Gills secure league safety despite defeat at DeepdaleGillingham guaranteed their position in Sky Bet League for next season despite suffering a 3-1 defeat against Preston at Deepdale on Saturday.
A goal in the opening eight minutes from Captain John Welsh put the hosts in front, and although Preston enjoyed the majority of possession in the first 45 minutes, Cody McDonald struck just before the interval to give the visitors a real chance of victory.
However after the break Paul Gallagher and substitute Neil Kilkenny scored two quick fire goals to help secure maximum points for Preston.
Gills continued to press but were unable to find a way past Declan Rudd for a second time. Peter Taylor’s side were beaten on the day, but with other results going their way, the club secured their status in the third tier for another season.
Taylor made two changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Walsall on Easter Monday with Charlie Lee and Connor Smith returning to the starting line-up in place of Bradley Dack and Craig Fagan who were both named among the subs.
Bayo Akinfenwa was also named on the bench alongside Michael Harriman, Amine Linganzi and Myles Weston.
Former Premiership striker Kevin Davies had to also settle for a place on the bench for Preston, with Stuart Beavon and Paul Gallagher both given the nod.
The hosts started brightly and when in front with their first clear cut chance on seven minutes.
A ball was played in to Paul Gallagher just inside the penalty area, he produced a clever back heel for the on running John Welsh, and the Preston skipper buried his opportunity with the power of his shot making its way past Stuart Nelson.
Five minutes later and the hosts could have made it two – Stuart Beavon found strike partner Joe Garner in space down the right hand side, he prepared to take a shot but Leon Legge came sprinting over with a fantastic tackle to deny the forward.
There was slight concern on the visiting bench when Charlie Lee required treatment for an impact injury, however he was OK to continue.
Moments later and Gallagher wrong footed Elliott Hewitt with a decent first touch to get around the right back and sprint through on goal.
Nelson came out to reduce the gap and did enough to put the winger off as his shot went past the far post.
As the half progressed the visitors grew in confidence and did well to take the sting out of the Preston attack.
Despite that Lee Holmes forced a great stop by Nelson in the 35th minute when his left foot effort was met with a firm block at the near post.
The hosts had a brief spell where it looked like a second goal may be a possibility before the interval, but Gills started to retain possession and frustrate Preston with some clever short passing, and Whelpdale nearly took advantage by equalising.
Lee, out on the left, spotted Whelpdale’s run and was played in on the left side of the penalty area. Chris was about to pull the trigger but a recovering defender slid in and denied him the chance.
Soon after though it was 1-1. A free kick by Connor Smith was cleared by the first man, but a follow up cross was met with a delicate flick on by Legge, and the ball made its way to an unmarked Cody McDonald who beat Declan Rudd from around 10 yards.
It was Cody's 17th of the season, and the strike was well timed as the ref brought the half to a close soon after with Gills certainly in with a shout of getting a result.
Both sides went out in search of a second goal immediately from the re-start, and although again Preston seemed to be in control, Gills did create an opening on 54 minutes.
Whelpdale went on a decent solo run, with support from Charlie Lee on his left hand side. Instead of playing him in Chris went alone but his shot was comfortably saved by Rudd.
That opportunity would bite the Gills just a couple of minutes later as Preston regained the lead.
Keith Keane picked up the ball on the right hand side and spotted Paul Gallagher in a couple of yards of space 25 yards from goal, he squared the ball just in front of the winger and he produced a powerful, accurate effort which went across the face of Nelson and in to the bottom corner.
Gills remained in the game however and remained patient in their build up, but a Preston sub would prove inspired as Neil Kilkenny came off the bench on 62 minutes and scored within a minute of taking to the field.
Welsh swung in a teasing cross towards the back post, Garner’s initial effort was saved by Nelson but Kilkenny was in the right place at the right time to steer it home and give Gills an uphill battle.
Bayo Akinfenwa and Bradley Dack were introduced to try and force a nervous last ten minutes for the hosts – Bayo immediately had a header which went over the bar before fellow sub Myles Weston sprinted down the right hand side, fended off a couple of challenges but was unable to pick out a blue shirt with a resulting cross.
Chris Humphrey nearly added a fourth before the final whistle, but on the stretch was unable to convert a deep cross to the back post from just a yard out.
The final whistle soon brought the game to an end, and although Gills came away from Deepdale with no points, results elsewhere ensured their league status was maintained.
Preston: Rudd, Keane, Laird, Wright, Beavon, Holmes (Humphrey 62), Gallagher, Garner (C Davies 65), Welsh, King, Browne (Kilkenny 62).
Unused subs: Stuckmann, K Davies, Buchanan, Huntington
Gills: Nelson, Hewitt, Legge, Barrett, Martin, Gregory, Hessenthaler (Dack 79), Smith, Lee (Akinfenwa 70), Whelpdale (Weston 58), McDonald.
Unused subs: Baxter, Harriman, Linganzi, Fagan.
Attendance: 11591 (323 Gills)
Referee: Mr C Breakspear
Goals: Welsh 8, McDonald 45, Gallagher 57, Kilkenny 63