GILLINGHAM 2-2 AFC WIMBLEDONGillingham were crowned League Two champions having picked up thepoint they required from an enthralling 2-2 draw with relegation threatened AFC Wimbledon.
A crowd of over 11,000 were packed into MEMS Priestfield Stadum to see the Gills lift their first title since the 1963-64 campaign (49 years ago) and most left joyous.
Having been comfortably in control, leading 2-0 at half-time through strike duo Deon Burton and Danny Kedwell, the Gills had to stand firm as Neal Ardley’s side threw caution to the wind in a spirited second-half performance, fighting back to earn a draw in their battle for survival.
Gillingham manager Martin Allen chose to make just one change to the team that started at Cheltenham last week, Steven Gregory coming in for the injured Joe Martin, Andy Frampton took the left-back berth.
After a frantic, but chanceless, opening ten minutes the Gills went ahead in the 12th minute. Chris Whelpdale crossed the ball in from the left and Pim Balkestein, under pressure from Leon Legge, headed straight to Burton some 12-yards or so out and the experienced striker instantly thumped the ball past John Sullivan. The ground simply erupted – well four-fifths of it anyway.
It was in the 22nd minute that the Gills doubled their lead, it was another decent cross from Whelpdale and there was Kedwell who powered a downward header beyond Sullivan and into the corner of the net.
To his credit the Gills leading scorer, who had just notched his 16th goal of the season, didn’t celebrate against his former club.
Three minutes later came the first yellow card of the afternoon, Whelpdale was the recipient after sliding in on Sullivan although from afar it seemed pretty harsh. I don’t think the keepers theatrics helped at all and he was up very quickly.
Charlie Allen fired inches wide following some more good football and then clipped a free-kick beyond the far post after Sammy Moore handled as Charlie Lee looked to break into the area.
H/T: 2 – 0
Just a minute into the second-half Whelpdale also became the first Gills player to be substituted, Myles Weston was his replacement.
The West London side looked to take an early grip after the break but Luke Moore, Chris Hussey and Jack Midson, the latter after a great clearance from a hardworking Frampton, all failed to hit the target while skipper Adam Barrett put in a tremendous tackle to stop Jason Prior going through on goal.
Lee and Weston had both put efforts wide before the latter went mighty close to adding a third in the 56th minute, the lively winger left Alan Bennett flat-footed as he went into the area but his fiercely struck left-foot strike thumped against the bar.
Just after the hour mark the visitors made two changes with Charlie Strutton and Curtis Osano replacing Jason Prior and Mat Mitchel-King and the moves made the difference.
In the 65th minute the Wombles did pull a goal back, Jonathon Meades broke down the right and crossed to the far post, sub Strutton knocked the ball back for leading goalscorer Jack Midson to steer the ball home.
Then the Dons began to dominate as they went in search of an equaliser, Midson saw a shot blocked by team-mate Luke Moore who himself had a shot blocked by Legge.
The visitors played their final card by sending on Gary Alexander for Sammy Moore and just a minute later the scores were level.
Midson got away down the left and his low ball in were slotted home by the impressive Meades and soon afterwards Alexander went extremely close to snatching a winner when his snapshot on the turn smacked Stuart Nelson’s left-hand post.
As the noise around the ground, from both sets of supporters, intensified, AFC laid siege on the Gillingham goal but with man of the match Barrett and Legge putting in immense performances there was no further scoring and the noise reached a crescendo at the final whistle.
A small pitch invasion followed but once cleared the chairman Paul Scally, manager Martin Allen, his staff and all the players were introduced to the crowd as they went on to the podium where captain Barrett received the League Two trophy from Chairman of the Football League Greg Clarke.
Cue the mass celebrations…
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Frampton, Barrett, Legge, Allen, Lee, Gregory, Whelpdale (Weston 47), Kedwell, Burton (Birchall 77) Unused subs: East, Davies, Dack, Forecast, Muggleton
Dons – Sullivan, Balkestein, Mitchel-King (Osano 60), S. Moore (Alexander 79), Midson, L. Moore, Pell, Prior (Strutton 60), Meades, Bennett, Hussey Unused subs: Long, Sainte-Luce, Antwi, Jaimez-Ruiz
Attendance: 11,172 (1,119 from AFC Wimbledon)
Referee: Andy D’Urso
Assistants: Adrian Gillett & Constantine Hatzidakis
Fourth Official: Stuart Butler