The Gills went into their penultimate home match of 2016 on the back of two wins from three, only narrowly losing to the one goal at Oxford United on a foggy Tuesday evening. Whilst for Rochdale, they went into the match on a run of four successive victories. Full-backs Bradley Garmston and Ryan Jackson missed out, with on-loan goalkeeper Jonathan Bond also on the sidelines. Josh Pask, Darren Oldaker and Elliot List were unable to make the matchday squad.
Gills XI: Stuart Nelson, Scott Wagstaff, Max Ehmer, Baily Cargill, Paul Konchesky, Josh Wright, Billy Knott, Jake Hessenthaler, Bradley Dack, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Cody McDonald
Subs: Hadler, Herd, Oshilaja, Donnelly, Osadebe, Byrne, Nouble
The first opportunity of the match came from the visitors within three minutes, when Joe Bunney was able to get a shot away inside the box. Only for it to comfortably go over Nelson’s crossbar. Six minutes later and Rochdale really should have taken the lead. Midfielder Joe Thompson should have hammered home from six-yards, but instead gave away the chance by passing it to Gillingham’s number one.
Moments later and Gillingham man Billy Knott took a knock and was subbed off by Justin Edinburgh as a precaution, with Frank Nouble taking the former Bradford City midfielder’s place. It took a while for either side to get another shot at goal, but it was Rochdale who had a chance, again. Half an hour in and Ollie Rathbone found the ball at his feet and decided to have a go himself from 20 yards, only for the effort to go well wide.
Ten minutes before the break and Gillingham thought they had taken the lead. Bradley Dack had a free-kick on the far-left, he whipped it in the box and went past the Rochdale ‘keeper but a touch from Cargill meant the assistant had to flag. Although, at the time many home supporters would have missed that after a scene was made in the Rainham End, and a home fan was forced to leave the ground. The Gills began to grow into the game and just moments prior to the interval, Cody McDonald got on the end of a Konchesky cross but the striker’s header went inches wide. The two teams went into half-time with the score line being goalless, and no one really looked like they fancied the three points.
Dale manager Keith Hill made a double substitution five minutes after the break, as Ian Henderson and Steven Davies replaced Ollie Rathbone and Joe Bunney – the visitors were now playing with two strikers upfront. Despite the away team switching up and trying something new, it would be Gillingham who would take the lead just 120 seconds after the changes. Nouble, on the left, looked to have shot but a Rochdale defender deflected it into his own net, despite the initial chance from the Gills striker going wide.
Just before the hour mark and the referee, Trevor Kettle, had to get his cards out. Justin Edinburgh’s team had won a corner and a disagreement from Joe Rafferty of Rochdale led to the defender being given a yellow. On-loan centre-back Baily Cargill nearly headed in his first goal for the hosts but goalkeeper Conrad Logan performed an impressive save as a very faint touch from his left hand allowed him to put it past the post for a Gills corner.
Rochdale made their third and final substitution after 67 minutes when Sanmi Odelusi replaced Nat Mendez-Laing. Moments later and the visitors could have had an equaliser. Summer signing Scott Wagstaff threw his body in the way of Odelusi’s effort, which was destined to ripple the net, but the full-back cleared it off the line to preserve Gillingham’s lead. Going into the final 15 minutes of play, Edinburgh made his second change of the afternoon as Mark Byrne came on in place of Bradley Dack.
Just before 90 minutes were on the clock, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas doubled the lead for his team. Byrne played the winger through, who made Logan dive the wrong way to calmly slot away and put Gillingham on course to pick up three points.
Referee Kettle added four additional minutes, enabling the Gills to definitely ensure the points stayed at Priestfield with a third goal. Rory Donnelly, who had only just come on, found himself with space inside the box after a brilliant pass from Emmanuel-Thomas, finding Mark Byrne in the six-yard box to settle the score. The result meant Gillingham kept their first clean sheet in the league since April when they played out a goalless draw at Sheffield United.
Final Score: Gillingham 3-0 Rochdale
Scorers: Own Goal/Frank Nouble, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Mark Byrne
Attendance: 5,409 (148 Away Fans)
Despite midfielder Josh Wright being awarded the official man of the match, I think Jay Emmanuel-Thomas put in a great shift to contest his team-mate. The loanee from Queens Park Rangers was able to hold the ball up, took on the opposition and I think the influence he had in the second, scoring in fact, and third was vital to pick up the three points on Saturday.
A few shaky spells in the defence could have allowed Rochdale to nick a goal or two, but overall I think the partnership of Max Ehmer and Baily Cargill is beginning to click and since the latter made his first start since returning from injury we have definitely become more solid at the back. Stuart Nelson, making his 201st appearance in a Gills shirt, didn’t have anything too difficult to deal with, but nonetheless put in a valiant effort in the match against Rochdale.
Other mentions should go to Wagstaff. The Maidstone-born winger was played at right-back to replace Ryan Jackson, and I have to say had a great performance despite having to adapt to a full-back position. Bradley Dack still does not look at one hundred per cent match fit yet, but with a two-week break until Gillingham are in action again he’ll be able to get some well-needed rest. Cody McDonald wasn’t too bad himself, didn’t stop running and always put the Rochdale defence under pressure. The only player who didn’t play to the same standards as we’ve seen from him in recent weeks is Jake Hessenthaler. No mistake, he didn’t have a bad game but, like I said, didn’t play as well as we’ve previously seen in recent weeks. Nonetheless, a great result.
The result leaves Gillingham 15th in League One, just three points off the play-offs. However, we have to wait a fortnight until the Gills are next in action as they travel to Bolton Wanderers, which is live on the box.