Points shared at Priestfield.
Mark Byrne’s goal in first half stoppage time cancelled out Ian Henderson’s opener as the spoils were shared at Priestfield on Saturday afternoon in a 1-1 draw.
In a feisty affair in ME7, Gills created chances to seal all three points with Graham Burke, Brandon Hanlan and Tom Eaves all coming close, but the Gills had to settle for a point which took them six points clear of the drop zone.
Gillingham made one change to the side that won at AFC Wimbledon last week, Callum Reilly missing out with a slight thigh strain, replaced by Dean Parrett in the middle of midfield. Meanwhile, Elliott List was ruled out, as he recovers from a virus.
Gillingham came in to the game off the back of two impressive results on the road and started well at Priestfield, seeing a lot of the ball. The first chance of game fell to Max Ehmer after a cut back from Graham Burke picked out the captain, but his shot was blocked wide, without too much danger.
Gills continued to threaten early doors in ME7, and Burke was to come close himself. This time, Brandon Hanlan cut the ball back to Burke, but he shot from inside the box flew over the bar. Luke O’Neill then forced Josh Lillis in to a smart stop to his right.
In the 25th minute Rochdale’s first break forward presented the game’s best opportunity. Aaron Wilbraham had time to turn in the box but was denied by a crucial block from Connor Ogilvie before he sliced the rebound wide of the post.
Rochdale took the lead in the 38th minute when a free-kick from the left-hand side wasn’t properly cleared. The ball fell kindly to Ian Henderson who fired beyond Tomas Holy to put the visitors ahead in Kent, against the run of play.
Gills nearly responded immediately through Byrne. Hanlan had time and space to pick out Byrne, but after tidy footwork, his effort came back off the bar from inside the six-yard box. The striker then volleyed wide as the Gills looked to head in to the break level.
The hosts were to get their rewards for a positive opening half when Mark Byrne headed home a delightful Tom Eaves cross to level the scores. It was roles reversed as Byrne climbed highest to nod a ball from the left wing and ensure the sides went in to the break all square.
The lively Brandon Hanlan had the first chance of the second half. A clearance from Byrne found the former Charlton man who was released down the left, but his effort didn’t test Lillis in the Dale goal, as he dragged it wide.
Gills were to come even closer just minutes later, a delightful pick out from Leonardo Da Silva Lopes found Graham Burke, but on the stretch the forward couldn’t keep the ball down as he shot over from inside the six-yard box. On target, and it would have surely been a goal.
The game was starting to have a bit of ‘bite’ to it and after Aaron Wilbraham had been adjudged to have led with his elbow in an aeriel dual with Connor Ogilvie. The referee only brandished a yellow, with the fans around us calling for further punishment. He was then replaced immediately after by Calvin Andrew, who himself got booked for clattering in to Ogilvie as the game came close to boiling over.
On the counter, Matt Done had the next chance, but his effort was tipped round the post by Tomas Holy, with the resulting corner coming to nothing before Jimmy Keohane also shot wide as the game approached the final ten minutes.
Gillingham had more penalty appeals waved away when a ball in from Tom Eaves appeared to strike the arm of a defender. Dale were looking threatening on the break, but Gills were holding firm against a physical forward line.
Tom Eaves then came close to finding a winner when he caught his dipping volley sweetly, unfortunately for Gills, it beat the keeper, but also beat the post. A nervy six minutes of stoppage time followed but neither side could find a winner as it ended all square in Kent.
Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill, Ehmer, Ogilvie, Fuller, Parrett (Rees 90), Byrne, Lopes, Burke (Charles-Cook 85), Hanlan, Eaves
Subs: Catherall, Lacey, Oldaker, Campbell, King.
Rochdale: Lillis, Ebanks-Landell, McNulty, Ntlhe, Mclaughlin, Camps, Rathbone (Dooley 83), Bunney, Henderson (Keohane 72), Wilbraham (Andrew 63), Done
Unused subs: Wade, Delaney, Holden, Hamilton
Referee: Mr Alan Young
Attendance 4686 (137 away fans)