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Oxford United v Gillingham preview: Steve Evans hopes they can maintain their League 1 play-off push at the Kassam Stadium (kick off 5.30pm)

Gillingham manager Steve Evans is confident his team can produce an upset this weekend.

The Gills face an Oxford United team who are bang in form and three points above them in the League 1 table. Evans’ men have had some extra time off this week and returned to training fresh and eager to go again.

Manager Steve Evans gave his players extra time off this week ahead of Oxford United match.Picture: Barry Goodwin
Manager Steve Evans gave his players extra time off this week ahead of Oxford United match.Picture: Barry Goodwin

Evans said: “We made the decision many weeks ago for the boys to have a couple of days off, to freshen up, they have come back in remarkable shape.

“Training has been of a real high quality, there is a real freshness about the group, the skipper walked into training saying he feels so good. They are fresh, ready and eager to play.”

Oxford put six goals past Crewe and four against Shrewsbury in their last two, results which saw them climb above the Gills.

“Currently they are fantastic,” said Evans. “Any team is that goes to Crewe and scores six. It could have been more. I watched them score four against Shrewsbury and we couldn’t score against them.

“They are an excellent squad and they have many many gifted individuals. We don’t hide from the fact that we will have to be at our best to compete with a really good Oxford side, especially one who are in the form they are now.

“We are very capable of going to Oxford and making it a contest but at the same time if we are not, we will get a Crewe or a Shrewsbury, because they are very gifted.”

The Gills need four wins minimum from their last five to stand a chance of the play-offs. Peterborough United await them in midweek.

Evans said: “We are going to need to produce the form of our lives but I would rather be an outside contender than not a contender at all.

“We have to go to Oxford, work extremely hard, stop a lot of their strengths and execute our plan to the fullest.

“They are a a big spending club but if we can go and win we are level points with four to go, it is incredible, ones resources are near the top end and we are at the bottom.

“Resources don’t win games though, it is heart, desire, commitment and passion and then the ability has to come out. We have had all those traits except that little bit of quality and that has cost us (drawing 0-0 at home to Shrewsbury last weekend).

Gillingham beat Oxford United 3-1 earlier in the season at Priestfield .Picture: Barry Goodwin
Gillingham beat Oxford United 3-1 earlier in the season at Priestfield .Picture: Barry Goodwin

“We will keep working as hard. We need five big performances now. If we get 15 points I think we would be in the play-offs but that is a tall order.

“If we lose at Oxford then quite simply we have to win the last four to even have a chance and we may still fail. I remember at Rotherham when we went up second behind Gillingham (in the 2012/13 League 2 table), we needed a run of wins to get into the automatics and we did it.

"We are capable, it might not take us there, but teams will lose games unexpectedly, the pressure tells, we have seen that in midweek.

“Two points slipped through our fingers on Saturday but we don’t get too high, or too low, we keep the group very level. We have come back into training with a real freshness and buzzing.

“We understand what we have to achieve, four wins from five and we have to go to Peterborough, Oxford United and Burton and two tough home games, Northampton fighting for their lives and Plymouth.

“Let us try and take it to four games to go. Let’s come out of Oxford with something to add to our tally, or results to go for us, let’s take it so we are still in contention when we go to Peterborough United on Tuesday.”

The Gills kick off at 5.30pm on Saturday, with all EFL clubs moving their fixtures to avoid clashing the funeral of Prince Philip, which takes place in Windsor at 3pm.

Evans remembers fondly the last time he went into a Saturday evening fixture.

He said: “The kick off for this game changed three or four times, it was going to be early on the Saturday, then we got a request from Oxford to make it on the Friday and we agreed to that, then they came back and said they didn’t want that, it had to be a Saturday, so we went for Saturday night.

“The home club always have the prerogative on 99% of this and we fit around. It is an unusual time, it is what the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal do. It is testament that these clubs get themselves and their bodies ready for whenever they play.

“I am looking forward to it. The last time I kicked off on a Saturday at a similar time I was manager of Crawley and we were away at Manchester United.”

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