Martin Allen already watching the clock at Gillingham

Michael Holden
Martin Allen 300x225 Martin Allen already watching the clock at Gillingham

Martin Allen

League Two produced a fairly nondescript set of results on Saturday but it was enough for Martin Allen to reveal something about the pressures of setting the pace at the top of the table and it might be an indication that his Gillingham team are starting to feel the strain.

With ten of the top dozen teams playing each other and all five of those tussles ending all-square, only fifth-placed Rotherham picked up maximum points to gain ground in the race for automatic promotion and the bigger picture wasn’t lost on Allen.

Speaking moments after the Gills’ 2-2 draw with Fleetwood, he said: “It’s another game gone, it’s another week gone. We’ve said all along this season lasts for ten months, and we’re still five points clear. Every point is a good point.”

This was an opportunity for him to praise the spirit of his players in fighting back from two goals down to snatch a point, a chance to send out a message to the rest of the division that his team don’t lie down, that they continue to demonstrate the mentality of champions.

Instead, Allen was fixated with time, his imagination yearning for the finishing line, even though that finishing line is still 24 games away. The season isn’t yet halfway gone. If it gives the impression of a manager operating out of his comfort zone, that’s probably because he is.

Throughout his career, Allen has shown an incredible capacity to upset the odds. He has guided minnows into play-off positions, he has taken prize scalps in the FA Cup and he has brought countless hopeless causes back from the brink of relegation. But he has never clinched a promotion and he has never been able to shake off the tag that he’s only a short-term option.

Gillingham are one of the bigger teams at basement level. They operate to a budget that demands better than the two successive eighth-placed finishes they achieved under Andy Hessenthaler, but there was still something of the Mad Dog underdog spirit behind their rise to the top of the table this term.

When the season began, the Gills appeared ill-prepared for the long campaign ahead. The summer had been dominated by the Mark McCammon employment tribunal that attracted widespread media attention, while the club spent two months without a manager before naming Allen as Hessenthaler’s replacement.

That Hessenthaler was part of the appointment process to find his own successor after reluctantly accepting a new role as director of football only heightened the impression that owner Paul Scally was cooking up a storm. Allen would come in and take Hessenthaler’s job while answering to Hessenthaler until Hessenthaler was offered a return to management by someone else. This was hardly a textbook operation.

So expectations were low, allowing Allen to do what he always does in such scenarios – foster a trench mentality to spring a surprise. Gillingham stole a march on the rest of the division by winning 12 of their first 15 matches but now respect is being showered upon them from all directions and their form has subsequently stuttered, the last seven matches bringing only two wins.

Only time will tell what the rest of the campaign holds for them but history suggests that Allen’s managerial methods produce diminishing returns once expectations have been raised. If he’s already looking at the clock before Christmas, it could be a long four months ahead in the New Year.

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