Rochdale clinical in front of goal as Gills slip to third successive defeat at Spotland.
Gillingham slipped to 20th in the Sky Bet League 1 table following a 3-0 defeat to Rochdale at Spotland on Saturday afternoon.
A hat-trick from Ian Henderson sealed Dale’s second successive 3-0 win over Gills at the Crown Oil Arena, with two other goals ruled out for offside.
Tom Eaves, Josh Parker and Callum Reilly all had opportunities to get a goal on the board, but Rochdale were clinical and following Henderson’s third just after the hour mark, the points were won.
Manager Steve Lovell made three changes to the side that lost to AFC Wimbledon at Priestfield last Saturday. Josh Parker returned from international duty to take his place in attack while Dean Parrett and Luke O’Neill were the other two men chosen to come in.
Josh Rees, Conor Wilkinson and Brandon Hanlan all dropped to the bench.
Rochdale named veteran striker Aaron Wilbraham in their team; the forward having played in the Premier League for Crystal Palace as recently as January 2014.
Gillingham made the brighter start, enjoying more possession in the early stages although respective crosses from O’Neill and Byrne were comfortably headed clear by the Rochdale defence.
As the visitors pressed forward Rochdale seized a chance to make an impression on the counter attack, and with little over 10 minutes played they took the lead. A ball forward was flicked on by Andrew, Henderson drove into space and had time to pick his spot and beat Holy.
Gills responded reasonably well with Reilly drilling an effort just wide of the right hand post from 18 yards, but as Lovell’s men began to settle they found themselves two goals down. A flick on by Matthew Gillam was inch perfect for Henderson who anticipated the move; he saw Holy coming and took his effort early to lift the ball over the advancing keeper and across the line.
With the visitors on the ropes Rochdale went for a third to try and kill the game off, and soon after they thought they had got it when a corner from Sam Hart was delivered into the danger zone and as Holy came for it he was halted and Ryan Delaney headed home at the back post. However, his celebrations were short lived as a foul on Holy was given.
Calvin Andrew was next to have a go; from 20 yards he was knocked off balance at the crucial moment and as a result it was a comfortable stop for the Gills keeper.
On the half hour mark Gills created half a chance when a low cross from Byrne was guided into the path of Eaves. It was an awkward ball for the striker, he made contact but the ball was always rising and it settled in the first row of the stand.
The Kent side continued to battle away but Rochdale seemed fairly comfortably defensively, although on 40 minutes they had a narrow escape when an excellent cross from Byrne on the right side was headed wide by Tom Eaves.
Rochdale finished the half strongly but Gills did enough to ensure the damage wasn’t heightened.
The hosts started the half as they had finished it, and within 60 seconds felt they had got a third when Henderson headed home a free-kick from Hart. The referee however blew early and the goal was disallowed due to a foul inside the penalty area.
Out of nothing Gills nearly got themselves back into the game; Parker tried to find space on the edge of the box for a shot. A tackle deprived him of that chance but the ball ran to Eaves who tried his luck from all of 20 yards and his left footed effort hit the top of the cross bar before going out of play for a goal-kick.
Josh Parker came within inches of reducing the deficit a few moments later but from a tight angle he drilled an effort just beyond the far post. He was soon replaced by Elliott List.
Following his introduction Rochdale had a golden opportunity to put the result beyond all doubt when a cross into the box found an unmarked Matthew Gillam but he headed narrowly wide from a little over six yards.
However, a third goal wasn’t far away and Henderson completed his hat-trick just after the hour mark. Andrew took advantage on the right side as Garmston slipped on the wet turf; the cross was deep but Wilbraham kept it alive, the ball went back into the danger zone and, acrobatically, Henderson guided the ball beyond Holy for a third time.
On 72 minutes Gills created a half chance following the introduction of Navid Nasseri, on for O’Neill, when Eaves did well to hold the ball up on the right side, he turned and crossed from the byline where List narrowly placed a header wide of the post.
Five minutes later and Holy did well to punch a corner-kick away from the danger zone, the ball was played back into the path of Sam Hart who drilled a left footed effort narrowly wide of the target.
With the game won Rochdale were content with holding onto possession as the clock slowly counted done to Gills third straight defeat at the venue.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, Delaney, Hart, McGahey, Gillam (Adshead 90), Camps, Rathbone, Andrew (Williams 77), Henderson (Done 89), Wilbraham.
Unused subs: McNulty, Perkins, Moore, Matheson.
Gillingham: Holy, Fuller, Ehmer, Lacey, O'Neill, Garmston, Byrne, Reilly, Parrett (Hanlan 83), Eaves, Parker (List 57).
Unused subs: Hadler, Ogilvie, Rees, Wilkinson.
Referee: Mr M Coy
Attendance: 2925 (194 Gills)