Shrewsbury Town were the visitors for Ady Pennock’s first game in charge of Gillingham at Priestfield. The Gills went into Saturday’s match on the back of one point from a possible six, with a superb draw at Bramall Lane against league leaders Sheffield United and a disappointing defeat to Oldham Athletic the week before.
The Kent club are near to having a fully fit squad, other than Aaron Morris whom is out for the whole season, as Bradley Garmston was able to get minutes on the pitch and summer signing Lee Martin, yet to make his competitive debut for the Gills, is just a few weeks away possibly from being named in the matchday squad. Australian defender Chris Herd was confirmed to be out of the home game against Shrewsbury after picking up a knock last week in Yorkshire. Veteran Paul Konchesky returned to the side following his absence from the Sheffield United encounter. January arrival Tomas Holy was named in the first team sheet since his arrival eight days ago.
The visitors had a familiar name returning to Priestfield with Adam El-Abd being named on the Shrews’ bench having been on loan at Gillingham for much of last season.
Gills XI: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer (C), Oshilaja, Konchesky, Wright, Hessenthaler, List, Wagstaff, Dack, Cody McDonald
Bench: Holy, Garmston, Donnelly, Knott, Osadebe, Byrne, Emmanuel-Thomas
Shrewsbury XI: Leutwiler, Riley, Sadler, Whalley, Ogogo, Brown, Deegan, Ladapo, Nsiala, Rodman, Roberts
Bench: Halsteed, McGivern, Humphrys, Dodds, Smith, Morris, El-Abd
The first chance of the afternoon went to Paul Hurst’s team when Alex Rodman got on the end of a Gills clearance from a corner but could only force a volley well wide of Stuart Nelson’s goal. Gillingham went close to getting the early advantage just short of ten minutes in after Bradley Dack’s free-kick sailed inches wide of the far-post. Five minutes after that and the opening yellow card was given out by referee Trevor Kettle. Cody McDonald was through for the home side before being taken out by the Shrews’ Junior Brown, the resulting set-piece was well dealt with by the defensive team.
A quarter of an hour into the game saw another opportunity for Ady Pennock’s men to sneak a lead – Dack played through McDonald but goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler was able to make a great save from ten yards out.
Eight minutes before the break and Shrewsbury had their best chance of the half. Rodman was brought down on the left-hand side just outside the area, Joe Riley sent it into the crowded box but Nelson was able to tip it over the bar for a corner to the visitors. Gillingham were well on top going into the final stages of the opening 45 minutes. The ‘keeper hoofed it up field for Deji Oshilaja to get on the end and send it past Leutwiler to give the hosts a 1-0 advantage just 60 seconds before half-time.
Hurst’s squad were much improved after the interval with a number of moments where they could have notched an equaliser. Freddie Ladapo surely had a tap-in from six yards out but Nelson made a rather impressive save to keep his side ahead. Although in the 63rd minute Shrewsbury finally got their goal after another stop from the goalkeeper in net for Gillingham but Rodman hit home on the rebound.
Moments later and the Gills nearly put themselves ahead, again. From 25 or so yards out Dack hit a curling free-kick which skimmed the top of the crossbar, some sections of the home crowd were appealing for a corner. The first chance of the match came in the 71st minute with Stephen Humphrys replacing Ladapo. Then Elliot List went off as Garmston made his appearance for Gillingham since November.
Max Ehmer had an opportunity to hit the net, the German had the ball at his feet and shot an effort at goal but could only force it to the post. The Shrews made their second substitution of the afternoon as Louis Dodds came on in place of Tyler Roberts. Nine minutes from time the Gills had yet another window to take the lead. A Bradley Dack corner found Josh Wright, who went for the spectacular acrobatic shot from seven yards out but it went wide of the right post.
Wave after wave of chances came for Pennock’s men as moments later Paul Konchesky sent in a rather strange cross which surprisingly nearly went in but Leutwiler was able to just about tip it over the bar for a corner, that came to nothing. Louis Dodds should have taken advantage of a rear chance for the visitors, the attacking midfielder volleyed wide and over from inside the area.
The final set of substitutions came as Shrewsbury Town brought on Bryn Morris for Abu Ogogo and the Gills made a double change – Jay Emmanuel-Thomas replaced Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald made way for Rory Donnelly. Not much else occurred during the final stages of the game apart from the continuous pressure from Gillingham to get a winner before the final whistle, although their best efforts didn’t come to that.
The result leaves the Gills five points above the drop in 17th meanwhile Paul Hurst and his team moved up to 19th after that point.
Full-time: Gillingham 1-1 Shrewsbury Town
Scorers: Gills – (Oshilaja ’46) Shrews – (Rodman ’63)
Attendance – 5,316 (223 Away Fans)
This was the first game I was able to see Gillingham in action under the guidance of Ady Pennock, with his opening two matches being away, and I have to say that there is an improvement. My first noticeable change is that our fitness is looking better – when Justin Edinburgh was manager we always tended to fall away in games within the last 10 or 15 minutes, and normally concede, but Pennock seems to have focused on that in training. Even Scott Wagstaff pointed it out during the week in an article.
Moving onto individual performances, I thought Josh Wright was very well deserved to be awarded man of the match after that display. He seemed a lot more composed than previously and didn’t even pick up a yellow, something he finds difficult to do, in my opinion, being a defensive midfield man. Wright had also been criticised for chasing the ball too much but that has stopped as well as from today’s performance he stayed in position a lot more.
Whilst Bradley Dack’s current form is just a glimmer of what we saw last season prior to his hamstring injury, he’s another player I thought had improved. On multiple occasions the 23 year-old was able to play through a team-mate, whether it be Cody McDonald, Elliot List or Scott Wagstaff – who was playing on the left for the majority of the match before Garmston came on. I believe Pennock just needs to give Dack a bit of motivation.
List looks a very prospective member of the first-team at the moment. Under Edinburgh his chances in the squad were very limited but the new Head Coach has come in and had more patience with the youngsters. The winger has taken full advantage of the opportunity he’s been given, just a string of starts will let us see his true potential.
My only concern was the last two chances which came in the 88th minute. It was far too late for either Jay Emmanuel-Thomas or Rory Donnelly to have any influence, if I was Ady Pennock I’d have made those substitutions ten minutes before to give them the chance to make an impact on the game, the two had very little to do in the few moments they had on the pitch. Overall, it was a satisfactory performance and on many days that would have given us all three points but it wasn’t to be as we move onto Bradford City away next Saturday.
Thank you for reading.