Gillingham boss Neil Harris is happy that his squad are facing teams with plenty to play for.
The Gills are all-but-assured of League 2 football next season, sitting nine points clear of the drop zone with five games to play.
But they’ve got a testing run-in against a number of sides hopeful of featuring in League 1 next term.
Gillingham lost 2-1 at second-placed Northampton on Easter Monday. They now host third-placed Stockport at Priestfield this Saturday and leaders Leyton Orient are the visitors on Tuesday night.
Harris’ men also have trips to top-seven sides Bradford and Salford in their remaining matches.
“That’s the importance of playing these tough fixtures at the end of the season,” stated Harris.
“I can assess my players against them and see where we excel or fall a little bit short. We need to play better teams.
“We’ve had some fantastic results, home and away, and rightly so because we’ve dominated teams.
“When you’re coming up against the best sides over the course of the season, they deserve to be at the top of the league.
“Stockport won 4-0 (against Newport on Monday) so they’re vying for automatic promotion and then Leyton Orient are going to be champions and we also go to Bradford and Salford. They’re brilliant fixtures and they’re the games that I want now.
“We’re very close to achieving the goal since Christmas of getting to safety so it’s not about stepping backwards or relaxing. It’s about pushing ourselves and challenging ourselves to the end of the season.”
It wasn’t just the 90 minutes against Northampton that gave Harris lessons to learn.
He’s watched their recent games, and will know exactly what it takes to get into the top three ahead of next season. It’s where the Gills want to be under their new owners, Brad and Shannon Galinson.
“Me seeing Northampton on Monday and us against them, being able to watch the game back and watch their players and their games leading into this one, was a great learning curve for me,” added Harris.
“You have to play against what’s in front of you. The fixture list falls the way it does.
“I really look forward to being back at Priestfield for back-to-back games, Saturday-Tuesday, challenging games for sure against two of the best teams in the league in my opinion and that’s what I want at this stage of the season.
“I’ve got players who play well at home and don’t really fancy it away from home in my opinion so we’re quite fortunate the next two games are at home.”
Harris certainly learned that his players were struggling to play against a different formation than their own.
Having started the game with a 4-4-2, the Gills boss switched to match Northampton’s 3-5-2 at the break - because his players were making “poor decisions”.
“It eliminated decision-making for the players,” stated Harris.
“You end up with three centre-halves against two centre-forwards, wing-back against wing-back, two centre-forwards have to play against three and it’s man-for-man in midfield.
“When I say to the players at half-time it’s really poor decisions in the first half, it just limits those decisions and we looked better second half.
“I thought first half we got out-fought. We lost duels, when the space becomes too big you have to start making decisions in football and we continued to make poor decisions.
“Personality-wise there’s not enough communication on the pitch, we can really help each other by a little bit of talking and demanding the ball.
“Having said all that there’s not a lot in the game, we got to 83 minutes and it was 1-1.”
Max Ehmer made his 350th appearance for the Gills on Monday.
He had one season away at Bristol Rovers but has largely been a mainstay of the club’s defence since making his debut against Port Vale in November 2014.
“A great servant for the football club,” reflected Harris. “I didn’t think it was one of his greatest games so he’ll be disappointed with his own performance in being in a losing team on the road again.
“It’s a great achievement for a player in the modern game to stay at one club - I know he’s been away - to make that amount of appearances for one club, fair play to him.”