Marvin Johnson’s 32nd minute strike was the difference between the Gills and Oxford United on Tuesday evening, with the Us winning 1-0 at the Kassam Stadium in Sky Bet League One.
Gills manager Justin Edinburgh started with the same starting XI that beat Walsall 2-1 on Saturday and there was a place on the bench for both Chris Herd and Frank Nouble, after the pair missed the trip to the Midlands through injury.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas started the Gills’ first attack of the game on eight minutes, nutmegging Ryan Ledson and driving forward, but his ball to Bradley Dack was over hit and the breakaway amounted to nothing.
Chris Maguire tried to test Stuart Nelson with 12 minutes played, but his shot from 25-yards failed to work the ‘keeper and went out for a goal kick.
Rob Hall should have done better with his effort one minute later. Maguire played the left-winger in with a neat ball inside the area, however Hall dragged his shot wide of the upright, and fell to the floor holding his head, knowing he should have done better.
Gillingham’s first shot on target came from Cody McDonald on the half-hour mark. The striker did well to turn his man, but Simon Eastwood was quick off his line to get a strong hand to the ball and clear any danger.
The Us took the lead on 32 minutes through a superb attacking move. Johnson played a one-two with Kane Hemmings on the edge of the Gills’ box, and the former took a touch before sliding the ball past Nelson to make the score 1-0.
With the Gills looking to get back into the game quickly, McDonald met Dack’s corner on 34 minutes and did well to direct the ball towards goal, but once again Eastwood was equal to his effort.
The Gills had an appeal for a penalty turned away five minutes later, as Josh Wright went tumbling in the Us’ penalty area. Referee Andrew Madley waved play on and United broke on the counter-attack, however Hall fired over from outside the box.
The Gills went close with the final action of the opening 45 minutes, but were denied by the combination of the woodwork and great defending. First, Emmanuel-Thomas’ effort cannoned off the bar, then the ball came to Dack, who’s header was goal-bound, but Curtis Nelson was in the right place to head the ball off the line.
The conditions had completely changed when the teams returned for the second-half, with mist gathering over the pitch, making it difficult to see over to the opposite end of the field.
United had a free-kick in a promising position on 48 minutes, after Scott Wagstaff clattered Hall. The winger would have been through on goal had he not been fouled by the Gillingham number seven. Maguire took the set-piece, but Nelson confidently came out and claimed the ball to keep the score at 1-0.
On the hour mark Emmanuel-Thomas picked the ball up on the edge of the D and dribbled towards goal, taking on three men in the process. The striker advanced to the six-yard line and was about to pull the trigger, but Nelson recovered for the Us, sliding in to poke the ball out for a corner-kick.
Maguire went close for the hosts just one minute later, latching on to Hemmings’ flick-on and volleying the ball inches over the bar.
Edinburgh decided to change things on 64 minutes, replacing Billy Knott with Nouble. Dack dropped into the supporting midfield trio, allowing Nouble to take his place on the left-wing.
Emmanuel-Thomas was seeing a lot of the ball on the right-hand side, and each time he received it the winger looked to attack, however United’s defence were resilient and stood strong to clear the danger on multiple occasions.
The Gills’ top scorer did go on a powerful run on 70 minutes, and managed to get a shot away from 20-yards, but Eastwood did well to save.
Both teams were limited to little chances in the closing stages, with United holding out for the 1-0 victory.
Emmanuel-Thomas did try his luck from distance again with five minutes remaining, but the Us’ keeper was once again equal to the effort, saving comfortably.
McDonald had the last chance of the game deep into stoppage time, rising to meet Nouble’s cross, but the striker headed wide of the goal.
Oxford held on through added time to take all three points.
Oxford: Eastwood, Lundtram, Nelson, Maguire, MacDonald, Hemmings (Taylor, 86), Edwards, Hall (Ruffels, 65), Ledson, Johnson, Dunkley (Martin, 75)
Unused subs: Buchel, Rothwell, Roberts, Raglan
Gillingham: Nelson, Ehmer, Konchesky, Cargill, Hessenthaler, McDonald, Knott (Nouble, 64), Dack, Emmanuel-Thomas, Wagstaff, Wright
Unused subs: Hadler, Oshilaja, Herd, Cundle, Byrne, Osadebe
Referee: Steven Meredith
Attendance: 6,848 (301 away)