A much changed Gillingham side closed their League Two campaign with a hugely entertaining encounter at the Pirelli Stadium.
Martin Allen made wholesale changes for the final fixture of the campaign, handing League debuts to goalkeeper Tommy Forecast, on loan midfielder Harry Grant and youth team full-backs Sam Muggleton and Mahlon Romeo.
Charlie Allen and Steven Gregory were the only players to retain their places in the starting line-up from the previous week’s Championship securing draw with AFC Wimbledon while a further five youth and development squad players were named on the substitute’s bench.
They may have lacked a little experience but the Gills makeshift line-up took the game to their hosts direct from the kick-off, Harry Grant forcing a save from Tomlinson with a low drive to the near post from wide on the right, while a brace of Charlie Allen corners also unsettled the Burton defence.
Then with just nine minutes on the clock the visitors were gifted a goal start after Bradley Dack had been brought down in the area. Referee Simpson pointed to the spot and Myles Weston converted the penalty, slotting calmly into the bottom right corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.
The Gills continued to dominate, enjoying the balance of possession, with Sam Muggleton’s long throws causing problems for the home side. While Weston came close to adding a second on 21 minutes with a snap shot from the right of goal that drifted just the wrong side of the crossbar.
Midway through the half Dack pulled up with an ankle injury that brought his afternoon to a premature close, youth team prospect Kane Haysman coming on in the 26th minute to make his League debut.
32 minutes had elapsed before Burton were able to conjure a decent opening, Adam Drury playing Billy Kee into the area but he couldn’t get a shot away. Moments later he made amends after Jimmy Phillips drive
from distance came back off Forecast’s left hand post, Kee hammering home the rebound to level the score.
The goal saw the home side grow in confidence and five minutes before the break Burton took the lead for the first time, following a neat move down the left flank. Phillips turned provider this time with a low ball across the face of goal that Michael Symes stabbed home from close range.
Symes could have netted again, soon after, but fired well over from distance before the home side failed to capitalise on a John McGrath corner. Haysman forced a save from Tomlinson with a low shot from outside the area but, for all Gillingham’s efforts, the Brewers held the advantage at the break.
It was a rejuvenated Gillingham that came out after the break and were unfortunate not to equalise within 90 seconds of the restart. Grant helped the ball into the Burton box for Charlie Allen to fire a rising drive just over the bar.
On 50 minutes it was the home sides chance to threaten as Aaron Webster’s diagonal ball sent Kee through one on one with Forecast on the left side of goal, fortunately he pulled his shot wide of the far post and Gills were able to clear the danger.
On the hour mark Andy Frampton came to his side’s rescue with a goal line clearance after Phillips let fly a shot across goal from the left side of the box. The same player was then involved in the Brewers third goal, providing the ammunition for sub Calvin Zola to score, moments after taking the field.
The goal prompted a swift response from Martin Allen who replaced Haysman with another debutant, development squad striker Nathan Nyafli joining the attack. It proved an inspired substitution as Nathan scored from his first touch, rifling home Muggleton’s long throw on 67 minutes.
Harry Grant took a blow to the face, meaning a final change for the Gills in the 70th minute, Devante McKain coming on to make his senior debut. Four minutes later Zola nearly netted his second, beating Forecast with a low effort, only to see it hit the far post before Callum Davies cleared.
Despite the changes the Gills continued to create chances of their own, Nyafli showing great skill to create space and cut in from the right, keeper Tomlinson diving to gather his low effort at his near post.
With playing switching from end to end, Forecast was back in action five minutes from time, pulling off an outstanding save to push Anthony O’Connor’s angled drive around the post. Two minutes later Drury teed
up Webster from the edge of the box, but the defenders shot hit team mate Zola on the line.
Both sides continued to compete throughout five minutes of time added on but a highly entertaining encounter ended 3-2 in the Brewers favour.
Gillingham: Tommy Forecast, Andy Frampton, Charlie Allen, Callum Davies, Adam Birchall, Bradley Dack (Kane Haysman 26, Nathan Nyafli 64), Mahlon Romeo, Myles Weston, Steven Gregory, Sam Muggleton, Harry Grant (Devante McKain).
Subs not used: Stuart Nelson, Danny Kedwell, Jake Hessenthaler, Josh Hare.
Burton Albion: Stuart Tomlinson, Aaron Webster, Zander Diamond, John McGrath, Lee Fowler (Matty Palmer 67), Jimmy Phillips (Andy Corbett 80), Anthony O’Connor, Marcus Holness, Adam Drury, Billy Kee (Calvin Zola 62), Michael Symes
Subs not used: Nathan Stanton, Dean Lyness, Matt Paterson, Alex MacDonald