Gills enter festive period with a win.
In their last home game before Christmas, Gillingham romped to a 4-1 victory against Bristol Rovers at MEMS Priestfield Stadium with a brilliant display of attacking football to take them clear of the relegation zone and into the festive period filled with confidence.
The Gills took a two-goal lead into the break after Mark Byrne converted when his initial penalty was tipped on to the post before Alex Lacey scored his first goal for the club. The hosts secured the victory after the break with two quick-fire goals as Josh Parker poked home before Byrne secured his brace with a thunderous volley, an early leader for goal of the season.
Byrne missed a second Gills penalty when Wagstaff was brought down again and Rovers snatched a consolation goal in injury time, but Gillingham claimed all three points in a vintage performance.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made just one change from the team that fell to an unfortunate defeat at Plymouth Argyle last weekend. Lacey made his first start in the league since the Gills hosted Scunthorpe in September, replacing Connor Ogilvie, while Bradley Garmston was fit enough to take a place on the substitutes bench.
The Gas nearly took the lead within the first 20 seconds as Gaffney forced Tomas Holy into an early save and the Czech recovered quickly to make a good follow up save with his legs from a Harrison shot.
Responding to the early danger, the Gills had two shots themselves but Sean Clare and Tom Eaves both blasted their shots far over the bar.
The Gills nearly took the lead after six minutes when Parker rose highest to angle a header towards goal, and it looked to be going into the bottom corner until Smith got a big hand on the effort to push it clear and Eaves could only head the rebound over.
Bodin fired a shot wide for Rovers from 25 yards as both sides were restricted, early on, to shots from distance.
The first minutes of the match were very open as both sides seemed happy to push men forward. Gaffney had another chance for the Gas but headed over from a tight angle after a corner was whipped towards the near post.
The home team had another half chance on 20 minutes and again it was Parker who found space in the box to meet a corner from Lee Martin but his header also cleared the bar from an acute angle.
A good ball down the right flank found Parker in space and he collected the ball, drove into the box and found Eaves but the big strikers’ touch let him down and the opportunity went begging.
Gillingham had a golden chance to take the lead after 27 minutes when Partington lunged in on Scott Wagstaff who was dribbling his way into the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Byrne stepped up to take responsibility. His initial spot kick was tipped onto the post but the Irish midfielder reacted quickest to fire home the rebound.
The wind was firmly in the sails of the hosts and the Gills nearly doubled their lead when a wicked corner kick from Martin deceived the keeper but was bundled just wide at the far post.
Rovers were threatening through their physical approach which nearly paid dividends as a corner caused havoc in the Gills box but was just cleared before a Bristol player was able to reach the ball and then Holy made a smart save to deny Sercombe and then did well to claim the high ball.
The Gills immediately made the Gas pay as they doubled their lead through ALEX LACEY’S first goal for the club. Lacey played a superb one-two with Martin and stretched out a boot to divert the ball past the keeper and into the corner of the net.
Firmly in the ascendancy, the Gills nearly added a third but the keeper did well to deny Eaves from close range after the striker met a superb cross from Luke O’Neill.
Wagstaff also went close as he latched on to great hold up work from Eaves to strike left-footed first time from the edge of the box but his effort curled agonisingly wide.
H/T: 2 – 0
The Gills made a quick start to the second half with Eaves getting across his man to meet a cross from the right but under pressure the header lack power and was comfortably saved.
The hosts did get a third after 46 minutes after a sublime touch from JOSH PARKER. A long diagonal ball from Holy found Parker in behind the defence. His first chested touch was perfect, setting him in on goal, and he just managed to get a toe on the ball to divert it past the keeper and roll the ball into the net.
Rovers looked demoralised by the goal and Gillingham were controlling the game, looking dangerous with every attack.
A MARK BYRNE wonder-goal gave the Gills a fourth soon after. A corner-kick straight from the training ground saw Martin lift a ball into the path of Byrne who was made a late burst into the box and volleyed first time into the far corner of the net.
Still pushing forward, Gaffney pulled a save out of Holy when he found space on the edge of the box and shot, but he directed his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Gillingham were awarded another penalty just after the hour as the hosts launched a counter-attack. Parker received the ball from Martin before driving forward, then the forward played Wagstaff in with a delicious ball from the outside of his right foot. Wagstaff took the ball around the keeper and was fouled but Byrne, for his hat-trick, hammered the ball wide.
O’Neill then went close for the Gills as he received the vall following good work from Parker and dribbled from the halfway, past two defenders on the edge of the box before shooting left-footed but just wide of the post. Parker then nodded inches wide from a cross before Holy made an easy save from a speculative Bodin effort, as Gillingham continued to dominate.
In a rare attack, Harrison took the ball past Max Ehmer but dragged his shot well wide as the game ticked into the final ten minutes. Sercombe then had a shot from 35 yards blocked and Holy was, again, able to make a simple save.
The visitors did grab a consolation in added time as a misplaced Gills ball from deep inside their half ended up with Sercombe who curled a shot into the top corner giving Holy no chance. Holy then did well to claim a low ball into the box, taking a knock for his trouble as Gillingham looked to resist a late rally from the visitors.
F/T: 4 – 1
The week before Christmas will see the Gills rack up the miles, as they travel to Carlisle United on Tuesday for the second round FA Cup replay before making another long journey up North to take on Fleetwood on Friday evening.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Ehmer, Lacey (Garmston, 75); Byrne, Clare (Hessenthaler, 68), Parker, Martin (Wilkinson, 76), Wagstaff; Eaves
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), Zakuani, List, Cundle
Bristol Rovers: Smith; Leadbitter, Lockyer, Sweeney, Brown; Sercombe, Partington (Broom, 75), Sinclair (Clarke, 61); Gaffney (Nichols, 65), Harrison, Bodin
Unused subs: Slocombe (GK), Broadbent, Telford, Bola
Referee: Mr Antony Coggins
Attendance: 4,227 (309)