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Mark Bonner predicts Gillingham will be a tough nut for Cambridge United to crack in League One clash

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Lloyd Jones in action for Cambridge United. Picture: Simon Lankester
Lloyd Jones in action for Cambridge United. Picture: Simon Lankester

Mark Bonner believes that Cambridge United will find League One draw specialists Gillingham a tough nut to crack at the Abbey tonight (Tuesday, September 28).

The U's secured a 2-2 draw with Fleetwood Town last Saturday, their third tied game of the campaign, while Gillingham clinched a 1-1 draw at Oxford, their second similar result in a row and the fifth game this season in which they have picked up one point.

It means that Gillingham sit 19th in the table, three points and seven places behind the U's.

“If you look at the last two, the draw at Oxford, 1-1, is a great result and a draw against Charlton, I’m sure they would have taken that,” said Bonner of tonight's opponents.

“As always, when you draw games you want to work out 'how do we convert that into three-pointers rather than ones?'. But, at the same time, if you can’t win, don’t get beat.

“I think where Gillingham are at the moment is they’re trying to find that stepping stone to winning performances, but at the same time they are showing themselves as a really tough team to beat and a tough nut to crack.

“Some good sides have failed to do that so far, so we know that will give us a challenge. How do we take that next step against them? Firstly, how to be competitive in the game because they’re a physical team, an aggressive team, they are going to give us a lot of challenges and make us defend our box.

“But secondly, how can we convert the chances we get and try to be dominant for spells? We did that on Saturday quite well, so it’s finding that balance in the game making sure we continue to put games together where come out with points.”

Gillingham are associated with a particular style of play under manager Steve Evans, but Bonner knows they also have a far bit about them having seen them close up, with the two sides having faced each other in pre-season friendlies and cup matches in recent years.

“With a lot of teams, you have an understanding of what the manager is about in terms of style, or in terms of the type of aggression and work ethic,” said the U's boss.

“You certainly get that with these. You have got to stand up to that physicality, they’ve got some good footballers too so you can be fooled by that physicality because they’ve got some pace and power that can carry it up the pitch.

“They have dribblers that can take the ball in midfield, players that can score from distance, players that are a threat from set-plays.

“We know they’ve got a vast array of options and ways in which they can go about it.

“But fundamentally, you know that physically you’re going to have to really commit to the game not just in terms of work ethic, but aggression, landing on second balls, defending your box brilliantly.”

Gillingham assistant manager Paul Raynor. Picture: Andy Jones
Gillingham assistant manager Paul Raynor. Picture: Andy Jones

Also in the opposing dug-out is Paul Raynor, the Gillingham assistant manager who Bonner recalls gracing the Abbey.

“I remember watching him a few times back in the day, shooting towards the allotment end before it was the South Stand when the old netting was put up to try to stop a few balls going through it,” he said.

“I used to enjoy watching him in midfield. It’s always good when someone comes back, and it’s quite interesting because pretty much every week someone comes back to the Abbey.

“It tells you how many people have been here in our history.”

Bonner is hoping that Lloyd Jones will be back in contention after missing the draw with Fleetwood through injury, but Wes Hoolahan is not fit to return.

Other than long-term absentee Greg Taylor, United hope to have a clean bill of health.

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