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Hollands & Blair follow up a 7-4 loss against Herne Bay with a determined performance against Gillingham’s youth team at Star Meadow

Hollands & Blair manager Luke Jessup was feeling a lot more optimistic on Tuesday night than he had been after a 7-4 weekend loss.

Southern Counties East Premier Division Blair lost 4-3 to Gillingham’s youth team at Star Meadow just days after conceding seven against Herne Bay.

Hollands & Blair manager Luke Jessup was pleased with his team’s response. Picture: @hollandsblairfc
Hollands & Blair manager Luke Jessup was pleased with his team’s response. Picture: @hollandsblairfc

Blair had been five goals down against Isthmian South East Bay before salvaging some credibility from the game but a midweek clash against Gillingham’s full-time youngsters was more like it for Jessup.

“There were a lot more positives after the weekend,” said the manager.

“Dean Grant gave us more of a presence up front. Maybe, on Saturday, we were there in body but not mind!

“We have a lot of young kids we are trying to develop, with Preston Kedwell just 15, Devonte [West] who is only 17 or 18 and Connor Tilley (on a season-long loan from Chatham) just 19.

“From Saturday to Tuesday there was a stark difference, a massive difference, and it stems from asking them to be brave.

“There was no magic potion, nothing we’ve done differently in those four days, we just said ‘let’s go out and be brave, be aggressive, everything that Herne Bay were at the weekend’ and I think it showed.

“There were some great passages of play and it was good to go 1-0 up.

“There were mistakes we still want to iron out. At the weekend we went one down, two down, three, four, five down and although we got it back to 5-4 at one stage, it was a capitulation and when it’s not going quite your way then we just made it worse for ourselves.

“On Tuesday there were a couple of moments where we could have done the same but we have come back with some credit. Our keeper didn’t have the greatest game on Saturday but you can see he had learned some things.”

Blair were up against a full-time Gillingham team on Tuesday and their athleticism showed at times. Jessup knows his own team need to maintain good fitness levels to compete.

He said: “They are double-busy, the best thing we can take from the fixture are the learning curves but the fitness, you can see where these kids are at, you have to mix it with them and keep up with them. We aren’t a million miles away and that’s the art of pre-season.

“We have another four games and play Faversham Strike Force on Saturday and Ashford on Tuesday and this is what it’s all about. We have got to make sure we are progressing and learning and I am double positive about it.”

Kedwell, son of Gills legend Danny Kedwell, was on the scoresheet with a header against Bay and slotted in a late penalty against Gillingham.

Jessup’s looking to keep the young forward around his squad in the early weeks of the season. As a 15-year-old his game-time will be limited but he turns 16 in September.

He said: “Danny speaks highly of him, obviously. I hadn’t seen too much of him but he came in at the weekend, he is a lovely lad, doesn’t say a lot in a changing room full of men and we have to be careful with safeguarding, but we are excited about him.

“He scored a header and it was brave scoring between a couple of defenders, a well-taken goal. We would love to play him more but we are mindful that he is 15 and we need to manage that a little bit.

“It’s two goals in two and fair play to him. Dan wasn’t wrong. He said he can do bits and we all looked at each other on the bench with raised eyebrows as he just slotted the penalty away.

“That was probably one of the biggest crowds he’s played in front of but we are shaping that kid’s future.

“It’s not just him. I loved what Connor Tilley did [on Tuesday], Devonte is still young, Charlie Wright, the keeper [Jack Reeves] is still 16. There are a few golden oldies but we sprinkle them in for a bit of nous and experience.

“Maybe we could have won [against Gillingham] but what we got out of the game is learning curves and all the boys afterwards were in the changing room laughing and joking, which is massive for us.

“I want the group to enjoy it. We win together, we play together, we drink together, I think that is how it should be, I want us to create a bond. We are in it together as a group.”

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