Two goals in as many minutes wrapped up the points as Port Vale beat Gillingham 2-0 at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday.
The home team dominated the second half as they hunted for a way back into the game, but Vale held on to secure all three points courtesy of goals from AJ Leitch-Smith and Carl Dickinson.
Justin Edinburgh moved back to his favoured diamond formation for the visit of Port Vale, with four at the back.
John Egan came in to captain the side, replacing the injured Adam El-Abd. There were also places in the starting XI for Aaron Morris and Rory Donnelly, coming in for Bradley Garmston and Luke Norris.
The visitors should have taken an early lead with just a quarter of an hour played. Louis Dodds found himself unmarked in the 6-yard box, but couldn’t guide his header either side of Stuart Nelson in the Gillingham goal and the keeper caught comfortably.
Vale took the lead on 19 minutes. Leitch-Smith latched on to Ben Purkiss’ lofted ball and volleyed past Stuart Nelson into the corner of the net from the top right of the box.
Matters got worse for the Gills just two minutes later. Again, it was a ball from the right-back, Purkiss, but this time he picked out Carl Dickinson.
The ball looped over Josh Wright’s head and the Vale captain slotted past Nelson to double the visitor’s advantage.
There was a moment of worry for Gills fans just over the half-hour mark as Deji Oshilaja was substituted for Brennan Dickenson. The defender took a boot to his face after bravely diving in for a header at the back post, when looking to grab a goal back for the home side.
Bradley Dack was at the heart of a promising Gills attack with five first-half minutes to play, linking up well with Andrew Crofts and Donnelly. After clever interplay, Dack laid the ball back to Crofts, but the Welsh international’s effort flew high into the Brian Moore Stand.
In the second half the manager reverted to the 3-5-2 system that has been deployed in recent weeks as Morris dropped back to be part of the back three with Jackson and Dickenson moving to wing-backs.
The Gills began the second half on the front foot and showed real attacking intent.
Cody McDonald was first to have a shot on goal, after great play in the middle of the park by Dack and Crofts. The number 10 couldn’t work the keeper on this occasion but all of a sudden the fans in the Rainham End started to believe there was a way back in to the game for Edinburgh’s men.
After assisting the visitor’s two goals, Purkiss was nearly on the scoresheet himself. The defender was free in the area, but his header was well saved by Nelson.
Jermaine McGlashan and Jake Hessenthaler came on for Ryan Jackson and Crofts on the hour mark and the Gills nearly pulled a goal back just second later.
Dickenson beat his defender and pulled the ball back to Dack, whose low shot was fumbled by the keeper and eventually cleared off the line by Dickinson.
Gillingham had come out looking like a completely different team after the restart, constantly on the attack and looking to create chances at every opportunity.
The half was being played in the visitor’s half, often with just Nelson in the Gillingham half, and the Gills were pumping players forward at every opportunity, but Port Vale’s backline thwarted every attack.
Donnelly had a chance to get the Gills back with 20 minutes remaining, but couldn’t connect with the bouncing ball.
The forward was first to react to a loose ball and, with the keeper on the deck, had his effort been on target the home side would have halved the deficit.
The Gills continued to pepper the back line of the away side with crosses flying but the ball just couldn’t quite drop for Gillingham and when it did they were denied by the Vale attack.
Port Vale held on through five minutes of injury time and saw the game out to take all three points back to Vale Park.
Gills: Nelson, Jackson (McGlashan, 60), Egan, Ehmer, McDonald, A.Morris, Donnelly, Crofts (Hessenthaler, 60), Dack, Wright, Oshilaja (Dickenson, 35)
Unused Subs: G.Morris, Garmston, Osadebe, Norris,
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Dickinson, Streete, McGivern, Duffy, O’Connor, Dodds (Moore, 77), Foley (Birchall, 73), Leitch-Smith (Hooper, 72), Grant
Unused Subs: Yates, Brown, Kelly, Boot
Referee: Ross Joyce
Attendance: 5,887 (153 away)