It’s a trip into the unknown for Gillingham head coach Stephen Clemence this weekend.
The Gills visit third-placed Barrow in League 2 this Saturday and while many of his players and coaching staff will be familiar with their surroundings, it’s going to be a new experience for the man in charge.
“I’ve not been to Barrow before,” admitted Clemence. “I live in the north west and it’s still a good two and a half hours from me!
I haven’t been there but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve spoken to a number of people about it, obviously, my assistant is experienced at this level and I’ve spoken to the players about it - most of them are experienced at going to Barrow as well.
“But it’s a green football pitch, it’s against 11 players, let’s go and take them on.
“They’re a very tough team to play against, they’ve got some experienced players. They’re well organised, well coached and it’s going to be a difficult game.”
It’s going to be a long coach trip to Cumbria on Friday for the Gillingham squad.
But Clemence knows that his squad won’t be using that as an excuse against a side who were knocked out of the FA Cup by National League South Maidstone last Saturday.
“I’ve seen this group, it won’t be an excuse,” he stated. “Barrow have got a good home record, a good record in general, in the last 11 or 12 games.
“I know they had a disappointing result last weekend but 11 games before that they were unbeaten. We know it’s going to be a tough test but one we should relish, we should enjoy that.”
With players returning from injury, Clemence has more selections choices to make now than in his first month at Priestfield.
The head coach confirmed striker Oli Hawkins will be part of the squad but Ashley Nadesan could miss out due to a calf injury.
Whoever misses the cut will be needed in the weeks ahead though, with six games in 23 days set to test even the deepest of squads at this level.
“You get some disappointed people as well who unfortunately won’t be able to travel up to Barrow at the weekend with us” said Clemence.
“What I have noticed here is the squad are fully together, yes, they’re disappointed when they’re not involved but I can still see they want the boys to do well which is great.
“You have to have that kind of spirit if you’re to be successful because at some point these players, although they might not be involved at the moment, I’m sure they will be in the future.
“Oli will be involved at the weekend, he’s had another good week’s training so I’m really pleased with how he’s progressing.
“Ashley is going to be a doubt so we’ll have to see how he is before we leave on Friday. He had a nasty bang on his calf at the end of the game, he was very disappointed as that’s the way his luck has been lately.”
Gillingham are aiming for their first win at Barrow since 1967 when Brian Gibbs scored the only goal of a Division 3 game at Holker Street. Among the Gills line-up that day was current Maidstone chief executive Bill Williams.
The Gills have only been back four times since while Clemence will be keen to register his first league points away from home, having lost at both Wrexham and Tranmere.
There won’t be a big change of approach, however, given the promising signs at Tranmere and the subsequent home wins over AFC Wimbledon and League 1 Charlton in the FA Cup.
“At Tranmere, we had a lot of control and got to the right areas but maybe our final pass let us down at times,” explained the head coach.
“For large parts of the Tranmere game, it was probably the most comfortable I’ve felt on the bench – probably more than being 2-0 up against Charlton.
“Unfortunately, we let in a goal before half-time and the game changed quite quickly. I know we didn’t create enough. I know our final pass wasn’t quite there on the day which made us not create enough as well.
“We didn’t have enough shots at goal, didn’t have enough crosses into the box, but those things have started to improve a little bit in recent games.
“How do I prepare? I prepare like I do for every game. I do thorough analysis on the opposition, give the boys some ideas of how we’re going to break them down, and that’s what I will do week in, week out. I haven’t made any massive changes since I’ve been here, just maybe given them some new ideas.”
While it’s largely down to the position Gillingham were in when Clemence joined, they are still the division’s lowest scorers with just 19 goals in 20 league matches.
“I don’t really want to talk about it now,” said Clemence. “We’ve just had a great result against a team in the division above us, we won the game before in a scrappier game.
“We’re trying to build a bit of momentum. I’ve had seven games here but one of them was against Fulham under-21s when we played some young players ourselves. So I’ve really had six games and we’ve won four of them, so it’s going okay.
“Of course, there’s always room for improvement but the lads have been fantastic, and if they keep giving that attitude then we’ll definitely win more than we lose.
“I’d always like to see us on the front foot but it’s not always possible, you have to take what the opposition gives you and some weeks we will get after teams and some weeks we might have to sit off them.
“There’s different ways to win football matches but we try to work on both sides of the game.
“The hardest thing to coach in football is scoring goals, it’s not impossible to coach but you can get players or teams into the right areas and there comes a point where players have to produce a final pass or shot which comes down to a player having the ability to carry out and execute a final pass or finish.”