Gillingham’s unbeaten start to the season has gathered plaudits from footballs fans in the county and across the country. With top quality goals being scored across the team, clean sheets have been stacking up too. The impact of Gills summer signing Faye Baker in goal has benefitted the club immensely. After Sunday’s 4-0 win at Coventry, Gills are one clean sheet away from breaking the club record for the number of clean sheets in one season – and we are still only a couple of months into the campaign.
Gills keeper Baker, tweeted her delight about equalling the club’s record earlier this week: ” Happy to have equaled the clean sheet total so far! Massive credit goes to my unreal defence.” And credit is indeed due to the golden trio of Amy Taylor, Deanna Cooper and Rachel Ahern. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Rachel after Sunday’s match to see how life at the heart of Gills back line has been.
“It feels really good to be in the back three slash four and be keeping clean sheets,” Rachel told us “it’s an improvement from last season and it’s very rewarding.”
When we asked Rachel what has been the key to toughening up Gills defensive line, she was quick to point to the hard working outfield the team has established: “The players we’ve brought in have been strong and we’re defending from up top, so the work rate from the girls up front to the midfield to the defence is quality so you can’t complain. It means the defence don’t have to do too much but when we do we step up.”
“We are not the most vocal back line” added Rachel, ” but knowing and having confidence in our goalie Faye and having her give us advice and confidence as we go along is important. We have an understanding between the three of us at the back and importantly we’ve got each other’s backs.”
“I always know Deanna Cooper is there to cover me if my player has got away from me. Likewise, I’d like to think that I’ve got her and Amy’s backs too. We know where we are, where we will be positioned and we get on really well off the pitch which helps too.”
“I like to think I’m quick, Dee and Amy are quick too and that’s so important for our back line to have.”
And whilst Gillingham Ladies recent run of results has seen them annihilate their opposition, after a similar opening 45 minutes at Coventy, Rachel acknowledged the second half provided more of a test for her and her team mates. “You never like being under pressure really and Coventry came to attack us in the second half. ”
“It’s good to know though that when clubs do press us, we can still keep a clean sheet and stay cool under pressure. Despite Coventry coming out more in the second half, it was never too dangerous and it did not cause us too much worry.”
And when we asked Rachel what the main ingredient is to the club’s defensive dynamism, she pointed toward the club’s coaches James Marrs and Jack Wheeler: “It has a lot to do with the management,” she added “training is really productive and helps you improve. It helps to know they’ve got confidence in you too.”
“And more generally the chance to travel up to games like this weekend is great. The atmosphere around the team is uplifting, there are no cliques and everyone gets on with everyone. It’s fun, there’s good banter and of course it helps when you get on well off the pitch because when it’s game day you know everyone is there for each other and working for the three points together.”
And whilst the Gills now have a break from the league, Rachel is not too concerned the break will dent her team’s determined march on the league: “When you’re winning it’s good to carry momentum but I don’t think it’s going to affect us too much as the manager will be having us working really hard.”
“Taking on a men’s team for the local charity match this Saturday will be another good test for us and will help us see how far we’ve come. We played a couple of men’s teams in pre-season but I think we’ve come on a lot since that, that combined with the form we’re on and the momentum propelling us – it will be another good weekend!”