Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Gillingham 1 Walsall 2

Match 88/15/1293 - Tuesday, 12th April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Norris 90+5
Walsall (0) 2 Lalkovic 68, Hiwula 77
Attendance: 6,246

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 58/6,291

Match Report

Cliche alert. Every game from here on in is a Cup Final, 11 players plus the used substitutes need to be on their game with no passengers afforded. With just a couple of exceptions, Gillingham had a team of passengers in this vital match and Walsall are too good a team to be offered such opposition.

Ultimately, a missed penalty will focus people's minds as to the outcome of the game but there were other factors that hugely contributed to the result.

Justin Edinburgh's team selection showed a return for Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald with John Egan awaiting his opportunity from the bench. It was a gamble and it is certainly questionable whether it came off.

Gillingham opened the game on the front foot with Saddlers' goalkeeper Neil Etheridge tipping a Adedeji Oshilaja header over the bar after six minutes.

After 20 minutes, Stuart Nelson made his first save of the evening, turning a shot from Sam Manton to safety.

Two minutes later, a superb effort from Dack was heading for the top corner before Etheridge made a spectacular stop to turn the ball away.

The golden opportunity to capitalise on their good start came Gillingham's way after 24 minutes. Much-loved referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot after Paul Downing was adjudged to have handled the ball. A "discussion" ensued as Luke Norris wrestled the ball away from Dack. Once you've asserted yourself in that manner you have to deliver, but unfortunately for Norris, Etheridge made another superb stop turning the shot away low to his right.

The wind had been taken from Gillingham's sails and Walsall started to assert themselves on the game. A free kick taken by Milan Lalkovic rattled the top of the crossbar and two efforts late in the half were only just wide of the target.

Ten minutes into the second half and Adam El-Abd was replaced by the returning Egan after sustaining an injury and after 67 minutes, Oshilaja was replaced by Jake Hessenthaler in an effort to retrieve the initiative in midfield that had been lost.

But a minute later the visitors got their noses in front. A loose pass from a tiring Dack only found Lalkovic who jinked past Dack before curling a shot past Nelson.

A dipping shot from McDonald only just cleared the bar but Gillingham were now largely playing second fiddle to a very attractive Walsall side.

A wonderfully crafted counter-attack on 77 minutes as good as sealed the game for the Saddlers when Romaine Sawyers laid the ball into the path of Jordy Hiwula who planted the ball past Nelson from the edge of the box.

Dack completed 80 minutes but had looked far from fully match fit.

With almost the last kick of the match, Norris completed a acrobatic overhead kick after the Ryan Jackson long throw, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Gillingham have been at the summit of the Division and barely out of the top four all season, but now they are perilously close to dropping out of the play-off positions altogether. They are looking anxiously over their shoulders at Barnsley, but their destiny is, for the meantime, in their own hands. On paper, when was football ever played on that surface, the run-ins of both clubs are very similar, three tricky and two winnable games to go, as the cliche goes, each one a Cup Final.

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