A busy summer lies ahead for Gillingham, who are back in League Two after nine seasons in League One, with the resurgence under Neil Harris not enough to avoid the drop.
The Gills have just seven players contracted for 2022-23, of which Jack Tucker and Robbie McKenzie have been linked with League One moves while any combination of David Tutonda, Alex MacDonald, Olly Lee and Ben Reeves could be offloaded.
Five of the other seven are youngsters who didn’t start three league games last season, so midfielder Stuart O’Keefe and defender Max Ehmer are the only senior players who are likely to stay at Priestfield.
Before looking at possible signings for the Kent club, we caught up with Matt Boosey from Gills In the Blood for a Q&A.
Firstly, how would you assess last season?
MB: Horrible. We started ok, but as soon as injures struck in the autumn the wheels fell off and despite the best efforts of Neil Harris in the final third of the campaign we were still one of the four worst sides in the division.
What do you make of the released/retained list and your business in general so far?
MB: No real surprises in terms of those out of contract that have been allowed to move on. I think Neil Harris is keen to have a squad that is his own, so we got what was pretty much expected.
What is the aim for this window and what positions would you like to see strengthened and why?
MB: It will be a massive rebuild so we need to move quickly but cleverly. It could essentially be a whole new XI for the opening day, but I am confident Neil Harris will recruit not only the right type of players but also the right type of characters.
We will need plenty of experience and leadership in what can be a brute of a League Two.
We need 15 players by my reckoning; – 2x goalkeeper, 2x right back, 3x centre back, 1x left back, 2x wide midfield, 2x central midfield and 3x striker.
What should be the target for next season?
MB: I think that Harris sets his standards so high that top 10 will be the minimum aim. However, it will be no easy task with some fairly big spenders at the level plus the fact we will be effectively a brand new team. If we can be in touch with the top seven or eight at Christmas time though, then I think we will be able to really attack the second half of the season.
With this in mind, here are my picks for the Gills’ summer business…
Rohan Luthra (loan – Cardiff City) –
League Two can be a hotbed of excellent young goalkeepers, largely because those who are good enough to play in League One get overlooked in favour of experience.
Luthra is very highly rated at Cardiff and Bluebirds boss Steve Morison, who has a great relationship with Harris from their Millwall days, may be looking to give the precocious talent first team EFL experience.
Harris could also use his Cardiff contacts to look into possible loan deals for Oliver Denham (centre-back – recently called up to Wales senior squad), Jai Semenyo (right-back) and Kieron Evans (winger).
Ollie Webber (unattached) –
The former Crystal Palace Under-23s goalkeeper, just released by Portsmouth, was not long ago mooted as an option for the Northern Ireland squad and may see Gillingham as a means to rebuild his career.
Jamie Hanson (unattached) –
Gillingham have a lot of squad spaces to fill, so Hanson’s versatility could be helpful, if the former England Under-20s utility man – now 26 – can shake off the injury troubles that plagued him at Oxford.
Kyran Lofthouse (Woking) –
Having never had a look-in at Oxford, Lofthouse made a clean break in kickstarting his career at Woking, where he has made 65 league appearances whilst developing physically and adjusting to the tempo of men’s football.
The all-action right-back should be on Gillingham’s radar, if they can pay a transfer fee.
Mark Beevers (Peterborough United) –
A long shot, perhaps, given that Beevers was a first team regular for Peterborough when they won promotion from League One in 2020-21. The defensive organiser, though, played under Neil Harris at Millwall and has been transfer listed by the Posh.
The key is whether Beevers would be willing to turn down third-tier offers in order to play under a manager he knows and trusts.
Aaron Pierre (Shrewsbury Town) –
Strong, quick and springy, Pierre tends to be one of the best centre-backs in League Two whenever he has played at that level, and has at times even looked solid in League One – especially in the earlier stages of his time at Shrewsbury.
The last two seasons have not gone to plan, but then again if they had, we would not be entertaining the possibility of him dropping down a league.
Sid Nelson (Northampton Town) –
Nelson found some decent form for Millwall when Harris took over and featured in the following two Play-Off campaigns in League One, although the standard of centre-back competition made life tough at that time.
The 26-year-old has since won promotion from League Two with Tranmere and while more recent years have been plagued by injuries, Nelson may welcome the chance to be re-united with ‘Chopper’ and could bounce back with a strong pre-season.
Brandon Mason (MK Dons) –
Full-backs are not required to be especially cavalier in a Harris 4-4-2: it’s just about being strong in the challenge, keeping the distances and swing in crosses from deep for a target man.
Mason can do all those things and his higher league experience would make him an excellent acquisition.
Gareth Evans (Bradford City) –
Evans is a versatile operator and is full of running, so while he may not previously have played on the right side of midfield in a 4-4-2, he would have few issues adapting to that remit.
The 34-year-old is far more mobile than his age suggests and would be perfect for setting standards on the training ground and being a strong dressing room influence.
Will Randall-Hurren (Sutton United) –
Randall-Hurren has played on the left wing in a 4-4-2 for Sutton: successfully at that. The system demands a lot of the wide men in terms of being part of a tight two banks of four in the defensive phase.
But it also demands being able to spring forward and at times play off the main striker, so having somebody proven to deliver on that remit would be a huge plus.
The Amber & Chocolates wide dynamo scored four goals last season and might feel he had the chances to add to that tally.
Shaun Williams (Unattached) –
O’Keefe is a valuable destructive presence in this Gillingham midfield, but having had two injuries last season, it’s not a given he will be able to start 36 league games again next season.
An experienced defensive midfielder to rotate with O’Keefe would help Harris, and Williams – released by Portsmouth – may fit the bill. The 35-year-old has higher league experience, much of which coming under the current Gills boss.
Callum Maycock (Solihull Moors) –
Harris will want to add one seasoned midfielder, and another who can bring the energy, athleticism and drive.
The latter box could be ticked by Maycock, who has starred in Solihull Moors’ unlikely push for promotion in the National League under Neal Ardley.
The former Coventry academy graduate’s stamina and physicality makes him a useful alternative reference point for long balls, and a danger in the press if he does not win the first contact.
Tom Elliott (Unattached) –
Like Beevers, Nelson and Williams, Tom Elliott is one Harris has managed at Millwall. The striker often played a vital part from the bench in the Championship newcomers’ unlikely push for the Play-Offs in 2017-18.
Back then, Elliott had an extra yard of pace and while he may have since lost that dimension to his game, he is still a threat from crosses and could spearhead a dangerous attack at this level.
Another target man option would be Connor Wickham, released by MK Dons.
Josh Kelly (Maidenhead United) –
Harris was himself a striker who made his name in non-league, with Cambridge City, before getting his big break at Millwall.
The manager has done his best work with strikers who have come into the EFL via that route, Steve Morison (ex-Stevenage) and Lee Gregory (ex-Halifax) at Millwall.
Kelly has the hunger and zest to prove himself in the EFL, as well as being able to provide a sprinkling of individual magic in an otherwise functional side, something he has done in the National League this season, scoring 17 goals for Maidenhead.
Kelly’s pace, quick feet and assurance at key moments, as well as his ability to create chances for himself, could make him the perfect foil for a target man.
Malachi Linton (Unattached) –
Linton scored 13 goals in 10 games for Lowestoft in the Southern Football League Premier Division Central (step-4 of non-league), earning him a move to Wycombe.
The striker then bagged eight in 29 in a tough loan spell at King’s Lynn Town, who were relegated from the National League, and has subsequently been released by the Chairboys, who have immediate Championship aspirations.
Linton is only 21, though and has an abundance of pace, so Gillingham could do worse than sign Linton on a two-year contract, with an option for a year’s extension, as a long-term investment.
The forward might not be expected to catch fire straight away, but could be ease him into the team this season with opportunities to stretch the game from the bench, before earning some starts if things go accordingly.
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