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Harris | "It's all about getting minutes"

Gillingham boss Neil Harris says Folkestone provided a great test for his squad following a hard week of training.

3 July 2022


Harris | "It's all about getting minutes"

Gillingham boss Neil Harris says Folkestone provided a great test for his squad following a hard week of training.

3 July 2022

Neil Harris pleased to get the desired minutes in the legs of his players at the BuildKent Stadium.

Neil Harris spoke to the media following Saturday's game at Folkestone, saying his players were given a great test following a hard week of training at Beechings Cross.


Q: Firstly, it must be nice to get the boys back on the field? It’s been a couple of months.

A: The result is irrelevant, but it’s always nice to score a couple of goals and keep a clean sheet. It’s just about getting the boys through the minutes. Training has been immense, I’ve got to be honest. The staff, what they’ve put together with the training, the regime, the physical regime and the enjoyable factor for the players whilst they’re working hard. Fair play to the staff for that.

Ultimately, the boys have worked extremely hard through May in particular and the start of June to come back ready for pre-season and to get minutes on the pitch. Of course, we’re rusty. I thought some of the players looked leggy as we’ve had a really tough week. We worked extremely hard over the last 48 hours, and that’s why we may have looked a bit leggy at times in the running sense.

However, it’s been a brilliant few days, and seeing the boys out there and seeing some of the young lads perform well, I’m really pleased.


Q: Winning isn’t the be all and end all of pre-season, but it must always be nice to kick off with a victory to have a feel-good factor?

A: Not so much of a feel-good factor, but it’s just nice for the boys to have a positive and nice for the fans that have travelled to support us. I would have liked to have seen a bit more quality at times from us, but we’re asking to play more football this year, and we are in the early stages, obviously.

It’s going to take us a good period to get used to it, especially with so many changes to the squad. Today was just about match minutes and managing Scott Kashket. I took him off after 31 minutes, and that was always the plan to take him off. He wasn’t injured or anything like that. He came in quite late, so to get him 30 minutes was important.

Ultimately, it’s what these games are for. It’s for a coach to get minutes into his players.


Q: Will Wright and Jake Turner didn't feature today. What was the reason for that?

A: Will Wright as a precaution with a little bit of a tight calf. He should train on Monday, no problem. We’ve got four weeks left in pre-season, and he’s trained in every session until the last couple, so just a precaution today. Jake Turner only came in on Thursday. That involved a long journey down from Newcastle in the process, so today was just too soon for him.

The same with Alex MacDonald. He’s been involved for the majority of the sessions, but we’ve just got to be mindful that he’s been out for nine months coming into this. You would have seen all of the boys here today, and Alex was here as well. He trained this morning at the training ground, so hopefully, he will get some minutes next week if that’s not too soon for him.

We’ve got a behind-closed-doors friendly a week Wednesday against a Championship club, and he will be available for that as well.


Q: With the academy boys, a few of them got opportunities to show you what they could do. What were your thoughts on them as a collective?

A: I’m pleased. However, I think it’s important that we don’t judge the academy lads too quickly. The fans that have been here will have seen some bright sparks and a couple that weren’t at their best today. Ultimately, they’re going to have a little look and think: “He’s good, and he could be around the first team!”

I like some of the players, and I think some of them have potential. It’s down to the academy staff and me and my staff to make them better. While we’re light in numbers, what an opportunity it is for the football club to showcase some of the players that we’ve got, and what an opportunity for them today to come and play in front of 1000 people and play in a first-team environment.

That’s what pre-season is for. Some of them again will get an opportunity next Saturday at Dover, and it’s down to them to impress again.


Q: Hopefully, from your point of view, you’ll get a couple more through the door before you go and visit your old friend Hessy next week?

A: I don’t want to start making promises on anybody incoming now. Hessy is here today, so I’ve seen him already and will see him now for a drink, and I look forward to seeing him and his group next week at Dover.


Q: It must have been nice to put away the phone for a bit and focus on the Football?

A: Yep. The horrible bit now is that I’ll get my phone out and see what missed calls I’ve had!


Q: It was a good test though, a physical test. Especially in the first half, they’re a big team, aren’t they?

A: I was watching the warm-up and couldn’t believe how big Folkestone were! It was a great test, and they are a group that has come together the same as us, and I thought there were some elements of play from both teams that was good. I thought that we looked good in spells, and I thought that Folkestone played some good bits as well. I thought we had no real shape to us defensively because we’ve done nothing defensively.

There’s been a little bit with the ball, but so far, it’s just been some generic sessions. Keep ball and passing drills, so we’re nowhere near the identity of how we want to play.


Q: You had five trialists in there today. Anyone that stood out?

A: We need lads in, and we need to have a look at them. We need to be sure that when they train with us that we see them in a match environment. There were some good parts to it, and some that I didn’t like the look of for moments in games. That’s just reality, I suppose. We’ve got an opportunity, especially in pre-season, to look at lads and take them in and give them the chance to impress.

What it does is gives them the chance to look at us as well and look at how I work and what the demands are, then see if we’re a good fit.


Q: What can we expect from the week ahead for the players? You have a game on Tuesday at Deal. Is that just for the academy players?

A: Just the youth team. No full process to any senior [players] or trialists on Tuesday night. That’ll just be the youngsters. I’ll be there to watch to judge those lads again, and even some of the lads that played today, the youngsters won't play Tuesday either. It will be a very young side that goes to Deal.

The plan ahead will be to work hard and to prepare for next week. We will work hard this week. We will work hard next Thursday and Friday, and there will be some fatigue in the lads next Saturday as well, but that’s what pre-season is for. It’s making sure that the lads get everything that they want going into the games.

The games are just a bolt-on to what we do during the week. What we will be able to do this week is a bit more structure to our play, with and without the ball. Again, it’s about adding players to the group when we want to do structure stuff and coach and develop as a group.

It’s important that we work with the 13 senior players that we’ve got, but the real important stuff comes when we have 15, 16 and 17 players. Getting bodies through the door is still the priority.


Q: Just catching up on some of the players that you have got. You’ve got a decent goalkeeping department now, haven’t you? Two good goalkeepers there.

A: We’ve got two excellent goalkeepers. Two goalkeepers with huge potential in the game. Ash Maynard-Brewer came in first, and we saw glimpses of him with the ball at his feet and his handling as well. I’ve seen him over the years, and the references on him were ridiculously good in people’s opinion on how good he’s going to be.

I think that it’s a massive surprise that he wasn’t Charlton’s number one this year, but that adjusts when a new manager comes in. We’re pleased to have him, and Jake Turner has come in from Newcastle with a huge pedigree. There’s loads to learn and loads to develop, but I’ve got a young goalkeeping coach who develops goalkeepers.

In the environment of the goalkeeping department, they’re both determined and aggressive in their approach to wanting to play. They also have a mindset of wanting to develop and be better. The fight for them to be number one is going to be interesting this year.


Q: Scott Kashket comes in to add a bit of something up front, although he can play elsewhere?


A: Scotty is an off-the-shoulder type of player. We saw today with a couple of bits of movement. He only did the 30 minutes, which was pre-planned. He can also play on either side, so if I want to play 4-3-3 and I want to use him off either side, then I can do because he runs behind and links the play. Ultimately, he likes to get in the six-yard box.


Q: You only played him for 30 minutes. Is that because he hasn’t trained much?

A: He was three or four days behind the group. We started on the Wednesday, and he came in on the Monday and didn’t train on the Monday, so his first session was Tuesday. To go past the 30 today would have been dangerous. We did a 30-minute in-house session with 11 v 11 on Tuesday, and Scotty didn’t play.

Scotty’s had his first 30 minutes today, while everyone else has played 45. When we go to Dover, Scotty may be at 45 or just past it, and the other lads will be past that. Managing minutes is key, but we have to be methodical with it.


Q: You say past that. It could be 45 minutes at Dover, or do you think some will do an hour?

A: It’s early days, and I’ll try and give you a steer during the week to the fans, but some players will certainly play longer.


Q: Josh Chambers wasn’t here today; what is the situation with that?

A: I can’t imagine that Josh will be at the football club. We offered him a great contract, and I’ve personally gone to great lengths to want him to stay, but if players don’t want to play for our football club, then it’s their decision.


Q: Olly Lee played behind the striker in that top position today. It seemed like he enjoyed that?

A: Olly’s been an eight or a ten all of his career until last season. We inherited a group that lacked a sitting midfield player, and with Olly in that position, we kept eight clean sheets in 18 games. It just sort of worked to a certain degree. He’s not at his best when he plays in that position, but will he play there this season? Yeah, he might well do in certain games. What we see with Olly is that he can play all three positions.

What you can see with Shaun Williams is controlling the football, and his positional play is going to be the best in the division. Stuart O’Keefe and Dom Jefferies are players that play as an eight, but they can drop in and run, and their physical attributes are a joke. What you can see on the training pitch when they’re in the running tests is that they’re so far in front of everybody.

Olly gives us something with the football that we maybe miss in the ten position with a midfield player that maybe someone like a Ben Reeves gives you as a ten. It’s important that you get that blend in midfield, and I feel that I’ve got it.   

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