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Finding it tough to build on their strong first half of the season during a difficult January, a relieved Oxford United side secured all three points last time out to move back into the top six, amid the mad scramble for playoff places.
In a highly competitive division, Karl Robinson‘s men had been held by Cheltenham and then suffered successive 2-0 defeats heading into last Saturday’s home clash with third-tier giants Sheffield Wednesday, so fighting back from a goal behind with half an hour to play will do wonders for their confidence.
Matty Taylor‘s brace – bringing him to 14 goals for the season – set the stage for a late Sam Winnall winner, as the former Wednesday striker headed home the deciding goal to end his old club’s hopes of taking a point.
Now two points clear of Plymouth Argyle, who are their closest challengers in seventh, Oxford must surely aim to improve their patchy away record if they are to safely secure a place in the post-season proceedings.
Just four wins from 12 attempts on the road to date tells the tale of not only a certain fragility on enemy territory, but also the team’s relative strength on home soil.
Without the Kassam Stadium faithful to roar them on this weekend, the U’s will nonetheless expect to pick up three valuable points, due to their opponents’ seemingly endless woes both away and at home.
Following a rare clean sheet on Tuesday, Gillingham could be poised to name the same back four that started against Shrewsbury, which would see German centre-back Max Ehmer joined by Jack Tucker at the heart of the hosts’ defence.
Caretaker boss Steve Lovell brought both John Akinde and Daniel Phillips in to the starting XI and afterwards spoke of their positive impact, so the former could feature up front and the latter will be hopeful of retaining his spot in the engine room. However, fellow midfielder Ben Reeves remains sidelined through injury.
Top scorer Vadaine Oliver should be brought back into the team after attending the birth of his child on Tuesday, meaning Charlie Kelman would go head-to-head with Akinde to join him up front.
Meanwhile, Oxford’s Herbie Kane misses out once again as he completes a three-match suspension following his red card against Lincoln earlier this month.
Karl Robinson will be forced to make a change in defence, as centre-back Jordan Thorniley was recalled from his loan spell by parent club Blackpool – Luke McNally should therefore return to the side.
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After his 13th and 14th goals of the season helped the U’s to victory last weekend – the second being his 50th goal for the club – Matty Taylor will again lead the line at Priestfield.
Gillingham possible starting lineup:
Dahlberg; Jackson, Tucker, Ehmer, McKenzie; Lee; Phillips, O’Keefe, Dempsey; Kelman, Oliver
Oxford United possible starting lineup:
Stevens; Long, Moore, McNally, Seddon; Brannagan, McGuane; Williams, Bodin, Holland; Taylor