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MK Dons 0 Gillingham 0 reaction and highlights: Manager Steve Evans on their goalless draw at StadiumMK

Gillingham boss Steve Evans saluted his team's heroic display at MK Dons on New Year’s Day.

A goalless draw was hard-earned against a team chasing the promotion places in League 1 and came despite Evans’ men enduring a three week Covid-enforced lay-off and with several players still regaining full fitness following injury.

“It was an heroic performance,” beamed Evans, who has had to endure many set-backs in recent weeks.

“To have seven of that starting team back earlier this week from Covid, I was looking at the regulations to see if we could play the game, because some of them had breathing difficulties.

“We had three players on the pitch who trained on Friday, and we had to pull the session short incase they went down again.

“For them to work as hard as that against what I think is an outstanding team, in a great place to play footballer, our shape was good, we worked all week tactically on it, we did it on the big screen with the boys because we couldn't get them on the training ground because some were still struggling but they carried it out to a tee.

“The biggest complement I can give our performance in terms of how resolute we were, Jamie Cumming (the Gills keeper) had not made a save. You go to that stadium and watch how they play and the quality of players they have got and quality of player they introduce off the bench, how advanced they are in terms of openness, they make chances. It doesn't mean they win every week but they get lots of chances and we restricted that to long shots.

“We took (Vadaine) Oliver off. He had trained for half an hour, that is the first time he had been on the grass since Sheffield Wednesday away in November, that is a long long time ago, you are looking at Dan Phillips, Jack Tucker, Mustapha Carayol and they shouldn't be out there, we had to keep them on because they were in the heat of the battle.

“I think we made them (MK Dons) nervous when (defender) Robbie McKenzie went up there [to play in attack when Oliver went off]. He has a bit of pace and strength. Maybe on another day if we have a little bit more quality in their box but it is hard-earned point and it stops that run that has been awful.”

Gillingham had lost their previous five in League 1 and started the day second from bottom. MK Dons were a place outside the play-off places.

Evans has always been confident he would turn things around when his best players came back. He had Oliver and Max Ehmer back involved following injuries, Phillips starting after a hamstring issue, their captain Kyle Dempsey on the bench and for the first time in a while a full complement of substitutes.

It was certainly a solid way to start 2022.

Evans said: “People can see the difference between that performance and Liam (Manning, the MK Dons manager) is probably wishing we had gone there two weeks ago, or when we had academy kids all over us. That is not knocking the kids who we had on the bench still because we are light on numbers.”

There were top performances all over the park, in terms of effort. Phillips and Tucker, who played a defensive midfield role, were among the stand-outs for Evans, who added: “They were exceptional, all round the boys worked as hard as they possibly could and that is the minimum you need when you go to MK."

The Gills were clapped off at the end by an appreciative set of away fans, perhaps fearful pre-match of another defeat.

Evans said: "They saw a Gillingham performance that was 15 months ago, it was strong, physical, competed for everything. They didn’t give the MK players a second on the ball and you could see the fans they all applauded the players, they will gave gone home thinking, ‘yes this is our team’. It hasn’t been their team for the last six weeks.

"I said to my family when I left home for the match ‘we will be in the game’ and it has been hard to say that in recent weeks because I had to out so many youngsters in all at once, not just the odd one in, we have had two or three in and a bench of academy kids, which has been tough.

"When we put the squad out on Friday we were thinking, ‘we are taking men to Milton Keynes’ and I was really proud of them, if we had of lost late I would have still been proud of them because they gave it everything."

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