Richard Day reports from MEMS Priestfield Stadium
Although the Gills were not at their best throughout the 90+ minutes, the point gained from this afternoon’s encounter at MEMS Priestfield Stadium proved enough to take them to the top of the League Two table.
Gillingham had gone behind in the 13th minute before leading scorer Danny Kedwell netted his fourth goal of the season eight minutes later to earn an important point.
Managerless Chesterfield, who had Tommy Wright in caretaker charge, looked to be a side determined to prove a point and I’ll be surprised if they are not one of the front runners come the end of this season.
Even without Jordan Bowery, the striker having moved to Premier League Aston Villa 24 hours earlier, they still created a number of decent chances.
Manager Martin Allen made four changes to the Gills side that had started the Capital One Cup tie with Middlesbrough in midweek with Tom Flanagan, Chris Whelpdale, Lewis Montrose and Myles Weston all returning.
The first chance of the game came in the fourth minute when Charlie Lee let fly from distance which Spireites keeper Tommy Lee turned aside.
In the eighth minute Joe Martin broke through a Terrell Forbes challenge and laid the ball off for the lively Weston who fired over the top.
Then in the next attack there were appeals for a penalty as Danny Kedwell looked to get in the area, the ball appearing to bounce off a defenders hand, referee Pat Miller wasn't interested.
Right out of the blue Chesterfield took the lead in the 13th minute, Forbes swung over a cross from the right and it dropped perfectly for Craig Westcarr to find the top left-hand corner of the net with a precise side-foot.
The scores were level in the 21st minute, Weston crossed from the left and Kedwell rose above his marker to power a header in at the far post despite Lee’s efforts to claw the ball out. Referee’s assistant Elliot Kaye was in the right place to give the goal.
Suddenly the Gills were buzzing, Whelpdale sent a dipping volley just over and Burton curled a shot straight at Lee as they pressed forward.
That said there was a major let-off on the half-hour, Danny Whitaker played a ball in from the left and Marc Richards ghosted in behind skipper Adam Barrett but thankfully Nelson was on hand to block the strikers close range prod.
Almost immediately the more defensive Montrose was withdrawn with Jack Payne taking over the holding midfield role.
As the half wore on the two sides seemed to negate each other, the only real chance of note being a Kedwell free-kick which forced Lee to save low to his right.
The Gills almost got the perfect boost at the start of the second-half, Kedwell helped a forward ball onto Burton and he rounded his marker before firing goalwards only to see Forbes clear off the line.
Burton then received the first yellow card of the afternoon following a foul on Drew Talbot which looked a pretty harsh decision, although it has to be said some of the official’s decisions were frustrating throughout the match.
The Derbyshire outfit then enjoyed a good spell, Westcarr put a good opportunity over the top, Richards shot wide when well placed at the far post, Nelson then got a vital touch to a Talbot cross diverting the ball away from the striker again before his free-kick looped up off Westcarr and dropped onto the roof of the net.
A 75th minute block by Kedwell then denied Chesterfield, Sam Togwell knocked a free-kick into the area, Neal Trotman headed it down for Whitaker to volley goalwards, thankfully though it bounced to safety off the Gills striker.
It was the Gills leading scorer’s last action, Adam Birchall was introduced for his league debut with twelve minutes remaining and he received a great reception from the majority of the 4,380 crowd.
The closing stages saw the game ebbing and flowing with chances falling to both sides.
The Spireites, who had to substitute their substitute when Craig Clay received a cut, saw Liam Ridehalgh send a curling free-kick towards the top corner which was brilliantly touched away by Nelson.
An 83rd minute Weston corner was nodded down by Barrett for Burton who hooked the ball over and then Birchall also made it a dream debut when he drilled a low effort across the face of goal which a lunging Burton was inches away from reaching.
The Gills were now back in the ascendancy. Togwell deflected a Payne cross over a back-pedalling Lee but the ball again dropped onto the roof of the net before Fish cracked a terrific shot straight at the keeper from long range.
Back to the other end and it was the visitors that created a couple of late openings. Just after the five minutes of added time were shown by the fourth official, Nelson came to the fore once again with another couple of important saves, first he turned a Ridehalgh strike over the bar and the keeper was then forced to parry away a 20-yard strike from Whitaker.
With the final whistle looming Chesterfield were unluckily reduced to ten men. Goalscorer Westcarr continued for a couple of seconds after the referee had whistled and was pretty unfortunate to receive a second yellow having received his first in the 80th minute following a tete-a-tete with Payne. The 196 travelling Spireites certainly made their feelings towards the official pretty clear.
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Flanagan, Whelpdale (Allen 62), C.Lee, Kedwell (Birchall 78), Montrose (Payne 31), Burton, Weston, Barrett. Unused subs: Strevens, Frampton, Davies, Forecast
Chesterfield – T.Lee, Forbes, Trotman, Hird, Ridehalgh, Talbot, Allott (Clay 72, Randall 78), Togwell, Whitaker, Richards (Lester 90), Westcarr. Unused subs: O’Donnell, , Boden, Hazel, Darikwa
Attendance: 4,380 (196 Spireites)
Referee – Pat Miller
Assistant referee’s – Thomas Ramsey & Elliott Kaye
Fourth Official – Marc Wilson