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PREVIEW: Fleet v Gillingham

Former Fleet player-manager Steve Lovell returns to the dugout at his old ground as he brings a strong Gillingham side to the Kuflink Stadium on Saturday.

The Gills have opted for ‘double-header’ friendlies this summer whereby they send two sides to different games, a mix of first-teamers and development players, but with Lovell opting to come to the Fleet while his coaching team travel to Dover, there should be plenty of first-team faces on show against Daryl McMahon’s side.

Gillingham finished 17th in League One last season but experienced a revival when Lovell replaced Adrian Pennock in the hotseat and they even flirted with the top 10 for a time such was their run of form at one stage. They have added to their squad in the close season, re-signing Barry Fuller from AFC Wimbledon to go with Josh Rees (Bromley), Anthony Cook’s brother Regan (Charlton), one-time McMahon target Brandon Hanlan (also Charlton) and former Birmingham City midfielder Callum Reilly.

There’s plenty of firepower in the form of Antigua international Josh Parker and top scorer Tom Eaves who is hoping to return after a spell on the sidelines with an injury and the Gills have been scoring goals for fun through July, a 3-0 win at Dartford midweek seeing their 27th goal and sixth win of pre-season.

The opposition will be a step up from what the Fleet have faced thus far and Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over Eastbourne Borough, where McMahon admitted his side might have scored 10, was pleasing enough for the manager.

“I’m really happy with things so far. I think we’re playing some decent stuff, everyone looks fit and sharp and long may that continue into the season,” McMahon said. “The Gills did alright under Steve Lovell after their poor start last season and we’re expecting this to be a tough match. It’s still all about fitness and sharpness but you want a performance still, whoever you’re up against.”

The Fleet boss revealed that Jack Connors and Freddy Moncur won’t be involved this weekend with neither player expected to make the final cut for this season’s squad. One who is looking to seize a second chance, however, is Bagasan Graham with McMahon saying the door isn’t shut on the transfer-listed wide player.

“He’s been on the transfer list but he’s doing well at the moment,” McMahon told eufc.co.uk. “I think his attitude has been good. The door is always open. If people perform and train well and they’re playing well, I’ll never shut the door on anybody.

“Bags’ biggest problem for me last season was inconsistency, being able to stay at the same level all the time, which is what we demand here. He found that tough but we’ve had a good chat during pre-season when he came back in and he’s working ever so hard. His talent’s not in doubt, it’s more keeping himself fit and prepared enough to produce that talent for longer periods of time. If he can do that, then he’s a hell of player and that’s why I signed him in the first place.”

Definitely out is Dean Rance who underwent surgery on Thursday for a groin injury and he’s expected to sit out the first four to six weeks of the season. Sam Magri and Andy Drury, both absent on Tuesday night, were back in training and expected to feature.

“Sam’s been back training now,” McMahon said. “With all the hard training work we do in pre-season, it can sometimes aggravate his shin splints. He had it last year, too; it’s just something we monitor that’ll probably be a minor issue every pre-season because of the sheer physicality of the summer routine  but it’s not a problem at all and he’ll be fine. Jukesy’s the same, no big issues, he had a tight calf, nothing major, so I expect he’ll feature too.”

* Admission is £10 (adults), £7 (concessions), £5 juniors and U12s FREE when accompanied by a paying adult. Season tickets are not valid for pre-season friendlies.
** Once again, there’s a 24-page matchday programme for this friendly, priced at £2 – with Part Two of our team-by-team preview of the new season plus a look at the first ever games between our sides when we were Northfleet United and New Brompton.
*** Car Park C at Ebbsfleet International will be open, costing £3. It’s a far safer bet than parking along Thames Way by the roundabout where your car is liable to be ticketed. Please park considerately and respect our neighbours’ residential areas.

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