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Press article:

Gillingham fear Pullis will wreak his revenge - 07/05/2004

   Adeola Akinbiyi
   Stoke City

Stoke's former Gillingham contingent will be desperate to send their old club down in Sunday's make-or-break clash for the Gills.

That's the view from the Priestfield as they gear up for a game they must win to be certain of relegating Walsall instead. Gillingham coach Wayne Brown even believes Tony Pulis is actually revelling in his old club's predicament.

"I think he's enjoying it," said Brown. "They also have a couple of former players in Carl Asaba and Ade Akinbiyi, and I'm sure they are waiting for us to come up to have a right go."

Pulis, however, would hate to think his current club might ultimately be responsible for relegating his old, wishing he could merely relegate his old chairman and adversary Paul Scally instead.

Asaba, if fit after recent Achilles trouble, may have an axe to grind after being criticised by Scally and jeered by supporters on Stoke's last trip to Gillingham in November.

But Akinbiyi, still popular with the Gillingham faithful, is a non-starter this weekend after spending the past five weeks resting a back injury.

Gillingham start the game just two points (and a better goal difference by two) clear of Walsall as the pair scrap it out to avoid the misfortune of accompanying Wimbledon and Bradford into the Second Division.

Walsall must beat Rotherham at home and then hope Stoke can do them a favour 50 miles up the M6. Gillingham were favourites for the drop until a 2-1 win at Wimbledon, but then blew the chance to confirm their First Division status by losing 5-2 at home to Coventry last Saturday.

"It's a big week," added Brown, "but it was just as big last week before the Wimbledon game because I think if we'd lost that then we'd have been dead.

"But it's in our hands. If we draw, then Walsall can win by three clear goals and stay up, so we have got to go and try to win.

"It'll be a terrific game and a terrific atmosphere up there. I'm sure if we can take 2,500 to Wimbledon we can take three or four thousand to Stoke.

"It's a massive game for the club. We don't want to go down and it all comes down to 90 minutes now. We'll get something up there and I'm very confident it will be a win, but if it's a draw we'll keep our fingers crossed for Rotherham at Walsall."

That Coventry debacle could persuade player-manager Andy Hessenthaler to drop goalkeeper Steve Banks and recall last season's player-of-the-year Jason Brown.

Banks, on loan at Stoke last season, was taken from Wimbledon following injury to Brown earlier this year and initially impressed between the sticks.

But now Brown has all but overcome the thigh injury sidelining him since early February and could be pitched in for the club's biggest game since winning promotion four years ago. That promotion campaign included a play-off semi-final win over Stoke, of course, and Hessenthaler will be praying for a repeat of the wonderful injury-time goal with which he turned the entire tie at the end of the first leg at the Britannia.

Hessenthaler himself is expected to line up in a five-man midfield alongside the likes of Nicky Southall and, injury permitting, newly-crowned player-of-the-year Danny Spiller.

One to watch: Patrick Agyemang - The former Wimbledon striker will test Stoke for pace at the back.

The Sentinel

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