Danny Kedwell’s superb second half header earned 10-man Gills a deserved point at Spotland on Tuesday in an exciting 1-1 draw with Rochdale.
George Donnelly had given the hosts an early lead when he took advantage of a mistake by Leon Legge to lob Stuart Nelson from 25 yards.
The Gills resisted heavy pressure at the end of the first half and then struck back quickly after the break when Kedwell headed home a fantastic cross from Matt Fish to level the scores.
Despite chances for both sides during the second period neither was able to grab a winner, but Andy Frampton was controversially dismissed with two minutes to go for allegedly using off the ball contact as Bobby Grant hit the deck after Donnelly had brought down substitute Charlie Lee.
Martin Allen made just the one change to the side that drew against Morecambe on Saturday. Michael Richardson’s one month loan deal from Newcastle United expired following the game at the Globe Arena so Anton Robinson returned in the centre of midfield.
Adam Birchall and Steven Gregory, who both failed to make the squad at the weekend, returned to the subs bench with Sam Muggleton missing out.
Frampton kept his place in the holding midfield position with Bradley Dack continuing from the start after scoring the equaliser at Morecambe.
The first chance of the game fell Gillingham’s way on six minutes when Matt Fish made some space for himself 20 yards from goal.
He decided to have a go with his left foot from a central position but pulled it just wide of the post. Joe Martin had a similar chance just moments later from further wide but again failed to hit the target.
Those missed opportunities proved vital as Rochdale took the lead with their first attack. Leon Legge took a poor first touch with striker George Donnelly chasing him down.
The forward got to the loose ball first, and with Stuart Nelson off his line, decided to try and chip the keeper from 25 yards. His effort was inch perfect and nestled in to the bottom corner to give Dale the lead against the run of play.
Legge’s mistake proving costly and the goalkeeper had absolutely no chance as the effort cleared him by a couple of yards before dipping below the cross bar.
They immediately went in search of a second – Bobby Grant attempting to beat Nelson again from long range but his powerful left foot shot was just too high.
Gills were presented a half chance on 18 minutes when Fish found Adam Barrett lurking inside the penalty area and delivered an excellent cross.
The centre-back met it firmly enough but his header proved no problem for goalkeeper Josh Lillis as he watched it go over the bar. Dack tried a low left foot drive a minute or so later but the Rochdale stopper was down in plenty of time to gather.
Gills were forced in to a change on 23 minutes when Chris Whelpdale hobbled off to be replaced by Lee, and within seconds was receiving treatment himself after he fell awkwardly following a collision with Jason Kennedy.
He soon got to his feet and carried on but the Gills nearly fell two behind when Grant latched on to a cross from McIntyre and somehow managed to put the ball over the top with only the advancing Nelson to beat.
On 34 minutes another mistake at the back, this time from Frampton, gave Donnelly a second clear strike on goal. He caught it well but this time it cleared the frame of the goal with Nelson untroubled.
With the Gills far from their best the hosts tried to take advantage of their territory and grab a second; however the visiting defence dealt with the pressure and went in to the dressing room at half time just one goal down.
Gills burst out of the blocks in the second half and Lillis had to be alert to deny Kedwell in the opening minute. From an acute angle the striker tried to find the near corner with a powerful effort but the keeper got his fingertips to it.
Seconds later and Dack fired a shot across the face of goal – his effort went wide of the target but Legge was within inches of converting from close range after attempting a diving header at the far post.
Martin Allen’s side dominated the early action in the second period and were unlucky not to get a penalty when Barrett’s header clearly struck the arm of Kennedy inside the box.
The players appealed but the referee waved away the claims before the resulting corner was narrowly headed wide by Kedwell.
Gillingham did finally level up the scores on 55 minutes when Kedwell headed home a fantastic cross from Fish on the right hand side.
Lee played a beautiful first time ball to the right flank, Fish had time to pick his man and Kedwell clinically headed home from six yards out.
The goal was much deserved after some heavy pressure in the opening stages of the half and the Gills immediately went in search of a second.
Joe Martin had a shot which Lillis comfortably saved before Donnelly nearly saw his cross find the top corner with Nelson well beaten.
A couple of fresh faces entered the action as the hunt for another goal continued – Deon Burton and Charlie Allen came on to replace Kedwell and Bradley Dack.
This also signalled a change in shape as Frampton slotted in at centre-back to join Legge and Barrett with Fish and Martin pushing up on the wings when in attack.
The game thus became more open and either side could have snatched victory. On 72 minutes Grant had a shot blocked by Matt Fish which then went just wide before the same player had a free kick blocked by the Gills wall.
Seven minutes later and Allen had his first shot of the game when he struck over the bar following a short pass from Lee. The midfielder’s energy once more having a positive effect on the side as the clock began to tick down.
However with just two minutes to go Gillingham were reduced to ten men when Frampton was dismissed for an off-the-ball incident involving Grant. The Rochdale player hit the deck, and to Frampton’s disgust, was shown the red card by the referee.
The visitors had to withstand heavy pressure in the dying moments but were just able to hold on for a point when all three seemed likely at one stage.
The result gives the Gills a five point cushion at the top of the table with just seven games left to play.
Gills: Nelson, Fish, Martin, Legge, Barrett, Frampton, Whelpdale (Lee 23), Robinson, Dack (Allen 60), Kedwell (Burton 64), German.
Unused subs: Forecast, Davies, Gregory, Birchall.
Rochdale: Lillis, Cavanagh, Cansdell-Sherriff, Kennedy, Donnelly, Edwards, McIntyre, Grant, Rose, Thompson, Henderson (Grimes 63).
Unused subs: Rafferty, Barry-Murphy, Collis, Haworth, Allen, O’Connor.
Referee: Mr M Haywood
Bookings: Kennedy (32), Allen (64). Barrett (77)
Goals: Donnelly (12), Kedwell (55).