Cody McDonald strikes late to seal important point for Gills at WalsallPeter Taylor conceded his side would be `extremely unlucky`not to survive in Sky Bet League One following the Gills 1-1 draw with Walsall at Banks’s Stadium on Easter Monday.
Cody McDonald’s 84th minute strike, courtesy of a fabulous assist by substitute Bayo Akinfenwa, earned the Gills an important point which may well guarantee their status in the third tier of English Football next season.
Peter Taylor made three changes to the side that defeated Tranmere 2-0 on Good Friday with Chris Whelpdale, Bradley Dack and Craig Fagan replacing Bayo Akinfenwa, Myles Weston and Charlie Lee.
Danny Kedwell didn’t make the bench, so places were available for Connor Smith and Michael Harriman.
Walsall included striker Febian Brandy in their starting line-up. The former Manchester United forward spent a spell on loan with the Gills during the 09-10 season.
In a first half which created very few clear cut openings, it was the visitors who posed the first threat on goal with Cody McDonald and Craig Fagan both having efforts blocked before Romaine Sawyers had a dangerous low cross caught by Stuart Nelson.
On 17 minutes Brandy very nearly made the most of a fortunate ricochet which presented the striker with half a chance to get a shot on goal, but Leon Legge ensured Nelson wasn’t to be tested.
And it was the centre-back who may have felt he could have done better following a Jake Hessenthaler corner on 33 minutes.
Legge rose highest and connected with the ball well but his header went well wide of the target with keeper Richard O’Donnell untroubled.
A few minutes before the break Walsall created the best chance of the half when Brandy tried his luck from the edge of the box with a curling effort towards the top corner.
However on its way it took a big deflection which took it out for a corner – Gills were then able to clear their lines before Adam Barrett brought the half to a close when a header of his own from a corner kick was dealt with by the hosts.
Gills started the second half brightly but soon found themselves under pressure as Walsall began to build some much needed momentum.
Nelson did well to thwart Westcarr from close range before Brandy failed to convert from just a couple of yards when Chambers delivered a teasing cross from the right wing.
Barrett then sent a header over the bar at the other end prior to Walsall taking the lead on 55 minutes.
Westcarr again had a powerful effort palmed away by Nelson before Brandy smashed home the follow up from just inside the penalty area to give the Saddlers an early second half advantage.
Their early pressure proved significant, and Westcarr came close again within seconds of the re-start of making it two, but Nelson was quick off his line to smother the loose ball.
Gregory launched a shot over the bar which then sparked a double substitution for the visitors with Bayo Akinfenwa and Myles Weston replacing Bradley Dack and Chris Whelpdale.
Bayo nearly made an immediate impact – on 66 minutes Jake Hessenthaler whipped in a great ball direct from a corner, and Akinfenwa met it with a firm header which went inches past the far post with keeper Richard O’Donnell motionless on his goal line.
Five minutes later and Walsall went even closer to going two-nil up. Westcarr tried his luck from range and struck a thunderous shot towards the near post, but Nelson pulled off a fantastic save by tipping the effort on to the woodwork, with the ball hitting the inside of the upright before being cleared to safety.
It was a potential match saving stop with the keeper at full stretch to deny the lively striker.
Milan Lalkovic was next to have a go – his right foot curling effort went just past the post, and this seemed to motivate the visitors who had a solid final ten minutes where they asked a lot more questions of the Walsall back four.
Weston had an effort which was easily saved following a good solo run on the right hand touchline, and within four minutes the visitors had drawn level.
McDonald played a short pass to Akinfenwa who, with his back to goal, flicked the ball over the heads of the back four which Cody had already anticipated, and with the offside flag staying down he sprinted through on goal and beat O’Donnell with a clinical left foot shot.
It was the striker’s 16th of the season and perhaps his most important yet, with the Gills fans celebrating as if it was the strike which will see them return to the same venue in League One next season.
And they could easily have had a second before the full time whistle – Weston delivered a great ball towards the back post, Lee got on the end of it and forced O’Donnell to make a save, but with more meaningful contact it may well have been a different story.
However the points were shared, with the Gills players applauding their supporters after the game after a hard fought draw which is likely to keep them in the division next season.
Walsall: O’Donnell, Butler, Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic, Westcarr, Downing, Benning, Chambers, Sawyers (Ngoo 75), Brandy (Bakayoko 90)
Unused subs: Lewis, Taylor, Featherstone, Baxendale, McQuilkin.
Gills: Nelson, Hewitt, Legge, Barrett, Martin, Gregory, Hessenthaler, Dack (Weston 61), Whelpdale (Akinfenwa 60), Fagan (Lee 75), McDonald.
Unused Subs: Baxter, Harriman, Smith, Linganzi.
Referee: Mr D Sheldrake
Attendance: 3890 (323 Gills)
Goals: Brandy (55), McDonald (84)
Bookings: Dack (54), Hewitt (57), Downing (65).