Gills hold league leaders at ME7 to earn important point
Gillingham fought their way to a 0-0 draw against former league-leaders Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night at MEMS Priestfield Stadium and had the best of the chances through the game as they moved ever closer to survival in Sky Bet League One.
Josh Parker, on his return to the side, saw a first-half header clawed away by David Raya in the Rovers goal before his first touch let him down in the second-half when clean through on goal.
Tomas Holy made a succession of decent saves, in particular to push a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick away midway through the second period, but was not overly tested as the Gills defence lead by skipper and man of the match Gabs Zakuani kept the visitors at bay.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made two changes from the side the drew against Doncaster at the weekend with Parker and Callum Reilly returning from injury to take their place in the starting XI.
Tom Eaves was forced out of the squad after suffering a head injury during the previous game, while Bradley Dack had sufficiently recovered from his muscle strain to line up for Rovers against his former employers.
The game kicked-off straight into a midfield battle, as Gillingham looked to crowd the centre of the park and put the title-chasing visitors off their stride. The tactical move saw a positive start for the Gills and Conor Wilkinson had the first shot of note as he did well to turn near the edge of the box with a good touch but his left footed shot from 30 yards was narrowly wide of Raya’s goal.
However, shortly after Holy was called upon to maintain parity when Evans was given too much space 25 yards out but the Czech goal-keeper was equal to his low, drilled effort to make a brilliant save and parry the ball behind.
A deep cross from Bennett from the right back position then caused the Gills defence further trouble when it was headed back into the danger area by Conway but Holy just about managed to claim the ball.
Up the other end, Gillingham went the closest of either side to taking the lead. Wilkinson controlled the ball in the right hand side of the box, cut back on to his preferred left foot before standing up a cross where Parker could head powerfully towards goal however Raya managed to get across his line and make a fingertip save.
The game did not open up as the half progressed with neither side able to establish a concerted spell of possession as the half hour mark ticked by.
Just as two minutes were put up by the fourth official, Rovers went close to taking the lead as a snappy Mulgrew corner to the front post was met by Leniham but his flicked effort was just wide.
A late long Mark Byrne throw was cleared by the visitors defence in what was the final action of a tight first half.
H/T: 0 – 0
The second period started in identical fashion to the first with Gillingham sitting deep and breaking up play whenever possible.
A mazy run from Ben Nugent gave the Gills an early chance to get the ball in a danger area after 52 minutes when he drew a foul. Bradley Garmston delivered a great cross but as Nugent looked to get on the end of it, the linesman’s flag was up to deny the hosts a chance.
A quick throw in then caught the Rovers defence napping and from a tight angle on the apex of the box, Wilkinson blazed over.
Rovers made a double substitution to try and breathe life into their attack with Dack withdrawn by Tony Mowbray to applause from all four stands.
The Gills however maintained their positive momentum as another cross from Garmston down the left was met by Wilkinson in tandem with a Rovers defender but the ball squirted harmlessly behind for a goal-kick, unfortunately for the hosts.
Rovers final substitution saw another ex-Gill, Dominic Samuel, join the action however again it was the hosts posing the greater threat as good hold-up play from Wilkinson released Scott Wagstaff down the right and his cross nearly found Parker lurking in the middle but Raya came to make a good claim.
The visitors had their best chance of the half when a neat turn from Armstrong on the edge of the box drew a foul giving Mulgrew a chance to bend one from just over 20 yards. The Scotland and Rovers captain took his time before trying to bend one into the opposite corner but Holy again got down well to push it away.
The spell of pressure brought a corner which Whittingham delivered from the right but Mark Byrne did well to head the set piece clear and avert the danger with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Gillingham looked to counter and the dangerous Wilkinson thought he had earnt a shooting chance when he looked to have outmuscled a Rovers defender in the box, but the referee decided otherwise as the striker blasted a good effort narrowly wide.
Blackburn were now in control of the game as they looked for a goal that would keep them top, yet this kept the Gills in the hunt and they nearly had a golden chance as a header from Zakuani caught the Rovers defence out setting Parker in on goal but a poor first touch gave Raya time to come out and claim.
Set pieces looked the most likely source of a goal for Rovers. Mulgrew was given another chance from further out, but Holy again moved well across his line and managed to punch his effort from 30 yards to safety before Samuel dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box.
Gillingham continued to press right until the end with Jake Hessenthaler having a chance to drill in a low cross from the by-line but the Rovers defence were equal to it. A final free-kick from Garmston was defended by Blackburn with both sides having to settle for a point.
F/T: 0 – 0
The Gills make their final long journey up north for the season on Saturday when they take on Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park.
Gillingham: Holy; Wagstaff, Ehmer, Zakuani, Nugent, Garmston; Byrne, Reilly, Hessenthaler; Wilkinson (List, 79), Parker (Nash, 89)
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), Lacey, Ogilvie, Stevenson, Nasseri
Blackburn: Raya; Williams, Mulgrew, Leniham, Bennett; Conway (Whittingham, 55), Evans, Dack (Payne, 55), Smallwood, Armstrong; Graham (Samuel, 63)
Unused subs: Leutwiler (GK), Bell, Downing, Antonsson
Referee: Mr Tony Harrington
Attendance: 6,361 (840)