'Excellent': Gillingham boss delivers this honest verdict on Sunderland after late winner
Neil Harris praised an 'excellent' Sunderland performance after watching his Gillingham side fall to a 95th minute defeat at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
Harris' side have been much improved since his arrival in late January and though they offered little attacking threat here, they defended resolutely and looked to have claimed a valuable point in their bid to beat the drop from League One.
Sunderland's persistence finally paid off when substitute Nathan Broadhead beat the otherwise excellent Jack Tucker to an inch-perfect cross from Elliot Embleton, lifting the Black Cats back into the play-off places with six games to go.
"I thought Sunderland were excellent," Harris said.
"For spells of the game they made it really difficult for us to get out of our own half, I think they showed the quality they possess.
"You look at the front four that have started, tens of millions they have moved for at stages of their career. They caused all sorts of problems early on, which we were able to deal with. At times we looked really comfortable even if we didn't have much of a threat ourselves.
"I felt this would be our toughest test between now and the end of the season. Obviously it's tough to take when you concede in the last minute, and it's an avoidable goal, but sometimes you have to say fair play to your opponent.
"In spells, they played very well today.
"It's tough to take for Jack [Tucker], who might well have been put down as man of the match because he stood up to so much through the match. But I said to the whole group afterwards, if you want to compete against the big clubs and in the higher divisions, you have to play for as long as the referee says you have to play. Good players found a way to score against us today."
Harris was asked whether he was disappointed with his side's lack of attacking threat through the game, and chose instead to praise Sunderland's defensive structure.
Danny Batth returned from an ankle injury to make his first appearance under Alex Neil, forming a strong partnership with Bailey Wright.
"I think you have to say that Sunderland had two experienced Championship centre halves, and they dominated the middle of the pitch," Harris said.
"We didn't create as much as we have done in the other games I've been here, but to be honest I didn't expect much different. This is probably the game I've feared most in my time here because I knew the quality they've got and also the work that Alex [Neil] would do during his two weeks without a game.
"I'm not in a position to judge my players for what they didn't do, I want to praise them for what they did do for 96 minutes, knowing full well that producing that level of performance and desire will stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.
"I don't think conceding a late goal at Sunderland will define our season."