Tuesday, 26 February 2013

PREVIEW: Gillingham Away (26/02/13)

A trip to spend a freezing cold Tuesday evening in February sat in Gillingham's 'temporary' open-air away stand would be a depressing enough prospect. But couple that with the fact that we will almost certainly lose – possibly heavily – and it soon becomes clear that only the most loyal/mental of Oxford fans will be making this trip.

Our season is now well and truly over as far as competing for promotion is concerned, with nine points to make up in the remaining 13 games on no evidence of any imminent turnaround in the club's form following a dreary goalless draw with a hopelessly out-of-form York. Gillingham, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength over the course of the campaign and currently sit top of the pile, two points clear of the similarly impressive Port Vale. If there is any hope at all for United, it is that Gillingham's home form is not spectacular – they've lost five of their 17 home games so far and only taken maximum points from nine of those. It's only a small crumb of comfort, but with Oxford winning four of our last six matches on the road it's enough to ignite just a small spark of hope.

There will be further reason for optimism for United as Gillingham will be without Cody McDonald after he was recalled by Coventry City, days after he netted their winner against Chesterfield. The bad news is that he could be replaced by Gills' top-scorer Danny Kedwell as he returns from a hamstring injury. As for us, there seems to be no further injury news to report (this must be the longest we've gone without an injury setback all season!) but we still await the return of Michael Duberry after he recovered from his injury – though he may struggle to oust the partnership of Wright and Raynes after two consecutive clean sheets. Lewis Montrose is unable to play against his parent club, so Wilder will be forced to make a change in midfield.

Our record against the Gills is one of the poorest imaginable, with no wins since 1986 – ten matches. In the five meetings between the two sides since we regained our place in the Football League, we shared just two goals – both of those going Gillingham's way. In fact, you have to go back more than a decade to find the last time we scored against Gillingham, when Mark Wright oversaw a 2-1 defeat. The last time the two sides faced each other was back in October, as we held the leaders to a 0-0 draw. A similar result this time would be considered a huge success.

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