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At the start of the season Gills fans were concerned.

And probably rightly so – as to where our goals would come from after the summer departures of Cody McDonald, Bradley Dack and Josh Wright.

Gillingham's Parker and Eaves proving the doubters wrong with some tender Lovell careOver 30 goals between them during our relegation near miss in 2016-17, they were replaced in the summer by unproven strikers Conor Wilkinson, Thomas Eaves and Liam Nash to add to Josh Parker and academy graduates Noel M’Bo and Greg Cundle.

Both Tom Eaves and Josh Parker arrived at the club to little or no fanfare. Even the most positive of Gills fans were apprehensive of where the creativity and goals were going to come from.

These fears were confirmed during the early part of the campaign as Adrian Pennock and then latterly Peter Taylor – both who have since moved on – failed to get us firing in front of goal. From 15 games under their stewardship, the Gills managed to net only nine times in all competitions, drawing blanks in nine of those matches.

Gills 0-0 Scunny: One of nine Gills’ blanks during a bleak opening to the campaign. During that period we had only four goal scorers of our own – Eaves, Parker, Sean Clare and Max Ehmer – plus an own goal courtesy of Southend’s Anton Ferdinand in the much maligned Checkatrade Trophy.

Our new found defensive resilience – compared to the horrors of 2016-17 at least – was all well and good, but when we were averaging just 0.6 goals scored per game it was clear why we were struggling to win games and were languishing near the foot of the League 1 table. Something had to give, because as soon as we went behind in games we found it difficult to change our approach, get on the front foot and turn things around.

In fact, we had only avoided defeat after being behind in games on just two occasions; Southend (3-3) and Wimbledon (1-1). Our only win in that period saw us take the lead versus Charlton in a 1-0 victory, and even then we were indebted to a masterclass in goalkeeping from our Czech stopper Tomas Holy.

Just one league maximum in nine saw first Pennock sacked, and then after three more attempts without victory – one draw, two defeats, no goals scored – Taylor left the club two days before a daunting looking trip to then fifth placed Peterborough. Cue our third manager of the season – ex-striker and goal scoring hero from the 80’s and 90’s – Steve Lovell.

Steve Lovell: A hero as a player, but inexperienced as a gaffer.

The change around has been pretty remarkable considering his lack of managerial experience at this level, as we have claimed eight points from 15 available in the league. We have won four games from seven in all competitions, and scored in all seven fixtures, as well as remaining pretty solid at the back.

From 0.6 goals per game – 9 in 15 – before he took over, we are averaging 2.3 per game – 16 in 7 – during his time in charge, as he seems to have finally found the right balance between being resilient defensively but playing with more freedom in an attacking sense. And two individuals in particular have certainly reaped the rewards of Lovell’s approach to things.

Before their arrivals at the club, Josh Parker was ridiculed for his appearance on a cooking show and Tom Eaves had hardly set the world alight at League 2 outfit Yeovil Town, netting just four league goals in over 40 appearances for the West Country club last season. And you have to remember these are not even Lovell’s players, in the sense that they were brought to the club by Adrian Pennock.

Over the few weeks that Lovell has been guiding the club, plenty of players have spoken of how they are enjoying their football again, two of which are Eaves and Parker. And it shows in their performances.

After arriving in January, Parker scored what turned out to be one of the club’s most crucial goals in a long time. Not that many would have known at the time, but his injury time leveller versus Port Vale on debut ultimately kept us up at the Valiants expense last term.

One more strike was his lot in 16 games for us, but he had done enough to earn himself a new contract. That was signed in the summer, around the same time that Eaves signed on the dotted line himself on a free transfer.

Any fans’ pessimism towards both them and the side itself was hardly misdirected during the opening couple of months of the season, as Parker had only two in 13 (0.16 per game) appearances, while Eaves had 4 in 9 (0.44 per game). However, with three of those in one game, he had only netted once in his other eight appearances (0.12 per game).

After Ady Pennock’s departure came Peter Taylor’s ultra defensive approach – starting the fixture with Scunthorpe with no recognised striker on the pitch emphasised this – and during this period Parker failed to register in four games, while Eaves only played in the Checkatrade Trophy win at Colchester due to a four game league ban.

This meant their season statistics now read as follows:

Parker – 15 games, 2 goals (0.13 per game)
Eaves – 10 games, 4 goals (0.4 per game)

Hardly awe-inspiring, and more ammunition for the doubters. But with Lovell’s more attacking – without being gung-ho – set up both started to flourish. Being employed consistently in one position has allowed them to build up a rapport and more importantly some momentum, and the results have been both welcome and impressive so far.

Parker has predominantly played from the left hand side during Lovell’s reign, and has scored four times in six games from there (0.67 per game). In the same period, giant Liverpudlian hit man Eaves has played five times, netting on three occasions (0.6 per game).

Parker (2) and Eaves’ goals earned a huge win at promotion chasing Rotherham. His strikes have meant a draw at home to league leaders Wigan, a 3-1 win at high-flying Rotherham and a clincher in the same cup game as Parker’s opener. In fact, in the Gills’ last three games where they have featured – Rotherham, Orient and Bury – they have scored all six of our goals (Parker 4, Eaves 2) leading to two wins and a draw.

Goals from both meant FA Cup progress at the expense of Leyton Orient. It means their season statistics are now:

Parker – 21 games, 6 goals (0.29 per game)
Eaves – 16 games, 7 goals (0.43 per game)

More importantly they are scoring their goals at crucial moments in games, with us actually being unbeaten when Eaves finds the target. His seven strikes have earned us eight points from fifteen (two wins, two draws) in the league plus FA Cup progress, while Parker’s six goals equate to wins in two cup fixtures – Southend and Orient – and four points from nine in League 1.

By no means are either of them the finished article, and by no means am I saying that as a side we are out of the woods in terms of safety on any other relative aims we may have for the remainder of the season. What they and their goals have done though – along with Steve Lovell’s more forward thinking approach – is give us a sense of positivity again, something that we haven’t had for a fair while.

Long may it continue. Up the Gills!!

Post written by GillsInTheBlood
Blog: gillsintheblood.wordpress.com, Twitter: @GillsInTheBlood

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