Gills left frustrated as they finish 2017 with a point against AFC Wimbledon.
Despite taking the lead twice at home against AFC Wimbledon, Gillingham held to a draw at MEMS Priestfield and finish 2017 in 18th position, four points clear of the relegation zone.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made two changes to the side that drew against Oxford United on Boxing Day. Conor Wilkinson started after his late goal earnt the Gills a point, while Greg Cundle made his ever first league start with Lee Martin missing out through illness and Tom Eaves on the bench. Liam Nash, just recalled from his productive loan spell at Leatherhead, also made the matchday squad.
After a dull first half in tricky conditions, Gillingham took the lead when Sean Clare’s free-kick was nodded into the net by a Dons player at the near post. The visitors equalised in controversial fashion when Lyle Taylor converted from the spot after the referee adjudged Luke O’Neill to have fouled Cody McDonald in what appeared a very harsh decision.
However, the Gills bounced back and took the lead for a second time with Max Ehmer bundling home a corner at the far post and looked set to take all three points before Forrester levelled the match late on, latching on to a loose ball after a corner caused Gillingham trouble.
The hosts nearly took an early lead after a corner from Connor Ogilvie was spilt by George Long in the Wimbledon goal but he managed to reclaim the ball just before Gaby Zakuani could nod home. The chance came after Josh Parker did superbly to beat his man on the right flank and get a decent cross into the box which was cleared behind.
Gillingham were playing some nice football in the early exchanges and managing to control the threat of Andy Barcham down the left hand side with Lovell opting for a diamond formation, Cundle operating in behind Parker and Wilkinson.
Continuing to press the visitors at every opportunity, the Gills eked out another chance but Parker’s header from distance was saved comfortably by Long.
Wimbledon had a good chance on 14 minutes, when Tomas Holy carried the ball out of his box when clearing the ball from hand. Taylor took responsibility from the edge of the area and saw his powerful effort deflected over the bar. The resulting corner was then well cleared by Wilkinson.
Attacking the Town End, the Gills nearly took the lead after twenty following a fluid passing movement, but Wilkinson was denied by a last-ditch tackle in the box and a miscommunication between Mark Byrne and Parker meant Gillingham were unable to capitalise on the follow-up.
The windy conditions were not conducive to a good game, and it descended into a midfield battle midway through the half. Luke O’Neill’s speculative effort from 35 yards was the closest either side managed to get.
The returning McDonald nearly grabbed an opener for the Dons when he got goal-side of Ogilvie, but Holy managed to deflect his effort wide with his legs and Charles blasted the loose ball from the corner deep into the Rainham End.
Midfielder Sean Clare then tested Long from 30 yards but his dipping effort was gathered by the keeper with minimal fuss. A glancing header from Meades then had Gillingham worried but his effort went narrowly wide of the post.
Both sides continued to probe but were finding it tricky to break down the opposing defences. Cundle had an effort blocked from the apex of the box, but the conditions continued to make playing football difficult with Holy making routine saves from Taylor on 40 and 42 minutes.
The best chance of the half came in first half added time as a good Dons move down the left ended with Taylor squaring the ball across the top of the box. Abdou dummied and the pass ended up with Barcham but Clare got back to make a great sliding block and deny the ex-Gill a second goal against Gillingham this season.
H/T: 0 – 0
The second period kicked off in much the same way as the first, with neither side able to get the ball down and play, although Holy did make a good save from Taylor’s 30 yard free-kick.
Eaves was introduced after 52 minutes as Lovell looked to get on the attack but the visitors were inches from taking the lead a minute later as Trotter got on the end of a corner but his volley was just wide of the post.
The first attempt of the half from Gillingham came just before the hour as Parker lead a counter-attack on the Dons, but Wilkinson diverted his cross just the wrong side of the goal with Long beaten.
After that warning shot, Gillingham did take the lead after 61 minutes. SEAN CLARE whipped in a great free-kick after Eaves had been fouled out on the left and a Wimbledon player at the near post diverted the ball over Long and into the net.
However, AFC Wimbledon immediately had a great chance to equalise with the referee adjudging that O’Neill brought down McDonald. It looked an incredibly harsh decision, but Taylor took the ball and blasted beyond Holy.
From a similar position, Clare delivered another good free-kick for Gillingham as they looked to get back in front but Eaves’ header was deflected over. From the corner though the ball rushed through the area and MAX EHMER was on hand to bundle home from close range.
Abdou tested Holy with a fierce strike on the edge of the area after 75 minutes but Holy got down well to make the block and claim the ball.
The visitors were beginning to exert some sustained pressure on the Gills defence which was standing firm. Lovell introduced Bradley Garmston just after 80 minutes with the hosts switching to a back three.
Goal-scorer Ehmer was penalised and booked for pulling back Taylor on the edge of the area giving the Dons a shooting opportunity. Francomb curled the ball towards goal but the wall did its job and deflected the shot over the bar. The visitors weren’t to be denied though with Trotter nodding the corner back towards goal and Forrester converted from close range.
Gillingham got back on the front foot as they looked to take the lead for a third time. Zakuani managed to get on the end of Ogilvie’s free-kick delivery but could only head wide of the post under pressure. McDonald then rose highest in the Gills box to meet Forrester’s cross but again headed wide.
In added time, the Gills so nearly snatched the game as Ogilvie teased in a cross from the left which Eaves managed to get his head to but it glanced narrowly wide. Another Ogilvie cross then nearly found substitute Liam Nash but it was eventually cleared at the back post.
Continuing to hunt for the winner, Gillingham were denied by the visitors as they finish the year with a draw.
F/T: 2 – 2
The Gills are back in action in just two days’ time, making the shortest journey of the season to Charlton Athletic in search of a good start to 2018 and their first league double of the season.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani, Ogilvie; Byrne, Clare, Hessenthaler (Garmston, 81); Cundle (Eaves, 52), Wilkinson (Nash, 84), Parker
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), Lacey, Nugent, Oldaker
AFC Wimbledon: Long; Oshilaja, Meades (Nightingale, 84), Charles; Barcham (Kennedy, 90), Hartigan (Forrester, 70), Framcomb, Trotter, Abdou, Taylor, McDonald
Unused subs: McDonnell (GK), Soares, Kaja, Egan
Referee: Mr Robert Lewis
Attendance: 6,419 (687)