A win for the fans, says Steve Evans.
Steve Evans said he could only “applaud the dressing room” after watching his Gills side dominate against Rochdale on Saturday, with John Akinde scoring twice in a 4-1 win at the Crown Oil Arena.
Gills were three up at the interval thanks to Akinde, Robbie McKenzie and Connor Ogilvie, with the striker converting a penalty early in the second half to put the result beyond doubt. Rochdale grabbed a late consolation.
Speaking after the game, the manager said he was delighted with the performance.
Commenting on whether it was one of best performance under him as Gills boss
“I think so. For large spells it was. I remember beating Doncaster 3-0 at home which could have been seven or eight. We beat Sunderland too. But to come here, and Spotland is always a tough place to come, you have to earn the right to play and Brian [Barry-Murphy...Rochdale boss] has put his stamp on it and they play some wonderful Football. I’ve seen them twice this season. He did say at the end we looked brilliant.
“There was no pressure on our players today; we said just go and play. We played with a lot of intensity and that is what was most impressive today and to be fair to Eccles and Robertson, I love them, they get on the ball and they were both fit. There has usually been the odd niggle, and the reason they came off is because we want them to be 100% going forwards."
“We worked on a certain plan after Tuesday, we knew the players we would be restricted playing without. We put our faith in younger players; told them we are going to believe in them and to go out and express themselves and play.
“I thought we did that all over the pitch; we are disappointed to concede at the end.
“We had four or five other chances; it could have been a real drubbing for Rochdale but the quality in the passing and movement was fantastic.
“That’s against a good Rochdale side. No-one does that to them and that’s credit to our players’ performances.
“When you have young players, like Robbie, Robertson and Eccles, you have to make sure they keep disciplined, focused and don’t think it becomes training ground like. We were still intense in the 90th minute and having counter attack opportunities and we should really score three or four more.
“Paul Raynor deserves immense credit; we have done a lot of work on that shape and movement. I think we carried on from the second half at Accrington; we asked to carry on that dominance and not the first half at Doncaster.
“It really was a brilliant performance and I applaud the dressing room. I’m disappointed for Jack [Bonham] at the end because he deserved a clean sheet; in fairness he’s had one save to make all day, nothing else. We would have taken 1-0 today to win a game after two defeats. We’ve got the win and it just happens to come after a super performance and I think the fans who have watched it will have a real boost going into Christmas.
“I’ve never come here and outpassed them and outplayed them like today. Their manager was extremely complimentary afterwards.”
Team selection/shape and playing McKenzie in more advanced role
“We’ve known for a couple of days, worked on Eccles and Robertson getting on the ball and McKenzie supporting John. The quality and energy from MacDonald and Dempsey too, and it worked. They will have wondered where McKenzie has come from!
“Rochdale are a good side, they have beaten Plymouth and Wigan away from home, but we’ve always said we have really good players and we have to give them the confidence to play.
“When I told the staff yesterday [about McKenzie] I think Paul Raynor’s eyes popped in his head! I said to him that Robbie has the energy to get around two midfield players who we really like; they are technically brilliant and can pass all over the pitch. Robbie got around them, was running off them and was a constant threat.
“I wanted someone who had the energy and was 100% fit to do it. I knew I was going to play Robertson and Eccles earlier in the week; I looked at who was fit and who was in the group. When I told Robbie and Paul, they both looked at me.
“I thought Rochdale’s formation, and the way they play, they would be expressive and dictate. I knew Robbie would upset that, and he did.”
Break before next game
“We needed this eight or nine days. We are very concerned of what is happening at Peterborough because I know a lot of the players, owners, directors and when they have COVID in the camp it’s a serious issue. As an opponent you have to respect it, but it’s come at a time that we will have no players available to us to select!
“Hopefully some big players will be back for Northampton, and challenging. The carrot I gave them before the game is Christmas Day at home with their families, subject to three points. They’ll be back in Boxing Day and we’ll get ready for Northampton which is really tough.
“We are frustrated with consistencies and injuries. We haven’t got Stuart, we haven’t got Jordan, we haven’t got Dominic, we haven’t really got Vadaine or Trae but you then need to ask your players to show bravery. Some of the intensity and closing down from the captain, MacDonald and McKenzie, who will be tired, was brilliant.
“We need some help; two or three players on the bench were not fit. Vadaine wasn’t, we spoke to Trae who was 70% fit. I know he wanted to go on, but as a professional manager I don’t want to put him on unless I need him, and that’s the same with Vadaine. When you play like that you want to play again two days later because it was such a good performance. We would have beaten anyone today. Consistency is the key factor in this league and, like Rochdale, we have lacked that.”
“He led the line, I had strong words with him before the game. We said just get on the end of passes from Robertson and Eccles, who I thought were terrific. Dempsey and MacDonald covered every blade of grass; it was a good performance, we need a break now, we need it because of the players we’ve not got available to us.
“When John plays like that it would be hard to play anyone else. Their defenders will go home tonight and think about what they have faced. When he plays like that he is equal to anyone in this division, we just need to get that edge out of him every week and the rest will take care of itself.
“Individual players set their own benchmark; we never ask a player to do something we haven’t seen them do before. John Akinde playing like that, there is no surprise to us because he’s played against my teams like that for years, and for my teams like that for years.
“They couldn’t handle him today. I was desperate for him to get his hat-trick but the chance never fell to him.”