Ten man Gills battle hard but fail to bounce back from Elliott Hewitt's first half dismissal
Cody McDonald gave Gills travelling support hope in the second half but a first half red card for Elliott Hewitt sealed Gillingham’s fate at the Lamex Stadium
For their second game in three days Peter Taylor opted to shuffle his pack making three changes to the side that beat Port Vale 3-2 on Saturday. Callum Davies replaced skipper Adam Barrett at centre-half while Connor Smith and Jake Hessenthaler started in midfield ahead of Michael Harriman and Amine Linganzi.
The Gills got the game underway, playing with a strong wind at their backs and forced the games’ first corner after only 90 seconds. Unfortunately they were almost caught on the counter attack as Stevenage broke quickly from the flag kick, former Gill Luke Freeman firing a tantalizing ball across the face of goal that Dean Parrett failed to convert, unmarked in the area.
That attack prompted an onslaught of pressure from the hosts with Peter Hartley volleying wide from a fifth minute Jimmy Smith corner and Freeman seeing a shot charged down by Bayo Akinfenwa, soon after.
Having soaked up the pressure for ten minutes the visitors went back on the offensive with Callum Davies heading wide from Jake Hessenthaler’s ball in from the left. Moments later Joe Martin was called into action to head Freeman’s teasing free-kick behind for a Stevenage corner.
On 20 minutes Leon Legge headed wide of the far post from a Connor Smith delivery before the Gills were reduced to ten men a minute later. Charles broke down the right and pulled back for Francois Zoko to shoot, referee Stuart Atwell judged that Elliott Hewitt had used his hand to clear the ball, earning the full-back a red card and the home side a penalty which Zoko calmly slotted home.
The Gills could have been back on level terms almost immediately as a long ball forward found Cody McDonald on the edge of the area, he turned to take the ball beyond the keeper but sadly cleared the cross bar under pressure from advancing Boro defenders.
Stevenage increased their lead in the 29th minute with Luke Freeman the architect with a strong run down the left before cutting into the near post. After weighing up his options he pulled the ball back for Darius Charles who had no trouble beating Nelson from eight yards out.
Shortly after Martin had to head clear from under his own crossbar after John Mousinho had whipped a Smith corner back into the danger zone. Half chances then went begging at either end for McDonald and Charles as the visitors held out to keep the half time deficit to two goals.
Needing goals to get back into the game Peter Taylor made a change at the break bringing Michael Harriman on in place of Akinfenwa. Gills started brightly despite their man disadvantage and were unlucky not to pull on back in the 50th minute as Legge headed down for Connor Smith to fire across the face of goal and just wide of Chris Day’s far post.
Five minutes later following a great spell of pressure from the visitors, Cody McDonald struck to give Gillingham a lifeline. A neat ball through the centre from Dack sent the Gills top scorer clean through behind the defence and he rolled a slide rule pass beyond the advancing keeper to net his 12th of the season.
Sadly just four minutes later the home side restored their two goal advantage from a Luke Freeman set-piece. The former Gills youngster floated a ball in to the box and Darius Charles out-jumped Lean Legge to head home his second of the night
On 65 minutes Smith laced a wonderful ball through for McDonald to race between to defenders in a carbon copy of his earlier goal, this time Day was off his line quicker and managed to take the ball off his toes. Stevenage turned defence into attack straight away and Nelson did well to keep out Freeman’s finish from point blank range.
Peter made his second change of the evening in the 72nd minute, Craig Fagan coming on for Jake Hessenthaler but the Gills were on the back foot again soon after as Freeman played Akins clear wide on the right, the Stevenage forward beating Nelson but slicing wide from a tight angle.
Akins then headed against the crossbar after good work down the right from Andrade before McDonald hooked a shot onto the keeper’s right hand upright at the other end, Connor Smith’s follow up being turned behind for a corner as both sides went in search of further goals.
Connor Smith earned a 79th minute booking for a late challenge on Peter Hartley and the visitors continued to compete right to the final whistle but they could not find a way back into the game.
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Callum Davies, Leon Legge, Elliott Hewitt, Bradley Dack, Jake Hessenthaler (Craig Fagan 72), Steven Gregory, Connor Smith, Cody McDonald, Bayo Akinfenwa (Michael Harriman H/T).
Subs not used: Sam Baxter, Myles Weston, Charlie Lee, Adam Barrett, Joe Pigott
Stevenage: Chris Day, Luke Jones, John Mousinho (Roarie Deacon 74), Daruis Charles, Lucas Akins, Francois Zoko (Bruno Andrade 63), Dean Parrett (Michael Doughty 63), Simon Heslop, Luke Freeman, Jimmy Smith, Peter Hartley
Subs not used: Adam Smith, Sam Wedgbury, Jordan Burrow, Jo N’Guessan.