ALDERSHOT TOWN 1-1 GILLINGHAMA second-half header from Leon Legge earned the Gills a valuable point in a hard-working performance against an Aldershot side fighting for their lives at the wrong end of League Two.
There was a shock before kick-off, not when the teams were announced, but the fact that the sun actually broke through for a matter of seconds and continued to do so occasionally throughout the afternoon.
Talking of the teams, boss Martin Allen made two changes to the Gills XI that started the game against Oxford in midweek with Matt Fish and Danny Kedwell replacing Myles Weston and Adam Birchall.
The Gills, kicking towards the covered end at the EBB Stadium, almost got the perfect start when inside the opening minute, a Charlie Lee throw was cleared over his own bar by Sonny Bradley after Leon Legge and Deon Burton got touches.
This was quickly followed by Kedwell seeing an effort blocked by Bradley and Burton finding the side-netting with a low, angled drive.
As the home side looked to get going a Danny Rose free-kick caused some problems at the back and when the same player crossed moments later Legge got an important block as Craig Reid flicked the ball on.
In the ninth minute Lee picked up a booking for an aerial challenge on Shots skipper Ben Herd. The Gills midfielder protested his innocence but the home bench certainly didn’t like it, while Herd was left with a bloodied nose.
A 15th minute corner from Anton Robinson was half-cleared to Fish around 20 yards out but the right-back failed to keep his volley down.
It was Andy Scott’s side that had the next shot, nine minutes later, Rose saw his long-range effort parried by Stuart Nelson who had to react quickly to recover the loose ball.
Moments later the Gills custodian was called into action once again, collecting under pressure as Kieron Cadogan swung in a free-kick. This was quickly followed by Oliver Risser firing wide.
Risser was next to go into referee Steve Rushton’s notebook for a challenge on Whelpdale in the 38th minute.
There were worrying moments shortly afterwards as Fish stayed down after a collision but he returned to action after treatment from physio Gary Hemens.
In time added on at the end of the first-half, Kedwell saw a left-foot shot deflected for a corner after Burton, Whelpdale and Fish had helped to create the opening.
Martin Allen certainly looked as if he had a point or two to make with the referee as the whistle was blown for the break – marching straight on to confront him.
H/T: 0 – 0
The Shots kicked off the second-half and within fifteen seconds Legge was forced to make a great challenge on Danny Hylton as he tried to break into the area.
In the 47th minute the home side did go ahead when Reid found the space to hammer a left-foot shot high into the net beyond a stunned Nelson.
It was certainly a shock to the system as it was the first goal that the Gills have conceded on their travels since the trip to Rotherham on December 8.
Bradley Dack became the first substitute to be introduced when he replaced Lee in the 58th minute.
The change saw Whelpdale move over to the left-side of midfield.
Just after the hour mark Whelpdale, with a little help from Robinson, created a half-chance but the former’s attempted chip was blocked.
With 67 minutes on the clock a second Gillingham substitution saw Antonio German replace Burton up front.
Aldershot continued putting the Gills under pressure as Reid fired over the top before the striker had another lowe strike blocked at the near post.
Joe Martin went in to the book in the 72nd minute after Herd found himself lying off the pitch after the two had tussled.
In the 75th minute the scores were levelled. Legge initially won the ball on the edge of his own area and after laying the ball off he surged forward. Then when Whelpdale crossed from the right there was the central defender at the far post to beat Jamie Young with a downward header.
Almost immediately the Gills almost went in front. Another Whelpdale cross from the right found Kedwell unmarked around eight yards out and his goal bound header saw Young pull off a terrific one-handed save to claw the ball out.
Although the ball found its way back to the Gills striker he was denied as two defenders converged to block his shot.
With the Gills looking to search for a winner, skipper Adam Barrett put a header just wide of the target.
Robinson became the third Gillingham player to be booked when he tugged an opponent in the 85th minute.
Both Legge and Bradley had to be pulled apart as they waited for a Dack corner but referee Rushton chose to speak to both. Legge could only get a glancing header, which drifted wide, when the delivery did come in.
With time almost up the Gills almost won it when a low, long-range strike from Steven Gregory forced Young to turn it round for a corner.
As it was it proved to be a good point with both Port Vale and Burton Albion suffering defeats.
Town – Young, Herd, Tonkin, Hylton, Vincenti (Goulding 82), Risser, Forbes, Reid, Bradley, Cadogan (A. Morris 90+1), Rose Unused subs:, Lancashire, Mekki, Stanley, Hall, , G.Morris
Gills – Nelson, Fish, Martin, Legge, Barrrett, Whelpdale, Gregory, Robinson, Lee (Dack 58), Kedwell, Burton (German 67) Unused subs – Williams, Davies, Birchall, Forecast, Richardson,
Attendance: 3,267 (981 Gillingham fans)
Referee: Steven Rushton
Assistants: Ian Rathbone & Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: David Rock