Doncaster Rovers v Gillingham: ‘Steve Evans has embraced all-things Gills’ – the opposition view
Just like at Doncaster Rovers, it has been a summer of change for Gillingham with a considerable new presence on the sidelines.
Steve Evans is in situ at the Priestfield Stadium and has overseen a major overhaul that has raised expectations at the club.
We spoke to Kent Online’s Gills writer Luke Cawdell to get the lowdown on Evans’ men.
Q: It's been a summer of big change for Gillingham. What shape do they find themselves heading into the first game and what are the expectations?
LC: Expectations have shot up over the summer with new boss Steve Evans bringing in nine new faces, with a couple more possibly on the horizon.
He's brought in players that can excite, like winger Mark Marshall and forward Mikael Ndjoli, and players who can sure up a weak midfield – one area he pinpointed as a weakness last season – , with former Cardiff man Stuart O'Keefe looking like a great addition.
Ouss Cisse has also come in, having helped MK Dons to promotion last season in League Two. Across the pitch the squad looks stronger in all areas.
Q: How has Steve Evans been received over the last few months?
LC: He was always the man likely to succeed Steve Lovell but fans were against the appointment. A poll we ran showed something like 70 per cent against bringing him in.
Chairman Paul Scally threatened to quit because of the hostility – some of those who complained on social media were offered season ticket refunds, with Scally making unannounced visits to their homes and work places – but brought him in anyway, insisting he was a good guy, and it's been so far, so good.
Evans has embraced all things Gillingham, he's moved to the area, he's held open training sessions and the promising signings he's made have helped win many around.
Q: There's the usual big turnover of players associated with Evans. How different are Gillingham to the side that finished last season?
LC: He insists he's working on the same budget as last season but it has been hectic, with a couple leaving and many more arriving.
The loss of leading scorer Tom Eaves and goalkeeper Tomas Holy were the major concerns but their replacements look decent enough.
Mikael Mandron hasn't got a great goalscoring pedigree, but neither did Eaves when he came in from Yeovil.
Another new forward is Watford loanee Alex Jakubiak, a player with plenty to prove.
It's a big change to the team, in shape, style and personnel. There's a new goalkeeper (Jack Bonham), a new centre back (Alfie Jones), new midfielders and new strikers. They looked good against Charlton and Millwall in pre-season but we'll have to see how it pans out.
Q: What has pre-season suggested about the system and style of play Evans will favour?
LC: He's been mixing it up but in the big games against Charlton and Millwall he went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mandron spearheading the team.
There is plenty of width in the side and Mandron should be able to fill his boots with the amount of crosses they are getting in.
Marshall adds a bit of x-factor to the side, while O'Keefe won't be pulling out of any challenges in midfield. Former boss Lovell liked his teams to attack but they would often then look vulnerable to the counter, something Evans has been working on.
Q: Who are the danger men?
LC: Mark Marshall has only just joined and is a little behind in fitness but looked bright against Southend in a friendly outing, linking things up well and getting balls into the box.
He's still got plenty to offer but whether he is fit enough to start isn't clear. New striker Mikael Ndjoli has pace and power, as does fellow front-man Brandon Hanlan, while Mikael Mandron will be a real handful with his strength and, on pre-season form, goals too.
We haven't seen much of box-to-box midfielder Matty Willock yet, as he was ill for a while, but he's back and comes from Manchester United academy with a glowing reference from Nicky Butt.