League leaders Gillingham saw their unbeaten start to the season ended by a workmanlike Rochdale at MEMS Priestfield Stadium but they remain three points clear.
The Gills had been reduced to ten men in the 33rd minute, Danny Jackman seeing red, but despite the numerical disadvantage Martin Allen’s side made it uncomfortable for the visitors who were reduced to playing on the break for long periods.
They may not have created too many chances but the tremendous effort was recognised by a majority of the 5,874 crowd, the biggest at home this season.
Going into the game the home side lined up unchanged from the side that won at Port Vale last weekend, the only difference in personnel was on the bench where Myles Weston replaced Adam Birchall
A fourth minute free-kick conceded by Matt Fish on Bobby Grant didn’t prove too costly, George Donnelly firing into the wall but in the ensuing scramble Stuart Nelson twice had to perform heroics in punching balls clear.
In the 15th minute there was a stunned silence around the ground as the visitors went ahead. A short corner from Jason Kennedy found Andrew Tutte in acres of space and after controlling the ball he curled the ball home from the angle of the area, possibly with the aid of a deflection.
The Gills who had initially struggled to find each other gradually began to keep possession well and get at the Rochdale rearguard.
Dale left-back Rhys Bennett received the first yellow card of the afternoon in the 22nd for sending the marauding Chris Whelpdale crashing to the turf, from the resultant free-kick, Jackman’s strike deflected wide off the wall.
Fish then moved onto a Whelpdale pass but crashed his shot high onto the Rainham End, then
Joe Martin was next in the book for his 26th minute challenge on Phil Edwards.
Just after the half-hour the Gills went close again. Whelpdale’s long throw was helped on to the far post where Deon Burton was lurking but the striker side-footed over the top.
Gillingham were reduced to ten men in the 33rd minute when Jackman went into a tackle that, from afar, looked 50-50 with visiting skipper Tutte. Although it didn’t look malicious it was said by other members of the press to be two-footed and referee David Phillips quickly flashed the red card at the midfielder. Burton also picked up a yellow card for his heated protests.
The following free-kick dropped to Ryan Edwards who fired over before the Gills reshuffle saw Weston replacing Robbie Findley and in the remainder of the half John Coleman’s team looked happy to keep the ball and time-waste where possible.
Although there were a few goalmouth scrambles and long range efforts keeper Nelson wasn’t unduly troubled.
H/T: 0 - 1
The Gills two remaining changes were made at the break with leading scorer Danny Kedwell and Charlie Allen replacing Burton and Lewis Montrose. They kept two-men up front with three in midfield, David Wright being released from his holding role.
With the Gillingham fans cranking up the volume it was the home side that opened the game up, they continued to get forward at every opportunity and tried to play on the front foot, often defending with just one man.
In the 58th minute they were finally caught out at the back and the visitors doubled their lead. Grant ran onto a diagonal ball forward and broke into the area, his first shot was blocked well by Nelson but the former Scunthorpe striker was able to drill home the loose ball. The 99 travelling supporters were ecstatic.
It didn’t take long for the home side to get back into attacking mode and Weston first saw a fierce effort blocked before hitting the wall with a free-kick after Allen had been fouled on the edge of the box.
Gillingham received a lifeline in the 73rd minute when referee Phillips pointed to the spot after Whelpdale went in at the near post with Donnelly to meet Allen’s low corner. The official indicated a shove and immediately gave the penalty.
A confident Kedwell stepped up to send Josh Lillis the wrong way with a side-foot to reduce the deficit and register his ninth goal of the campaign. The keeper was booked for kicking the ball into the Medway Stand.
Lillis had to be on his toes moments later when he was out quickly to block at Whelpdale’s feet as he broke into the area.
Rochdale registered their contender for miss of the season in the 82nd minute. With the Gills pushing forward yet again a ball out of defence sent Donnelly away down the left. As last man Fish moved over to cover, the ball was rolled across the face of goal to Grant who somehow failed to net from around a yard out, Nelson deserving a lot of credit in managing to get into a position to be able to block.
Moments after receiving a yellow card Donnelly broke down the right but fired a low shot wide of the far post.
Just after four additional minutes had been shown Whelpdale blasted a shot over the top but then at the other end substitute Ray Putterill, on for Dele Adebola, went past Nelson but Fish cleared as the ball was put across goal.
So the Gills, now three points clear of Port Vale, will be looking to get back to winning ways when they travel to play Northampton Town at Sixfields Stadium on Tuesday night.
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Flanagan, Whelpdale, Jackman, Montrose(Allen H/T), Burton (Kedwell H/T), Barrett, Wright, Findley (Weston 34) Unused subs:, Strevens, Frampton, , Davies, Forecast,
Rochdale – Lillis, Rafferty, Bennett, R.Edwards, Kennedy, Tutte, Donnelly, P.Edwards. Adebola (Putterill 77), Pearson, Grant Unused subs: Barry-Murphy, Grimes, , Curran, Craney, Byrne, Smith
Attendance: 5,874 (99 from Rochdale)
Referee: David Phillips
Assistant referee’s: Constantine Hatzidakis & John Hopkins
Fourth Official: Adam Crysell