GILLINGHAM 2-1 DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGEA calmly taken second-half penalty from Deon Burton not only ensured the Gills claimed all three points from this hard fought battle but the result also saw them return to the top of the table as Port Vale lost at home.
Leon Legge had earlier fired the home side ahead before Femi Ilesanmi levelled matters seven minutes into the second-half.
The Gills were forced to defend deeply in the closing stages, man of the match Adam Barrett and Legge were outstanding in repelling everything knocked into the area, as Dagenham went in search of an equaliser although an amazing miss by Burton late on could have settled matters just before the final whistle.
Gillingham manager Martin Allen made two changes to the team that started the Yorkshire ‘double’ last week with Charlie Lee and Myles Weston replacing Charlie Allen and Deon Burton. Lee started the game on the left of midfield and Weston up top alongside Cody McDonald.
Both of the Gills two new loan signings, Ryan Williams (Fulham) and Michael Richardson (Newcastle United) were amongst the substitutes.
Dagenham included ex-Gills Luke Howell and Ben Strevens in their starting XI while Kevin Maher was on the bench.
The Gills were kicking towards the Rainham End in the first-half and the front pairing quickly got into their stride and caused the visiting back-line problems with their pace.
It was the Daggers that had the first real threat on either goal in the 14th minute when captain Abu Ogogo left a couple of defenders in his wake with a jinking run in the area but Leon Legge got across to block his left-footed strike. Stuart Nelson easily collected the resultant corner.
Their next corner, three minutes later and swung into the near post by Matthew Saunders, was a bit more problematic but Andy Frampton was in the right place to keep out Luke Wilkinson’s deflection.
Gillingham’s first effort came just moments later, a neat build-up ended with Matt Fish cracking a shot over the bar. Soon afterwards a free-kick from Anton Robinson was just too long for Legge to get a decent touch on.
In the 26th minute Lee received the first yellow card of the afternoon from referee Iain Williamson following a foul on Gavin Hoyte.
The Gills went ahead in the 28th minute from another free-kick. Weston played the ball into the area from the right, it looked as if McDonald flicked the ball on and Legge crashed the ball past an exposed Chris Lewington with his left-foot from around eight yards.
There were a few worrying seconds after assistant referee Carl Fitch belatedly raised his flag with a number of Dagenham players complaining but after a brief chat the referee awarded the goal. It was the defenders first goal since joining the club in January.
Legge had the opportunity to increase the lead in the 36th minute when he rose well to meet a Joe Martin cross but the defender couldn’t keep his header on target.
The final two chances of the half both fell to John Still’s side, the first saw Ogogo fire a low ball across the face of the Gillingham goal with a lunging Ben Strevens just unable to reach it before Hoyte smacked a shot high onto the Town End.
When the half-time whistle went both managers seemed intent on making a point to the referee as the sides left the pitch.
H/T: 1 – 0
After a fairly even opening after the break, the home support was stunned when the scores were levelled in the 52nd minute. Femi Ilesanmi broke forward from his left-back position, cut inside Chris Whelpdale and was then fortuitous as his intended pass came back to him off Legge and he smacked the ball beyond Nelson first time. The 228 travelling fans up high on the Town End were delighted.
Another free-kick almost led to the Gills restoring their lead in the 55th minute but McDonald was unable to guide his header on goal from Robinson’s delivery. Shortly after this a Robinson corner was met at the far post by Lee but his downward header was blocked on the line.
Lee then had a great chance to put the Gills ahead seconds later, Fish whipped in a decent cross from the right and the midfielder ghosted in well but put his glancing header wide of both Lewington and unfortunately the far post.
Before the dust had settled the Gills surged forward again and as Robinson forced his way into the area he was sent tumbling by the challenge of keeper Lewington and this time the assistant (Marc Wilson) and referee were in agreement and awarded the penalty.
After the keeper had been yellow carded (rather luckily staying on the pitch) his day got worse as Deon Burton, who had only been on the pitch a minute or so after replacing Frampton, confidently sent him the wrong way with a calm spot-kick to put the Gills back in front with 68 minutes on the clock. The goal took the strikers tally for the season to 11.
Five minutes later a second Gillingham change saw Steven Gregory taking over from McDonald with a change in formation to 4-1-4-1 although wide men Weston and Whelpdale both looked to help out Burton, Lee took a more central role.
Fish picked up a yellow card in the 80th minute and from the resultant free-kick the ever-dangerous Wilkinson headed wide. It was the Gills right-back’s last action as he was replaced two minutes later by Bradley Dack who went into the midfield – Whelpdale reverting to the full-back position.
In the 84th minute Nelson had a heart-in-the-mouth moment when he dropped a left-wing corner but Wilkinson didn’t get a great touch as he poked the ball goalwards and it enabled Whelpdale to clear.
Burton picked up a yellow card in the 87th minute for a foul on Wilkinson, who I think it fair to say cut a frustrated figure.
In the 90th minute Howell worked hard and got into the area with a neat one-two but the Daggers joint leading scorer curled his right foot shot high over the top.
The visitors introduced Jake Reed in the five minutes of time added on as they went in desperate search of an equaliser, the best chance seeing sub Dominic Green have a shot blocked bravely by Dack.
Then in the final minute the East Londoners were caught going forward and the Gills had a great chance to increase their lead. Weston broke clear down the left, took the ball beyond the exposed Lewington and unselfishly crossed perfectly on a plate for Burton to nod home. Unfortunately there was a stunned silence as the experienced striker inexplicably put his close range header the wrong side of the post.
Thankfully it didn’t matter as just seconds later the final whistle sounded. The relieved crescendo of noise that erupted around the ground was not only thankful that the three points were secured but also buoyed by the news that Port Vale had lost at home to ten-man Morecambe and the Gills were back on top of the League Two table .
Gillingham – Nelson, Fish (Dack 81), Martin, Legge, Barrett, Whelpdale, Robinson, Frampton (Burton 65), Lee, McDonald (Gregory 73), Weston Unused subs: Williams, Birchall, Forecast, Richardson
Dagenham - Lewington, Wilkinson, Ilesanmi, Doe, Williams, Strevens, Elito (Caprice 75), Saunders (Green 79), Howell, Hoyte (Reed 90+1), Ogogo Unused subs: Maher, Woodall, Bingham, Seabright
Attendance: 5,611 (228 Daggers)
Referee - Iain Williamson
Assistants - Carl Fitch & Marc Wilson
Fourth Official – John Magill