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Preview: Bradford City v Gillingham in League 2 at Valley Parade; Gills boss Neil Harris on facing a big challenge against Mark Hughes’ side

Gillingham manager Neil Harris knows his defence will have to be on top form to keep the division’s leading marksman quiet.

Experienced forward Andy Cook, 32, has 27 goals to his name this season for Saturday opponents Bradford City - 24 of those coming from his 42 league outings.

Neil Harris knows where the threats will come from against Bradford City on Saturday
Neil Harris knows where the threats will come from against Bradford City on Saturday

Cook got a goal against the Gills in a 2-0 win at Priestfield at the end of February, robbing defender Max Ehmer of possession, beating fellow centre-half Conor Masterson before firing past keeper Glenn Morris.

The striker’s been giving lower-league defences a hard time throughout his career but this season has been an exceptional one - under the guidance of former Manchester United legend Mark Hughes.

Those goals have helped Bradford chase promotion in League 2 this season - starting the weekend sixth in the table - and Harris is looking forward to seeing how his ever-improving side get on.

Harris said: “It will be the same type of challenge as we faced at home, against a very good side, they are only a point or so less than us in the form guide since January 1 which shows how well they have done, as well as us.

“They have fantastic players, really good players, Andy Cook upfront has been the best no.9 in the division this year and his stats back that up, not just with his goals but assists and the way he leads the line.

“My defence will have to be at their best to handle him and their front-line.

“They have individual ability in wide areas, if they decide to play their wingers, and real experience in the spine of the team so, coupled with a 20,000-strong crowd behind them (at Valley Parade), it is a test for us, but these are the challenges we want, these are the challenges we have earned the right to attack with a little bit of freedom and look forward to it.”

Harris’ men have three games left to play. Survival has been assured thanks to a stunning 2023, capped by a midweek win over league leaders Leyton Orient.

It’s a run of form the manager wants to continue and he’s unlikely to change much in the team that has turned the season around.

He said: “If you asked the core group of players who have been playing, mainly through good form, they all want to play, they want to carry on playing and being in the group. It’s not a question of taking people out for anything other than risk of injury, or illness.

“I will be picking teams to win games of football and like I always do, a thought process to the opponent but also helping us to get more points.

“I will have a little thought towards the future, when it comes to maybe off the bench. We have some players whose futures might have already been decided, by the club or the individual, no cross words, really good.

“If there is not a future for somebody it means they might not be involved, which might open up an opportunity for someone else.”

Harris has enjoyed some good times at Bradford, as a player and a manager. The Gills boss enjoyed a 3-1 win at Valley Parade in the League 1 play-offs in 2016 while manager of Millwall and then faced them again at Wembley a year later, beating them in the final.

Talking about his latest trip to Bradford, Harris said: “I have always enjoyed going there.

“It’s a football theatre, a great place, a big football club with a big fanbase at the level and no way should it be pitting its wits in this division but it is where they find themselves at the moment.

“They have a good team, an experienced manager, I have a lot of respect for Mark and his staff. It is the next challenge infront of us and an opportunity for us with the form we are in to go there with a bit of freedom, a great opportunity to go and express ourselves.

“I talked about the last six games being a mini season and we’re halfway through with four points and I think we should have had more. We know we can compete with the best sides now.

“Four points is a healthy return from three games against teams that are trying to get into the top three. We need to continue that form and the lads need to continue showing me that we are worthy of a top seven place next season.”

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