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Gillingham's League 2 campaign starts on Saturday at AFC Wimbledon

Gillingham will be pushing for an instant return to League 1 but manager Neil Harris is realistic about their chances.

It’s been a busy summer of recruitment for Harris as he looks to build a team to win promotion this season. The league campaign starts on Saturday with a trip to AFC Wimbledon. Both teams were relegated from League 1 last season.

Promotion is the aim but Neil Harris knows competition will be tough for Gillingham. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Promotion is the aim but Neil Harris knows competition will be tough for Gillingham. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Harris, on Gills’ aims for the 2022/23 season, said: “Honestly, I don’t know. We want to get promoted, that is the aim.

“I think realistically with where budgets are at in the division [the] top-seven would be a real sensible starting point for us.

“But with so many new players I have to be honest - we could blend straight away or it could take us a few games to get going. I am being realistic.

“I want us to improve as a football club to where we have been in the last 18 months, I want us to get back to League 1 as quickly as we can, whether that is this season or next.

“I want a team that I enjoy watching and coaching and a team that the fans enjoy watching, sometimes that is being more direct and sometimes passing the ball on the floor and that is down to me to coach the team to make the right decisions.”

Gillingham were relegated on goal difference last season while weekend hosts Wimbledon were three points worse off, ending the campaign second-bottom of the table.

An away crowd of around 1,200 is expected at Plough Lane for the season opener.

“It is a good one,” said Harris. “Not a local derby but a southern derby, in this league, two teams that have just come down, different ideas from different managers.

“I know I was here last year but anyone who has watched the games [in pre-season] has seen we are a completely different set-up to what we were forced into last year and Wimbledon under Johnnie [Jackson] could be completely different.”

Gillingham have had a productive pre-season, managing to avoid too many injuries. Loan keeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer dislocated his shoulder and will be replaced while Stuart O’Keefe (knee) has been sidelined for a week.

Following their pre-season, Harris said: “Before they even came back to training, there is a lot of work that goes into it, the lads deserve to look forward to next week, it is a new group, there are some really good characters in there.

“I am going to be asking a lot of players this year, minutes-wise and personality-wise. We are going to be quite young and we need leadership.

“It is down to me to get it out of them, they will look forward to it, they will enjoy the start of the season and we will be excited for it.”

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