Town 2-2 Gillingham
By David Mitchell
Fleetwood Town and npower League 2 leaders Gillingham fought out an entertaining draw in front of 3033 on a bright afternoon at Highbury, a result which mirrored the match at the Priestfield Stadium in December.
Town’s ninth home draw will not improve play-off hopes but there were many positives to take from the game. Graham Alexander’s men came back twice through Jamille Matt but Town will have been disappointed to concede the goals in the way they did and had chances to take all three points.
Town were unchanged for the first time in two months while Martin Allen’s team showed two changes from the victory over Accrington Stanley, returns for Callum Davies and Adam Birchall.
Both teams observed a minute’s applause for Fleetwood schoolgirl Molly Robinson who sadly passed away a few days ago.
It was a dramatic start for the league leaders as Town conceded early for the second successive match. With less than three minutes on the clock, a defensive error from Nathan Pond created an opportunity for Adam Birchall to provide for Danny Kedwell who floated a left foot shot wide of Scott Davies’s right and into the top corner. It was the striker’s 14th
goal of the season.
Town responded positively, creating pressure in the final third. Matt set up Gareth Evans in the eighth minute but Stuart Nelson saved well to his left. The Gills absorbed Town’s threat and defended their outstanding away record, just one defeat all season, with ease.
Town’s hard work was almost undone in the 28th
minute, Pond and Davies forced to clear the danger. Two minutes later, Charlie Allen, son of the manager, skewed an opportunity at the back post and, soon after, Davies saved well from Birchall. They were anxious moments in the home defence.
From this tricky position, Town drew level. Junior Brown was picked out on the right and he sent over a teasing cross which Evans headed on to the crossbar. Matt responded quickest to head home from close range for his second goal of the season and Town’s 50th
Football League goal.
Having found a way back, Town surrendered the lead again, all too easily. Joe Martin made ground down the left, crossing from wide to Allen, the midfielder in space to head home three minutes from the break. After good periods of play during the half, defensive frailties had cost Town and they went in behind, despite winning a string of corners in added time.
The first booking of the game went to Barry Nicholson, for bringing down Anton Robinson in the 47th
minute. Fish, scorer seven days ago, brought a spectacular save from Davies, but his climb to the ball was deemed illegal. Early second half pressure came from the visitors, Town’s play lacking sharpness. Brown’s shot from outside the penalty area, in the 56th
minute, was their first attempt of the half and it cleared the crossbar by some way. Gillingham showed why they are adept at closing games down, a no-nonsense approach lacking subtlety but no less effective for it.
Town almost crafted a second equaliser on the hour, Matt failing to convert Brown’s corner from the right. Two substitutions reflected the side’s relative positions. Jon Parkin replaced Anthony Barry as Graham Alexander went for strike power and Myles Weston came on for Birchall to leave Kedwell alone up front for the Gills.
The match came alive again in the 68th
minute. Parkin kept the ball well in a tight space and released Brown into the area. The midfielder went down under pressure and the referee seemed to be looking hard at a possible infringement but let play continue and Matt scored a second. Parkin was making a difference and Town had further chances in the following minutes, Matt within inches of a hat trick.
There were anxious moments for Davies at the opposite end, Weston’s left foot shot from distance narrowly over the crossbar. Chris Whelpdale was replaced by Deon Burton with thirteen minutes left and, five minutes the biggest cheer of the afternoon greeted the return of Andy Mangan for his first action since September.
McGuire conceded a free kick and saw yellow with five minutes left, Allen’s free kick met by Kedwell who forced a tremendous save from Davies, to his left. Mangan became Town’s third booking, in added time, for felling Weston as he tried to break free.
TEAM: Davies, Beeley, Pond, Edwards, Goodall, Brown, McGuire, Barry (Parkin 60), Nicholson, Evans (Mangan 82), Matt
Bookings: Nicholson, McGuire, Mangan