Bristol City maintain their grip at the top of Sky Bet League One with a 3-1 win over Gillingham at PriestfieldGillingham slipped to 19th in the Sky Bet League One table following a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bristol City at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday.
Two first half goals from on loan striker Matt Smith put the visitors in a commanding position, and although Cody McDonald pulled one back shortly after the interval, City thwarted any potential fight back with a superb third goal from Scott Wagstaff.
Gills refused to give in and had opportunities to reduce the deficit, but Steve Cotterill’s men saw the game out to clinch all three points.
Peter Taylor made three changes to the team that defeated Colchester on Boxing Day with the injured Bradley Dack replaced by Amine Linganzi. Jake Hessenthaler returned in place of Aaron Morris with Danny Kedwell in for Luke Norris up front.
Harry Lennon made his home debut with Leon Legge and Gavin Hoyte on the bench.
City started brightly but created very few openings in the first quarter of an hour. Matt Smith’s header from close range gathered easily by Nelson before Michael Doughty’s curling effort at the other end went well wide of Frank Fielding’s right hand post.
The visitors had a goal disallowed for offside on 23 minutes when Emmanuel-Thomas was adjudged to have strayed behind the Gills back four following a cross from Greg Cunningham.
Seven minutes later and the Gills could have been ahead. Hessenthaler whipped in a terrific corner kick, Kedwell rose highest but unfortunately for the home fans he sent it inches wide of the far post.
Nelson made a couple of strong saves in quick succession with a low shot following Freeman’s corner kept out with his feet before he tipped over Pack’s cheeky chip inside the box.
On 34 minutes City finally broke the deadlock – Freeman’s corner was delivered towards the far post, Flint’s header guided the ball back across goal and Smith was in the right place to delicately divert beyond the keeper.
And the forward didn’t take long in bagging his second. With just a minute to go before the break Cunningham found himself with plenty of space to work with on the left hand side, he picked out Smith who did well to get himself between two Gills defenders and power the effort beyond Nelson.
Gills made a double change at half time with Jermaine McGlashan and Brennan Dickenson replacing Amine Linganzi and Danny Kedwell, and within two minutes of the restart Taylor’s men pulled a goal back.
McDonald received the ball and drove forward before firing a shot across Fielding from 20 yards which gave the keeper no chance. This gave the home fans something to cheer about and Gills immediately went in search of an equalizer.
However the Robins silenced the Rainham End just eight minutes after the goal – Freeman used his pace to beat two players and back heeled the ball into the path of Wagstaff, he shifted his weight and then let fly with an excellent left footed shot which curled away from Stuart Nelson and into the far corner.
This seemed to kill off the match but this didn’t stop Gills from giving it a go – McDonald had a shot inside the box blocked by Fielding before Michael Doughty narrowly missed the target with a left foot shot.
A late corner was cleared off the line, but the league leaders maintained their position at the summit with Gillingham’s first half display giving them a mountain to climb.
Gills: Nelson, Hessenthaler, Egan, Ehmer, Lennon, Martin, Doughty, Pritchard (Norris 73), Linganzi (McGlashan 46), McDonald, Kedwell (Dickenson 46).
Unused subs: G Morris, Hoyte, Legge, German
Bristol City: Fielding, Williams, Flint, K Smith, M Smith, Emmanuel-Thomas, Wagstaff (Kane 86), Freeman (Elliott 90), Cunningham (Bryan 89), Pack, Ayling.
Unused subs: Little, Osborne, Richards, Wynter.
Referee: Mr L Collins