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Why Justin Edinburgh is the man to return Gillingham to the Championship

Gillingham

Why Justin Edinburgh is the man to return Gillingham to the Championship

When he was linked with the Aston Villa job in November, many laughed at the fact that the Villains would look to a League 1 manager to rescue their season. Gillingham fans, though, will tell you that the complete opposite is true, and that Edinburgh is one of the brightest up and coming managers in the game.

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The former Southend, Portsmouth and Tottenham left back retired at 31 and started his managerial career at the very bottom, at non-league Billericay Town in the Isthmian Premier League, the nation’s seventh tier. That was back in 2003, and thirteen years later, Edinburgh is beginning to make a name for himself.

The first eight years of his managerial career, spanning spells at four different clubs, were unremarkable. Mid-table mediocrity at Billericay Town was followed by his first successful spell, at Fisher Athletic. The semi-professional side lured him away from Essex, and he gained promotion via the play-offs just five months after taking charge. Despite initial success, the fairy tale didn’t start there as only six months after promotion, he was sacked with his side struggling in the Conference South.

The early stages of his career as a manager are notable for their uncertainty. His next job, only a month after leaving Fisher Athletic, was as assistant manager at Conference National side Grays Athletic, but that then changed to a managerial role after Andy King’s dismissal only a handful of games after the Tottenham hero’s arrival. Again, Edinburgh didn’t stand out at Grays, lasting a year before leaving the club mid-table.

He followed that up with a brief spell as assistant manager at Woking, and then Rushden & Diamonds. It was at Rushden & Diamonds that he showed his first glimpses of quality. Assistant manager, then caretaker manager and then permanent manager once again, Edinburgh proved himself, leading the Northamptonshire side to a play-off place in 2010, finishing fourth in the Conference National and losing out only to a strong and well funded Oxford United side in the play-off semi-final. A devastating result for Edinburgh was even worse for his club, and just a year later the club went into administration and Edinburgh was gone, only months after the tragic loss of their goalkeeper Dale Roberts.

Given his record, some questioned the Basildon born man’s decision to take the job as manager of Newport County with the South-Wales side second from bottom in the Conference two months into the season. He proved the doubters wrong though, guiding the Exiles away from the relegation zone and taking them to a famous day out at Wembley for the FA Trophy final, which has gone down as one of the clubs greatest days despite the 2-0 defeat to York City.

 

The following season, Edinburgh won the Conference Manager of the Year award as he guided his side to play-off success, once again at Wembley, with victory over Wrexham, and a return to the Football League after 25 years away.

The side then stabilised, with a solid mid-table finish in their first season back, with Newport turning down an approach for his services from his former side Portsmouth. Their second season was the one which really turned heads though, as his side, with one of the league’s smallest attendance figures and smallest budgets, charged towards the play-offs. This run was what caught the eye of Gillingham, who hired him to replace Peter Taylor in February 2015. Newport’s collapse after his departure has been testiment to his impact; the Welsh side have won only 12 of 51 games in all competitions since his departure a year ago and now sit only just above the League 2 relegation zone.

At Gillingham, Edinburgh’s man management skills have been lauded, with Bradley Dack one of many to claim that their manager is the reason for their surge in good form, on an individual level as well as a team level. Sitting in 4th in League 1, sandwitched between ex-Premier League sides Wigan and Coventry, was an almost unimaginable scenario when he was hired with them sitting only four points clear of the relegation zone.

It will come as no surprise that the in demand boss has a great relationship with chairman Paul Scally, who will be hoping that he can fend off interest from a host of Championship clubs as the managerial merry-go-round gets back into full swing. At the very least, Scally and Gillingham fans will hope to hold on to him until the end of the season. It’s now 11 years since the club were relegated from the Championship after their first time at that level in their history, and they’ll be hoping to return in 2016.

In Edinburgh, they have somewhat of a play-off expert. With three play-off campaigns under his belt, he’s more experienced than most managers at the end of season excitement that it entails. In comparison to his competition, only Southend’s Phil Brown and Walsall’s Sean O’Driscoll can try to compete, with two play-off victories apiece, and that could prove vital when it comes down to the smallest factors in the hunt for promotion.

Most claim that Gillingham are vastly overachieving, and based on previous performances with a similar squad, it would be hard to disagree. Paul Scally has not invested heavily, with only five players permanently signed since Peter Taylor’s dismissal, and all on free transfers. Edinburgh has proved himself to be astute tactically, and a real man motivator.

While a move to Aston Villa was not on the cards in November, should they go down in May, he may prove a clever appointment. Based on his recent successes, you’d say that Edinburgh is destined for the top, but only time will tell whether he will become the next Adrian Boothroyd or Phil Brown, labelled “the next big thing” only to end up back in the Football League after a brief glimpse of the Premier League’s fame and fortunes. Gillingham fans will be hoping that he can achieve what both of those men did though, and lead them to promotion this season.

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