Gillingham 0-0 Cheltenham
The points were shared at Priestfield but it was one of the most entertaining goalless encounters I’ve seen in a long time.
Martin Allen made three changes to the side that battered Scunthorpe 4-0 in the cup on Saturday, calling up Andy Frampton, Lewis Montrose and Danny Kedwell in place of Danny Jackman, Bradley Dack and Deon Burton. There was also a first appearance on the subs bench for young centre-half Josh Hare.
In an enthralling first half both sides went close from distance in the first five minutes, Chris Whelpdale flashing an effort just wide of Brown’s left hand upright before a rising Zebroski effort cleared the bar at the Rainham End.
After Myles Weston had fired just wide of the mark, the visitors tested Stuart Nelson with a 10th minute close range header from Russ Penn but the Gills custodian was equal to the task, diving to his left to pull off a smart save.
Cheltenham looked keen to score early on and spurned two more openings soon after, Callum Davies denying Steve Elliot with a precision tackle at the far post before Nelson made another fine save, low to his right, to keep out a Kaid Mohamed strike.
On 21 minutes Jack Payne earned the game’s first booking and a rather harsh one at that, catching Penn, in the Cheltenham half, as the Robin’s midfielder cut across his path.
Five minutes later, a brilliant tackle from Lewis Montrose in the centre circle allowed Myles Weston to break down the left, two Robin’s defenders failed to cut out his cross, which fell invitingly for Chris Whelpdale, sadly his powerful drive drifted just the wrong side of the near post.
At the opposite end a Billy Jones centre was cleared to Darren Carter who tried to beat Nelson at his far post with a dinked effort on goal which failed to trouble the keeper, rolling well wide of the mark.
Moments later, Carter was booked for a clumsy challenge on Vincelot and the livewire Frenchman almost scored from the resulting free-kick, Weston curling a hanging ball above goal but despite Romain’s burst of pace he just couldn’t make the crucial connection to divert past the keeper.
With the action switching from box to box, Gills skipper Adam Barrett was next to threaten goal. The centre-half pushed up for a Whelpdale throw, connecting superbly at the near post, only to see his header hit the side netting.
Seconds later, at the opposite end, his partner Callum Davies checked Mohamed’s progress on goal with another sensational tackle, before a Matt Fish cross from wide right had Robins’ keeper Scott Brown desperately back-pedalling to claw out from under his crossbar.
Five minutes before the break Penn headed over from a McGlashan cross before Gills hit the woodwork. Keeper Brown could only parry Jack Payne’s ferocious effort from distance, Danny Kedwell pounced on the loose ball and was unlucky to see his finish come back off the crossbar.
In the final seconds of the 45 Cheltenham almost found the net in, Jombati’s cross from the right deflecting goalwards but Matt Fish was alert to the danger and cleared his lines with composure to send the sides in all square at the break.
Four minutes after the restart Callum Davies was felled in his own area by a wild challenge from McGlashan. Fortunately the Gills defender was quickly back on his feet but the referee was surprising lenient with McGlashan, opting only to hand out a lecture.
On 53 minutes Martin Allen invigorated the Gills attack with his first change of the evening, introducing Deon Burton in place of Jack Payne, Myles Weston reverting to the left side of midfield as Burton joined Kedwell up front. The change had an instant impact on the home side, changing the whole momentum of the match.
Four minutes later Robin’s left back Billy Jones was booked for a poorly timed tackle on Vincelot. From the free-kick Adam Barrett powered Weston’s delivery goalwards but was denied by a fingertip save from Brown.
With the Gills camped out in the Cheltenham half Barrett was again involved in the 65th minute, winning a free-kick on the edge of the area. Danny Kedwell stepped up to take the set piece and struck it low and with power, only to see it cannon back off the wall.
Gills were presented with an almost identical opportunity in the 72nd minute after Vincelot had been fouled again, just outside the box. Deon Burton was the taker this time but once again the Robins wall did their job and the effort was charged down.
With 15 minutes remaining Martin Allen made his second change, Danny Jackman replacing Myles Weston on the left of midfield. Within seconds the Gills were almost in front, Deon Burton connecting with a ball from the right but his low header landed agonisingly wide of Brown’s left hand post.
Two minutes later Lewis Montrose found his name in the book for a foul on McGlashan in the centre circle, the decision looked harsh given that there was minimal contact between the two, if any.
With the home side piling on the pressure, keeper Brown was called into action again in the 80th minute, Jackman’s ball from the left opening the Robins defence for Kedwell to flick on but Brown was on hand to thwart Barrett’s finish at his near post.
Cheltenham were living a charmed life by now and almost concede six minutes from time as Jombati hacked at Jackman’s cross and was fortunate to only concede a corner. Danny Kedwell met Jackman’s delivery at the far post but once more the ball fell just the wrong side of the woodwork.
For the final three minutes Martin Allen brought Adam Birchall on to provide an alternative up front, Kedwell the man to make way. While McGlashan earned a booking in the 92nd minute for yet another foul on Romain Vincelot. Sadly the goals the Gills efforts deserved just would not come.
Attendance: 6,096 (109 Cheltenham)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Callum Davies, Adam Barrett, Andy Frampton, Lewis Montrose, Romain Vincelot, Jack Payne (Deon Burton 53), Chris Whelpdale, Myles Weston (Danny Jackman 74), Danny Kedwell (Adam Birchall 87)
Subs not used: Tommy Forecast, Josh Hare, Tom Flanagan, Ben Strevens.
Cheltenham: Scott Brown, Billy Jones, Darren Carter, Steve Elliott, Marlon Pack, Jermaine McGlashan, Alan Bennett, Russ Penn (Sam Deering 87), Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohammed (Jeff Goulding 81), Chris Zebroski.
Subs not used: Keith Lowe, Darryl Duffy, Connor Roberts, Shaun Harrad, Danny Andrew.