By Jon Harries
Saturday saw the visit of Oxford United to Stadium MK and the return of former manager Karl Robinson. A reaction was needed from both sides after respective defeats on Tuesday night and it was a fairly even start. It was though the Dons that took the early lead, a flowing move starting with Fisher to Surman who carried the ball, laid it off to Ethan Laird who took on and beat his man and his deflected ball into the box fell kindly to Surman who caressed the ball calmly into the net. Oxford did respond but fantastic blocks by Harry Darling prevented shots at goal including a perfectly timed tackle in the box after it looked like Brandon Barker had got the beating of him.
Half time and the narrow lead intact, now time to push on, after all we have the reputation as a second half team. In all honesty though we didn’t really kick on and Oxford had the clear cut chances. Matty Taylor almost profiting on chasing down Fisher and then a big moment in the game when substitute Dan Ageyi took advantage of a short back pass and raced through on goal, Fisher came out to narrow the angle and as Ageyi took it round him and there was a collision. In my opinion I feel we were lucky to still have 11 men on the pitch as I felt the attacker would have scored or was at least denied a goal scoring opportunity. After that close call I’m sure we all thought we were going to hang on, Fisher making two good saves before heartbreak. In the last minute of added time a ball into the box found an unmarked Elliott Lee who headed in to spark jubilant scenes for the away side. It was so unfair particularly for Darling and O’Hora who had kept Oxford at arm’s length for the majority of the day.
Tuesday’s opponents Gillingham got a very respectable draw at Portsmouth at the weekend. Two goals within eight minutes of each other in the first half couldn’t split the sides. Sean Raggett scoring after a cross from Marcus Harness. Gillingham though responded sharpish after Vadaine Oliver took advantage of some bad defending to score. The second half was all Gillingham with Jordan Graham and John Akinde having the best opportunities. That’s four seasons in a row now Gillingham have gone to Fratton Park and not lost (2W, 2D) a very respectable stat.
Under the management of opposition fans Pantomime Villain Steve Evans, Gillingham have had a “streaky” season so far. They started the season well, being in the playoff picture after the first ten games, then went a period of time without a win. In their last 5 games they have won two, drawn two, and lost one. In particular the loss to Opponent last Tuesday was a shock given the form and lowly position of Opponent. On their day the Gills are a very tricky side to play mixing up the long ball to Oliver /Akinde with intricate passages of play involving Graham and Kyle Dempsey.
Jack Bonham is their regular goalkeeper; Connor Ogilvie is having a superb season at LB and the young CB partnership of Robbie Cundy and Jack Tucker are players to watch in the future (23 and 21 respectively). Dempsey was a phenomenal pickup in the summer, and former Don loanee Stuart O’Keefe is the organiser and enforcer in the team. Up top, the aforementioned Oliver and Akinde are a constant nuisance, with Oliver winning the most aerial duels in L1 this season. Jordan Graham is nicknamed “The Postman” for his constant threat and delivery from open play, and at set pieces, and is one to watch. Callum Slattery was also getting rave reviews before injury and at the time of writing is a doubt for the game.
Oliver Lee was brought in on loan from Hearts in January to add goals and creativity. He is no stranger to Gillingham having already had a loan spell with the Kent club. Brother of Oxford player Elliott and son of former Newcastle United midfielder Rob, he has an eye for goal and like Dempsey likes to arrive late in the box. Definitely something to watch is the late runners particularly if Oliver starts, as his hold up play is second to none.
Predicted Line Up
Laird – O’Hora – Darling – Lewington – Harvie
Surman – O’Riley – Fraser
Jerome – Grigg
Mason and Brown worked hard but weren’t really involved on Saturday and experience up top against a young defensive pairing will be key I feel. Both Harvie and Fraser went off with injuries, so fingers crossed they are OK for Tuesday night.
I’m going with a 2-1 away win. Gillingham have struggled at home recently and as I said earlier are showing streaky form. The first goal is vital and I’m going for Jerome and Grigg to score.
Don’t forget it’s a 6pm KO on Tuesday night.
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