Gillingham consolidated their position as the early pace setters in npower League Two after an impressive 2-1 win over Northampton at Sixfields on Tuesday evening.
Goals from Deon Burton and Jack Payne either side of half time gave the Gills a comfortable lead, and despite a late Adebayo Akinfenwa header the visitors managed to see out the final few minutes to claim their eighth win of the season.
However the win came at a cost as Charlie Allen was dismissed in second half injury time following two bookable offences.
Martin Allen made three changes to the side that lost to Rochdale at MEMS Priestfield with Jack Payne, Charlie Allen and Danny Kedwell returning in place of Lewis Montrose and Robbie Findley – Danny Jackman missing the game altogether due to suspension.
Northampton made two alterations to their side with Kemar Roofe and John Johnson coming in for Danny East and Chris Hackett who were among the substitutes.
The hosts started brightly and nearly took the lead on seven minutes. The Gills defence failed to clear Roofe’s corner and Guttridge swung a left foot at it from just outside the box – the strike was clean but it was a comfortable catch for Stuart Nelson.
Northampton were then forced into an early change with Guttridge making way for Chris Hackett after suffering an injury.
In the windy and wet conditions neither side were creating clear cut chances on a regular basis, Deon Burton and Matt Fish both having opportunities midway through the half but both efforts failed to trouble Lee Nicholls.
Danny Kedwell then forced an excellent save from Nicholls after a surging run from Fish. He ran 30 yards and took on a couple of Northampton defenders before playing in the striker – his strike was nestling in the top corner before the keeper got his fingertips to it to prevent the opener.
Tom Flanagan then came close with a header before Akinfenwa tried his luck from close range for the hosts, however the on loan centre back was on hand to block his shot before Nelson had chance to react.
Kelvin Langmead should then have put Northampton one up following an accurate cross from Kemar Roofe, but on the stretch he couldn’t connect properly and his effort cleared the bar and out for a goal kick.
This began a surge of chances as both teams stepped it up a notch and it was Chris Whelpdale who was next to have a go – his clever foot work from 25 yards out allowed him to get a shot away with his right foot.
It bounced just in front of the keeper but it hit the side netting and the hosts breathed a sigh of relief.
They should have taken the lead before the break when Alex Nicholls hit the bar following a cross from Ishmael Demontagnac. The ball was beyond the reach of Nelson but it smashed against the woodwork and away for a goal kick.
This miss would prove costly as seconds later Gillingham took the lead.
Deon Burton controlled the resulting kick from Nelson and beat Lee Nicholls to it; the keeper did his utmost to get back but the striker calmly slotted home to give the visitors the advantage.
His persistence and determination paying off following what looked to be an overly powerful kick, but he finished well to give the visiting supporters something to shout with the half time whistle sounding soon after.
The second half started with a fast tempo with both teams looking to claim a goal – Whelpdale going close for Gills before substitute Chris Hackett fired just over the bar with a powerful drive.
Yet again the hosts would pay for their missed opportunity as Jack Payne fired the visitors 2-0 up just a minute or so later.
Deon Burton had possession on the edge of the box and tapped a short ball into the path of the central midfielder who hit it first time straight into the bottom corner to double the lead.
The strike gave Nicholls no chance and it was Payne’s second of the season having also scored against Barnet.
The home side struggled to get back into the game – Demontagnac and Roofe and substitute Danny East having shots which Nelson happily watched go wide as the Gills continued to press and kill the game off.
The visiting defence put their bodies on the line to prevent a nervy final few minutes, however former Gills forward Akinfenwa headed home after 81 minutes following a cross from Ben Tozer, and this gave the hosts a much needed boost as they went in search of a point.
Gillingham should, and perhaps could, have made it three on 85 minutes when Weston and Findley went close. Weston’s cross suddenly fooled the keeper and hit the bar, and from a resulting cross Findley had his shot blocked at close range by Lee Nicholls.
With Northampton ploughing forward the Gills had to rely on counter attacks and it was one of these which saw Allen sent off. A late challenge saw the referee dip into his pocket for a second time to dismiss the midfielder.
However just seconds later the whistle sounded to give Gillingham a hard fought win and a great result which sees them top of League Two by five points.
Gills: Nelson, Fish, Martin, Flanagan, Barrett, Wright, Payne (Frampton 68), Whelpdale (Weston 57), Allen, Kedwell, Burton (Findley 74).
Unused subs: Forecast, Davies, Montrose, Strevens.
Northampton: L Nicholls, Johnson (East 66), Widdowson, Guttridge (Hackett 8), Langmead, Demontagnac (Moult 77), Akinfenwa, Tozer, A Nicholls, Artell, Roofe.
Unused subs: Higgs, Charles, Platt, Mukendi.
Referee: Mr S Hooper
Attendance: 3,648 (388 Gills)
Bookings: Martin (84) Allen (88)
Red Cards: Allen (90)