Gillingham fell to a crushing last-minute 3-2 defeat in their final home game of SkyBet League One season at MEMS Priestfield Stadium, despite taking the lead twice in their battle against the drop. The Gills’ fate still lies in their own hands despite dropping to just one place above the relegation zone.
An own-goal had given the Gills a half-time lead after Zesh Rehman got up highest to head towards goal, however this was cancelled out by Ashley Hunter’s goal shortly after the break. A Rory Donnelly free-kick restored the Gills’ advantage but late goals from David Ball and Kyle Dempsey gave the Cod Army all three points.
Gillingham Head Coach Ady Pennock was able to call upon fit-again defender Rehman to slot into the back three, while Donnelly and Josh Parker also returned to the starting XI. With Joe Quigley missing out through injury and Bradley Dack
suspended for the remainder of the season, Gills youngsters Noel Mbo, Greg Cundle and Elliot List were named in the matchday squad.
In front of a big crowd at a sunny MEMS Priestfield, both sides felt their way into the game with the formations cancelling each other out, making the midfield congested and keenly-fought.
The Gills had the first chance of the game after a quiet opening. Ryan Jackson’s long throw was flicked on at the near post by Max Ehmer and was met by Parker but his looping header back towards goal landed on top of the net.
Besides a corner apiece, there was not much to write home about as the Gills managed to contain Fleetwood, but were unable to convert this control into sustained possession or pressure. Jackson was Gillingham’s best outlet down the right, and a chipped cross from the right back found Parker however, under extreme pressure, he could only divert wide as he contorted his body to make contact.
Tomas Holy made his first save just before the half hour mark as a corner was pulled back to ex-Gillingham wing back Amari’i Bell, however the goalkeeper reacted quickly to tip the shot around the post.
The Gills took the lead after 37 minutes as another superb corner from Lee Martin found Rehman, who rose highest to head towards goal and squeeze his effort onto the post and back into Alex Cairns with the ball eventually rolling home off the Fleetwood keeper.
The home side were now looking to attack and Jackson was tugged back as he looked to surge into the area, earning Gillingham a free-kick in a dangerous position. Martin’s delivery was pinpoint but a last ditch header kept the Gills at bay, with the follow up cross was also somehow cleared by the Cod Army defence.
Just before the break, a dangerous counter attack lead by Parker allowed Martin to cross into the box, but Cody McDonald
could only head over as he attempted to flick it into the far corner.
H/T: 1 – 0
The visitors had the first effort of the second period as Hunter cut in from the right, and with no options in front of him tried his luck from 30 yards, but blasted high and not-so-handsome into the Brian Moore Stand.
Martin, operating in the hole behind the two strikers, was causing all sorts of trouble with another whipped in cross having to be cleared from right in front of the keeper with Donnelly looking to pounce.
Fleetwood were back on level terms after 55 minutes when Hunter latched onto a knockdown on the edge of the penalty area to blast a first time shot past Holy and into the bottom-right corner of the net.
The Cod Army nearly took the lead just after the hour as they broke from a Gills corner. The ball eventually fell to Bobby Grant on the apex of the box. His shot bobbled past Holy but smacked into the upright and the Gils survived as they scrambled the ball clear.
Gillingham were back in the lead after 65 minutes through Donnelly’s free-kick. McDonald was fouled on the edge of the box, and Donnelly drilled the free-kick low through the wall, taking a slight deflection in the process, and in off the post.
nearly extended the lead in spectacular fashion as a Martin cross was headed clear and young midfielder cracked a first-time volley towards goal which bounced agonisingly off the post.
A mix-up between Holy and Rehman nearly gifted the visitors an equaliser but, as the ball popped clear, the defence got back to deny an open goal and Hunter’s chipped effort was claimed by Holy.
Fleetwood did get the equaliser after 80 minutes as a lofted free-kick was nodded on by Cian Bolger, with Ball getting on the end of it to flick home.
Both sides were desperate for the win leading to an open finale. Ball tried to get the winner but his curling effort from 25 yards was well off target.
Cundle came on for his home debut and immediately won Gillingham a corner after dogged persistence forced a Fleetwood mistake, but the set-piece was defended comfortably.
The Gills were behind in injury time following a lightning Fleetwood break which found Hunter down the right and his low cross was slotted home by Dempsey, giving Holy no chance.
Amazingly, Holy had the last effort for Gillingham. A free-kick was loaded into the box in the final minute and as the ball rattled around the box, the big keeper latched onto the ball but fired over the bar as the Gills fell to a heart-breaking defeat.
F/T: 2 – 3
The Gills face former manager Justin Edinburgh in their final game of the 2016-2017 Sky Bet League One season, travelling to Sixfields to take on Northampton Town.
Gillingham: Holy; Ehmer, Oshilaja, Rehman; Jackson, Wright, Hessenthaler, Martin (Osadebe, 81), Parker; McDonald (Cornick, 79), Donnelly (Cundle, 89)
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), Herd, List, Mbo
Fleetwood Town: Cairns; Eastham (Cole, 70), Pond (Bolger, 46), Davies; McLaughlin, Dempsey, Glendon (Burns, 70), Grant, Bell; Ball, Hunter
Unused subs: Urwin (GK), Brannagan, Nirennold, Schwabl
Attendance: 8,760 (172)