Richard Day reports from MEMS Priestfield Stadium
The Gills recorded a superb 3-1 opening day victory over a battling Bradford City side at a very warm MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
A Danny Kedwell brace, one from the spot, was added to late on by debutant Myles Weston after Phil Parkinson’s side had pulled one back and gone close on a couple of other occasions, threatening to ruin Martin Allen’s first league game in charge of the Gills.
As so often happens the first day of the football league campaign we saw weather much akin to what the cricket season has missed out on, it was very hot and humid. That said the game enjoyed a frenetic opening.
The Gills manager made two changes to his starting eleven following Tuesday’s impressive Capital One Cup victory at Championship outfit Bristol City, Joe Martin and Deon Burton coming in for Chris Whelpdale and Ben Strevens. Friday’s two new arrivals, Adam Barrett and the aforementioned Weston, were both on the bench.
After Garry Thompson failed to take an early headed chance for the Bantams it was the Gills who went close on eight minutes. Charlie Lee crossed from the right, with the outside of his right-boot, and Andy Frampton ghosted in at the far post to power a diving header goalwards which forced Matt Duke to brilliantly beat out.
From Charlie Allen’s resultant corner Danny Kedwell saw his goalbound header cleared off the line by Gary Jones.
Will Atkinson had a shot blocked and Alan Connell’s shot on the turn was straight at Stuart Nelson came before the visitors having 16th minute penalty claims waved away by referee Mick Russell after Kyel Reid went down in the area under a touch from Allen.
Then in the 25th minute Nelson had to turn aside a long-range strike from Jones, the former Rochdale man was pulling all the strings for the visitors while Reid was looking very lively.
With 31 minutes on the clock both sides were able to take a much-needed water break in the sultry conditions.
Duke was in the action once again in the 40th minute, a neat build up saw Lee find Kedwell in space and he crossed low from the left to Danny Jackman but his first-time poke on goal was palmed away by the City keeper.
Two minutes before the break the deadlock was broken. Lewis Montrose found a closely marked Kedwell in what looked to be an impossible angle from which to score. However the Gillingham striker somehow knocked the ball over Duke from almost on the goal-line and the crowd seemed to hold it’s breath before the ball dropped into the far side of the net and three sides of the ground were able to celebrate.
The Gills went two up from the penalty spot in the 54th minute after Lee was sent tumbling in the area by Garry Thompson with referee Russell pointing immediately to the spot. Kedwell stepped up to confidently beat Duke with a pin-point spot-kick high to his left.
Jack Payne and Myles Weston were brought on for Montrose and Burton respectively, the latter for his debut, but it was one of City’s double substitution that was to make a quick mark on the game when Nakhi Wells was bundled over in the area by Frampton. The City forward dusted himself down before drilling his spot-kick home low to Nelson’s right with the ball going in off the post much to the delight of the 400 sun-kissed travelling fans.
Hanson then smacked a low shot just wide before Gills shouts for another penalty were waved away when Kedwell’s header from an Allen corner, struck a City defender from close range.
As the visitors continued their search for an equaliser Zavon Hines miscued from a great position and then Jones blazed over the top.
At the other end Jackman sent a shot from distance wide before a great ball from Lee sent Matt Fish clear in the 83rd minute but his low ball across the face of the goal was just inches away from the onrushing Weston and two defenders.
Both teams made their final substitutions, Bradley Dack making his league debut, before Weston wrapped up the three points in the 88th minute.
The former Brentford winger had already seen one break ended by Luke Oliver’s clearance from in front of goal but at the second time of asking he showed the City defence a clean pair of heels and fired a low left-foot shot across Duke and into the far corner to mark a great start in Gillingham colours.
Then in injury time Dack found the space to drive a low shot beyond Duke but the young midfielder was unlucky to see the ball rebound into play off the keeper’s right-hand post.
Not surprisingly the Rainham End were in full voice at the final whistle as the Gills recorded a deserved victory and the team deserved the standing ovation.
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Flanagan, Frampton, Allen, Montrose (Payne 55), Lee, Jackman (Dack 85), Kedwell, Burton (Weston 58)
Unused subs: Strevens, C. Davies, Forecast, Barrett
City – Duke, Darby (A.Davies 84), Meredith, Oliver, Reid, Hanson, Thompson (Wells 58), Atkinson, Connell (Hines 58), Jones, McArdle
Unused subs: McLaughlin, , Hannah, McHugh, Doyle
Attendance: 5,107 (400 Bradford fans)
Referee – Mick Russell
Assistants – Adam Crysell & Neil Davies
Fourth Official – Michael George