Gillingham can count themselves very unlucky not to take a point from a hugely entertaining encounter at Griffin Park as both sides put on a show for the Sky Sports cameras.
Peter Taylor opted to make two changes to the side that beat Swindon Town so impressively in their last League outing, Amine Linganzi came in for his first start of 2014, in place of Jake Hessenthaler, while Craig Fagan was handed the task of partnering Cody McDonald in attack, at the expense of Bayo Akinfenwa.
Heavy rain in the hours before kick-off gave the pitch a thorough watering, making passing conditions slick for both teams. A healthy turn-out at Griffin Park saw both sets of fans in boisterous mood with the Gills fans in particularly good voice for the Sky TV cameras.
The two teams played out a cagey 1-1 draw in the reverse meeting at Priestfield in August but a high tempo start saw chances created at both ends from the start. Michael Harriman was denied a fifth minute sight of goal by the linesman’s flag, after latching on to Craig Fagan’s flick-on, and Brentford keeper David Button claimed a Myles Weston cross off Fagan’s head shortly after.
The home side’s response came on 12 minutes as Clayton Donaldson got beyond Joe Martin to exploit the space down the right wing, his centre took a deflection off Gills skipper Adam Barrett, falling kindly for Alan Judge, but the midfielder’s shot-on the turn was comfortably saved by Stuart Nelson.
The visitors continued to look dangerous with Fagan and Cody McDonald combining well soon after, the latter sending an angled drive goalwards for Button to claim low at his right hand post, before Steven Gregory tested the Bees keeper with a rising drive to the top right corner, after Weston had helped an Elliott Hewitt throw-on into his path.
Gills custodian Stuart Nelson was called into action in the 21st minute, with an acrobatic save to push Judge’s curling effort over his top left corner, but could do nothing to prevent the hosts taking the lead seconds later.
Left-back Jake Bidwell fired an inviting ball across the penalty box and former Gillingham loanee Jonathan Douglas arrived on cue to crash home the opening goal from close range.
Ten minutes later Leon Legge did well to divert another Judge effort behind for a corner, Judge took the flag-kick himself, passing the ball to the left angle of the box where Shaleum Logan shot narrowly wide of Nelson’s near post.
From the restart the visitors then went agonisingly close to levelling the scores, Fagan playing McDonald in behind the defence, only for the striker to roll his finish into the side netting.
Brentford midfielder George Saville found his way into the referee’s book in the 41st minute for a foul on Amine Linganzi and the hosts went close again in the final minute of the half, Kevin O’Connor heading wide from Bidwell’s corner.
Blocks from Gills centre-halves Legge and Barrett twice denied Alan Judge strikes in time added-on as the visitors battled to keep the game alive at the interval.
The frantic pace of the first-half was maintained after the restart with Brentford testing Nelson again three minutes after the break. Marcello Trotta collected the ball on the right edge of the area and cut in to the centre before unleashing a powerful effort straight into the chest of the Gills No.1. Some home fans thought that the on-loan Fulham forward had put his side 2-0 up, moments later, when the striker collected a Saville pass but his low strike, to the keeper’s right, hit the side-netting.
Further half chances for Judge and Trotta prompted a double change for the visitors on 57 minutes, Bayo Akinfenwa and Bradley Dack replacing Linganzi and Weston. Bayo moved into attack to partner McDonald, with Fagan and Dack moving to the right and left of midfield, respectively, Elliott Hewitt pushing up alongside Gregory, allowing Harriman to drop back into the right-back berth.
The changes gave Gillingham fresh attacking impetus and they went close in the 62nd minute from a Fagan free-kick, Leon Legge hooking an effort onto the roof of Button’s net. Brentford then struck back on the counter attack with Donaldson going one-on-one with Nelson, fortunately the former Bees shot-stopper did enough to divert his finish wide of the mark.
Michael Harriman collected the Gills first booking on 68 minutes after pulling back Donaldson as he threatened to burst clear down the left channel and the visitors were punished further shortly after as the referee awarded a penalty for Barrett’s push on Tony Craig from a corner. Marcello Trotta took responsibility, coolly rolling his spot-kick into the bottom left hand corner to give his side a 2-0 70th minute lead.
Nerves were jangling though for the hosts just three minutes later as Cody McDonald struck to give Gillingham a lifeline. Craig Fagan was the supplier with a neat through ball to play McDonald through into the box,
Button raced out to block his path but could not get enough of a touch on the ball to prevent it dropping inside his right hand post, for the Gills striker’s 10th goal of the campaign.
Barrett, McDonald and Akinfenwa all had half chances in the closing stages as the Gills finished strongly, before Taylor made his final change of the night, Ipswich loan striker Jack Marriott coming on to make his League debut, in place of Fagan, on 79 minutes.
The young striker almost made an instant impact, latching onto a long ball out from the back to go clean through on the left of goal four minutes from time, sadly his angled shot was stopped on the line by keeper Button. He was well placed moments later to pick up the ball and cut in from the left channel but this time his drive from the edge of the area cannoned off a Bees defender and out for a corner.
Gills continued to press forward into four minutes of time added on but the goal their efforts warranted just would not come, though the 800 strong Gills support were quick to show their appreciation for the performance at the final whistle.
Attendance: 7,713 (Gillingham 829)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Amine Linganzi (Bayo Akinfenwa 57), Leon Legge, Cody McDonald, Myles Weston (Bradley Dack 57), Steven Gregory, Michael Harriman, Adam Barrett, Craig Fagan (Jack Marriott 79), Elliott Hewitt
Subs not used: George Howard, Callum Davies, Connor Smith, Jake Hessenthaler
Brentford: David Button, Kevin O’Connor, Tony Craig, Jonathan Douglas, Clayton Donaldson, Alan McCormack, Shaleum Logan, George Saville, Alan Judge, Jake Bidwell, Marcello Trotta (Chuba Akpom 73)
Subs not used: Richard Lee, Will Grigg, Stuart Dallas, Toumani Diagouraga, Jake Reeves, Charlie Adams