Danny Kedwell’s 15th goal of the season sealed promotion for his boyhood heroes at MEMS Priestfield Stadium this afternoon – the first Football League club to achieve it this season.
The three points gained proved more than enough to see the Gills go up as Northampton Town, Rotherham United and Cheltenham Town all suffered defeats on their League Two travels – as the club moved eight points clear once more with just three games to go.
At the final whistle chairman Paul Scally, manager Martin Allen, his staff, the players and, of course, nearly 7,500 jubilant supporters celebrated as one.
Despite dominating for much of the first-half and creating numerous chances it took just one goal, Kedwell’s thumping strike three minutes after the break, to clinch the victory, and promotion - just a sixth one in the club’s history.
Gillingham manager Martin Allen made two changes to the side that beat Rotherham on Easter Monday, Bradley Dack
came into the midfield for the injured Anton Robinson
while Adam Birchall
replaced Deon Burton
, who dropped to the bench, up front.
The Gills were kicking towards the Rainham End in the first-half, it was at the other end that the first shot of the game came with just 25 seconds on the clock, Jordan Chapell’s effort not troubling Stuart Nelson
The recalled Birchall then got to the bye-line but saw goalkeeper Martin Rice, in for the injured Michael Poke, cut out his cross before seeing a long-range strike skim the bar as it flew onto the Rainham End.
In a lively opening three minutes or so Danny Kedwell
then smacked a shot at Rice from around 25-yards.
After a decent spell of possession the Gills next decent effort came from Matt Fish
but his left-foot rising strike cleared the bar, that followed fellow full-back Joe Martin
getting to the goal-line but his low cross was blocked at the near post.
Torquay hadn’t threatened much since the opening moments but did so again in the 18th minute. Kevin Nicholson played a low ball forward to ex-Gill Rene Howe, he broke into the area and placed a low shot across Nelson but the ball came back off the keepers left-hand post.
In the follow-up, the ball again found its way to Howe but this time skipper Adam Barrett
blocked his shot from in front of the goal.
The game suddenly went from end-to-end, Kedwell set up Chris Whelpdale
but his curling strike was too high, Joe Oastler shot at Nelson before a frantic minute or so ended with Steven Gregory
being denied as his powerful shot was tipped over by Rice at full stretch.
Gillingham were playing some nice short football and knocked some long diagonal passes when required and the chances continued. Kedwell twice went close while a Bichall header looked to be deflected wide but a goal-kick was given.
Having dominated for long periods throughout the opening 45 minutes there was almost a sting in the tail for the Gills late on when Aaron Downes rose to meet an Oastler corner but his header just cleared the bar.
Three minutes into the second-half the tension that had started to build around the ground towards the end of the first-half was lifted when the Gills opened the scoring. Kedwell found himself in enough space in the area from a great diagonal ball from Gregory and controlled well before thumping home a right-footed half-volley beyond a startled Rice from an tight angle.
Five minutes later came the first change of the afternoon as Andy Frampton
replaced Dack. ‘Framps’ took a central role in the swap with Charlie Allen
moving out to the right. Just moments later it was Frampton that had the next effort, side-footing from an angle into the side-netting.
The next chance saw Whelpdale create the space to shoot but Rice was able to parry and his defence tidied up.
The crowd held their breath when the visitors had appeals for a penalty turned down by referee Andy Madley in the 70th minute – Gulls sub Elliot Benyon, one of two changes five minutes earlier, going down as Kedwell looked to clear.
Martin required treatment before, with 73 minutes on the clock, there was a second Gillingham change, Deon Burton
replacing Birchall who looked like he had gone down with cramp just moments before.
Some good work from Kedwell set up a chance for Burton but after he failed to get in a shot it was Allen that fired narrowly wide.
In the 77th minute it was Whelpdale that again tested Rice with a fierce angled strike, Rice parried and the ball trickled inches wide off the body of a back-tracking Nicholson.
Four minutes later there was again another nervous silence as Downes met another corner, this time from Nicholson, but his header was wide of the target.
The Gills received a major let-off five minutes from time after Leon Legge
conceded a free-kick. Nicholson’s fiercely struck left-footer from 25-yards seemed to beat everyone, although Nelson may have got a touch to the ball, but it crashed back into play off the bar and Howe was unable to react quickly enough as the ball dropped.
A third and final Gills change saw Charlie Lee
introduced for namesake Allen with four minutes remaining.
Torquay, struggling at the wrong end of League Two and badly in need of points themselves kept pushing forward in search of an equaliser to their credit but thankfully the Gills rearguard stood resolute.
Five minutes were added on at the end and but the only real noteworthy chance came from Kedwell, drilling a shot low to Rice’s right which the keeper clung onto.
Not long afterwards the final whistle went and the celebrations commenced.
– Nelson, Fish, Martin, Barrett, Legge, Dack (Frampton 53), Allen (Lee 86), Gregory, Whelpdale, Kedwell, Birchall (Burton 73) Unused subs
: East, , Davies, , Forecast, Haysman
– Rice, Oastler, Nicholson, Downes, Saah, Lathrope (Benyon 63), Mansell, Howe, Morris (Yeoman 90+2), Bodin, Chapell (Jarvis 63) Unused subs
: MacDonald, Craig, Cruise, Thompson
: 7,574 (151 from Torquay)
Referee: Andrew Madley
Assistants: Michael Bull & Nicholas Kinseley
Fourth official: Paul Melin