Deon Burton's goal moves the Gills eight points clearDeon Burton’s 22nd minute goal proved to be the match-winner, ensuring victory over Rotherham United at MEMS Priestfield Stadium, and with the results elsewhere in League Two pretty much all going their way the Gills moved eight points clear at the top.
Gillingham looked comfortable and dominated for long periods of the game except for maybe the closing stages when the Millers threw caution to the wind and put numerous players forward in search of an equaliser.
Stuart Nelson’s 83rd minute flying save to keep out substitute Michael O’Connor’s thumping volley, proved equally important for the Gills while both Chris Whelpdale and Danny Kedwell had earlier been denied by the woodwork.
Martin Allen made two changes from the side that drew 2-2 at Fleetwood on Saturday, Steven Gregory took the holding midfield role from Callum Davies while Deon Burton returned upfront at the expense of Adam Birchall.
In the opening stages, played at a lively tempo on a bouncy surface, both teams looked to knock the ball around well but were also quick to close the opposition down.
The first real threat on either goal came in the 11th minute when Daniel Nardiello spun onto a neat touch from Daniel Kearns but fired a low shot across the face of goal.
Within three minutes the Gills had responded well, Adam Barrett seeing his shot on the turn from the edge of the area being deflected over the top. Skipper Barrett was also the next to have a go, from even further out, but this one sailed over the top and in amongst the noisy Rainham Enders.
Kari Arnason saw a free-kick deflected into the hands of Stuart Nelson after Leon Legge had caught Nardiello. Almost immediately at the other end Chris Whelpdale was felled by Claude Davis but Charlie Allen’s free-kick was blocked at close quarters.
With 22 minutes on the clock the Gills took a deserved lead. Another of Whelpdale’s long throw’s was flicked on by Danny Kedwell and Burton stole in to stab home from close range. It was the experienced striker’s 12th goal of the campaign and his third against his former club Rotherham having scored twice against them at the New York Stadium back in December.
Arnason fired another effort wide for the Millers before Whelpdale went so close to increasing the lead in the 34th minute. His terrific right-foot strike from some 25-yards flew past Scott Shearer but came back off the bar. It had been hit with such ferocity that the ball bounced back into play outside the penalty area.
Shortly afterwards Anton Robinson cut inside from the left and squeezed a low shot through a crowded area that forced Shearer to clutch low down to his right.
Just before the break the visitors did threaten. David Noble knocked a free-kick into the area, Craig Morgan glanced it on but a covering Joe Martin cleared as Arnason looked to get in.
Rotherham boss Steve Evans, who returned to the dug-outs with six stewards in tow after the break, made two changes at the interval with Michael O’Connor and Ben Pringle replacing Noble and Lionel Ainsworth respectively.
Just a minute into the second-half a neat piece of skill from Nardiello created himself an opening but he clipped his shot across the face of goal.
The action quickly returned to the other end, a fierce Whelpdale strike was deflected off the head of O’Connor which saw the first of three quickfire corners which the visiting defence managed to scramble clear.
A Charlie Allen run and an Anton Robinson touch then set up a strike from Burton which forced Shearer to punch clear before at the other end Nelson reacted quickly to collect at Nardiello’s feet as the striker looked to break into the area. It was the former Manchester United forward’s last piece of the action as he was replaced by Kayode Odejayi just after the hour.
There was a worrying moment when Legge went down with a left ankle problem having made yet another important clearance but was able to continue following treatment from physio Gary Hemens.
With twenty minutes remaining the Gills went close again, Kedwell’s superb strike, following a neat build up, looked to be touched onto the bar by Shearer before it flew to safety once again.
Barrett then seemed to be tugged by Odejayi but with referee Oliver Langford not giving anything the Gills captain made a great diving block to deny Revell.
In the 75th minute a huge free-kick from Nelson found its way to Kedwell who saw his diving header pushed aside by Shearer.
The Gills were forced into their first change three minutes later, Robinson limped off following a knock with Myles Weston replacing him. In the change Weston went wide left, Allen moved into a central role and Whelpdale switched wings.
With seven minutes remaining the Gills were indebted to Nelson for keeping the lead, O’Connor who moments before had been down holding his head, struck a fierce volley that looked to be destined for the top left-hand corner of the net before the keeper flew across to turn the shot aside.
There was plenty of pressure from Rotherham in the closing stages, with three or four players pushed forward, but Legge and Barrett, aided by Kedwell and others, were immense at the back.
However the only threats on goal saw Kearns going down looking for a penalty as Matt Fish ‘challenged’ which saw appeals waved away while Revell headed over the bar when a chance fell his way.
There was a huge cheer at the final whistle from a majority of the 6,796 crowd as the league leaders claimed three more points while news soon filtered through that both Port Vale and Burton had drawn while Northampton had lost at fellow promotion hopefuls Cheltenham.
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Legge, Barrett, Whelpdale, Gregory, Robinson (Weston 78), Allen, Kedwell, Burton Unused subs: East, Davies, Birchall, Forecast, , McKain, Muggleton
Millers – Shearer, Davis, Arnason, Mullins, Ainsworth (Pringle H/T), Revell, Nardiello (Odejayi 61), Noble (O’Connor H/T), Morgan, Kearns, Skarz Unused subs:, Warrington, Frecklington, Agard, Ridehalgh
Attendance: 6,796 (360 Rotherham fans)
Referee: Oliver Langford
Assistants: Lee Betts & Stuart Burt
Fourth official: John Magill