3pm – Saturday 27th February
A spirited second half performance and late header from Emmanuel Osadebe weren't enough to save Gillingham from defeat with Chesterfield emerging victorious at MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
The Gills trailed by goals from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Lee Novak at half-time, an opening 45 minutes with little between the two teams, and Osadebe's goal after the break did not earn the hosts what would have been a deserved point.
Justin Edinburgh made two changes from the defeat at Oldham last weekend, handing a debut to Adam El-Abd while Ryan Jackson returned from injury to start at right back. The injured Doug Loft watched on from the stands with Bradley Garmston starting on the bench.
The Gills started brightly and could have been ahead within the first minute as great work from Rory Donnelly, hassling the Chesterfield back-line, forced the ball free to Dominic Samuel, but he could only shoot over from 10 yards with the ball bouncing awkwardly in front of him.
Two fantastic crosses from Adam Chicksen were unfortunate to find no meaningful touches with one just beating Bradley Dack
at full slide while Donnelly could only prod the latter towards goal with Tommy Lee making a comfortable save as Gills dominated the early exchanges .
After the very early flurry of chances the game settled down with Jackson sending a scudding effort away on goal that slid well wide, while Ollie Banks forced Stuart Nelson
into an easy save with a volley from 25 yards. Chesterfield looked dangerous on the break with Ariyibi in particular causing a headache for the Gills defence as both Max Ehmer and then Jackson succumbed to the wide man’s pace and received bookings.
Gills however continued to look dangerous with Donnelly shooting over on 21 minutes after a Dack free-kick was only partially cleared and Ehmer had a shot touched around the post by a Chesterfield defender after getting on the end of a knock-down by Aaron Morris following a corner. Spinning quickly and shooting sharply, the defender was unfortunate not to see his shot hit the back of the net.
However, the tide began to turn on 31 minutes when Dack fell to the ground in evident discomfort, clutching his hamstring, and throwing away his gloves in frustration. Edinburgh was forced to substitute his top goal-scorer with eventual Man of the Match George Williams coming on in his place.
The injury was compounded just minutes later when Chesterfield took the lead. The ever-dangerous Ariyibi tricked his way to the byline with pace and skill and his pullback was bundled home by EBANKS-BLAKE.
As Gillingham continued to probe towards the end of the first half without creating any clear-cut chances, Chesterfield hit them with a sucker-punch deep into the four minutes of added time. The ball broke to NOVAK, 30 yards out, who hit a thumping shot past Nelson into the top right corner, giving the Gills ‘keeper no chance 180 seconds into stoppage time.
The second half began with Edinburgh bringing on Garmston in place of Chicksen, rejigging his formation. Aaron Morris, Ehmer and El-Abd formed a back three, and Garmston and Jackson were allowed licence to get forward down the wings, to give Gillingham greater width in attack.
The second-half started slowly with neither team willing to show their hand early on. From a free-kick wide on the right delivered by Williams, Samuel forced Tommy Lee into a great save clawing the ball behind for a corner with 54 minutes on the clock. Garmston then nearly caught out the Chesterfield ‘keeper with a chip from the corner of the penalty box, while Chesterfield seemed content to sit back and play on the break, with the ever-dangerous Novak shooting just wide.
Gillingham continued to take the attack to Chesterfield, and Luke Norris entered in place of Samuel after 63 minutes; his physical presence up top allowed a more direct approach as the game reached its final stages. Norris had only been on a few minutes before a powerful left-footed shot from 25 yards forced Lee into action, tipping the venomous drive behind the post to maintain Chesterfield’s two goal cushion.
Finally, the Gills got the goal their pressure had merited. Luke Norris showed great composure in front of goal to set up OSADEBE to head home from five yards, beating a crowd of Chesterfield defenders on the goal-line in the 80th minute. Norris had rounded the keeper and a defender before composing himself to pick out the Gills midfielder with fantastic accuracy and calmness.
The last ten minutes saw Gillingham throw the metaphorical kitchen sink at the Chesterfield defence. With a lot of play coming down the flanks, Jackson delivered a great ball in which eluded the Chesterfield defence. Sadly, Donnelly could only head over from six-yards out with the ball arriving just too quickly for him to keep his effort down.
Jackson saw a left footed drive clear the bar and Donnelly just failed to collect a ball crossed into the box which had slightly too much power on it as Gillingham gave everything for one final chance to claim a point.
In the last minute of four minutes added on, an almighty goalmouth scramble presented such a chance as bodies and boots flew in on the six yard line in front of the Rainham End. Claims of a handball were waved away by the referee as the Gills faithful tried to suck the ball into the net. Unfortunately, Chesterfield eventually managed to clear the ball and with that the referee blew for full time.
F/T 1 – 2
GILLS: Nelson, Chicksen (Garmston, 46), El Abd, Ehmer, Jackson, Wright (C), Osadebe, Morris, Dack (Williams, 31), Samuel (Norris, 61), Donnelly
SUBS: Morris, Hessenthaler, Oldaker, List
Chesterfield: Lee, Talbot, Anderson, Hird, John, Herd, Dimaio, Banks (O’Shea, 84), Ariyibi, Novak, Ebanks-Blake (Donohue, 67)
SUBS: Chapman, Gardner, Humphreys, Simons, Slew
ATTENDANCE: 6,012 (199 away)
REFEREE: Mr Kevin Johnson