Published: 06:00, 09 March 2021
Kyle Dempsey has been hailed by Gillingham’s manager as the best central midfielder in League 1 ahead of the player's return to former club Fleetwood.
Dempsey was made captain of the Gills by manager Steve Evans following his summer switch from Fleetwood. The 25-year-old midfielder had spent the past four years with the Fylde Coast side. He makes his return tonight (Tuesday).
Ahead of his first return to the Highbury Stadium, home of Fleetwood, Dempsey’s quality at this level has been highlighted by Evans.
The Gills boss said: “Kyle Dempsey has everything in his game, energy, strength, passion, technique and pace.
“He is without doubt, for me, the best central midfield player in League 1 and he is showing it most weeks.”
Dempsey has got better as the season has progressed, netting a handful of goals since Christmas, including the winner at Charlton.
A flowing move on Saturday led to the second goal for Gillingham against Ipswich Town, Dempsey with the cross for Vadaine Oliver.
“It’s the best counter attack I have ever seen,” said Evans. “What a run from Dempsey and great contribution from Jordan Graham, Vadaine had to run 75-80 yards and Dempsey put in the most wonderful cross and you have to give it to big V, it is a stunning finish.”
Dempsey has recently thanked Evans for giving him the freedom to play to his best.
“I have got all my confidence back,” said the Gills captain.
“One thing that has probably been playing on my mind over the last couple of seasons is not being that productive, goal-scoring midfielder, and to get that back, probably shows credit to the gaffer to give me that belief again.
“Every time I go into a game I feel like I am going to get a chance to score.”
Fleetwood’s loss has been Gillingham’s gain this season. With Championship clubs showing an interest in the 25-year-old it remains to be seen how long his stay will be.
Dempsey has scored six times in 31 appearances for the Gills this season and has directly assisted five other goals.
Playing alongside him in midfield is vice captain Stuart O’Keefe, who has also been in great form since returning from a serious injury.
Evans described O'Keefe as the unsung hero of the team, adding: “He’s full of energy, incredibly fit, has great ability and is without doubt one of the best professional footballers I have ever worked with.”
Fleetwood beat the Gills 2-0 earlier in the season. Back then they were under the management of Joey Barton but he was dismissed in January, replaced by Simon Grayson, the former Blackpool, Leeds and Preston North End boss.
Grayson’s men beat Shrewsbury 2-0 on Saturday, a win that followed a surprise 2-1 victory at title-chasing Lincoln City. Back to back wins will have given the team much needed confidence. They’re now up to 15th in the League 1 table.
Gillingham won’t be short of confidence either after defeating Ipswich Town and MK Dons in recent days, while bossing the second half at Portsmouth in a 1-1 draw before that. They are now tantalisingly close to the play-offs, just five points adrift.
Looking ahead to the game tonight, Evans said: “They are in great form under Simon Grayson.
“They won easily at Shrewsbury and easily at Lincoln so that clearly shows the size of our task.
“They are full of top players, assembled at a big cost, and it will be tough for us but we must continue to focus on ourselves and that means being fully prepared as an individual and a team.”
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