Scott Wagstaff scored a 95th-minute equaliser as the Gills fought back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to earn a memorable draw against Chesterfield.
The Gills trailed to Connor Wilkinson’s close-range header after just 75 seconds, but after Kristian Dennis double the hosts’ advantage at the Proact Stadium shortly after the break, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scored his first penalty of the night to keep the visitors in the game.
Wilkinson’s solo goal 18 minutes from time appeared to finalise the result. However Emmanuel-Thomas scored another penalty on 76 minutes, before Wagstaff’s first goal for the Gills earned Justin Edinburgh’s side a hard-fought point.
Because of injuries to Paul Konchesky, Ryan Jackson, Cody McDonald and Rory Donnelly, Edinburgh started with a 3-5-2 formation, with Wagstaff and Emmanuel Osadebe playing as wing-backs. Darren Oldaker came in for his first league start and there was a place on the bench for 17-year-old youth prospect Ben Chapman.
However, the Gills got off to the worst possible start, conceding with just two minutes played from a Chesterfield set-piece. The home side won a free-kick on the left of the Gills penalty area following a Max Ehmer foul. Jon Nolan swung in the ball and Wilkinson headed into the back of the net with the simplest of finishes to give the home side the early advantage.
Gillingham’s first attacking threat came from Bradley Dack out wide on eight minutes. The makeshift striker beat one man and cut in onto his right-foot, then passed to Mark Byrne in a more central position. Byrne took a touch before unleashing a 25-yard strike that flew just over the bar.
With 23 minutes on the clock, Byrne showed his defensive capabilities after another Chesterfield cross. Sam Hird picked up the ball on the left and crossed the ball across the six-yard line, but Byrne cleared to deny a certain goal before any of the on-rushing Spireites could tap the ball in to an empty net.
The Gills struggled to keep hold of possession in the opening half-hour, but looked dangerous on both occasions Wagstaff was on the ball. The right-winger did well to fire a ball across the box to Emmanuel-Thomas on 31 minutes, and the striker managed to turn and shoot, but it was well-blocked by the Chesterfield defence.
Gillingham came close in the last piece of first-half action, after promising play down the left. Osadebe played in Oshilaja, and the defender cut back a fizzing ball that was begging for a Gills player to attack, but no one could get on the end of it.
With just six second-half minutes played, Chesterfield doubled their lead. Wilkinson easily beat two Gills defenders and was on his way down, before Nolan took possession of the loose ball and was bundled over. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Dennis slotted home from 12 yards.
Elliott List replaced Knott shortly before the hour, as Edinburgh looked to inject some much-needed pace into the side. It proved to be a brilliant decision, as the youngster’s energy changed the game and forced the hosts back.
On 64 minutes, the Gills won a penalty out of nothing. Ehmer, still up from a corner, lifted the ball into the penalty area, where Oshilaja was fouled by Tom Anderson. Emmanuel-Thomas calmly strutted up to the ball, and blazed home to bring the visitors back into the game.
However, Wilkinson had his second, and the Spireites third, of the night with 18 minutes remaining. The midfielder latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the area before galloping towards goal at speed. With just the ‘keeper to beat, Wilkinson fired the ball over Nelson to make it 3-1.
The game took another turn on 76 minutes, as Wagstaff was fouled on the far right of the box, and another Gills penalty was awarded by referee Trevor Kettle. Cue the same taker, and the same outcome: despite goalkeeper Ryan Fulton going the right way (to his right), Emmanuel-Thomas’s low shot had too much speed and nestled into the bottom corner. The comeback was on.
Gillingham looked better in the last stages of the game, with List’s directness, JET’s strength and Wagstaff’s energy unnerving the home players and fans alike.
With the full 90 minutes played, Fulton spilled a cross but Oshilaja was headed a difficult rebound over the bar. Yet the Gills weren’t done: List’s perseverance set defender Josh Pask free on the left, and he found Dack. The attacking player cut inside onto his right foot and shot, and after Fulton could only parry, the patient Wagstaff was alert and ready to slot home for the equaliser.
The Gills return to action on Saturday to face AFC Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium in south west London. Our 800 tickets for the game have now sold out!
Chesterfield: Fulton, Hird, Liddle, Mitchell (O’Shea 62), Nolan, Dennis, Anderson, Wilkinson (Dimaio 77), Maguire (Donohue 86), Ariyibi, Graham
Unused subs: Evatt, Gardner, German, Parkin
Gillingham: Nelson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Wagstaff, Knott (List 59), Pask, Byrne, Dack, Oldaker, Osadebe, Emmanuel-Thomas
Unused subs: Hadler, Wright, Dickenson, Hessenthaler, Chapman, McDonald
Referee: Trevor Kettle
Attendance: 4,714 (124 away)