Richard Day reports from the Broadfield Stadium
The Gills bowed out of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy to a superb late effort from Town’s substitute Scott Nielson at the Broadfield Stadium.
It unfortunately meant Gillingham manager Martin Allen’s poor run in the competition continued following a see-saw battle against the League One outfit.
Bradley Dack, his first senior goal, and Lewis Montrose both found the net but it was the home side who edged it by the odd-goal in five.
Goalkeeper Tommy Forecast came in for his debut and he was one of six changes to the Gills side that had drawn with Chesterfield at the weekend. The others coming into the starting eleven were Andy Frampton, Charlie Allen, Bradley Dack, Ben Strevens and Danny Jackman who skippered the team.
The League One side, now under Richie Barker and not the ebullient Steve Evans, also made half-a-dozen changes to his side while another change of note was the Gills unusual kit of black shirts, blue shorts and socks.
It was a quiet opening with both sides looking to keep the ball when in possession without either side looking dangerous.
Then the Sussex side began to create openings but when the ball did reach the Gills box Tom Flanagan headed one clear, Forecast punched another away, Michael Jones found the roof of the net with a whipped-in cross and Billy Clarke fired wide from around 25 yards.
With 13 minutes on the clock the Gills made yet another early change, Jack Evans replaced Matt Fish in a straight swap at right-back.
Then in the 22nd minute the Gills opened the scoring slightly against the run of play with their first effort of the night. Chris Whelpdale’s long throw from the right evaded his intended target Flanagan and his marker but bounced perfectly for Dack coming in at the far post to put a header back across Paul Jones and into the net.
It was of course the young attacking midfielders first senior goal although he is no stranger in finding the net having scored 26 for the youth team last season.
The home side began to dominate possession once again and after Nicky Adams cracked a shot across the face of Forecast’s goal the Gills had a stroke of luck in the 38th minute. A long range strike from Mark Connelly took a wicked deflection off Lewis Montrose and past a stranded Forecast but struck the keepers left-hand post.
Just two minutes later though Crawley were level, a shot was blocked on the edge of the area but the ball ran perfectly for Joe Walsh to curl a great right-foot effort into the top left-hand corner of the diving Forecast’s net.
H/T: 1 - 1
Crawley didn’t waste too much time at the start of the second-half, taking the lead in the 47th minute. Josh Simpson broke down the right and delivered an inviting cross which the unmarked Billy Clarke lunged for and diverted past a bemused Forecast.
However parity was restored just three minutes later. Another Whelpdale throw found Montrose in the area and an exquisite turn saw him create enough space to drill a shot across Jones and into the far side of the net.
A now buoyant Gills, who were well supported by the 179 travelling fans, saw Evans set up Whelpdale who shot wide having taken the ball across the face of the area.
Town had a great chance to re-take the lead in the 57th minute, Adams was found by Jones wide on the right and he curled in a great ball to the far post but the onrushing Jonathon Forte somehow missed the target from six yards out.
On 66 minutes Whelpdale, who’d worked hard throughout enjoying a fair bit of possession and winning plenty of headers, was replaced by Adam Birchall. In a slight reshuffle Dack moved to the right of the midfield four with Strevens sitting in behind of the former Dover man.
All eyes were on yet another deflected effort from Clarke in the 80th minute, Forecast was rooted to the spot as the ball thankfully flew inches wide.
With four minutes remaining the Gills went behind again thanks to a stunning effort. Substitute Scott Nielson picked the ball up wide on the Crawley left, he cut inside then fired a terrific curling effort that flew past Forecast who had no chance.
Former Ebbsfleet United striker John Akinde, on as a sub, then saw another shot deflected wide before Montrose fired over at the other end.
Deep into time added on Akinde held off Evans before drilling a low shot goalwards which Forecast pushed to safety.
Crawley – Jones, Connolly, Clarke, Forte (Akinde 77), Simpson, Walsh, Hunt, Bulman, Adams (Neilson 63), Cooper, Jones (Davies 72) Unused subs: Wassmer, Kuipers
Gills – Forecast, Fish (Evans 13), Martin, Flanagan, Frampton, Montrose, Whelpdale (Birchall 66), Allen, Jackman, Dack, Strevens Unused subs: Hawkes, Davies, Brown
Attendance: 1,249 (179 Gills)
Referee: Stephen Bratt
Assistant refereee’s: Ian Cooper & Rob Hyde
Fourth Official: Jake Hillier