Late strike gives Gills a poi
Conor Wilkinson came off the substitute’s bench to net a dramatic equaliser in Gills 1-1 draw with Oxford United on Boxing Day.
Elliott List, also a sub, saw his header saved by Simon Eastwood but the striker was in the right place at the right time to drill the ball home.
Oxford had gone in front early in the second half when Ricardinho’s deflected strike made its way beyond Tomas Holy.
Steve Lovell made one change to the side that beat Fleetwood 2-0 on Friday night; that enforced on the Gills boss with Scott Wagstaff recovering from a hamstring injury.
Jake Hessenthaler was called into the side with Darren Oldaker and Stuart Nelson among the substitutes.
The early exchanges were fairly even with both sides enjoying possession in good areas; a Josh Parker shot within the first 10 minutes well blocked by the Oxford defence before Gino Van Kessel missed the target at the other end with an attempted hook shot towards the far post.
Luke O’Neill’s pass across the face of goal went unpunished seven minutes later with the Oxford centre-backs relieved not to see Tom Eaves another yard further forward to finish off the chance.
A few minutes later Tomas Holy made a comfortable stop as Oxford decided to shoot from range, before an effort inside the penalty area cleared the bar.
Canice Carroll was next to try his luck as Oxford progressively became more of a threat; his left footed curling effort missing the far post by a couple of yards before Jon Obika forced a simple stop from Holy in the Gillingham goal.
Prior to the interval Simon Eastwood was called into action to tip a Jake Hessenthaler shot over; the keeper was back in action moments later when he was out quickly to claim a cross.
Gills were getting themselves into good areas but not able to create clear cut opportunities; Eaves was crowded out as he looked to pull the trigger inside the box, the loose ball ran to Hessenthaler whose shot was blocked before Martin’s cross was claimed with ease.
The club’s top scorer was at it again moments later; his header forcing Eastwood to back track who did well to prevent te ball crossing the line.
Oxford found themselves in front within seven minutes of the restart; the ball was worked across from the left hand side. Ricardinho chose to shoot from 18 yards and his effort took a deflection, possibly off team-mate Van Kessel, before finding the bottom corner.
The lead could have been doubled shortly after the hour mark when Joe Rothwell ventured on a fine solo run; his shot from 20 yards was palmed out by Holy before being cleared to safety.
The Gills struggled to break through a resilient Oxford defence but Luke O’Neill very nearly beat Eastwood with a powerful right footed effort from 18 yards. Sections of the crowd cheered briefly but the ball struck the side netting for a goal-kick.
Wes Thomas had the chance to put the game to rest on 78 minutes but while clean through on goal he decided to try and lob Tomas Holy, the connection wasn’t clean and the keeper was able to claim, and then clear.
With time ticking away it seemed as if Oxford might hold out for all three points, but Clare’s cross on 87 minutes was met well by sub Elliott List, Eastwood got a hand to his header but Wilkinson was well placed to stab the loose ball home at the second attempt from six yards.
The striker went close to grabbing a winner in the last minute; after a scramble inside the Oxford box the ball made its way to Wilkinson just inside the area and although he struck it well the ball flew over the bar.
Gills: Holy, O’Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani, Ogilvie, Hessenthaler, Byrne (List 81), Clare, Martin (Wilkinson 68), Parker, Eaves (Cundle 68).
Unused subs: Nelson, Lacey, Nugent, Oldaker.
Oxford: Eastwood, Martin, Ledson, Thomas (Henry 83), Ruffels, Rothwell, Obika, Carroll, Ricardinho, Mousinho, Van Kessel (Payne 61).
Unused subs: Shearer, Tiendalli, Williamson, Fernandez, Mowatt.
Attendance: 5555 (440)
Referee: Mr N Kinseley