Home   Medway   Sport   Article

League 2 form sides Gillingham and Carlisle United clash at Priestfield on Saturday; Manager Neil Harris previews the match

Two of the form teams in League 2 with very different targets go head to head at Priestfield on Saturday.

The Gills are edging towards safety - and might already have done enough - while visitors Carlisle United head to Kent sitting third in the table and vying for an automatic promotion spot.

Manager Neil Harris would love a result over a top League 2 team Picture: KPI
Manager Neil Harris would love a result over a top League 2 team Picture: KPI

They may sit at opposite ends of the table but few teams can better Gills’ form over the last 12 games. Only Carlisle and Stockport have picked up more points.

“What a challenge for us,” said Gills boss Neil Harris. “Playing a team that are third in the league, consistent all season, but we are a team right at the top of the form guide.

“We are in a position where we can look forward to those big games, the tests against good sides, to see where we are at. Moving forward for the rest of the season and into next year we want to pitch ourselves against the best players in the league and see where they are at compared to us.

“We are in form, I love playing here (at home), the crowd are right behind us, it is going to be a good occasion.”

The Gills have won six of their seven home games this year. Bradford are the only team to have taken points away from Kent in 2023 and both of their goals were handed to them on a plate.

Carlisle are a handy team home and away, picking up a point at Bradford in the week after a goalless draw, enough to move them up to third in the division.

Harris said: “Carlisle are a good side, having a really good season and Paul (Simpson) has done a terrific job. They have quite a big squad, so when players are injured or out of form they can put other players in, they have been very consistent over a period of time in how they play and they have some real attacking threat.

“It’s another challenge for us, one we can really enjoy and attack. We need some more points but we need to build on performances against the top sides - that's the challenge for us over the last nine games of the season. We have to step up our game against the best teams.”

Neil Harris celebrating a home win - they've been coming around frequently this year Picture: Keith Gillard
Neil Harris celebrating a home win - they've been coming around frequently this year Picture: Keith Gillard

The Gills aren’t mathematically safe but only a monumental collapse would now leave them in trouble.

Harris doubts the team in the bottom two would be able to catch them now.

“I think it is tough (for them),” he said. “Rochdale 15 points, I would be amazed if they could claw back that against us.

“It will be tough for Hartlepool to catch us now, they will have their sights set on probably Crawley and Colchester in particular rather than ourselves, but that is down to us to make sure we don’t find out way back into their thoughts. You only do that by sustaining a standard of training and professionalism and performances on the pitch and I alluded to that after Walsall.

“My ask to the players is keep those standards, don’t step off an inch, don’t give anyone around us a thought process of reeling us in but let’s chase teams above us. We have got tough fixtures infront of us and to enjoy them you have to keep the momentum.

“We have to pick up some more points before we can really start relaxing in the games and playing with no fear and complete and utter freedom.

“We want to stay in the division and we are edging that way. Carlisle want to be in the top three and they will want to come and beat us. They play 5-1-2-2, they are very good at it, they get a lot of bodies forward, their wing-backs get on and they ask a lot of questions defensively. It will be a tough game."

Harris expects to be in the technical area this Saturday - although a touchline ban and a fine could be incoming after his dismissal on Tuesday night.

He was sent off for some “choice words” to the officials after Oli Hawkins’ goal was ruled out for a foul. Replays show it should have stood. Harris asked for an apology from the officials but when asked on Thursday his phone hadn’t rung.

Neil Harris sent off at Priestfield Picture: Gillingham FC YouTube
Neil Harris sent off at Priestfield Picture: Gillingham FC YouTube

Harris was also asked about a substitution mix-up in stoppage-time on Tuesday and says he hopes lessons can be learned - by the officials.

His team had put in requests for two late replacements (with Will Wright and David Tutonda ready to come up) but the referee started play before the second of the two subs could be introduced.

The Gills boss said: “That was nothing to do with us, absolutely not. I expect to go to the pre-season meetings with the officials and for them to maybe use that as an example.

“I have watched it back, we have got our cards in. What has happened is the game has restarted while we are trying to make the second sub, the fourth official has tried to make it but the game’s restarted. What should have happened is the referee should have blown the whistle and gone, ‘too soon, take it back.' We ended up having a phase of play and the ball went out for a throw. There was no harm done in it but that is nothing to do with us.”

Teams can make five substitutions in a game, during three windows of opportunity, along with an addition chance at half-time. The mix-up from the officials meant the Gills made changes on four occasions.

Having picked up his second red card since taking over at the Gills, Harris admits he might need to reflect on his own actions. He was angered at the decision to award a foul against his striker Hawkins, having not had a single one go for the big front-man all game.

“It is probably a balance I need to do better,” he admitted. “It is hugely frustrating. It was a terrible decision, a shambles. It didn’t have any impact on the game but could have done.

“People don’t pay a lot of money on tickets to come and watch decisions like that.

"That’s a few referees who have made poor decisions for us and for the amount of duels in League 2, for my centre forward not to get a single free-kick over the course of 99 minutes, it is not possible. That was my frustration.”

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More