Published: 06:00, 04 May 2021
Tommy O’Connor filled the void in central defence for Gillingham at the weekend and it was an easy choice for manager Steve Evans to make.
The loanee from Southampton had been a regular in central defence as a junior at St Mary’s but up until the weekend had been deployed as a midfielder of left-back at the Gills.
O’Connor was just moments away from helping the Gills to a clean sheet against Burton, filling in for injured Robbie Cundy.
Evans was impressed with the performance from the young Irishman but not surprised.
He said: “Tommy O’Connor was outstanding and that is the position he plays at Southampton. We have not utilised Tommy there before but I thought he did really well, he looked composed and strong against two decent strikers, in Kane Hemmings and the other big fella (Lucas Akins). Jack Tucker (his centre-back partner) was good as well.”
Playing O’Connor in a central role meant that Connor Ogilvie - his usual go-to man if there is a defensive shortage in the middle - could remain at left-back.
“Tommy has always been able to play there and we wanted a more natural balance,” Evans said.
“We wanted to keep Connor Ogilvie where he was most effective. Tommy was up against two powerful centre forwards, physical boys, and he stood up to it, him and Jack Tucker did really well.
"They didn’t cause us a problem, they had one other shot on target (other than the goal) and that’s it. If Jack doesn’t save that we have real problems but he did get beat with a good finish.”
Cundy had previously been out with a groin problem and is still struggling while Ryan Jackson, at right-back, was also missing with a knock from the previous week. Both failed fitness tests on the Friday. Jackson's position was taken by former Hull City player Robbie McKenzie, making his first start since February.
Only a 90th minute strike denied the new-look defence a clean sheet.
“They deserved one,” said Evans. “They didn’t at Oxford or Northampton because they didn’t do their jobs, they did this time, but they get kicked in the teeth.”