Tom Eaves strikes on his return to earn Gills a deserved point against high-flying Wigan.
Gillingham were denied late on by Wigan Athletic under the lights at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening in another strong performance in a 1-1 draw.
The visitors, who went into the game top of the league, were outplayed for much of the second half but a late rally saw them snatch a draw.
Steve Lovell made just two changes from the side that got Gillingham’s first three points on the road at Peterborough United. Connor Ogilvie replaced Bradley Garmston and Eaves returned from suspension to lead the line, with Mark Byrne dropping out of the squad. Lovell also tinkered with the formation, moving to three at the back with Ogilvie and Sean Clare providing the width for the Gills.
Despite starting slowly, the Gills grew into the game which was goalless at the break. Tom Eaves, returning from suspension, gave the home side early on in the second half heading home a delicious cross from Clare, but the Gills were left to rue missed chances with Sam Morsy curling in a brilliant equaliser with under ten minutes to go.
The Latics started positively and nearly took the lead within the first minute as tidy team move found Max Power with space at the edge of the box and his effort was deflected closer to Holy’s goal but crept narrowly wide.
The visitors were making all the early running at Priestfield with the Gills forced to defend a few early corners but the home side did well to clear their lines.
Gillingham had their first effort of the game via a ball down the left-hand channel. Lee Martin checked back and delivered a curling ball which Clare volleyed wide at the first attempt with his wrong foot.
However, Wigan were straight back on the attack and a first-time flick released Jacobs through on goal, but a combination of Max Ehmer, Gabriel Zakuani and Ogilvie managed to crowd out the Latics forward and hack away from danger. Massey was next to threaten for Wigan but breaking forward his cross-come-shot never looked in danger of troubling Tomas Holy as it flew over the bar.
Although the game had settled down a bit, Wigan went close twice in succession to taking the lead in the 19th minute. First, Byrne after a driving run pulled a sharp save out of Holy and then from the resulting corner Burn’s header at the back post narrowly cleared the bar.
Jacobs then had a golden chance for the Latics as Massey sprinted down the right flank and cut the ball back to him, but his shot from inside the box lacked the pace to trouble Holy. Jacobs then went on his own run but pulled an effort a metre wide of the post from 25 yards as the visitors continued to dominate proceedings.
The Gills, however, felt they had a good shout for a free-kick when Elliot List looked to have got the better of Burn and was then taken out but the referee waved play on as List looked to race clean through on goal. A Clare cross then found Eaves but with the ball slightly behind him, he was unable to get enough power on his header from the penalty spot to threaten.
Eaves then fired wide as the home team started to find their feet in the game, before a superb lofted ball from Martin set the big forward clean in on goal. His first chested touch was perfect but just allowed a Wigan defender to get back and make a crucial tackle.
Two speculative volleyed attempts from either side were the next notable attempts just after the half hour mark. First, Toney controlled the ball and volleyed on the turn but sliced his effort well wide before Ogilvie won the ball on the half-way line and volleyed as he charged forward but the ball failed to dip and sailed over.
The match was becoming increasingly scrappy with the Gills fiercely competing for every single ball in midfield; Billy Bingham brought the Rainham End to its feet with an outstandingly combative piece of play that won the ball back for Gillingham.
This edge nearly took its toll on Zakuani who was left in a heap after winning another towering header, but the centre back was well enough to get back on the pitch and keep Wigan out in the dying embers of the first half.
H/T: 0 – 0
The Gills had the first chance of the second half when Eaves held the ball up well down the left channel before feeding Bingham on the edge of the Wigan box but his snap-shot rose over the bar.
Despite the positive start, Wigan were still a threat as Morsy reminded the home team. He managed to get a shot in at goal from 30 yards which harmlessly flew several yards over Holy’s crossbar.
A great team move down the right hand side with Clare and Martin linking well ended up with the former delivering a great ball into the box which was just nodded clear from Parker at the far post. Eaves was then set free again but he elected to shoot rather than slip in List and the chance was gone.
The big forward was not to be denied for long though as TOM EAVES gave the Gills a deserved lead after 55 minutes. Breaking clear from midfield, he fed Clare rampaging down the right flank and his teasing cross found Eaves in the middle of the box to head past Jones and into the net.
The Latics were now forced to attack and this allowed the Gills to pounce on the counter. Eaves did fantastically to hold up play, beat his man before performing a Cruyff turn and charging towards goal; he fed Parker down the side of the box but his left footed shot was drilled just wide.
Eaves was playing with bags of confidence as he found Bingham in the box and his cross was gathered by Jones, before Martin capitalised on a fortuitous bounce off the corner flag to feed List but his shot from 10 yards deflected off a defender and onto the post with Gillingham so unlucky not to double their lead.
The home side were absolutely dominant with Jake Hessenthaler the next player with an effort deflected wide and from the following corner, Clare belted wide from 30 yards after the ball was partially cleared to him.
Wigan did have an opportunity after 72 minutes with a free-kick awarded to them just outside the area, but Powell stepped and curled the ball deep into the Town End.
Holy was called into action soon after as a good cross from the left beat Zakuani, but Grigg couldn’t make the connection he desired and Holy could make the save as the visitors started to press the Gills deeper and deeper.
Gillingham were now very much on the back foot with Zakuani having to make a great goal-line clearance but they were not to be denied for long. Morsy collected the ball on the edge of the box and had time to curl a quality effort past Holy and into the corner of the goal.
The away side were now looking for a winner but the Gills managed to hold firm to deny Wigan and claim a very good point after another top-class performance from Steve Lovell’s team.
F/T: 1 – 1
The Gills are back at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday when they take on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Northampton Town in a crucial battle.
Gillingham: Holy; Ehmer, Zakuani, Ogilvie; Clare, Bingham, Martin, Hessenthaler, Parker; List (Wagstaff, 78), Eaves (Cundle, 83)
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), O’Mara, Oldaker, Chapman, Wilkinson
Wigan Athletic: Jones; Elder, Burn, Dunkley, Byrne; Jacobs, Power, Morsy, Massey (Roberts, 72); Powell, Toney (Grigg, 72) (Hunt, 88)
Unused subs: Sarkic, Perkins, Bruce, James
Referee: Mr Brett Huxtable
Attendance: 4,705 (152)