Unbeaten home record comes to an end as ten-man Gillingham beaten 3-0 by table-topping Burton Albion
Ten-man Gillingham saw their unbeaten home record in League One come to an end on Saturday as Burton Albion ran out 3-0 winners at Priestfield to move six point clear at the top of the league.
A first-half red card for captain Doug Loft with the game still goalless ultimately proved decisive, as Damien McRory broke the deadlock on the hour mark before substitutes Lucas Akins and Anthony O’Connor sealed the victory for the visitors, who were without new manager Nigel Clough due to long-standing media commitments.
Blustery conditions made for a scrappy opening to the top-of-the-table clash, with both sides struggling to adjust to the howling wind blowing around the stadium.
Burton had the first chance of the game with just two minutes gone after dispossessing Doug Loft in deep inside the Gillingham half, but Ryan Jackson showed excellent pace to cover and intercept the ball from Birmingham loanee Mark Duffy.
The hosts responded immediately with Bradley Dack breaking into the penalty area on the right-hand side before delivering a teasing cross that grazed the forehead of Jake Hessenthaler on its way across the face of goal.
Stuart Nelson was called into action for the first time after a quarter of an hour, getting down well to block a Duffy shot towards his near post.
A succession of free-kicks conceded by both sides did little for the flow of the game, although one did nearly lead to the breakthrough after Dack floated a set-piece onto the head of Dominic Samuel who nodded wide of the post from 12 yards out.
The Gills grew more into the game as the half wore on and enjoyed their best period of play with 25 minutes on the clock.
First Samuel forced the Brewers’ goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin to palm his dangerous ball across the goalmouth back into the danger area with the ball narrowly evading the supporting attackers.
The Gills quickly won possession back however and worked the ball out to Cody McDonald on the corner of the area, as the striker’s chipped cross towards the back post floated just over Dack’s head.
The playmaker was in the thick of the action once again shortly before the half-hour mark, as his glancing header took a goal-bound deflection off a Burton defender before McLaughlin intervened.
Yet the hosts suffered a blow seven minutes before the break when Doug Loft – who had already been booked for a mistimed tackle - was shown a second yellow card after catching Stuart Beavon.
Both fans and players were incensed, however, that the striker had been allowed to shield the ball while on the floor before the foul was committed.
His sending off meant that the home side switched to a 4-4-1 formation, with Aaron Morris assuming a holding role and McDonald pushing out to the right-hand side as Samuel remained up front on his own.
The Gills started the second half strongly with Ryan Jackson feeding Samuel after breaking down the right, although the Reading loanee’s shot on the turn was comfortably gathered by McLaughlin.
Burton, with an extra man, were looking threatening when going forward however and took the lead with an hour gone when the ball was laid off to Damien McRory who drilled a shot into the net from 25 yards out.
The home side nearly responded immediately as Samuel cut in from the left before sending McLaughlin scuttling backwards with a curling shot from 30 yards, with the goalkeeper’s blushes being spared as the ball rattled back off the crossbar.
Justin Edinburgh used his bench to try and find a way back into the game, with Brennan Dickenson and Rory Donnelly replacing Bradley Garmston and McDonald before Jermaine McGlashan came on for Aaron Morris with quarter of an hour left to play.
However, the depleted home side could not help but leave themselves open at the back as they were forced to commit more numbers forward in search of an equaliser.
They were eventually punished as the game ticked into stoppage time, with substitute Lucas Akins receiving the ball in space in the penalty area and slotting beneath Nelson before the visitors wrapped it up with virtually the last kick of the game as Anthony O’Connor diverted a shot into a crowded six-yard box into the net.
The Gills now have the chance to bounce straight back during a busy festive period, with games away to Millwall next Saturday and Swindon on Boxing Day being followed by a home double-header against Colchester United on December 28 and Bradford City on January 2.
Gillingham FC: Stuart Nelson (GK); Ryan Jackson, John Egan, Deji Oshilaja, Bradley Garmston (Brennan Dickenson 68); Aaron Morris (Jermaine McGlashan 75), Doug Loft (c) (sent off 38), Jake Hessenthaler, Bradley Dack; Dominic Samuel, Cody McDonald (Rory Donnelly 68).
Subs not used: Glenn Morris, Max Ehmer, Emmanuel Osadabe, Josh Wright.
Burton Albion: Jon McLaughlin (GK); Phil Edwards, John Mousinho (c), Tom Flanagan, Damien McRory; Mark Duffy, Robbie Weir, Tom Naylor, Callum Butcher (Antony O’Connor 82); Nasser El-Khayati (Lucas Akins 65), Stuart Beavon.
Subs not used: Rei Matthews, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, Callum Reilly, Timmy Thiele, Jerome Binnom-Williams.
Referee: James Linington
Assistants: Ashvin Degnarain & Nicholas Cooper.
Fourth official: Dave Bushell.
Attendance: 6,230 (142 Burton).