All posts by luke cawdell

Prolific McDonald standing aside Gillingham greats

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Sunday, February 16 2014

With 13 goals in 17 games this season, and 227 La Liga strikes in total, it’s clear Lionel Messi is on another planet to most players.

For your average striker a one in two strike-ratio is considered good going.

It’s the kind of form that Cody McDonald is on and form that stands up there with the very best strikers to have played at Gillingham.

While George Nicol was banging the goals away with regularity in the 30s and Derek Lewis doing likewise in the 50s, there are only a handful who can compare to McDonald’s strike-rate.

With 42 goals in 77 league games his goals per game ratio stands at 0.55. During Gills’ Football League era few others have been able to boast such stats. 

Gordon Brasted’s four goals in five appearances during the 1956/57 is the best of the lot (ignoring Nathan Nyafli’s one in one), having arrived from Arsenal with a dubious injury record. It was what denied him the chance of properly establishing himself as a real Priestfield hero.

Sustaining a strike record is what’s key and the remarkable thing about McDonald is that he keeps returning and keeps coming up with the goods.

Even Gills hero Bob Taylor couldn’t do that. He left Priestfield for Manchester City after hitting 33 in 61 games – including the unforgettable five at Burnley – but on his loan return years later failed to find the target in 11.

The old adage ‘don’t go back’ certainly applied to Super Bob, although it’s done nothing to take the gloss off his previous exploits.

McDonald netted 25 league goals during his first season, having joined on loan to soften the blow following Simeon Jackson’s move in the opposite direction to Norwich.

Would he be the same player upon his return on loan in January 2013? Gills fans only had to look back a year or two and see what a flop Chris Dickson was on his high-profile return.

McDonald dispelled the fears, scoring four goals in seven appearances, before being recalled. Finally, in the summer, the Gills got their man permanently and once again, he hasn’t disappointed.

With 13 so far, including seven in the last eight, he has now registered 42 league goals from 77 appearances - nine of those coming from off the bench. 

Strikers who aren’t scoring probably don’t like getting judged on their goals – strikers who do score love it. At the moment McDonald is not just scoring with regularity but also putting in a shift for his team-mates.

His strike-rate is up there with the best and some would point to Derek Lewis’ record as the very best.

Inside-forward Lewis joined the Gills from Eastern Counties side Bury Town for just £10. Gills boss Archie Clark soon had a real talent on his hands.

Lewis scored 31 goals in 48 games before the top-flight side Preston paid £13,000 for his services and off he went to partner the great Tom Finney, who sadly passed away on Friday night.

In Lewis’ first season in Lancashire, alongside Finney, he scored 14 goals. An international cap beckoned before tragedy struck. He died of a brain haemorrhage in his second season.

Another golden great was Pat Terry. The big striker tucked away 60 goals in 108 league appearances, while Bill Hales – a regular goalscorer in the Southern League – hit nine in 15 during his spell in the Football League.

Dave Thomas ran the Prince of Wales pub in Gillingham but not before making a name for himself on the pitch at Priestfield. He had a fearsome partnership with Lewis and ended his stint at the club with 42 league goals in 80 appearances.

McDonald is clearly in good company and playing under a manager that knows how to get the best out of him. He’s no Messi but he’s a player that’s writing his name into Gillingham’s history books at least.

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Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

Has Scally's change of manager worked?

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Tuesday, December 24 2013

Paul Scally’s decision to sack Martin Allen was a controversial one but is it looking like a wise one?

Allen’s replacement Peter Taylor has now been at the helm for 11 league games – the same number that his predecessor had.

The new manager had to work with a group of players drilled for 16 months to play a certain way, relying on power and pace, rather than players who may not be at ease playing the Taylor way.

Taylor may not have been able to get the team playing the kind of football he wants on a consistent basis but nobody can argue about the upturn in results.

After 11 league games at the start of the season under Allen, the Gills registered just a couple of wins, with an average of 0.82 points per game. Allen left the Gills sitting 16th in League 1 when he was fired following defeat at Shrewsbury.

Taylor brought in some new players but injuries have meant he has had to rely on youngsters Bradley Dack and Jake Hessenthaler to bring a bit of class to the team. And it seems to be working.

The pair have injected a fresh look to the team and that has been infectious.

Taylor’s 11 games in charge have produced five wins, nearly a sixth against Peterborough and five defeats, with an average points-per-game total of 1.45.

Is that because the opposition have been weaker or because Taylor has been able to get more out of this squad than Allen?

Taylor’s games have been against teams generally lower down the table. Allen’s 11 games have been against sides with an average position of 11th (going on current standings), while Taylor’s has been 15th. Not a lot in it really.

The win against a poor Sheffield United side has probably been the stand-out performance of the season and that was under Taylor’s watch. Allen would point to his team taking apart Crewe, winning 3-0.

What if the former manager had been given the funds to bring in four new players himself, like Taylor had? Would that have made the difference? He certainly needed extra in midfield, having missed out on several summer targets, including, apparently, John–Joe O’Toole.

Survival is the aim and on that score Taylor at least seems to be doing the business. And with injuries to most of his new signings, he has had to do it with Allen’s squad – minus the surely soon-to-be-departing Charlie.

Gills’ current position of 14th is as high as they have been all season and with 25 points already in the bag, the Blues are halfway to the magic 50, which should guarantee League 1 football next season. It would have done last season – just.

But on current form the Gills could end the season with 60 points – a tally which would have left them sitting 14th in last season’s table – which wouldn’t be too shabby at all. They haven’t finished a season that high since Ronnie Jepson led them to mid-table obscurity in 2006.   

There is certainly a lot more confidence in the team and in the stands at present but the festive season will be a great measure of just whether this team has progressed under Taylor. The top two teams in the division, Leyton Orient and Wolves, will both visit Priestfield.

Walsall are also in town and a trip to Stevenage won’t be easy.

Let’s hope the Gills can finally put on a decent show infront of the TV cameras for the Wolves game, which ends the busy period, and show everyone that things at Priestfield really are on the up.

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Categories: Gillingham | Gillingham FC | Gills

Time ticking to secure Gills' star striker

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Friday, December 6 2013

The January sales are close and it’s not only eager shoppers looking to snap up a bargain.

It’s also the time that football clubs re-open for business and at the end of the year there will be some cut-price sales being done.

So is this the time for Gillingham to start thinking about rewarding Danny Kedwell with a new contract? He will be one of several Gills players out of contract in the summer.

Not many will have earned a new one but Kedwell certainly has. And if the Gills don’t want to risk losing their star man, they might have to act quickly.

Kedwell will want to stay with the Gills, without doubt, but can the club take a gamble when higher league outfits can start talks openly with the 10-goal striker in January?

Any manager with a struggling team will be scouring the markets for someone who can get them firing, whether that be in January or for the new season. Kedwell, with 10 goals this season and with a habit of scoring wherever he goes, could be an option.

His record of late will certainly have alerted clubs. Eight goals in his last 11 games is a record any striker, at any level, would be proud of.

This season could have been a tricky one for Kedwell, following the arrival of Cody McDonald and Adebayo Akinfenwa. That pair proved fruitful last time around but the Gills number 9 has left both in his shadow.

The club talisman has led from the front, with goals and attitude, and he’s also proved capable filling positions in midfield and defence.

If he continues as he is, there may not be a need for the end of season awards party, we may as well just hand them all over now.

But the last thing the Gills want is to go into the summer trying to compete with other clubs who wants Kedwell to play for them. As much as he is a Gills fan and loves the club, he is also ambitious, as anyone should be.

Finances may be tight at Gills but this is one player worth breaking the bank for.

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Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

Gills hoping change is for the better

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Thursday, October 17 2013

Changing the manager mid-season can often produce an instant impact but Paul Scally’s management changes haven’t always reaped rewards.

Martin Allen’s dismissal came about with the Gills on course for relegation. With just nine points coming from their opening 11 games the Gills chairman acted early.

Scally’s mid-season changes have gone wrong more times than right but at least new manager Peter Taylor has time on his side. He may be here on an interim basis but he remains odds-on to get the gig permanently, irrespective of results in the next few weeks.

Only a disastrous run of results will see Scally turn elsewhere. The Gills chairman may well be leafing through a few CVs but none are likely to better Taylor’s.

The managers from Scally’s early days, Tony Pulis and Taylor – during his first reign – both ended their spells at the end of a season – both following differing fortunes at Wembley.

Andy Hessenthaler – taking over from Taylor - may have guided the Gills to their highest position ever in their history but in 2004 his time was up. A 4-1 defeat at Crewe led to Hessenthaler’s departure, after the manager and chairman had a frank discussion about which direction the club were heading.

In came Stan Ternent and although the results improved, the situation didn’t. Hessenthaler had left the club sitting second from bottom, with 15 points from their opening 20 games, with their only wins coming against Leeds, Preston, Burnley and Wolves.

Ternent almost doubled the points-per-game ratio but too many draws proved costly. Many wished he had come in earlier, as the Gills dropped out of the Championship by the narrowest of margins. Just a single goal separated themselves from Crewe, who were safe.

Neale Cooper was next in the hot-seat, as Ternent returned back home up-north, following his first ever relegation. Cooper’s reign was short-lived and painful. An embarrassing FA Cup exit at Burscough was followed by a limp performance at Walsall and that was enough for Mr Scally to send the Scotsman packing.

Gills were sitting 21st in League 1 with 17 points from 17 games. This time around the new manager at the helm would have plenty of time to put things right. And no-nonsense Ronnie Jepson did just that. A six-game winning run towards the end of the season helped to keep the Gills comfortably safe from relegation, finishing 12 points clear of the drop, in 14th.

For Scally, it had turned into a shrewd move, although few chairmen would have kept Cooper in a job after a poor effort. Bad signings led to bad results and his hasty exit.

Jepson’s side finished the following season in 16th but Mr Scally was quick to act after a difficult start to the 2007/08 season. With five defeats from Gills’ opening six games, Jepson was gone. Gillingham were sitting third from bottom.

After a prolonged chase, Mark Stimson finally wriggled out of Stevenage and arrived at Gillingham at the start of November. Many of his trusted non-league stars followed him, creating a divide in the camp instantly. It also created a divide amongst the fans. Gills won just seven games that season under Stimson with the club getting relegated in the same position than which Jepson left – third from bottom.

So what now? Gills are sitting 17th and with just two wins behind them. Fortunately Taylor comes into a squad that seem united and up for the fight. It’s doubtful there will be many changes to personnel, although the football might change, with less long-ball and more freedom to express going forward.

Scally has acted early and few managers have as much experience as Taylor. There won’t be any more bold statements about smashing this, or smashing that. If the Gills are still sitting 17th at the end of the season, then it will be a change for the good.

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Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

Unwanted record looms large

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Monday, September 23 2013

This time last year I was flicking through the Definitive Gillingham FC stat book as Martin Allen’s League 2 team smashed a number of records.

One year on and they are on course to set a couple more, only this time nobody is boasting.

If the Gills don’t beat Crewe this coming Saturday then it will equal the club’s worse ever start to a Football League season.

Back in 1961, under Harry Barratt, the Gills lost eight and drew one of their opening nine Division 4 fixtures. They also lost 4-1 to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup.

Defensively they were woeful, conceding 94 goals. They ended the season fourth from bottom.

Gillingham are closing in on that unwanted record, but apart from the trip to Wolves, at least they have remained competitive.

Barratt’s side let in five at Crewe, five at Workington and three at Chesterfield, Rochdale and Stockport.

Only on one other occasion did the Gills start their league campaign so badly. That was back in 1903 with William Ironside Groombridge at the helm during the Southern League years.

This time around, Allen’s men have only once seen the opposition score more than a goal more than them, at Wolves. The rest have been pretty tight affairs.

It’s the reason so many fans are still backing Allen to turn it around.

What’s hindering him is a lack of funds. He has a paper-thin squad and little room to manoeuvre.

It will be a shame if this record-breaking team from last season set records of a completely different nature.

Allen has plenty of experience of managing teams at the wrong end and turning things around. He’s going to have to draw on all of his experiences to steer this campaign back onto the right road.

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Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

No deals is no big deal for Gills

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Tuesday, September 3 2013
A lack of action on transfer deadline day at Priestfield shouldn’t be of concern.
Martin Allen had already done a little bit of business last week, with the arrival of Danny Hollands and Michael Harriman’s extension.
It’s only the unprepared or the greedy who spend big on transfer deadline day.
Gillingham have little cash left in the transfer kitty so the loan market was always the most likely route for new arrivals anyway.
And with the loan window back open next week, there really is no need to panic.
Clearly the Gills don’t have strength in depth this season but then they didn’t have big numbers last season either, and they managed to win the league.
The likes of Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Adam Barrett and Chris Whelpdale all played over 40 league games and there were minimal injuries in the squad throughout the campaign. 
This season's early injury to Fish highlighted their lack of depth but the quick acquisition of Harriman showed the benefits of the loan system.
If Harriman was no good he could have been sent back with limited damage done to the Gills.
The transfer deadline doesn’t really carry much relevance to the lower leagues.
If desperate, there are plenty of young Premier League kids in need of games and an abundance of players still available for free.
Coventry got rid of a few yesterday, including Gary McSheffrey, so that they can sign for anyone unhindered. The pool of free agents is vast.
Of the 60-odd transfers listed as completed yesterday by the BBC almost half were signed by Premier League teams, with a third by those in the Championship.
Just 10 of the 24 League 1 teams completed any business on the final day of the window, with Sheffield United spending a little bit of the money brought in by their new Saudi investor Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Biggest signing of the night was arguably Swindon’s signing of Dany N’Guessan after his release from Millwall.
It was, however, hardly a night of frantic negotiations.
A lack of action during this time shouldn’t be seen in a negative light. If a manager has got it right just a few weeks ago, before the start of the season, then there would be no reason to make last minute signings.
Gillingham may have had a no-show on deadline day but there remains a rich pool of talent itching to join clubs to get games and more importantly for the Gills, for far less money.
The Gills may have to pay accommodation to these players but judging by the advert in Saturday’s matchday programme, asking for vacant beds (which must have wifi connection), this expense could also soon be solved.

Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

Gills can't go it a-loan

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Monday, August 5 2013
A glance at the back of Gillingham’s matchday programme on Saturday showed what sort of challenge the club face this season.
With the budget spent now must be the time to start calling in the favours and bringing in some loan talent.
Colchester showed on Saturday what a rich pool of talent there is in the Premier League and for many of those players League 1 is the release they need.
Playing reserve team football will be doing few favours for those lying on the fringes of a Premier League team. Academy matches fail to give them a taste of what life is like on a proper matchday.
At the end of August many Premier League players will have no choice but to head for the exit door if they want first team football.
Clubs must name their 25-man squad at the end of the current transfer window, which runs until August 31. After a brief lull the loan market opens.
Gillingham fans will no doubt be hoping some activity happens at Priestfield a little sooner than that.
Several top-flight clubs with vast squads, including Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool, have already started farming out their future talent.
Swindon have taken four from Spurs to boost their numbers.
Crewe have been boosted by the arrival of Arsenal’s young striker Chuks Aneke while Everton forward Conor McAleny has joined Brentford.
On Saturday there was a classy display in Colchester’s midfield from Craig Eastmond. Their best results last season came with him in the team, along with fellow Arsenal loanee Sanchez Watt. Both have since signed permanently following their release in the summer.
Goalkeeper Sam Walker kept a clean sheet for the U’s at Priestfield. He is on loan from Chelsea, as is young back-up defender Daniel Pappoe.
Carlisle have loaned Manchester United defender Reece James, while Patrick Bamford is another Chelsea export, having returned to MK Dons, where last season he hit 14 goals.
Surely it’s time for the Gills to join the party.
And what’s the harm.
If they don’t work out, send them back. If they do work out, happy days.
Many of these Premier League teams will be happy to see their players in action and are unlikely to ask for much of a contribution financially. With the Gills’ geographical position they are within a train journey for players coming in from the capital.
Gills boss Martin Allen acknowledged he did need more additions at the weekend and that the loan market could be the answer. Matt Fish’s injury highlighted the lack of depth.
Allen is a well connected man and no doubt he has been busy on the phone since the weekend. Let’s hope he can wheel a bit of magic and bring in some new faces to boost that threadbare squad.

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Categories: Gillingham FC | Gills

Let's all enjoy the ride

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Thursday, April 11 2013


SATURDAY’S celebrations inside Priestfield are what makes it all worthwhile.
And 1,400 fans will be packed into Whaddon Road on Saturday hoping for an even more special occasion - with the League 2 title up for grabs.
I may not be a Gillingham fan as such, but having covered them home and away for the last seven years as part of a sports reporter for the KM, they are certainly a club I have a lot of time for.
So I was as pleased as anyone to see the Gills promoted back to League 1.
I certainly won’t miss some of the ropey League 2 reporting facilities on offer, with the likes of York City springing to mind.
Sheffield United, Coventry and even maybe the likes of Blackburn and Wolves could be on the fixture list next season.
This season must have cost the faithful Gills fans a massive amount, with some mammoth journeys. It makes the trip to Cheltenham this weekend seem like a local derby.
And it’s sure to have that feeling. 
Cheltenham fans may be keen to show Martin Allen their displeasure - having seen their club drop a league and head towards non-league football under his reign.
But I’m sure the 1,400 Gills fans will easily be able to drown out any negative sentiment coming from the home ranks.
It isn’t the first time that Allen has returned to Cheltenham as manager but he won’t have many happy memories from his last visit.
Allen’s Brentford team - with Stuart Nelson in goal - suffered a 5-0 defeat.
Nobody will be expecting the Gills to suffer such similar problems this weekend.
When I was younger I once read the book by Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch. It was all about his life following Arsenal. It earned rave reviews but I never got it.
He would get upset if the team didn’t get to Wembley or win the league. That’s not real football for me.
I once went from Lincoln to Colchester and saw us lose 7-1 and traveled all the way to Wigan’s old shambles of a ground for an LDV Cup game - or something similar. Missed the first half and saw us lose without a shot.
Gillingham fans have endured some torrid times themselves. Just mentioning ‘Accrington away’ will send a shudder through the spine.
But only when you have tasted the very worst can you appreciate the very best.
Football is all about the roller-coaster and there is no denying that being a Gillingham fan offers plenty of highs and lows.
When I saw Martin Allen this week in his office the phone was already buzzing with calls from football agents. The plan for League 1 is already underway.
And let’s hope now for many more highs than lows. The Gills fans have certainly deserved this moment.
Roll on Saturday.


Relaxed Gills could make for exciting finale

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Thursday, April 4 2013
If Monday’s game against Rotherham was anything to go by we could be in for some entertaining displays in the next few weeks.
The Gills went back to basics over the winter (the calender winter that is) and even the manager admits it wasn’t particularly pretty to watch.
But the Gills have ridden the storm and now at home they are playing far more relaxed football.
If you have sat anywhere near Martin Allen during a game he will probably shout the word relax at his players more than any other.
A relaxed Gills team is capable of playing some good entertaining stuff, just like we saw at the start of the season, with regular big wins on home soil.
And now that promotion is all-but sorted it could be time for the Gills to really start expressing themselves.
Chris Whelpdale looked the business going forward on Monday and big striker Danny Kedwell has been enjoying his extended run in the starting XI.
There was anxiety at Priestfield and maybe the mood in the stands has helped to de-stress the players. As the atmosphere has risen so has the players’ performance levels.
Big crowd are sure to accompany the Gills everywhere they go now and even the hardened moaners are running out of things to shout about.
With positive vibes on and off the pitch - stemming from a manager who has been ice cool throughout - we may well see the return of some big wins.
The Gills haven’t beaten a side by more than a goal since January 29 - 14 games ago. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a few sides get a thumping?
And no doubt Martin Allen would love nothing better than heading back to Cheltenham - a place where he has few happy memories from his management days - and secure promotion with a handsome win.
Four games left, four beatable teams, let’s hope the Gills finish the season off in style now and lift a Football League title for only the second time in the club’s history. If the positive and easy-going mood continues there is no reason why they can’t.

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Categories: Gillingham | Gillingham FC | Gills

Title shot may be just the beginning for Gills

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Monday, March 25 2013

Gillingham are in with a chance of claiming the League 2 title with five weeks of the season remaining.

But if they can hold onto top spot just which way will they turn.

Over the last 20 years the winners of the division’s basement division have gone in many different directions afterwards, from euphoric heights to catastrophic collapses.

Some of the winners of recent years have gone onto achieve great success, such as the winners in 2000, Swansea City.

A move into a new stadium coincided with bigger crowds and success on the pitch. Next season they will be playing European football after their Capital One Cup triumph over Bradford.

Twenty years ago it was their South Wales bitter rivals Cardiff City who were tasting the title champagne and it looks like the Premiership is within their sights now as they sit pretty at the top of the Championship table.

Wigan Athletic won that title four years after Cardiff, in a chase for honours that saw fellow Premier League side Fulham finish second.

Brighton have taken their time to reach their full potential - not helped by ground problems - but now in a new home they are chasing a play-off place in the Championship this season and building what is a solid club now at the AMEX.

But while there have been great success stories there have also been some clubs who have failed to make the most of their success.

Poor old Rushden & Diamonds won the league a decade ago but back-to-back relegations saw them drop into the Football Conference before they eventually folded under the weight of crippling debts.

Plymouth Argyle had won the title the year before Rushden and they too have suffered a tale of financial woes. Just two points separate them and the relegation places in League 2.

But for the majority of clubs who have won this League 2 title, they have at least held their own or gone onto bigger and better things.

Chesterfield came straight back down last season but few others have.

Of the last 20 title winners 12 (which includes two wins for Carlisle, in 1995 and 2006) are in League 1 and only two are playing in League 2.

Wigan and Swansea are having contrasting fortunes in the Premier League, while Cardiff and Brighton are both dreaming of reaching the top flight this season.

So for the Gills there is not just a title to aim for but much more. This could be the start of great times ahead. If Mr Scally can get his dream stadium as well, which will boost revenue and crowds, there is a fairly well trodden path to bigger and much better things ahead.

Now with six games left let’s hope the Gills can match what the team of ‘64 and take the title.

The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell

Hello I'm Luke, the KM's Gillingham reporter. I've been following the Gills since 2004. Read my blog to get all the insider gossip on Kent's only league side.
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