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Gillingham manager Steve Evans reflects on a challenging first half of the 2020/21 campaign

Gillingham have ground to make up on the play-off positions in the second half of the season but manager Steve Evans remains confident they can.

Evans admits it’s been a challenging first half of the season, putting together a fresh team in the summer, dealing with training problems and a catalogue of injuries, but with 23 games remaining they are still in with a shot of the top six.

Gillingham manager Steve Evans faces a big second half of the season
Gillingham manager Steve Evans faces a big second half of the season

The Gills reached the same stage last season on 32 points, four off the play-off places having just beaten Rochdale 1-0. They faced the same opponents on Saturday and were frustratingly held to a draw. This time they are at the halfway stage with seven points to make up on the top six and 30 points in total.

The likes of Crewe and Accrington are pushing the more fashionable clubs in the top half at present but Gillingham are hanging in there too.

Reflecting on the first half of the campaign, Evans said: “We couldn’t have started in a worse positon, turning up (for pre-season) with six players. We were training down in Canterbury because our training ground got contaminated and we took a while to build the squad. It has been one thing after another but we are still here. We are still fighting.

“We have strengthened the group and we hope to do a bit more business. We need to do it. It is real tough to win games, look at Ipswich and Charlton, but what we have is a lot of desire and a lot of commitment and a lot of passion.

“We certainly have a management team who are going to fight for everything we can.

“We are battling at times, pushing water uphill, we head and kick every ball and we have a group of young men who want to do the same and will represent this club with pride and with the effort that people who support the club and the people of Medway deserve.”

Evans’ first year in charge was all about consolidation and avoiding any issues with relegation. They ended the season sitting 10th, without any fears of being caught up in a battle at the bottom, instead ending with an outside chance of challenging for a play-off place before the regular season was halted early.

When first taking over as manager, Evans was targetting the 2020/21 campaign as one to really push on, with hopes of more resources in the budget. Covid put paid to that.

It’s left them once again trying to achieve what some see as an impossible task.

Asked on Saturday if promotion this season would represent his biggest achievement, Evans was unequivocal, saying: “Absolutely and it would be manager of the year.

“I remember the chief exec of Lincoln saying I would get manger of the century! He could be right.

“Our chairman is helping us every step of the way and he says, ‘Steve, it is not about resources and what we spend, we will spend to make sure there is a Gillingham football club kicking off in 2021/22.

“The government said they won’t allow clubs to go bust and that might be the case but they will be riddled with debt.”

A mid-season reshuffle has seen Olly Lee, Callum Slattery, Tyreke Johnson and Robbie Cundy signed as most of the summer loan players departed. The club are also back training at Beechings Cross, a big boost and a relief.

Travelling down to Canterbury to train in the summer wasn’t an ideal way to welcome his new band of players while closer to home they were using the facilities of the Royal Engineers.

Evans said: “Some days we were doing gym-based work when we should have been doing grass-based work, we were never ready. We were having to be careful who we signed, we lost the likes of Brandon Hanlan and Max Ehmer, that in any other year I am sure they would have been re-signed.

“Our chairman was quite rightly cautious, although both were made great offers, but were given the big money at Bristol Rovers. “We are back at Beechings now, we have been back for a couple of weeks, it makes such a big difference to morale, everyone coming in, we know where we are.”

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