Gillingham clocked up their second successive away triumph of 2013 with a dominant display against Bristol Rovers
Martin Allen retained the same starting XI that took the Gills back to the top of League Two courtesy of a crucial away win against promotion rivals Southend at Roots Hall on New Years Day, meaning new signing Steven Gregory started on the subs bench.
Rovers started brightly, under new manager John Ward, and were denied an early chance, moments after kick-off, when Tom Parkes’ ball sent Fabien Broghammer clear of Matt Fish, only for Stuart Nelson to race out smartly and beat the striker to the loose ball.
Within seconds the home side were punished for not taking that chance as the visitors took a third minute lead. A neat move from the Gills saw Chris Whelpdale collect the ball in space on the left side of the box and rifle a rising drive across the keeper and into the top right corner for his second goal in successive matches.
The goal stunned the Memorial Ground fans into silence but a good spell of pressure from the hosts soon woke them up again though, with the visitors defence in total control, Rovers failed to fashion a chance on goal until the 19th minute.
It came from neat work down the left by Parkes who squared for O’Toole to shoot from the edge of the box, fortunately his low effort struck Nelson’s left hand upright and rolled across the face of goal before being cleared to safety at the far post.
Bristol looked most dangerous from set pieces and earned a series of corners during the first half, the best of which came on 35 minutes as Broghammer delivered a teasing ball from the right that fizzed across the face of goal, evading every Rovers forward before Nelson was able to smother the danger.
In truth the Gills disciplined 4-2-2-2 formation, with Frampton and Payne protecting the back-four and Burton and Birchall defending from the front, looked impregnable throughout the half and the visitors were even able to extend their lead on the stroke of half time.
Deon Burton’s goal was simplicity itself, Stuart Nelson’s long ball from the back was helped on by Whelpdale to Burton, he took a touch to wrong foot his marker and blasted the ball under keeper Mildenhall into the back of the net.
The visitors continued to control proceedings and despite Rovers best efforts they failed to register an effort on target in the first quarter of the second-half, save from a tame looped effort from Broghammer straight into the arms of the Gills custodian.
With the hour mark approaching Martin Allen opted to change his personnel and his formation for the last half hour. Steven Gregory made his debut, playing the holding midfield role and freeing up Frampton and Payne to push forward, while Danny Kedwell moved into attack as Birchall and Burton made way.
If anything the substitutions merely cemented Gillingham’s dominance but the home side did come agonisingly close to scoring on 64 minutes after Joe Martin was penalised for a tug on Norburn. From the resulting free-kick, Norburn vaulted Broghammer’s low curling strike, which swerved through a forest of legs but slipped the wrong side of Nelson’s right hand upright.
Seven minutes later Norburn floated a deft ball into the box for the head of Hitchcock but Stuart Nelson stood up to block his flick on and pounced on the loose ball before the forward had time to react to the danger.
Martin Allen brought fresh legs on for the final third of the half, introducing Charlie Allen on the left of midfield in place of Myles Weston. Soon after Whelpdale drew a smart save from Mildenhall with a well struck shot from the right of goal, driven at pace to the keeper’s near post.
Lee Brown hit a late free-kick straight down the throat of Nelson and Richards went close with an injury time piledriver but to no avail as Gillingham continued their promotion charge with a ruthlessly efficient victory.
Attendance: 6088 (472 Gillingham)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Joe Martin, Leon Legge, Andy Frampton, Adam Barrett, Jack Payne, Chris Whelpdale, Myles Weston Charlie Allen 73), Adam Birchall (Steven Gregory 57), Deon Burton (Danny Kedwell 57)
Subs not used: Tommy Forecast, Charlie Lee, Danny Jackman, Callum Davies
Bristol Rovers: Steve Mildenhall, Michael Smith, Garry Kenneth (Ollie Norburn 45+2), Mark McChrystal, Lee Brown, Tom Parkes, Seanan Clucas, John-Joe O’Toole, Joe Anyinsah (Tom Hitchcock H/T), Fabien Broghammer Mitch Harding 77), Eliot Richards.
Subs not used: Conorn Gough, Danny Woodwards, Ellis Harrison, Tom Lockyer.
Referee: Brendan Malone
Assistants: Steven Plane & Chris Powell
Fourth Official: Andrew Turner