GILLINGHAM 1-1 WALSALL: MATCH REPORT
Gillingham took a point from Tuesday’s night encounter with Walsall at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening. Cody McDonald had given Gillingham the lead with a close-range header, however Franck Moussa poked in from two yards in the second period to level the scores.
Justin Edinburgh named an unchanged side from the XI that lost in the closing minutes at Bristol Rovers. Rory Donnelly and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas returned to the squad after suspension and injury respectively, while McDonald recovered from a nasty blow to the eye at the weekend to retain his starting place up front.
After an even start to the game, Gillingham had the first chance after 14 minutes when Bradley Dack won a free-kick down by the right hand side by the corner flag. Dack dusted himself down and whipped in a great ball but Deji Oshilaja’s header under extreme pressure was just wide of the post.
Soon after, a Ryan Jackson long-throw caused carnage in the Walsall box. Oshilaja won the first header, and in the scramble that ensued Max Ehmer was denied twice by Neil Etheridge, from a very tight angle, before the ball was put behind for a corner which the away side defended.
Gillingham were the more threatening of the sides and a nicely worked training-ground free-kick routine from Dack found Ehmer with a bit of space on the edge of the box. The defender’s shot, however, curled harmlessly over with the Ehmer unable to call the Walsall stopper into action after 21 minutes.
The home side were not to be denied for long however as McDonald opened the scoring for the Gills with 24 minutes on the clock. Oshilaja’s lofted through ball found Scott Wagstaff down the right hand side of the box, and the Gillingham wide-man held the ball up well before standing up a cross that McDonald managed to nod home past the beaten Etheridge.
Walsall responded in a positive manner and nearly levelled on the half hour as a defensive mix-up allowed the Saddlers in down the right. A slide-rule pass put Kieron Morris in on the left hand side of the goal but Jonathan Bond got down well to beat away his powerful shot before Erhum Oztumer, on the second phase of the attack, curled narrowly passed the post.
The visitors were gaining in confidence, and Adam Chambers was encouraged to take a pop-shot from 35 yards; his effort bobbled comfortably wide much to the delight of the Rainham End.
With Walsall starting to push men forward, Gillingham were looking dangerous on the counter attack and Dack nearly extended the lead, however his header after Jackson had beaten his man down the right-hand side was straight at Etheridge.
The Gills comfortable saw out the rest of the first half, the only downside being a yellow card for Josh Wright that will see him miss the next game.
Mark Byrne replaced Wagstaff at half-time, as Edinburgh made his first change of the game.
Gillingham started the second period quickly and had the first chance of the half. Jackson surged forward before playing the ball out to Dack, whose whipped cross was headed just wide by McDonald.
The Saddlers were posing questions of the Gillingham defence still though, and were looking dangerous down the flanks. Two crosses from Jason McCarthy after 55 minutes caused trouble for the Gills, one just eluding Oztumer and the other glanced by Andreas Makris across goal and beyond Bond’s far post.
The away side were back on level terms after 58 minutes as Moussa pounced to power home from two yards out. Oztumer cut in before shooting low and hard towards the near post. Bond kept the ball out but could only parry into the path of Moussa who couldn’t miss from two yards.
Walsall were now surging forward with the wind in their sails. Oztumer took on the entire home defence and was only just denied by Ehmer, who nicked the ball to safety in the penalty area, before the referee waved away penalty claims as Morris hit the deck in the area.
The Gills manager responded by bringing on Billy Knott in place of Chris Herd as the home side looked to get back on the front foot.
Gillingham were on the attack after 69 minutes with Oshilaja heading Jackson’s long throw wide as set pieces continued to trouble Walsall. Down the other end Morris then sliced a shot high and wide for the Saddlers.
McDonald nearly restored Gillingham’s lead on 72 minutes as he continued to lead the Gillingham frontline with aplomb. Oshilaja did superbly well to cut through the away defence before sliding in the striker, however Etheridge was out quickly to smother McDonald’s effort.
Suddenly, the Gills were looking threatening. McDonald did fantastically to win the ball back before beating a man and laying the ball off to Jake Hessenthaler who curled the ball agonisingly over the bar.
Dack was the next to go close for the Gills, denied by a combination of Etheridge and cross-bar as his free-kick from 25 yards was somehow kept out by the Walsall keeper, after McDonald was brought down as he looked to be bursting through on goal.
Both sides continued to push forward in the closing ten minutes of the game, but neither team managed to create any chances and the game fizzled out for a draw.
The Gills are back at Priestfield on Saturday, entertaining rivals Charlton in League One action as they look to continue their climb up the table.
Gillingham: Bond; Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Konchesky; Wright, Herd (Knott, 66); Wagstaff (Byrne, 45), Hessenthaler, Dack; McDonald
Unused subs: Nelson, Pask, Donnelly, Emmanuel-Thomas, Nouble
Walsall: Etheridge; Edwards, McCarthy, O’Connor, Laird; Chambers, Morris, Toner, Ozthumer, Moussa (Ginnelly, 86); Makris
Unused Subs: Dobson, MacGillivray, Osbourne, Kinsella, Preston, Roberts
Referee: Charles Breakspear