Gills held at home by Oldham, denied by the bar in injury time.
Gillingham were restricted to a point in an absorbing, end-to-end encounter against Oldham Athletic in SkyBet League One at MEMS Priestfield Stadium in Steve Lovell’s first home match as permanent Gills manager.
A nasty-looking injury to Lee Martin overshadowed the first period, with the skipper stretchered off the field of play after a long period of treatment when he was hit in the head by a powerful clearance, but he was well enough to greet the Gills players in the dressing room at full-time.
The second period was even more open and Gillingham were so close to snatching victory in injury time when Luke O’Neill hit the bar with a wonderfully struck free-kick. The ball bounced onto the line and up for Tom Eaves to pounce, but the keeper somehow managed to get the ball behind and force the Gills to settle for the draw.
Gills manager Steve Lovell named an unchanged starting XI from the team that grabbed a late point at Blackpool on Tuesday night, although he lined up with a three-man defence. Max Ehmer returned from his one game suspension and was named among the Gillingham substitutes.
The Latics had the first effort of the game on seven minutes after a cagey start to the game. A ball down the channel was cleared into the air first time by the Gills defence and the ball fell to Craig Davies but from a tight angle Tomas Holy stood tall to make the block at his near post.
Gillingham soon after had a great chance to open the scoring when Josh Parker robbed Dummigan of possession on halfway. Driving forward, Parker found Martin – his shot from the angle was saved by Placide but fell to Parker however his goal-bound shot from the edge of the penalty area was brilliantly blocked by an Oldham defender.
Unfortunately, the Gills skipper Martin was struck in the head by a powerful clearance and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher after a lengthy stoppage. Lovell responded by bringing on Scott Wagstaff and moving to a flat-back four. Gabriel Zakuani took the captain’s armband.
Jack Byrne fired wide for Oldham after the break, as they looked to capitalise on the Gills’ uncertainty while they adapted to their new system. Eoin Doyle then burst through the defence but just when he looked to pull the trigger his standing foot slipped and the Gills were able to clear.
The home team carved open the next opportunity following superb work from Tom Eaves. The big forward held off Bryan before skipping past two challenges and feeding Wagstaff down the left flank. His first time low cross was aimed at Parker in the middle but he was unable to get a toe on the ball as it fizzed across goal.
It was an entertaining game and the Latics immediately went close again but Byrne couldn’t get a strong enough touch on Hunt’s cross to find the corner of the net. From a similar delivery moments later, Holy was able to get down and make the stop at his near post.
Holy then had to make another good save from Doyle as he had space outside the box and smashed a swerving effort down the middle of goal which the Czech goal-keeper managed to get a fist on and beat the ball away.
The Gills were still looking to get on the attack down the flanks and a teasing ball from Luke O’Neill from the left wing found Eaves at the far stick but, unlike at Blackpool, the keeper managed to keep out his header.
Eaves and Conor Wilkinson were working well in tandem up top, bullying the Oldham defence but the Gills were often unable to find the killer pass or cross. A free-kick, won by Jake Hessenthaler 40 yards from goal, was delivered by Sean Clare on 43 minutes and was well met by Wilkinson, however Placide was just able to claim on his goal-line.
As the half ticked into nine minutes of added time, another quality cross from O’Neill was just too high for Eaves before bouncing agonisingly wide of the goal post in the final meaningful piece of action.
H/T: 0 – 0
The visitors started the first half in the ascendancy and a neat one-two between Doyle and Davies nearly brought the opener but Connor Ogilvie’s block just dribbled wide of the post from Doyle’s cross.
Gillingham then had a golden chance to open the lead as they broke down the right through Wagstaff. His cross aimed at Wilkinson was punched off the striker’s head by Placide but the rebound fell to Mark Byrne – the man of the match beat one man driving into the box however his left footed save lacked power and was saved by the keeper.
In a frenetic period, Doyle was slipped through but Holy was out of his goal quickly and spread his huge presence to block his dinked effort. Then, Wilkinson did excellently to win a header on half-way and set Eaves away but he was just crowded out as he looked to jink away from the defender and get a shot away.
When Byrne committed a foul right on the edge of the penalty area, Oldham had another good chance; a training ground routine allowed Davies to get a free shot at goal but Holy did well to get down low, make the save and hold onto the ball.
Parker had Gillingham’s next effort when he beat his man on the flank but blasted his shot high and wide form long range. A minute later, a Wagstaff cross found Eaves deep in the area but his snap-shot was sliced wide.
The Gills were suddenly looking menacing and Parker, after another surging run, found Eaves who hit a shot on the turn but sadly whistled past the post.
The hosts had a glorious chance to score just after the hour mark. Typically combative work from Eaves and Wilkinson, opened up the Latics’ defence and Parker took advantage to tap the ball through the legs of defender. However, with just the keeper to beat he got under the ball and shot high into the Rainham End.
Byrne had to be at his very best to keep the scores level, as he raced back to make an incredible goal-line clearance. Doyle slipped Menig through on goal and he took the ball around Holy before firing at goal, but Byrne was back to slide in on goal and divert the ball around the post.
Menig was getting in behind the Gills defence and causing Sean Clare problems with his pace, but when he was threaded through after 70 minutes his curling shot comfortably cleared Holy’s goal.
Eaves was causing havoc in the Oldham defence and when he brushed past Gerrard it looked like the Gills were in, but the keeper was out to block bravely and Fane just managed to get there ahead of Wilkinson to clear the ball behind for a corner.
Another Clare free-kick on 82 minutes gave Gillingham another chance to load the box and some uncertain keeping allowed Wilkinson a chance but he didn’t get enough on his header to get it on target and Eaves was just unable to get to the ball as it bounced past the far post.
In a now rare foray forward, Doyle had the chance to get a shot away from the edge of the penalty box but Holy was equal to his tame effort.
The home team were the dominant force, pushing Oldham back deeper and deeper, but on the counter they were dangerous and Doyle so nearly won it. The Latics broke from a corner through Menig and his cross was blocked by Ogilvie but fell kindly for Doyle however he rushed the shot and blazed it over the bar.
In the 90th minute, the Gills won a free-kick on the edge of the area when Wilkinson was cycnically brought down as he got on the end of an Eaves knockdown. O’Neill took responsibility and curled a beautiful effort onto the bar, down onto the line and somehow the ball was diverted behind by the keeper for a corner.
It was to be the last attempt of the game, with the Gills cruelly denied all three points by the finest of margins.
F/T: 0 – 0
Next weekend, the Gills take on Carlisle United at MEMS Priestfield Stadium in the second round of the FA Cup as they hope to join the ‘big boys’ in the hat for third round.
Gillingham: Holy; Clare, O’Neill, Zakuani, Ogilvie, Parker (List, 80); Byrne, Hessenthaler, Martin (Wagstaff, 19); Eaves, Wilkinson
Unused subs: Arnold (GK), Nugent, Ehmer, Chapman, Cundle
Oldham Athletic: Placide; Dummigan, Gerrard, Bryan, Hunt; Byrne, Fane, Gardner (Green, 68), Nepomuceno (Menig, 63); Doyle, Davies (Holloway, 59)
Unused subs: Wilson (GK), Wilson, Clarke, Obadeyi
Referee: Mr Graham Horwood
Attendance: 4,364 (229)