Andy Hessenthaler returned to League Two outfit Gillingham over the summer almost five-and-a-half years after he left the club in a relegation dogfight in the Championship.
How fortunes have changed for the Kent club since Hessenthaler’s resignation back in November 2004. They were relegated the season he left, then after three seasons of mediocrity in League One, the club were demoted once more to the basement division of The Football League – for the first time in thirteen years.
After a rare high point in the clubs recent history at the play-off final victory over Shrewsbury in May 2009, The Gills were immediately relegated back to the fourth tier of English football.
As former Gillingham manager Stimson exclusively told A Different League, if there was anyone to restore pride in Medway, it would be Hessenthaler.
Hessenthaler is the epitome of a lower-league legend, having come from the local area, stayed loyal to the club, captained the side but most importantly wore his heart on his sleeve. His passion saw him become a cult figure in Kent, being voted the club’s best-ever player on a local Radio poll and a PFA vote.
However, the team clearly did not read the fairy tale script as Gillingham find themselves just three points off the bottom of League Two and facing an uphill task to retain their promotion aspirations, being thirteen points off of the automatic promotion places.
With arguably one of the strongest teams in the division, it’s hard to see why the Kent club has won just three out of a possible fifteen in a league they should be dominating.
One of the main reasons for The Gills’ slow start has been the clubs notorious Achilles heel, their away form. Last season Gillingham failed to win a single game all season away from home, and they are yet to break their duck this season, with some games turning into rugby scores with 5-4 and 7-4 defeats at Bury and Accrington Stanley respectively.
More worryingly for Hessenthaler, is that the clubs’ one-time fortress, Priestfield Stadium, has witnessed just three league victories so far this season, and the FA Cup defeat to Blue Square South outfit, and Hessenthaler’s previous employers, Dover Athletic.
The defence has been leaking goals despite having added the experienced Matt Lawrence to the back four, these deficiencies being highlighted by the Dover Athletic attack. Gillingham have been unfortunate with several injuries, crucially to long-term absentee and defensive starlet Simon King, but they haven’t endured an injury crisis that would justify such a poor start.
In a somewhat bizarre reaction to the club’s FA Cup defeat to Dover Athletic last Saturday, the club opted to enforce a media blackout, with no club officials holding interviews with the press until, “we beat Crewe Alexandra on Saturday”. Rather than help Hessenthaler and his team bounce back, Chairman Paul Scally has just done Crewe Alexandra’s team talk…
With a growing minority of disgruntled fans calling for Hessenthaler to leave already, the next few games could prove pivotal as to how Gillingham’s season will turn out.