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Gillingham v Harrogate preview and team news: Manager Neil Harris looks ahead to League 2 match at Priestfield on Saturday

Tuesday night’s EFL Trophy win has ‘got the Gills back on the right footing’ ahead of the weekend visit of Harrogate Town.

The Gills gained plenty from a match against Leyton Orient, in a competition that isn’t high on anyone’s priority list, with a team win and plenty of positive individual performances too.

Connor Mahoney was impressive for Gillingham in their midweek EFL Trophy match Picture: @Julian_KPI
Connor Mahoney was impressive for Gillingham in their midweek EFL Trophy match Picture: @Julian_KPI

The likes of Conor Masterson, who captained the midweek side, winger Connor Mahoney and striker Macauley Bonne, along with playmaker Jonny Williams, all impressed.

“Tuesday really helped,” said the Gills boss, ahead of their return to League 2 action.

“What we have to make sure is that we use the positive result and performance to galvanise and drag us forward, but we’ve done really well since January, a fantastic run.

“We had a bad week results wise (losing to Colchester and Grimsby), with Luton in the middle, which was a brilliant performance and a great night for the club.

“Tuesday certainly helped us to get back to a good footing within the building and fans can come here optimistic and excited about the weekend game.”

The Gills start the weekend third in the league and it’s set to be another busy day at Priestfield, with the Rainham End expected to sell out for the third game running.

Harris’ men beat League 1 Orient 2-1 in the EFL Trophy, a welcome boost after the weekend defeat at Grimsby.

“It was a really good game of football,” Harris said. “Both teams took it really seriously. Orient were very good, for 15 minutes in the first half before and when they scored they played really well, then we had large chunks of the game where we were excellent as well.

“I thought two teams played extremely well at times and shows the competition can be of value sometimes, sometimes it cannot, but the other night helped both managers, certainly us with the performance and the result.”

Macauley Bonne’s season starts now says the Gillingham manager Picture: @Julian_KPI
Macauley Bonne’s season starts now says the Gillingham manager Picture: @Julian_KPI

Harrogate won in the Trophy this week too, beating Nottingham Forest under-21s 2-1. That game followed an 8-0 thrashing by Blackburn in the League Cup and a 1-0 home loss to Barrow.

They’ve won two and lost four in League 2. Their man man upfront, Luke Armstrong, remains at the club after a big-money move to Wrexham on transfer deadline day fell through, after paperwork wasn’t filed in time.

Looking at their opponents, Harris said: “They are a League 2 team that can compete, with some experience, and a defensive mindset, they stand strong and defend their goal and they have some mobility as well with a counter-attack threat, but also being able to build play and what has been a huge part of their game for 18 months two years has been Luke Armstrong upfront and whether he is available or not remains to be seen.

“As we found at Grimsby and Colchester here and all the games we have won, with narrow victories, if you are not at your best then League 2 is very difficult this year, that is the clear and consistent message that we need, in house, we have to be at our best to get results.”

Those senior players who impressed midweek will be pushing to start on Saturday.

Striker Bonne was playing catch-up on his fitness this season after joining late but was a real threat in midweek. Harris says his season starts now.

He said: “Macca is a hard-working centre-forward, he runs and runs, so to get him to that standard and him at his absolute best will take time still.

“When you start pre-season everyone starts on the same footing, when you come later even though you seem fitter you are still half a yard behind, but he has completed the sessions, completed the minutes.

“I think he is a goal away from really exploding into life. I am absolutely delighted on where he has got to and for me, Macauley Bonne’s season starts now.

“Everyone else had their pre-season bedding in period, Macauley has had his pre-season bedding in period during the first few weeks of the season, so to have him where he is at now, that is a real bonus for us.”

Gillingham defender Conor Masterson is pushing for a start in the league Picture: @Julian_KPI
Gillingham defender Conor Masterson is pushing for a start in the league Picture: @Julian_KPI

Mahoney was a star man for the Gills in midweek.

Harris said: “Connor has done really well since coming in, electric in training, a super character with real ability.

“I think there has been a couple of games where has been very close to that end product, a couple of shots blocked, a couple over the bar, a couple of passes that I expect him to make haven’t quite made it.

“I am not talking about simple 10 yard passes but 25-30-yard defence-splitting passes and switches of play that 99 times out of 100 he would make, but he has not quite made them. Why is that? Probably because of his lack of football over the last couple of years, but we saw him burst into life in the second half the other day.

“Even before the red cards he got into great areas and his delivery was outstanding, hopefully with Connor, like with Macauley he has found his bedding in period and can really kick on.”

Centre-half Masterson hasn’t started a league game yet this season but he captained the side on Tuesday, with Shaun Williams rested and Max Ehmer an unused substitute.

“Con is ready to go as well,” said the manager. “He was brilliant for us last year and in his first spell here, under me. He is a really good centre-half, he is certainty going to move up the ranks as the years go by.

“I just think he had leadership qualities that we needed and we can let him flourish under.

“Conor missed a large part of pre-season and first week of the season, so he has had to be patient.”

Tom Nichols and George Lapslie hadn’t trained on Thursday and along with Dom Jefferies are expected to miss out again. Ethan Coleman serves the last of his three game suspension.

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