A debatable second-half penalty gives Oxford victory.
A James Henry penalty was the difference as Oxford edged past Gillingham 1-0 at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
In what was a close encounter, Henry’s strike in the 59th minute proved to be enough to ensure Gills headed back to Kent empty handed following a tight affair the Kassam Stadium.
Gillingham made nine changes from the side that beat Crawley Town 2-1 on Tuesday with Elliott List and Billy Bingham the only players to start who played midweek in the Checkatrade Trophy. For the hosts, Ricky Holmes was fit enough to play following an injury scare last week.
Gills started positively in the Oxfordshire sunshine, Elliott List showing good pace to turn in behind the Yellows' defence before being forced out of play by Rob Dickie. The hosts first chance of the game fell to Marcus Browne but his free-kick went over Tomas Holy’s bar without really testing the stopper.
Gills thought they had taken the lead after ten minutes when List played in Regan Charles-Cook to slot home, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised. The pace of List up top was causing problems for the Oxford defence, and he was bought down right on the edge of the area. Unfortunately for Gills, the resulting free-kick came to nothing.
It took until the 20th minute for the first real chance of note. Ricky Holmes drove at the Gills defence, cutting from right to left, before seeing his low effort palmed behind by the Gills stopper.
Holmes was the man causing all the problems for Oxford and the number 11 was again involved in a neat interchange with James Henry, but the ball ran out, much to the relief of the Gills defence.
Over 500 Gills fans made the journey to the Kassam and they were making a lot of noise, but they were given a scare when, in the 33rd minute Ricky Holmes, again probing at the Gills defence, struck from distance only to see his effort saved by Holy before the follow up from Browne just evaded everyone as the scores remained level.
Just before the half-time interval the visitors were awarded another free-kick but Holmes, at the second attempt, was denied by Tomas Holy.
Neither side made a change at the break, with Gills kicking towards the open end at the Kassam Stadium. The first chance of the half went the way of the Gills, Regan Charles-Cook’s low effort being saved comfortably by Simon Eastwood in the U’s goal.
Gills had a good opportunity to break the deadlock in the 50th minute. Mark Byrne did brilliantly to win the ball in the middle of the park, he then slotted Brandon Hanlan through, but the forward saw his powerful drive go narrowly past the far post.
In the 59th minute Oxford took the lead from the penalty spot. Browne was adjudged to have been bought down by Tomas Holy and after a long discussion with his assistant, the referee pointed to the spot. James Henry stepped up and fired in to the top corner to put the home side ahead. It was tough on Gills who had started the second half well. 1-0
In the 69th minute Gills had a penalty claim turned away, with many in the away end thinking a foul should have been given on Tom Eaves, the referee decided to give the free-kick to the home side, much to the amazement of the Gills players and fans.
Just moments later, an off the ball incident involving Zakuani and an Oxford forward was spotted by the officials, but with the home fans calling for a red card, Referee Neil Hair decided to only book the Gills skipper.
Henry then came within inches of sealing the game for U’s. Following a swift counter attack, Henry picked up the ball on the left-hand side, cut in and shot low but his effort hit the inside of the post and came back out.
The game was beginning to get more and more stretched as the Gills looked for a leveller and Brandon Hanlan nearly prodded home at the front post before Charles-Cook saw his long-range effort saved by Simon Eastwood. That proved to be the last chance as Gills couldn’t quite find that bit of quality to give the away fans something to cheer about.
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Rob Dickie, Curtis Nelson, Cameron Brannagan, Sam Smith (Harvey Bradbury 55’), Marcus Browne, Ricky Holmes (Jamie Hanson 55’), John Ruffels, John Mousinho, James Henry, Sam Long
Unused subs: Johnathon Mitchell, Cameron Norman, Charlie Raglan, Fabio Lopes, Slavi Spasov,
Gills: Tomas Holy, Luke O’Neill, Gabriel Zakuani, Max Ehmer, Barry Fuller, Mark Byrne, Billy Bingham, Regan Charles-Cook, Elliott List, Brandon Hanlan, Tom Eaves
Unused subs: Tom Hadler, Alex Lacey, Conor Ogilvie, Bradley Stevenson, Josh Rees, Darren Oldaker, Noel M’bo
Attendance: 6628 (521)
Referee: Mr Neil Hair