By Tony Leighton
Gillingham will put behind them a stop-start Sky Bet League 1 season, says left-back Joe Martin, to strive next term for a return to the promotion-chasing mode they were in during each of the previous three campaigns.
When Martin joined the Gills from Blackpool towards the end of 2010, the Priestfield Stadium club were attempting battle their way out of League 2 after being relegated following just one season at the higher level.
In both that campaign and the one that followed, an eighth-place finish meant agonisingly missing out on the Play-Offs. "It was frustrating," Martin told football-league.co.uk, "but the fact was we didn't achieve our goals."
The goals were achieved last term though, when with Martin Allen as manager Gillingham won League 2 and stepped up with hopes high that they could continue their upward trajectory with a crack at promotion to the Championship.
Instead a poor star led to the dismissal of Allen but, while under his replacement Peter Taylor, the Gills have improved, they have disappointingly spent practically the whole of the season in the bottom half of the table.
With two games remaining and sitting six points clear of the relegation zone, they are all but assured of retaining their League 1 status. But, admits Martin, it has not been the campaign that he and his colleagues had hoped for.
"We came into the season with our aims probably a bit too high," said the 25-year-old defender, who began his career at Tottenham Hotspur and is the son of the former West Ham United favourite Alvin Martin.
"Consolidation was a more realistic aim than another promotion," he added. "We've shown against some of the better teams in the division that we can more than compete, but we've not produced that form week-in, week-out.
"We've got the capability to do well in this division and at times we've punched above our weight, for example beating Wolves who've won the title convincingly. But inconsistency has been our problem and that has to change next season."
The Gills can put down a marker for next term in their final two games of the campaign, at promotion-chasing Preston North End on Saturday and then at home to a Shrewsbury Town team that are staring relegation in the face.
Martin said: "We don't want our season to peter out, we want to finish on a high. Last year after we'd clinched the League 2 title we took our foot off the pedal, and that didn't help with the start of this season.
"So this time we want to go out with a bang and set ourselves up for a good start to next season. We've shown we can match the better sides in this division, and so next time around we want to be competing at the right end of the table."
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