Gillingham clinched three vital points and rose to 17th in SkyBet League One, four points clear of the relegation zone, as they beat Bristol Rovers 3-1 at the MEMS Priestfield on Friday afternoon.
After a goalless first 45, Josh Wright gave the Gills the lead mid-way through the second half as he powered home a loose ball following a dangerous long throw, but the home side were pegged back ten minutes later when Billy Bodin converted a penalty for Rovers.
However, in a highly dramatic finale, Cody McDonald
gave Gillingham the lead in the 90th minute with a brilliant run and thumping finish before the striker scored his second deep into injury time to send the Rainham End into delirium.
Ady Pennock made just one change following the draw with Millwall last weekend as the injured Zesh Rehman dropped out of the team to be replaced by Jake Hessenthaler
. Chris Herd was fit enough to take his place on the bench for his first appearance in the matchday squad since the Gills’ last home victory against Scunthorpe.
The Gills were forced onto the back foot in the early passages of play with Max Ehmer doing well to deflect a cross behind when Rovers had got in behind the back three after five minutes.
Tomas Holy made his first save after 11 minutes as Lee Mansell cut infield and shot towards goal but directed his effort straight at the big Czech ‘keeper.
The home side grew into the game and posed their first threat from a corner kick, when Lee Martin’s deep delivery was headed back towards goal, but Wright was unable to connect as the ball dropped towards the near post.
Gillingham were now knocking the ball around nicely with the early nerves banished, although the Gas were dangerous on the counter attack; Ellis Harrison received the ball in the right-hand corner of the box but his powerful shot flew harmlessly into the Rainham End.
Just before the half-hour, Bristol threatened again but Chris Lines’ volley lacked power and Harrison couldn’t get a telling touch on the ball as it bobbled through the penalty area.
McDonald was a real live-wire up top for the home side and when he beat his man down the left for pace the Gills had an opening, but Wright couldn’t control his first-time volley as the cross fizzed into the box.
The Gills had their best chance of the period after 33 minutes after superb work from Deji Oshilaja. The centre-back outmuscled Jake Clarke-Salter just outside the penalty before releasing Harry Cornick with a fantastic ball down the right. His cross found Wright on the edge of the box but his shot curled inches wide of the Rovers’ post with the ‘keeper beaten.
The game was opening up and the Gas were soon on the attack with a series of corners before Lines took a speculative shot on from 25-yards that failed to trouble Holy.
The half ended without further event with the Gills feeling slightly aggrieved at a few 50/50 refereeing decisions that went the way of the visitors throughout the half.
H/T: 0 – 0
Wright nearly gave Gillingham the lead within five minutes of the first half as he latched onto a knock-down from McDonald but he was unfortunate to prod inches wide. Rovers immediately countered and substitute Luke James fed Bodin through on goal, however the Gas striker rashly shot wide instead of taking the ball on towards goal.
The second half was an end-to-end affair and Wright was unlucky to be denied after he charged down a clearance from the visiting ‘keeper, but his follow up lacked the pace to beat the recovering Joe Lumley.
The Gills were finding gaps in between the Rovers back-line and Joe Quigley was imposing himself well on the centre-halves, spinning away from a tackle before dragging his shot just wide from 25 yards. James then shot over for Rovers when he perhaps should have slipped in another attacker with the home side caught light at the back. James then stabbed over after Holy spilt a powerful shot from Lee Brown as the Gas began to apply some pressure.
Gillingham were ahead after 64 minutes as top-scorer Wright notched another to his impressive tally for the season. A long throw from Mark Byrne caused carnage in the away defence and Wright was in the right place at the right time to lash into the net and edge the Gills ahead.
Bristol got on the front foot right away and a 30-yard free-kick was blocked by a dedicated wall of blue, before a slight mis-control from Martin denied him a goal-scoring opportunity after he was found down the left hand side of the box on a quick Gills counter.
The men in yellow were gifted a great opportunity to equalise when Oshilaja was penalised for a shirt pull, with the referee pointing to the spot despite Gillingham claims the offence was committed outside the area. Bodin stepped up and beat Holy, blasting straight down the middle of the goal to equalise after 74 minutes.
Both teams were desperate for three points and went hell-for-leather for the win with the two sets of fans contributing to a raucous atmosphere. Martin blasted over from 30 yards for the Gills, who were seeing more of the ball as the game ticked towards its conclusion.
A brilliant Gillingham move down the left nearly brought a winner but the Rovers keeper denied Wright after a cute one-two with McDonald in the box. Rory Donnelly then just failed to get a meaningful connection at the back post when Wright flicked a corner on, with the Rovers goal leading a charmed life as the Gills piled on the pressure.
Gillingham finally got the goal their efforts deserved after 90 minutes as McDonald put the home side ahead with an absolute thunderbolt! A huge clearance from Holy found McDonald surrounded by two defenders but he swivelled into space, beat his man for pace before rocketing an unstoppable shot into the top-right corner.
The Gills withstood four minutes of agonising injury time with Rovers hammering at the home defence before McDonald made sure of all three points. A long clearance found the striker clear in on goal in acres of space, and McDonald composed himself before lobbing over the keeper and into the net in the 96th minute. The goal sent Gillingham head coach Ady Pennock racing down the touchline to celebrate with his players in front of a jubilant Rainham End.
The referee blew the final whistle upon the restart with the Gills securing a crucial three points in their battle to beat the drop.
F/T: 3 – 1
Gillingham: Holy; Hessenthaler, Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Martin; Byrne (Osadebe, 83), Wright, Cornick (Donnelly, 65); Quigley (Parker, 66), McDonald
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), Herd, Muldoon, List
Bristol Rover: Lumley; Clarke-Salter, Sweeney, Lockyer; Mansell, Sinclair, Lines (Montano, 70), Bodin, Brown; Moore (Easter, 60), Harrison (James, 45)
Unused subs: Mildenhall (GK), Harris, Burn, Partington
Attendance: 5,916 (702)
Referee: Mark Heywood