Dominic Poleon's first-half strike enough to clinch three points for Bradford at Priestfgie
Ten-man Gillingham slipped to defeat against Bradford City on Saturday afternoon in their first league game of the season at MEMS Priestfield Stadium, after a last-second equaliser was ruled out for offside denying the Gills a point.
Dominic Poleon gave the Bantams the lead in the first half, curling home after a neat cut back from the byline eluded the Gills defence. The home side were reduced to ten men halfway through the second half when Conor Wilkinson was sent off for a late tackle by the corner, despite the striker appearing to make no contact with Dieng, before Zakuani’s effort in the last second was ruled out for offside.
Gillingham Head Coach Ady Pennock named several changes from the opening day draw at Doncaster. Alex Lacey made his Gills debut in the back-three with Luke O’Neill moving to right wing back. Wilkinson started up front alongside Josh Parker, while Josh Wright was brought in to the midfield, replacing the injured Billy Bingham.
The Gills started brightly and had the first opening of the game as Max Ehmer challenged for the ball from a Mark Byrne long-throw, but the Bantams managed to hack clear with Parker looking to pounce.
Bradford went close to taking the lead on 14 minutes as Dieng weaved his way into the box, past a couple of defenders, but Tomas Holy was equal to his deflected shot. Gills debutant Lacey then had to be alert and make a crucial clearance as Poleon got behind the defence and looked to cut the ball back.
The visitors soon did take the lead as Jones got to the byline and cut the ball back where Poleon was waiting at the top of the box to sweep the ball into the net.
Gillingham immediately looked to get back on level terms and, after Byrne was scythed down by Reeves, the Irish midfielder ran off the knock, got up the other end and volleyed over the bar after Wilkinson’s initial shot was blocked.
The strong response from the Gills continued as they started to get on top of the game and a Lee Martin cross was headed just wide by Lacey on the stretch.
However, the Bantams were a constant menace as they attacked down the wings through Poleon and Jones, and Lacey entered the book for bringing down the latter after he looked to have got past the Gills defender. The free-kick was well defended by the home team but from the following corner, a training ground routine found Reeves with time and space at the top of the box but he blasted his shot deep into the Rainham End.
The equaliser nearly came after 35 minutes as another Byrne throw caused carnage in the box. Parker did brilliantly well to reach the ball near the byline and his fierce shot from an extremely tight angle was kept out by Doyle before Byrne volleyed off target as the ball ricocheted around the area.
Gillingham continued to put pressure on the Bradford defence but were struggling to pierce through the Bradford defence.
Minutes later the lead should have been doubled. Ehmer was caught in possession by Poleon who took the ball round Holy but somehow scuffed his shot wide of the goal with the goal gaping.
As the game went into injury time, Gillingham had a golden opportunity to grab the equaliser as a Martin free-kick whipped into the box was headed wide by Lacey in the final action of the first half.
The home team came out of the traps flying with Parker making a block immediately as Bradford kicked-off, before Martin delivered a great cross that Wilkinson nearly managed to get on the end of.
Wilkinson then charged through the Bradford defence before going down under a challenge in the box, but the referee waved away claims for a penalty.
The second period was certainly a lively affair, and Bradford continued to pose a threat from wide areas. Zakuani had to block a cross-cum-shot from Poleon before Holy made an assured claim from the resulting corner.
As the game reached the hour mark, Gillingham carved out another great opportunity as Wilkinson got the better of his man, and charged towards goal. The ball was eventually fed to O’Neill on the right hand side of the box and from his cross Parker stabbed inches wide of the post.
Gillingham continued to probe with Tom Eaves introduced in place of Lacey, and Parker moving to right wing back. A driving run from Parker drew a foul from Field but Martin’s freekick was bundled wide and Wright headed over from the corner.
The home team were reduced to ten men after 74 minutes with Wilkinson handed a straight red card for a late challenge in the corner.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Gills continued to fight valiantly with Martin pushed up alongside Eaves as a makeshift striker in the hunt for an equaliser.
Martin tested Doyle with a low shot from 25 yards as Gillingham looked to hit back in injury time, following the introduction of Liam Nash and Scott Wagstaff, but the keeper made the save to deny the skipper.
In the dying minutes, a deep freekick was recycled but Nash looped his header over the bar, before Holy made two great saves to stop the visitors extending their lead.
Gillingham thought they had snatched a draw with the last action of the game, when Wagstaff struck a loose ball from another freekick towards goal with Zakuani turning the ball into the net, but he was denied by the offside flag.
The Gills travel to Stadium MK next weekend in search of three points when they take on the MK Dons.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Lacey (Eaves, 63), Zakuani, Ehmer, Ogilvie; Byrne (Nash, 89), Wright, Martin; Parker (Wagstaff, 89), Wilkinson
Unused subs: Hadler, Hessenthaler, Oldaker, Cundle
Bradford City: Doyle; Kilgallon, McMahon, Knight-Percival, Field; Dieng, Law, Reeves; Jones (Gilliead, 58), Poleon, Patrick (Taylor, 66)
Unused subs: Sattelmaier, McCartan, Robinson, Devine, Pybus
Referee: John Busby