The Gills missed the chance to move up to third place on Tuesday night as they were beaten 2-1 by Walsall at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
Luke Norris missed a first-half penalty when the Gills were in control of the game, and scored a spectacular goal in injury time, however the home side were undone by two breakaway goals by Milan Lalkovic and Jordi Hiwula in the second half.
Gills manager Justin Edinburgh handed Bradley Dack
and Cody McDonald
their first starts since returning from injury and Bradley Garmston was preferred at left wing-back, as the hosts began with a 3-5-2 formation once again.
The first chance of the game came on six minutes and it was the home side that had the opportunity, straight from a corner.
Andrew Crofts swung in a ball to the back post which was met by a trademark Deji Oshilaja header back post. The defender’s effort looked to be flying in, only for Walsall goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to tip over for another corner.
didn’t have much to do in the opening quarter of the match, but had to be alert with 20 minutes gone when he was called into action. Sam Mantom found space in the middle of the park and drove a low effort towards Nelson’s left hand post, but the Gills number one got down well and parried the shot wide.
nearly had a goal on his first start since February after good work from Luke Norris. The striker hassled the Walsall defence, eventually leading to a corner, and with the ball bouncing around in the area the ball landed at Dack’s feet. The talismanic Gills midfielder struck on the half-volley, leading to a great save from Walsall’s keeper at full stretch.
The Gills were gifted a great opportunity on 25 minutes. After Paul Downing’s handball inside the area the referee pointed to the spot, giving the Gills a penalty.
Norris stepped up to take the spot kick but his effort was saved down by his left by Etheridge in the visitor’s goal.
Minutes later the Saddlers had a free-kick on the edge of the Gills 18-yard box after a foul from Dack. Lalkovic bent the set piece around the wall but his effort skimmed the bar and landed in the Brian Moore Stand.
Away from the tense encounter the match was proving to be, the crowd had a laugh on the half hour mark when Rico Henry fluffed his throw in. The ball slipped out of the left-back’s hands before the ball hit him on his head and went out for a throw in for the Gills.
The remaining minutes of the first half passed without major incident with neither side willing to commit too many men forward. However, both teams were playing at a great tempo with tackles flying in and a great atmosphere at MEMS Priestfield.
The visitors were on the attack straight from restart, as Romaine Sawyers picked out Jordy Hiwula unmarked in the area, but the forward swung and missed the ball.
McDonald hadn’t had a lot to feed off in the opening stages of the second half, but he did well to create a chance for the home team on the hour mark. The striker chested the ball to Andrew Crofts, who saw the keeper off his line and tried his luck from 40 yards, but failed to hit the target.
Gills were struggling to create anything despite the Rainham End doing its best to lift the home side, and the visitors took the lead on 68 minutes. Lalkovic picked the ball up halfway inside the Gills half, went past Dack and curled the ball into the keeper’s left-hand corner giving Nelson no chance.
, who hadn’t stopped running all game, almost levelled on 74 minutes. He controlled the ball and hit a swerving shot that had just too much on it and cleared the bar.
It was game over on 77 minutes: Walsall had four attackers against two defenders after a Gills attack broke down, Sawyers set up Hiwula, and he eased the ball passed Nelson to the despair of the home side.
Matters nearly got worse for the Gills moments later as Nelson denied Kieron Morris after another quick break away.
With the game meandering to a conclusion, a long throw from Ryan Jackson found Norris unmarked in the area. The Gills’ striker hit a blistering overhead kick past Etheridge, but unfortunately the damage had been done and the Stuart Atwell blew up immediately upon the restart.
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Garmston, Ehmer, El-Abd (Egan, 56), McDonald, Crofts, Norris, Dack (Dickenson, 80), Wright, Oshilaja (Hessenthaler, 67)
Unused Subs: G. Morris, McGlashan, A. Morris, Donnelly,
Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, Pennington, Downing, Chambers, Mantom, Sawyers (Flanagan, 90), Forde (Morris, 69), Henry, Lalkovic (Cook, 83), Hiwula
Unused Subs: McGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Kinsella
Referee: Stuart Atwell
Attendance: 6,246 (204 away)