Gills earn draw at Highbury Stadium
Gillingham gained another excellent point on their first ever visit to Highbury Stadium from a highly entertaining and keenly contested encounter.
With two games to play in a three day period over Easter, Martin Allen opted to make two changes from the side that beat Accrington Stanley 1-0 at MEMS Priestfield Stadium last weekend.
Callum Davies replaced Steven Gregory in the midfield holding role, while Adam Birchall came in for Deon Burton up front. There were also places on the substitutes’ bench for youngsters Josh Hare and Sam Muggleton.
With the teams walking out to glorious sunshine, it was the Gills that made the perfect start, scoring the opener after just two minutes and 45 seconds of play. Danny Kedwell chased down Matt Fish’s long clearance, Fleetwood defender Nathan Pond cleared straight to Adam Birchall, who teed up Kedwell to curl a cute finish into the keeper’s top right corner from the edge of the box.
The home side responded quickly and twice saw Gareth Evans free-kicks cleared by the Gills back four. The latter set-piece was helped back in to the danger area by Jamille Matt who sent Evans through one-on-one against Stuart Nelson, fortunately the Gills keeper made a great block, low to his left, to deny a certain goal.
Fleetwood, playing an attractive, free-flowing style, created another good opening on 13 minutes, Evans guilty of lashing high and wide of the mark from the left angle of the penalty area. Soon after, centre-half Ryan Edwards climbed above the visitors defence to meet Alan Goodall’s free-kick but his header failed to test Nelson.
Despite the home side’s best efforts it was Gillingham who came closest to scoring again in the 29th minute, following a well worked free-kick down the right flank. Charlie Allen linked up with Fish to work the ball to the touchline and, although the initial cross evaded Adam Barrett’s head, keeper Scott Davies needed to be alert to deny Birchall’s follow-up effort from the right of goal.
Not to be outdone the home side promptly equalised, against the run of play, four minutes later, following a neat move down the Gillingham left. Junior Brown found space to cross from the corner flag, it was met by the Evans at the far post, his header came back off the underside of the bar but was forced over the line by Matt.
As the half time whistle beckoned Callum Davies saw a drive from the edge of the area blocked, Nelson raced off his line to claim an Evans centre off the head of Matt, and Pond headed just wide after connecting with another Evans corner at the back post.
Then, with two minutes of normal time remaining in the first half, Charlie Allen was perfectly placed to head the Gills back in front. The move was started by Birchall who did well to hold up the ball and lay off to Joe Martin, he in turn found room to lift the ball into the centre where Allen arrived unmarked to nod beyond the helpless Fleetwood custodian.
The Gills started the second half with the same attacking momentum that they had ended the first and, just moments after the restart, Davies was presented with a great opportunity to get his name on the score sheet when he charged down Shaun Beeley in the centre circle. The talented youngster found himself in space in the Fleetwood half but sadly his shot was saved, low to his left, by Scott Davies.
Just two minutes later Matt Fish brought a diving save from the Fleetwood No.1 after arriving at the far post to meet Anton Robinson’s right wing cross, the finish was immaterial though as the referee had already blown his whistle for an alleged push on a defender by Fish in the build-up.
Fleetwood carved out a good opportunity on 56 minutes as Jamie McGuire showed good vision to pick out Junior Brown lurking on the edge of the area, with a cross field pass. Brown cut inside but cleared the crossbar with a rising effort from his left foot.
With the home side looking livelier, combined with the introduction of experienced front man Jon Parkin, Martin Allen took steps to freshen his attack just after the hour mark, introducing fleet-footed forward Myles Weston for Birchall on 63 minutes.
Six minutes later the hosts equalised for the second time in scrappy fashion from a chance it seemed the Gills defence had time to clear. Perhaps distracted by a penalty shout, after Junior Brown had gone down in the area, the defence allowed the ball to roll back towards Nelson, giving Matt time to nip in and hack home from close range.
The goal motivated the home support and Fleetwood spurned two great chances in quick succession, first Matt curled past the far post from the right side of goal, before Evans raced to meet a cross at the far post but ballooned his finish high over the Memorial Stand from the left hand side.
Martin was in no mood to settle for the draw and made a further attacking change with 12 minutes remaining, bringing on Deon Burton for Chris Whelpdale. The swap did little to check the home side’s momentum though with Matt rifling another chance into the arms of Nelson on 80 minutes.
Four minutes from time Scott Davies pulled off a sensational save to deny Danny Kedwell after Charlie Allen had delivered the ball on a sixpence for the Gills top scorer. Kedwell shrugged off his marker and timed his run to perfection, heading goalwards with power and precision, only to see his effort turned away by the Fleetwood shot-stopper.
Both sides went in search of the winner in four minutes of stoppage time but the teams could not be separated, a share of the spoils being just rewards for their endeavours.
Fleetwood Town: Scott Davies, Shaun Beeley, Anthony Barry (Jon Parkin 60), Nathan Pond, Jamille Matt, Barry Nicholson, Junior Brown, Alan Goodall, Jamie McGuire, Ryan Edwards, Gareth Evans (Andrew Mangan 84).
Subs not used: Jean Michel Fontaine, Conor McLaughlin, Ryan Crowther, David Lucas, Paul McKenna.
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Matt Fish, Joe Martin, Leon Legge, Adam Barrett, Callum Davies, Anton Robinson, Charlie Allen, Chris Whelpdale (Deon Burton 78), Danny Kedwell, Adam Birchall (Myles Weston 63).Subs not used: Danny East, Tommy Forecast, Stephen Gregory, Josh Hare, Sam Muggleton.