The Gills title celebrations remain on ice for another week as promotion chasing Cheltenham take the points from an engaging encounter at Whaddon Road.
Martin Allen made three changes from the side that clinched promotion with a 1-0 win against Torquay United last weekend, experienced trio Andy Frampton, Charlie Lee and Deon Burton returned to the starting XI, Gregory, Dack and Birchall taking their places on the bench.
In a lively first-half Gills had a chance to open the scoring inside the first 90 seconds as Danny Kedwell disposed Michael Hector on the left hand touchline, Burton helped the ball back for Chris Whelpdale to cross but the ball was just a shade too strong for Charlie Allen to convert at the far post.
The home side, with an automatic promotion place still up for grabs, were up for a fight and tested Stuart Nelson for the first time on six minutes. Jermaine McGlashan found Russell Penn, who in turn fed Byron Harrison, the Robins striker making space to shoot with his left foot, but his low strike was comfortably held by the Gills custodian.
Nelson saved a header from Pack before Adam Barrett threw himself at the ball to block a Penn effort from the edge of the box as the home side looked to take the early advantage. While Deon Burton took matters into his own hand, firing a fierce drive wide from 25 yards after good build-up play from Charlie Lee.
On 18 minutes McGlashan and Jombati linked up well to pick out Kaid Mohamed on the far side of goal, Matt Fish was well positioned to block his first volley and the Robins forward blazed his follow-up over the cross bar.
Spurred on by a large home support Cheltenham were determined to make something of their first half possession and twice went close shortly before the half hour mark. First Pack sent McGlashan clear down the right but the winger’s dangerous centre evaded everyone in the box, the ball was played back into Penn in the area but, one-on-one with the keeper, he could only slot wide of Nelson’s right hand post.
The best chance of the half, though, came at the opposite end, on 33 minutes. Charlie Lee hurled a deep throw into the Cheltenham area, top scorer Danny Kedwell took it on his chest and hooked an overhead effort towards the top right corner, drawing a fingertip save from Scott Brown to divert it over the crossbar.
Moments later the Robins were back on the offensive, Stuart Nelson diving well to deny Jason Taylor’s low drive from just inside the box, the loose ball carried to McGlashan whose cross was superbly blocked by Joe Martin but the left back took a heavy knock to his ankle in the challenge.
With the half-time whistle approaching Barrett was desperately unlucky not to get something on Chris Whelpdale’s wicked low cross and from the Cheltenham counter attack Charlie Lee collected a yellow card for impeding McGlashan’s progress down the right flank.
In the second minute of time added-on Martin Allen made his first substitution, with Joe Martin still struggling to shake off that ankle injury, Steven Gregory came into the centre of midfield, allowing Andy Frampton to drop into the vacant left back berth.
After Danny Kedwell had sent a low effort into the arms of Scott Brown, the home side were back on the front foot, early in the second half, with Mohamed heading just wide from a Pack corner. While on 51 minutes McGlashan picked out Pack with a neat cross from the right but the midfielder headed over when he should have done better.
Gills centre-half Leon Legge found his way into the book on 53 minutes following a challenge on Harrison. From the resulting free-kick Marlon Pack struck a great effort goalwards only to be denied by a fine save from Stuart Nelson, palming over the crossbar at full stretch.
10 minutes later Matt Fish came to the Gills rescue to cut out Penn’s cross after the Robins midfielder had dispossessed Andy Frampton. The clearance went out for a throw which allowed Pack to whip a ferocious ball to the far post but once again Mohamed’s glancing header sailed the wrong side of the post.
Soon after, Andy Frampton became the Gills third played to go into the referee’s notebook following a robust tackle on McGlashan, out by the right hand touchline. McGlashan dusted himself off and was involved again, seconds later, crossing for Mohamed to shoot, only for Nelson to push his finish around the post.
Cheltenham finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute from the resulting corner. Marlon Pack delivered another pin point ball from the corner flag and centre-half Michael Hector climbed above the Gills defence to plant a bullet header beyond Stuart Nelson.
The goal prompted an instant response from the visitors, Scott Brown palming a Matt Fish cross/come shot over the bar, but the Gills were unable to capitalise from two corners in quick succession.
In the 74th minute and with the home side desperate to extend their advantage, Fish was well placed to divert a Pack free-kick wide. Martin Allen moved swiftly to combat the home side’s pressure, making a double
substitution, with Bradley Dack and Adam Birchall on to increase the Gills attacking threat, Lee and Allen making way.
Four minutes from time a deep Stuart Nelson free-kick found its way through to Adam Barrett in the Cheltenham box, he powered a header on target but his effort was well held by the Robins keeper. Just two minutes later the home side broke from a Gillingham corner, Mohamed fed Penn on the overlap but his drilled shot from the right of goal was superbly saved by Nelson.
In the final minute of normal time Chris Whelpdale flashed a decent effort the wrong side of Brown’s near post from 20 yards as the visitors threw everything at the Robins defence. Two minutes into time added on Deon Burton received a yellow card for a foul on Hector, which seemed a shade harsh on the Gills forward.
Despite a late Whelpdale effort deflecting over the top corner, it was Cheltenham that celebrated at the final whistle as the Gills must wait another week to clinch the League Two title.
Attendance: 4939 (Gillingham 1,449)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Joe Martin (Steven Gregory 45+2), Leon Legge, Chris Whelpdale, Charlie Lee (Adam Birchall 76), Danny Kedwell, Andy Frampton, Charlie Allen (Bradley Dack 76), Deon Burton, Adam Barrett
Subs not used: Danny East, Callum Davies, Tommy Forecast, Sam Muggleton.
Cheltenham Town: Scott Brown, Billy Jones, Steve Elliott, Marlon Pack, Jermaine McGlashan, Russell Penn, Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohamed, Jason Taylor, Michael Hector, Byron Harrison
Subs not used: Keith Lowe, Darren Carter, Sam Deering, Darryl Duffy, Connor Roberts, Shaun Harrad, Jack Deaman.