in the Division and one other team (our next opponents away, Bristol Rovers) can match. That’s how tough this run of games is and why we must get something from this trip. Draw.