'It's not looking good for Boxing Day' - Gillingham struggling to raise team as Covid hits squad
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Gillingham are set to assess whether or not they are able to fulfil their Boxing Day clash with Ipswich Town over the next 48 hours.
Kieran McKenna is scheduled to lead Town for the first time at Priestfield on Sunday, but the game remains in doubt as the Kent side continue to deal with a Covid outbreak within their squad.
Steve Evans’ side needed to postpone last weekend’s game with Crewe after six players tested positive for the virus, according to a report by Kent Online, meaning the Gills were not able to meet the EFL’s criteria for games to go ahead as case rates across the leagues rise.
Teams must play on if they have 14 available players, including a goalkeeper, and it's reported Evans' side were still short of that figure once they returned to training earlier this week.
Chairman Paul Scally has told Kent Sports News that his side have just seven outfield players in training, plus two goalkeepers, and that 'it's not looking good' for the game to go ahead.
“We’ve got six injured players who would otherwise be starting, we’ve got five players with Covid who are isolating and we’ve got one player and two members of staff who potentially have Covid, tested yesterday and are waiting for PCR tests," Scally said.
“Apart from that, we have a number of staff, matchday staff, stewards, catering staff who have called off because they are either isolating of they don’t want to come and be in public places at this moment in time.”
“You can’t play with seven players, that’s for sure. It is a real problem and we are all in a bit of a quandry in life at the moment, what to do, what not to do, what to do for the best, how to keep people safe.”
“From a personal point of view, I feel a little bit uncomfortable asking fans to come into the stadium if they feel uncomfortable in doing so and I think a lot of people will be looking twice at that even if we were able to play.”
“I will talk to the manager this morning to see if anything has changed and I will talk to the Football League, but my guess with the number of players injured and the Covid players, you can’t put them straight into a football match when he’s come out of a Covid situation.”
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“It’s not looking good for Boxing Day right now, but like I say, I will talk to the League later today.”
The EFL have stated they are not currently looking to pause their games programme in response to rising Covid cases, with Town CEO Mark Ashton insisting he believes it’s right to play on.
“My personal position is that we play on, because if we have a circuit breaker now I don’t think there’s a set period of time where we could guarantee when we could return,” he said.
“I sat on the EFL board for three years during the first wave of the pandemic when we stopped playing. That was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t so easy to get everyone started again and that brought a whole host of new challenges.
“So my own position is that we test and we get on with it. I know that’s going to be difficult and challenging, but I don’t see the football calendar easing up.
“My preference is if we test and we have enough players then we probably have to play."
Town have already played at Priestfield this season, with Joe Pigott and Conor Chaplin scoring in a 2-0 Papa John's Trophy victory at the start of October.