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Gillingham 3 Southampton 1: Manager Neil Harris reaction to Gills’ Carabao Cup first round victory at Priestfield

Gillingham manager Neil Harris felt his side’s Carabao Cup victory over Southampton could have been even more emphatic.

The Gills dominated the first half and were arguably even better in the second as they put three goals past a side who are being tipped for an immediate return to the Premier League this season.

Gillingham celebrate as Robbie McKenzie scores against Southampton Picture: @Julian_KPI
Gillingham celebrate as Robbie McKenzie scores against Southampton Picture: @Julian_KPI

Report: Gillingham 3 Southampton 1

While the Saints made 11 changes from their first game in the Championship on Friday, the Gills made five from the weekend, and it was Harris’ League 2 outfit who deservedly progressed to round two of the competition, winning 3-1.

Gillingham had the best of the chances all night, with the Saints getting a goal back on 90 minutes, and Harris said: “Let’s start with the negative, if we want to be really picky, it was a poor goal to concede.

“I said to the boys afterwards, first and foremost it was a great result and performance, but my disappointment was that the scoreline should have been greater.

“It should have been by more than two goals, we deserved more out of that.

“It was a fantastic performance, we made five changes to the starting XI and all five players made a contribution, all the subs came on and made a contribution and the best thing for me is that the team I picked for the weekend was excellent and the team I picked (against Southampton) was very good also.”

Robbie McKenzie scored twice in the second half after Ashley Nadesan had bagged a first-half opener. They were two of the five players brought into the XI following the weekend win at Stockport.

The Gills led 1-0 at the break but didn’t let up against their Championship opponents, who added star man after star man from the bench in a bid to get out of trouble.

“There was a moment in the second half where they couldn’t get out of their half,” said Harris.

“Our press was so good and aggressive and that doesn’t just happen for a game, it takes time to work on it. It took time to work over the course of pre-season, then you have to pick the right shape and the right way to play against certain teams.

“I felt we had to contain, contain and contain but when the ball went backwards and sideways we could go after it, then it is down to the players to step on and do it and I thought at times we nailed it.

“There were times we got it slightly wrong, when they had one-versus-ones, and then you rely on your goalkeeper or a bit of luck and our only bit of luck came from them hitting the bar. Other than that, I think the saves Glenn (Morris) made weren’t world-class saves, not like he made last year, they were routine saves from 20-25 yards - whereas at the other end we have had four or five chances within 12 yards.”

With McKenzie in the team, along with Shad Ogie and Max Ehmer, the pre-match assumption was that Harris would go with five at the back against a higher-league opponent, but in a game with nothing to lose, he played his two-goal man in midfield.

“We could have easily gone to a back five,” he said. “We could easily have camped on the edge of our own box, played a 5-3-2 or a 5-diamond-1, we could have easily done that, but I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to play on the front-foot.

“I’ve said before that we want to attack teams, we went aggressively at Stockport and absolutely bossed the game for 38 minutes and finished the better team for the last 20 minutes by going two up [top].

“We want to attack teams, we don’t want to step backwards. We went with a 4-box-1 with George Lapslie playing a hybrid-eight, a 10 or a four, and he did it really well. The first 15 minutes I thought we dominated, we got one and should have got another, Shad’s header, Ethan (Coleman) should have scored with a header.

“Robbie scored with a header which was disallowed, and it’s never a foul by the way on the goalkeeper, and we limited them to very little on the transition.

“At half-time the message was clear, ‘well done, but don’t settle for that. Come on, what do you want as a group? Do you want to win the game or do you want to settle for a good first half?’. They responded brilliantly, the lads, I thought up until 75 minutes we absolutely bossed it.”

Southampton introduced a host of subs including the dangerous Carlos Alcaraz, who pulled one back, but the damage was already done. It's the Gills heading into round two of the competition.

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