Cook hat-trick delivers three points for the Saddlers.
A hat-trick from Walsall’s top scorer Andy Cook helped to inflict a 3-0 defeat on Gillingham in Sky Bet League One as the hosts were unable to claim back to back wins following last week’s triumph against Burton Albion.
Cook headed in a free-kick from close range before converting a Matt Jarvis cross to double Walsall’s lead within the first 20 minutes. A smart turn and finish within two minutes of the second half wrapped up his hat-trick and the three points with the visitors then content to soak up Gillingham pressure for the remainder of the game.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made just one change to the side that snatched a dramatic victory at the Pirelli last week.
Josh Rees, who smashed home that winner and his first goal for the Club, came into the starting line-up in place of Regan Charles-Cook with top scorer, Tom Eaves, fit enough to make the matchday squad. Former Gills star Jarvis, lined up against his former team for Walsall.
Despite the visitors poor form, they started the brighter of the two teams with a couple of early balls into the box causing the Gills defence issues.
Jarvis was an early threat turning Luke O’Neill before delivering to the back post but Connor Ogilvie did well to make the block from Gordon’s header.
The Saddler’s early dominance paid dividends after just nine minutes as a free-kick delivered from the right hand side found Cook in acres of space and the striker made no mistake from six yards heading past Tomas Holy.
With the Gills having to come at Walsall to get back into the game, the pace of Bradley Garmston and Elliott List offered their best opportunities within the first quarter of an hour, getting in behind the defence but failing to find a blue shirt with their crosses.
However, the Saddlers doubled the lead with Cook heading home from close range after Jarvis had done brilliantly to get to the byline and stand up a cross to the back post.
Following the goal, the game descended into a midfield battle as the Gills struggled to get into the game. Good work from O’Neill down the right saw a dangerous cross come into the box but the Saddlers did well to get a head to the ball before Ogilvie got to a corner delivery first but his flicked header was wide of the post.
A foul on substitute Tom Eaves, introduced following an injury picked up by Alex Lacey, gave O’Neill an opportunity to take aim from 35 yards. He struck the free-kick well but it just drifted wide of the post with Roberts at full stretch.
Two minutes of added time were signalled by the fourth official but Gillingham were unable to make any inroads and entered the break two goals down.
H/T: 0 – 2
Just two minutes into the second half and Walsall scored their third with a long-throw finding Cook in the box who turned and smashed home to complete his hat-trick.
O’Neill had seen the majority of Gillingham’s chances and when a corner was only cleared as far as the right back he had another shot but under immense pressure lifted his shot into the Rainham End.
Gordon nearly got a fourth for Walsall as Jarvis, who had been a menace all game, pulled a cross back for Gordon but his header was wide of the goal.
The third goal had killed the game, but the Rainham End were still behind the team as they tried to find a way to get back into contention.
That nearly came in the 72nd minute as Mark Byrne stole across his man to glance a header towards goal from a corner but Brandon Hanlan, on as a second half sub, was just unable to reach the ball at the back post as it bounced agonisingly wide of the post. Rees then tried his luck from thirty yards but dragged his shot wide from 30 yards.
Regan Charles-Cook soon after had another half-chance cutting in from the left flank but Roberts was able to get across his line to make the save as it curled towards the top corner.
All of a sudden the Gills had generated a bit of momentum with O’Neill delivering a teasing cross towards the front post which Roberts was just able to claim as it was inadvertently diverted towards the goal by the centre back.
Gordon had another good chance to extend the lead when he nipped in front of Ogilvie to go clear in on goal, but Holy stood tall to claim his curling shot.
O’Neill had another shot that drifted over from around 25 yards as the Gills continued to press the Saddlers with injury time approaching.
Eaves then hit the post with a diving header 15 yards out after O’Neill delivered a good ball into the middle, although the linesman’s flag was up regardless for offside.
Gillingham’s best chance of the game came in the two minutes of added time when Hanlan did brilliantly driving down to the byline and pulling the ball across goal but Rees was unable to divert it home from close range.
That was the final action of the game with the Gills falling to a heavy home defeat.
F/T: 0 – 3
The Gills are in FA Cup action next weekend, travelling to Swansea City to take on the Championship team in the fourth round of the competition at the Liberty Stadium.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Zakuani (c), Lacey (Eaves, 35), Ogilvie, Garmston; Byrne, Reilly (Hanlan, 63), Rees; Parker (Charles-Cook, 46), List
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), Simpson, Ehmer, Oldaker
Walsall: Roberts; Norman, Guthrie, Johnson, Leahy; Jarvis (Laird, 79), Devlin, Edwards, Osborne; Cook, Gordon (Kinsella, 83)
Unused subs: Dunn (GK), Dobson, Morris, Ismail, Mussa
Referee: Mr Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 3,975 (123)