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Salford City 0 Gillingham 1: Match reaction from Gills boss Neil Harris after League 2 victory

Gillingham manager Neil Harris praised his side’s adaptability after making the changes needed to give them the edge at Salford.

The hosts looked bright and assured early on and Harris didn’t wait until the interval to switch formation, moving his players around midway through the opening half.

Report: Salford 0 Gillingham 1

Gillingham went in level at the break and were more than a match for the play-off hopefuls when the sides returned for the second 45 minutes.

Cheye Alexander’s penalty conversion won the points for the Gills - his 84th minute spot-kick separating the sides for a 1-0 away win as the League 2 regular season came to an end.

Harris had brought Oli Hawkins back into the side to partner Tom Nichols upfront, as one of four changes, and said: “We looked at a slightly different shape. I thought the diamond worked with the football but not against the football and that is why we changed to a 4-1-4-1 during the first half.

“Credit to the players for taking information on during the game and then at half-time as well. Barring a five minute spell I thought we dominated the second half of the game.

“It was a really positive finish for us, against a good side who have played well at home this year, a side that beat us 3-0 at home before Christmas.

“I will leave it for other people to judge on the outside as to who was the better team but there certainly wasn’t a lot between the teams. I thought we had the better chances .

“That is where we want to be next season, we want to be a team that doesn’t fear coming here. It is going to be a good league next year, really good, we need to make sure we are competitive.”

It’s been a stop-start period for the Gills since their last home game against Newport County at Priestfield on Saturday, April 29. Final-day fixtures were moved to the Bank Holiday Monday to avoid clashing with the Coronation which gave the team an extended break between fixtures.

“I didn’t quite know what to expect from the group,” Harris admitted. “Last week (against Newport) wasn’t quite us was it? We were a little flat and lacked a bit of energy.

“We made sure we prepared correctly for the game, I gave the players a couple of days off around the player awards evening (last Sunday). We were back in for a couple and then a couple more days off to keep fresh. When the boys came back in on the Saturday and Sunday they were terrific, really good.

“I streamlined the squad with the players that are likely to be here next year and the players who aren’t likely to be here, they didn’t travel. That gave us a little bit of a purpose and a focus.

“I thought the performance was excellent, against a good side that dominate the ball, we did really well.

“We went more aggressive with the two up top and played with a diamond to get after the ball. With the ball we were fine, without the ball you become a bit open when you play a diamond at times, when we adjusted the shape I thought we were a much better team.

“For the ball they got, getting into the wide areas, they didn’t really cause us any problems and ultimately we went in at half-time disappointed that we weren’t 2-0 up.”

Harris’ team were playing for pride while Salford had a play-off place on the line. They got a top-seven finish but only after a few anxious minutes waiting on the pitch for the Mansfield score while the Gills celebrated with their 754 traveling fans in the away end.

The Gills boss made changes to his side. Tim Dieng was injured but Jayden Clarke got his first start in place of Alex MacDonald.

“Sporting integrity meant that I didn’t want to make wholesale changes,” he said. “I wanted to be competitive, I didn’t want to put too many youngsters in. I could have put Josh (Chambers) and Joe (Gbode) in from the start as well as Jayden and then change my goalkeeper and various other players and that would make it look to others that we weren’t going to be at it, and that was important for me.

“Timmy had a hamstring from last week so he was injured. If it was a play-off final then he would have played but there was no way I was taking a risk with him.

“Shaun Williams we know wasn’t available (through injury) which left us with the opportunity to have a look at a couple of players but not make wholesale changes. Jake (Turner in goal) was excellent, Jayden performed very well.”

It was the players off the bench who won it in the end as left-back Lewis Page was fouled for the penalty and right-back Alexander stuck it in the top corner.

“The subs helped us a lot,” said Harris, who also put Alex MacDonald and Chambers on. “Those fresh legs and energy kept us on the front foot and none more so than the penalty.”

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