Published: 21:00, 23 September 2020
| Updated: 09:19, 24 September 2020
Gillingham manager Steve Evans admitted he was worried about how Wednesday night’s match was going to end.
He was down to the bare bones for the third round Carabao Cup match at Stoke City and fielded a team with an average age of 22, including a first appearance of the season for 18-year-old goalkeeper Joe Walsh, with no cover.
Newly signed striker Dominic Samuel missed out as his paperwork wasn’t complete in time and that meant he was two players short of a full matchday squad.
In the end, the Gills only lost by one.
Evans said: “I said to the chairman before kick off the game worried me, it was a big test and we had so much youth out there, with limited options off the bench.
“I was worried for Joe incase he had a moment of madness and got sent off and we have no other goalkeeper but I said to the boys after, ‘be very proud of what you have done, although it should hurt as we’ve lost’.
“I said to the players before the match that I would be really proud if they just worked hard and gave us everything, that part they delivered, maybe the little bit of quality we needed wasn’t out of the locker.”
Stoke won the match 1-0 thanks to Tyrese Campbell’s first half goal.
Evans said: “First half we did really well in terms of organisation and shape, heading there with very limited resources, as low as it can get really.
“We had a number of young players and I am immensely proud of them. They are babies.
“We had Joe Walsh, who was playing in what I would call a first proper game for him, he’s playing against a Championship club who have fielded a full-strength side but you also look at the back four, aged 21, 22, 20 and 22 going across the back, we have two boys in midfield who are teenagers and Henry Woods making his proper debut as well, in terms of starting (Woods’ previous starts have come in EFL Trophy matches).
“It was hard work for us but we had a real shape, real discipline, a couple of half chances that came our way in the first half, balls across that we should have got on the end of.
“We gave a poor goal away, it has to be said, it’s a simple ball up from the back that gets cut out and they counter attack and score but we said second half, ‘just keep our shape and keep our discipline’. Those are top, top players at Championship level. We might have got that one chance but we never created it really, apart from a few set plays we put into the box with no real quality.
“Stoke go through and we wish Michael (O’Neill their manager) very well but you’re talking huge, huge resources to very limited. We were there with the bare bones as people could see.”
Evans has gone for quality over quantity and that does have its risks. Recent injuries have been a big test but he was happy with he can see in his young team.
He said: “We said we were going to go young. We have heard that from managers before but we are going young with quality.
“I look at that back four and I thought Robbie (McKenzie) was outstanding at right back, that was certainly his best game for us. He was up against a brilliant player in James McClean, an outstanding and full international for Ireland and you look at Robbie and he was very good.
“Maghoma got a run out and that would have done him the world of good in terms of them running into spaces, that will bring him on. Medley gets better but was sloppy for the game.
“Connor Ogilvie could play for Stoke, that’s a reality, he probably would play for Stoke if he was there. In midfield you look at the three lads we have there, Matty Willock 21 or something, Henry making his full competitive proper debut who in thought was excellent, got very tired late on with cramp and young Scott Robertson, he is a footballer, he gets on the ball. He put in a hell of a shift.
“Jordan Graham and Trae Coyle worked really hard and they are boys who you have to be given the ball.
“They are kids. I said to them it’s like a kindergarten at times when I walk in and they are talking to their mummies and daddies (on their phones) but I was really proud of them.”