OLDHAM ATHLETIC 1-0 GILLINGHAM
A brilliant first-half strike from Gary Harkins decided this Sky Bet League 1 encounter but the Gills were unlucky to find themselves on the wrong end of a defeat after a decent display at Boundary Park
Following the midweek defeat to Sheffield United, Peter Taylor made six changes with Leon Legge replacing the injured Ryan Innis (hamstring) and Elliott Hewitt in for Harriman at the back. Jake Hessenthaler, Craig Fagan and Chris Whelpdale started in midfield while Joe Pigott lead the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw Hessenthaler and Gregory protecting the back-four.
The visitors made a strong start and twice went close in the opening five minutes, first Pigott chested Hessenthaler’s deep ball from the right into the path of Connor Smith, whose drop volley was pushed to safety by Latics’ Mark Oxley. The keeper then recovered his composure to deny Pigott’s deft back-header from Smith’s return ball.
In reply Jonathan Grounds curled a seventh minute free-kick, from the right touchline, straight down the throat of Stuart Nelson, before Smith helped a Craig Fagan ball through to Chris Whelpdale in the box, but the Gills winger lifted his finish over the cross bar.
The Gills continued to dominate the early exchanges with Jake Hessenthaler hitting a tenth minute cross/come shot onto the roof of the net, and Fagan slicing just wide of the far post, after more good work by Smith on the edge of the box.
At the other end Jon Stead failed to connect cleanly with Gary Harkins centre from the left, and David Worrall headed straight at Nelson from Steads cross. But with the home defence looking nervy, Gillingham seemed the likeliest side to open the scoring, until a 25th minute injury disrupted their momentum.
Following three heavy challenges on Whelpdale, Gills were forced to make a change with Myles Weston coming on for the injured midfielder. Three minutes later the substitute was unlucky not to find the net when a quickly taken Hewitt free-kick sent Weston clean through on goal, his finish was blocked by Oxley, who then recovered to claim Smith’s deflected follow-up effort, low to his right.
Oldham began to grow in confidence as the half wore on and Worrall curled a neat finish towards Nelson’s far corner, which was well saved by the Gills custodian. But there was nothing he could do to prevent Gary Harkins blazing the hosts in front on 32 minutes, with a rasping drive into the top corner, from a tight angle on the left side of goal.
More trickery from Connor Smith presented Joe Pigott with a sight of goal five minutes from the break but the striker’s cut-back, from a tight angle, finished in the side-netting. Then, moments later, Stead hit the base of Nelson’s right hand upright with a low strike from the edge of the box.
In the last minute of the half Grounds turned Weston’s ball across-the-face-of-goal behind for a corner, and Pigott drilled Smith’s neat lay-off towards goal, only to be denied by the dive of Oxley, leaving the Gills counting themselves unlucky to be behind at the interval.
Both sides went in search of goals after the restart, Oldham creating the early chances with Pigott well-placed to head a Harkins corner out from underneath his own cross bar and Philliskirk hooking the return ball into the arms of Stuart Nelson.
Following a yellow card for Oldham skipper James Wesolowski, Craig Fagan earned the Gills first booking on 56 minutes for a foul on Harkins. The Scots midfielder got up to take the set-piece, Leon Legge cutting out the danger with a well-timed clearance.
With the hour mark approaching, the manager decided to freshen up his attack, sending on the strike pairing of Cody McDonald and Bayo Akinfenwa, Pigott and Hessenthaler the men to make way with the Gills reverting to a 4-4-2 formation.
On 69 minutes Fagan played a corner short to Joe Martin, the full-back swung over an enticing cross from the left that Akinfenwa headed just the wrong side of the bar. Then soon after Bayo used his strength to hold off the Oldham defence and play in Weston on the left of goal, sadly his finish fizzed the wrong side of the keeper’s near post.
The Gills continued to push for an equaliser and, seven minutes from time, Fagan started a move that saw Hewitt supply Weston who in turn crossed for Akinfenwa in the middle, sadly keeper Oxley got down well to claim his goal-bound header.
Four minutes from time Cody McDonald did well to head Adam Barrett’s ball forward into the path of his strike partner, Bayo tried his luck with a clever shot on the turn but was again denied by the Latics No.1 who turned his finish behind for a corner.
Gills continued to press their hosts deep into the four minutes of time added on but the goal their efforts deserved simply wouldn't come.
Attendance: 3,714 (230 Gillingham)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Leon Legge, Adam Barrett, Elliott Hewitt, Chris Whelpdale (Myles Weston 25), Jake Hessenthaler (Cody McDonald 58), Steven Gregory, Connor Smith, Craig Fagan, Joe Pigott (Joe Pigott 59)
Subs not used: Amine Linganzi, Callum Davies, Charlie Lee, Sam Baxter
Oldham Athletic: Mark Oxley, Connor Brown (James Dayton 75), Jonathan Grounds, James Wesolowski, Jon Stead, Carl Winchester (Terry Dunfield 74), James Wilson, Adam Lockwood, Danny Philliskirk (Charlie MacDonald 81), David Worrall, Gary Harkins
Subs not used: David Mellor, John-Paul Kissock, Rhys Turner, Paul Rachubka