Gillingham – battle of the strikers

Gillingham arrive at The Valley this weekend in 16th position in the league and with form which is both inconsistent and unpredictable.

They began the season by beating Accrington and Burton but then went eight games without a win and dropped into the relegation places. They ended this run by becoming the first (and until recently the only) team to beat Portsmouth when they triumphed 2-0 at Fratton Park at the end of September. Results since then have been up and down with recent wins against Bristol Rovers, Scunthorpe and Fleetwood countered by losses to Blackpool, Luton and Oxford. Last weekend they came back from 0-2 to force a 2-2 draw at home to Wycombe.

There should be plenty to interest Charlton fans when the Gills announce their squad. Former CAFC youth player Barry Fuller returned this season for his second spell at the club after five years at AFCWimbledon. Dean Parrett (who played nine games on loan from Tottenham in 2011) also joined in the summer after spells at Stevenage and Wimbledon and has been a regular starter. Brandon Hanlan has played fifteen games (three goals) and Regan Charles-Cook has made ten appearances. However, most eyes will be on the League One leading goal scorer Tom Eaves who will be looking to add to his fourteen goals so far.

Twenty-six year old Eaves began at Oldham and joined Bolton in 2010. He had loan stays at Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury, Rotherham, Yeovil and Bury before signing for Yeovil in 2016. He only managed 4 goals in 40 games (which in total gave him 20 career goals in 132 appearances) and he was released at the end of that season. The transformation since joining Gillingham has been extraordinary with 31 goals in just 63 games but, as he has turned down a new contract, it is likely that he will be sold in January. Glasgow Rangers are reported to be interested.

Our recent record against Gillingham is abysmal with only one win in seven games since the turn of the century. The FA Cup defeat as a Premier League team in 2004 was a particularly low point. A flukey own goal in 2009 and a late penalty from Nicky Ajose in 2016 enabled us to draw at Priestfield but we haven't won there since 1981. Things have not been much better at The Valley. The 3-0 win in April last year was not as convincing as the score might suggest and last New Year's Day 1-2 defeat was Charlton's eighth winless game in a run which had seen us drop out of the play-off places.

But things look very different this time. Tom Eaves is not the only striker in form. We fully expect Lyle Taylor to emerge triumphant in the battle of the strikers and Charlton to cement their play-off place in advance of tough away games at Coventry and Barnsley.