Points shared at Priestfield.
Gillingham endured a frustrating afternoon at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they were forced to settle for a point against Walsall despite dominating possession throughout the game and striking the woodwork twice.
The 0-0 draw, however, does see the Gills jump into 11th on 45 points in Sky Bet League One overtaking Bristol Rovers on goal difference.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between in a game that lacked fluency and quality, Tom Eaves did hit the bar and watch another header bounce into the ground and narrowly over in a first half where the Saddlers rarely threatened.
Eaves also hit the post mid-way through the second half after spinning on the top of the six-yard box but the Walsall defence resisted a late bombardment to earn a share of the points.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell named an unchanged team from the XI that dismantled Northampton Town in the first half on Tuesday night to claim all three points. Lee Martin was not risked in the match-day squad so Gaby Zakuani captained the Gills again in his absence.
The game started cagily with Gillingham holding on to the ball well but unable to get in-behind the Walsall back-line while the visitors tried to hit lone-striker Bakayoko at every opportunity and get the influential Erhun Oztumer on the ball.
The closest the Gills came was in the 11th minute when a great delivery from Luke O’Neill, after Tom Eaves had done well to win a free-kick down the right flank, caused trouble in the Saddlers’ defence.
The punch from keeper, Roberts, was collected by Jake Hessenthaler on the apex of the box and his deep, clipped cross found Max Ehmer at the far post but the keeper managed to collect this time under severe pressure.
Immediately after, a heavy back-pass from a Walsall defender put Roberts in trouble again as Josh Parker closed him down and won the ball after a heavy touch from the keeper but unfortunately in doing so he took the ball over the goal-line to give the visitors a lucky escape.
The Gills were firmly in control of the game and had another half chance when a deep corner from O’Neill found Ben Nugent at the far post but the cross was just too high for the defender and he couldn’t keep the header down.
As the pressure on the Walsall defence intensified, Gillingham had their first golden chance to take the lead as Connor Ogilvie got down the left wing to whip in a great cross that found Eaves in the penalty box however his powerful header hit the bar and flicked over.
Two minutes later and Eaves had a second chance in as many minutes to open the scoring when O’Neill gathered a deep cross and stood the ball up but the big striker diving in at the far post saw his header thud into the ground and bounce over.
It had been an impressive start to the game for the Gills, who were barely threatened in defence while going forward the wing backs, Ogilvie and O’Neill, were looking extremely dangerous.
However, a loose pass from the hosts in the middle of the park gave the Saddlers a great chance to get forward but with time on the ball and players in the middle, Edwards overhit his cross and the opportunity was wasted.
Normal service was soon resumed with O’Neill sending in a teasing cross from the right which found Parker waiting in the middle, however the striker’s blushes were spared by the offside flag as he completely missed the ball from 15 yards out as he looked to sweep the ball home.
Shortly after the half-hour Tomas Holy was called into the action for the first time in the half as Dobson broke from midfield and had space from nearly 30 yards to shoot, but Holy got down well to push it away.
The game was suffering from a lull in intensity with Mark Byrne shooting over from nearly 35 yards as the Gills struggled to get on the ball and attack Walsall.
Gillingham were still the better team by far and so nearly took the lead after 38 minutes. Hessethaler got a tackle in to divert the ball towards Eaves who just managed to collect on the stretch with Callum Reilly taking control on the edge of the box and drilling a shot narrowly wide.
A quickly-taken free-kick on half way from Walsall then caught the Gills defence napping but Bakayoko’s header was wildly misdirected and flew into the Rainham End.
That was the final action of the period with the game meandering to a goalless close despite Gillingham dominating throughout.
H/T: 0 – 0
After a sluggish start to the half, Gills roared into life after 51 minute when a spell of concerted pressure ended with Reilly slipping the ball into Eaves who turned inside the area and blasted towards goal but straight at Roberts who palmed away.
Morris had Walsall’s first attempt of the period after finding space on the edge of the box, but he dragged his shot harmlessly wide.
Straight up the other end, great play between Ogilvie, Reilly and Parker resulted in Ogilvie being played in down the left hand side of the box but his flashed cross evaded the waiting Eaves who had checked his run at the final moment.
The Saddlers were much improved since the break and were controlling the ball better, so Steve Lovell reacted by bringing on Conor Wilkinson shortly after Eaves had pulled a shot wide from the edge of the box after a quick counter.
The move nearly immediately paid dividends with Wilkinson brought down for a free-kick outside the area. O’Neill lofted the ball in and the ball eventually ricocheted to Eaves who, on the turn, fired against the post with the effort deflecting behind for a goal-kick.
Walsall countered with Ehmer going shoulder-to-shoulder with Dobson inside the Gills penalty area but the referee waved away claims of a penalty when Dobson thought he had been brought down unjustly.
Looking to get at the Walsall defence, gaps were starting to appear. Oztumer exploited this when he picked the pocket of O’Neill but blazed over from 30 yards despite a team-mate on the right imploring to be played in.
Neat possession from the Gills on the left wing then created another chance for the home side with Wilkinson chesting Ogilvie’s ball into the path of Hessenthaler, but the midfielder hit his shot into the ground which took all the power out of it and Roberts could claim easily.
There was little quality on display with Walsall content to sit deep, break up and disrupt play when possible and hit on the counter.
With less than 20 minutes to go, Gillingham were inches from taking the lead as a brilliant cross from Byrne found Parker perfectly but his flicked header was inches wide, although the offside flag was also up.
Minutes later as the Gills countered, substitute Scott Wagstaff stood a cross up into the middle of the box but Parker, in his attempt to generate power, got too much on the ball and cleared the ball.
The Gills were now all over the Saddlers as they looked for a third late goal in a row at MEMS Priestfield. A corner from Wagstaff caused havoc in the box, but Parker’s back-heel was just deflected past the post for another corner before the visitors scramble it clear.
Then as the game ticked into three minutes of headed time a long-throw from Byrne was flicked by Ehmer into the path of Hessenthaler but the ball refused to sit for him and his effort sliced high into the Rainham End.
The Gills continued to throw the kitchen sink at Walsall but their defence stood firm to deny the hosts all three points.
F/T: 0 – 0
The Gills hit the road the next week with away trips to promotion-chasing Shrewsbury on Tuesday night before playing relegation-threatened Bury at Gigg Lane on Saturday afternoon.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill (Wagstaff, 73), Ehmer, Zakuani, Nugent, Ogilvie; Byrne, Hessenthaler, Reilly (Wilkinson, 61); Eaves, Parker
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), Garmston, List, Moussa, Nash
Walsall: Roberts; Devlin, Fitzwater, Leahy, Guthrie; Edwards, Dobson, Chambers, Morris (Kouhyar, 68); Oztumer (Cuvelier, 75), Bakayoko (Shaibu, 68)
Unused subs: Gillespie (GK), Kinsella, Flanagan, Roberts
Referee: Mr Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 4,682 (209)