Gillingham – no complacency please

It was nearly twenty years ago, but it still rankles.

Charlton had enjoyed the Christmas holiday with a righteous Boxing Day thrashing (4-2) of Chelsea at The Valley followed by a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane and a 1-1 draw at Maine Road. We were in fourth place in The Premier League and dreaming of Europe.

Gillingham were enjoying a brief spell in the second tier of English football under player manager Andy Hessenthaler and had achieved their highest ever finish (eleventh) the previous season. In January 2004, however, they were struggling at the wrong end of the table and would eventually escape relegation but only through goal difference.

Charlton led through an own-goal in the first minute but were 1-3 down by half time. Carlton Cole made it 2-3 in the ninetieth minute but it was too late and we were unceremoniously dumped out of the cup. Alan Curbishley had not fielded his strongest possible team but eight of those who started against Chelsea also started at The Priestfield. The missing players were Euell, Parker and Di Canio and the loss of their class and bite was very evident. In addition it seemed as if the early goal engendered complacency and, on a freezing cold day, the players just couldn't find the motivation to roll up their sleeves and compete.

Sadly, a repeat of that result on Saturday would not be such a shock as it was in 2004. Gillingham started the season with four 1-0 wins to sit at the top of League Two. Despite a 0-4 home defeat by Ben Garner's bottom of the table Colchester, they were still leading the way by mid-September. However they had dropped to eighth when Neil Harris was sacked a couple of weeks later so that the club could "go in a new direction". They are now under the leadership of former Tottenham midfielder, Stephen Clemence who has been part of Steve Bruce's coaching staff at six different clubs since retiring as a player. The Gills' American majority owner Brad Galinson said he was looking for someone who met four key pieces of criteria - "putting the players first, having a personality to fit in, playing brave, front-footed and entertaining football, and working hard."

Clemence's first game in charge was a 2-0 win at Hereford in round one of the FA Cup and his team have since won two and lost two. Their late winner against Wimbledon on Tuesday saw them climb back into the play-off places. Charlton fans will no doubt greet former players Jonny Williams, George Lapslie and McCauley Bonne in suitable fashion.

As we head for the delights of The Priestfield on Saturday we will be hoping there will be no trace of complacency in team selection or performance. Although the team battled well to overcome Cheltenham on Tuesday, there was little in that performance to suggest they have what it takes to get into the top six any time soon. If a weakened team loses in the cup on Saturday, we will be heading for the New Year with precious little to galvanise the fans and sell half-season tickets. A plum third round draw, however, might put a spring in our step.