GILLINGHAM 1-2 PORT VALEDespite a tremendous battling performance the Gills relinquished top spot in League Two to visiting Port Vale, who having scored twice in the opening 20 minutes, held on for an odd-goal in three victory after being put under intense pressure.
The Gills, who had won at Southend and Bristol Rovers in main thanks to early strikes in both games, were caught out as the Valiants netted in the opening stages themselves.
Martin Allen’s side created numerous chances throughout the 90 minutes but they just couldn’t find a second goal to earn a deserved point that they fully deserved.
The Gillingham manager made one change to the starting XI from the previous two successive away wins with Danny Kedwell replacing fellow striker Adam Birchall.
His opposite number Micky Adams made four changes to the Vale line-up which saw the inclusion of two recent signings Darren Purse and Lee Hughes.
Within the opening seconds Kedwell made an instant impact, not just on the game but on Ryan Burge, however referee Darren Deadman chose just to have a word with the Gills forward.
In the fourth minute the visitors took the lead, Adam Yates crossed diagonally from the left and Tom Pope rose to plant a header back across Stuart Nelson. His 26th goal of the season had the large number of travelling fans in raptures.
Within a minute the Gills looked to respond as Jack Payne cracked a low shot inches wide from around 20 yards.
Hughes didn’t endear himself to the home support throughout the afternoon which started with a bit of argy-bargy in the area involving Deon Burton, again Mr Deadman chose the quiet word approach.
As ten minutes clocked by Kedwell went close with a deft glancing header from Chris Whelpdale’s long throw that dropped onto the roof of the net.
With a cracking atmosphere inside MEMS Priestfield Stadium the Gills looked lively, Myles Weston in particular looked hungry and worried the visitors with his pace.
Gillingham continued to create the openings, Payne fired a shot at Chris Neal, the keeper then beat out a fierce near-post strike from Weston before Leon Legge headed wide.
Whelpdale then went past Yates on the right and Neal was surprised, but able to block, when the low cross evaded a number of players at the near post and flew wide after hitting the keeper.
Then in the 20th minute the Gills found themselves two behind. Vale were awarded a debatable free-kick which Burge knocked in from the right, Nelson pulled off a great save to keep out another Pope header but despite another valiant attempt by the Gills keeper he could do nothing as the ball ricocheted off Barrett and into the net. The 716 travelling fans were ecstatic with Hughes certainly looking to claim it.
Within a minute, and almost straight from the kick-off, the Gills had pulled one back. Kedwell broke into the area before unleashing a terrific shot past Neal to register his 12th goal of the campaign.
Payne had another effort from distance before some great work from Burton ended with his cross being headed inches wide by Whelpdale.
In the 38th minute persistent fouling from Hughes saw him become the first booking of the afternoon, sending Legge tumbling this time and a minute later a wild Myrie-Williams shot flew into a part of the Rainham End not normally troubled.
H/T: 1 - 2
The Gills came out strongly at the start of the second-half and inside the opening sixty seconds Whelpdale had a shot blocked.
Six minutes into the second-half Pope was lucky to escape a yellow card at least after a needless push on Matt Fish following a challenge on the Vale striker by Legge.
Pope and Hughes failed to take half-chances for the Burslem outfit before the Gills management made two like-for-like substitutions in the 64th minute with Steven Gregory, making his home debut, and Adam Birchall replacing Payne and Burton.
The Gills put Vale, who were using their experience to gain a number of free-kicks, under the cosh but there was a heart in the mouth moment as Pope went down easily in the area as Fish challenged. Referee Deadman was unmoved.
In the 74th minute Birchall was denied as Ashley Vincent cleared his close range touch off the line after Legge’s initial goalbound header had been blocked.
A third Gillingham change followed with Charlie Lee replacing Whelpdale before Vale made two changes of their own Ben Williamson took over from Hughes up front then Calvin Andrew went on for Myrie-Williams.
A Lee ball in from the right was begging for a first time finish from Kedwell but on this occasion the striker was left wanting, moments later though a Joe Martin cross was met by Lee but Neal knew little about it until the close range header actually hit him.
In the 83rd minute Purse went into the referee’s notebook for a nasty looking tackle through the back of Birchall. Thankfully the Gills forward was quickly back up.
Two minutes later a superb last-ditch tackle from Legge denied Williamson as he looked to go clear and with time beginning to run out the central defender was pushed forward as an auxillary striker with Andy Frampton dropping back into defence.
As the final minute of normal time ticked by the Gills had another chance, Weston crossed from the left and a well-placed Lee’s attempted strike seemed to be deflected wide. A goal-kick was given.
Four minutes of time was added on and in that Neal had to race from his goal to hack clear as Birchall closed in but it was Williamson who had the best chance as he broke clear but shot wide of both Nelson and the net.
So for just the second time since September it is not Gillingham that top the table tonight.
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Payne (Gregory 64), Legge, Whelpdale (Lee 74), Kedwell, Frampton, Burton (Birchall 64), Weston, Barrett
Unused subs: Strevens, Jackman, Allen, Forecast
Vale – Neal, Yates, Purse, Loft, Myrie-Williams (Andrew 77), Vincent (Taylor 81), Pope, Burge, Duffy, Chilvers, Hughes (Williamson 74)
Unused subs: Johnson, Shuker, Davis, Birchall
Attendance: 8,392 (716 from Vale)
Referee: Darren Deadman
Assistants: John Farries & Guy Stretton
Fourth official: Carl Fitch