When Steve Evans took over at Gillingham, it is fair to say that a large proportion of the supporters were not too happy. There can’t be too many managers in the professional game who divide opinion quite like the Gills boss.
He has, shall we say, a way of doing things that are distinctly unique but not without success.
His passion on the touchline is the obvious bugbear with most supporters, a confrontational style that often rubs people up the wrong way, but looking past this, there are some key factors behind Gillingham’s improvements this season and current seven-game unbeaten run.
Here are four things that Evans has done well since taking over at the Priestfield which could see Gillingham challenging at the right end of League One come May...
Starting with a strong base
Last season Gillingham conceded 72 goals in the league despite finishing in a respectable mid-table position. Only four sides allowed more goals against in 2018-19 and this was the first thing Steve Evans addressed at the start of the current campaign.
Firstly, the signing of Jack Bonham was a master stroke. The Gills may have lost Tomas Holy but they actually managed to upgrade in net with the capture of the former Brentford man. His performances have improved season on season and, in the 26-year-old, Gillingham have a great asset on their hands.
They also have seen Connor Ogilvie make big improvements to his game in 2019-20. Yes, he has netted three times but defensively he has looked a lot better too. His ability at both centre-back or left-back offers flexibility and his partnership with Max Ehmer has been solid, helping keep nine clean-sheets already in the league.
This has seen the Gills conceded the joint second-fewest (24) goals in League One this season and at the current rate, are on course to allow just 44 goals against in 2019-20.
Gillingham are enjoying a great run of form
Faith in youth
No one can accuse Evans of not giving young players a chance. Jack Tucker’s emergence has been great to see at the Priestfield and his manager has backed him to the hilt since taking charge. Young players need this in order to flourish and Tucker has certainly impressed even though he is far from the finished article.
So far this season, the 20-year-old has played 17 times in League One while also penning a new contract with the club – a clear sign he is enjoying his football and the faith his manager has shown in him.
Brandon Hanlan, Alfie Jones and Thomas O’Connor are other young players to have done well for the Kent outfit this season, all of whom are 22 years old or younger.
Not afraid to attack
Now the defence is a lot more solid, Gillingham have made strides in improving their forward play. Many might point to their lack of goals, just 28 as it stands, but the underlying numbers are far more positive.
They have created the ninth most chances, taken the sixth most shots and have the sixth best xG (based on stats prior to the trip to Peterborough) in League One. It implies that with a more clinical finisher, perhaps someone similar to Tom Eaves who departed in the summer, the Gills could well fulfil their play-off potential.
What can a leopard do with its spots?
Say this quietly, but is Steve Evans becoming a little more mellow in his senior years?
In fairness to him, there have not been many issues regarding his behaviour this season which may surprise a few.
His well-publicised spat with Paul Lambert aside, the Scotsman has not made the headlines due to his overzealous acts on the touchline which is a welcome change.
He appears more thoughtful when dealing with the press and this can only help create a better atmosphere at the club, something that will benefit everyone both on and off the pitch.