Late Birchall strike ensures draw with CosmosAn Adam Birchall strike with almost the last kick of the game saw a mixed Gills side earn a creditable draw with the New York Cosmos at MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
The American side, famed for players including Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto before folding in 1985, are over here as they also build towards their first season back in the North American Soccer League.
Like the Gills they face their season opener, at home to Fort Lauderdale Strikers, next Saturday and had been edged out by a strong Leyton Orient side at the Matchroom Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Cosmos started brightly and had the first shot of the match in the third minute. That came from a Juan Gonzalez free-kick which was straight at former Bromley keeper George Howard.
Peri Marosevic then saw a firm header turned aside at the near post by the Gills keeper and it was the former Junak Sinj striker that headed the resultant corner wide from Gonzalez’s corner.
Gillingham’s first opening came just moments later when Adam Birchall found space in the area but he saw his rising strike touched over by Kyle Reynish.
Quickfire corners from Harry Grant saw the Gills have the next two chances, first Callum Davies had a close range shot blocked and then trialist Bondz N’Gala stretched to fire the second over the top.
With 17 minutes on the clock the home side went close again, Birchall’s low ball in from the right was touched under the advancing keeper but covering defender Korey Veeder was able to clear.
Moments after skipper Davies saw a header clutched by Reynish it was Giovanni Savorese’s side that took a 20th minute lead. A great pin point cross from Henry Lopez found Stefan Dimitrov who sidestepped his marker before slotting the ball past Howard.
With 25 minutes on the clock the visitors went close to increasing their lead, Gonzalez curled in a great low ball in from the left and Marosevic stole in to divert it past Howard only to see it come back off the junction of bar and post.
A good run from Tom Derry instigated the Gills next chance which saw Jake Hessenthaler rob a defender but his low shot was saved by Reynish.
The Gills were getting over run in midfield and after an initial switch that saw Charlie Lee and Josh Hare swapping position’s, it was Hare that was replaced by Kane Haysman with 33 minutes gone. At the same time Hunter Freeman replaced Joseph Nane for the Americans.
Dimitrov then went close for NYC once again but his side-foot attempt from 10 yards was straight at Howard before Lopez failed to hit the target from just outside the area.
With two minutes of the half remaining it was Marosevic who had the next chance, he ran onto a Hagop Chirishian ball but fired a low shot across the face of goal.
H/T: Gills XI 0 – 1 New York Cosmos
There were two further changes by NYC at the break with goalkeeper Chad Calderone going on for Reynish while David Diosa took the place of Lopez. For the Gills young central defender Devante McKain went on for N’Gala.
The first chance of the second-half came fairly quickly, Lee making a lung-bursting run through from deep but he put a low left-foot effort wide of the far post.
Almost immediately another forward run from Lee ended with him playing the ball out to Joe Carter, his left-wing cross bounced on the top of the bar but fell to safety.
Howard had to be on his toes as the Cosmos twice looked to break, first he took the ball away from Dimitrov and then had to slide out to thwart an onrushing Chirishian.
Derry had a great chance to level matters in the 65th minute when played in by Haysman but keeper Calderone was out quickly to block.
A 71st minute challenge from Vedeer on Lee brought him a warning from the referee before seconds later Ashley Miller replaced Derry up front.
Good work down the right by Haysman set up another shooting chance for Davies but once again it was blocked by a closing defender.
Following the 81st minute introduction of Josh Staunton the Gills changed things around, Butcher pushed forward while both Miller and Haysman moved up alongside Birchall in a three-pronged attack.
Veeder curled a free-kick into the area but sub Saturo Kashiwase, on for Dimitrov, prodded the ball over from six yards out and then Ferreira-Mendes went through but put his low shot wide of the far post.
With just seconds remaining the predatory instincts of Birchall earned the Gills an equaliser. His control took him away from his marker and he neatly tucked a low shot beyond Calderone and inside the far post.
Gills – Howard, Butcher, Carter, N’Gala (McKain H/T), Davies, Hare (Haysman 33), Hessenthaler (Staunton 81m), Lee, Grant, Birchall, Derry (Miller 72) Unused sub: Alexis,
Cosmos – Reynish (Calderone H/T), Gonzalez, Veeder, Nane (Freeman 33, Roversio 74), Rodd, Szetela, Murphy, Lopez (Diosa H/T), Chirishian (Zarate 84m), Dimitrov (Kashiwase 80m), Marosevic (Ferreira-Mendes 64)