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Lincoln City v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One

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Fan Focus: Gillingham fan Lewis describes their new manager Neil Harris as a “top appointment”!

Ahead of Sunderland’s fixture with Gillingham today, Matty spoke to writer Lewis Browning about his side’s upturn in form under new boss Neil Harris!

Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton: Gillingham sit just four points above the relegation zone with six games to go, are you confident of avoiding relegation?

Lewis Browning: I’m very confident, and that’s as much down to ourselves as it is the other teams.

When Neil Harris took over we were 10 points from safety and had just lost 7-2 at home. Now we’re four points clear and have momentum on our side.

The five teams below us are stumbling over each other and I think the points total needed to stay up this year will be really low, but we can only do what we can do.


MC: Steve Evans was sacked earlier in the season with the club inside the relegation zone, what were the factors behind his demise at the club?

LB: I think our squad was naturally weaker and the division harder this year.

We’ve had issues with a transfer embargo so our squad was thin and pretty poor, and injury issues tore us apart for ages.

He didn’t really help himself with his attitude and words and I think everyone agrees it should’ve ended a lot earlier than it did. It was a hard time.


MC: He was replaced by former Millwall and Cardiff boss, Neil Harris, how did fans react to this appointment and how has he performed so far?

LB: Fans were buzzing. I think everyone can agree we are punching above our weight with Harris at the helm, and he’s proven to be a top appointment.

As I said before, we’ve picked up massively and we’ve improved defensively with six clean sheets in 12 games, which I think is a pretty big thing. He’s professional, focused, and top quality.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Tom Flanagan scored the winner when the two sides met earlier this season.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

MC: Vadaine Oliver scored 20 goals for the Gills last season and he is your top scorer again with eight goals this season - is he the main player that Sunderland should be wary of?

LB: I believe so. Going forward isn’t our strength but V is our focus and, as you say, top scorer.

Everything goes through him and he’s our biggest threat, so yeah, he’ll be one to focus on for Sunderland.


MC: Aside from Oliver, which Gillingham players have you been impressed with this season who could cause Sunderland damage?

LB: We’re decent at the back now. Aaron Chapman has impressed since coming in between the sticks and our back three has been solid, particularly Conor Masterson.

Ben Thompson has replaced Kyle Dempsey in midfield and is a top player, and Charlie Kelman is starting to find his feet up top too.


MC: On the other hand, where would you say are the weaknesses in your side?

LB: Definitely going forward. We’ve struggled in that area all season, and it’s been a shortcoming of ours.

We’ve got better, and our defensive improvements have meant we haven’t had to be great going forward, but our lack of goals has definitely been the weak point this campaign.

Sheffield Wednesday v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One
Vadaine Oliver scored 20 goals in all competitions for Gillingham last season.
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

MC: In terms of style of play, Gillingham were incredibly direct under Steve Evans, has this style continued under Neil Harris?

LB: It has, but I don’t think that’s an active decision as such. It’s been very much a defend-first focus, there’s little pressure on the opposition and we’re more than happy to let teams have the ball.

Oliver has then been our outlet, but we’re still very much finding our feet when we’ve got the ball. I think it’s a matter of Harris making the most of what he’s got until the summer.


MC: Which eleven players do you think Harris will select against Sunderland?

LB: We don’t really have too much to choose from right now!

Unless there’s anyone coming back from injury, which I think is unlikely, the XI will probably be as follows, in a 3-5-2 formation: Chapman, Tucker, Ehmer, Masterson, Jackson, Thompson, Lee, Phillips, Tutonda, Kelman, Oliver.


MC: Sunderland are unbeaten in four matches against Gillingham, what is your prediction for the final score?

LB: I’ll always back us to get something under Harris, especially with our good form and improving morale.

Sunderland are fighting too and the pressure is on them, especially with them at home. I think it’ll be 1-1.

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