There is one thing guaranteed when these Gillingham and AFC Wimbledon meet – goals galore and Tuesday’s game was no exception. The defending from both sides was truly awful at times in a 2-2 draw.
Provided great entertainment though.
Gillingham are struggling and have not won in some 11 matches, whilst AFC Wimbledon had failed to win away since October 18 at Bury, but at least failing to score away had been dealt with in the defeat last Saturday at Shrewsbury.
That performance had been very good and only an interesting decision by the referee had seen Wimbledon fail to win, and another on Tuesday had let Gillingham back into the game.
Neal Ardley showed his confidence in his team by naming an unchanged starting side with only the returning Dean Parrett on the bench and in the squad being the change.
In fact with Will Nightingale and news that Jon Meades is close to fitness, there is a feeling that a corner has been turned.
During the game Ardley had to make some difficult decisions as plans went to the wind.
Cruelly Sean Kelly was not only left exposed in the first half, but unprotected by the referee, and since he picked up a knock, it made it easier for Ardley to replace him at half time with Nightingale and switch from a 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2.
The game started in a tentative way for both teams on a hard and bobbly pitch, but it was soon evident that the Dons were the more confident team and were pressing Gillingham very effectively, although the home side did swing in some crosses without troubling the back line.
There had already been a number of robust challenges by both sides and it was from yet another free kick, that Wimbledon took the lead.
Far out on the left George Francomb swung in a free kick into the penalty box, which found the head of Darius Charles and the ball dropped nicely for Lyle Taylor to lash home from about ten yards out in the 17th minute.
That lead lasted all of two minutes.
Soon Bradley Dack was strolling past Kelly and the Dons defence and simply stroked the ball into the net for 1-1. The visiting bench were not impressed.
He had got there due to less than convincing challenges from midfield and full back.
All was not lost though. Tom Elliott was put through 1 on 1 with the keeper, but he never really had the ball under control and saw his shot smothered. That bobbly pitch.
More panic by both sides in midfield as the ball became a hot potato, but not too hot for Gillingham, who with the assistance of the referee some would say, found themselves in front in the 36th minute.
It appeared Kelly was fouled in midfield, and soon Gillingham were advancing on goal. A cross came in – there were claims of offside, since disproved – and it was 2-1 to the hosts through Josh Parker, who had previously turned out for the Dons on loan, but without any impact.
James Shea was angry. Offside was his claim. The referee consulted his assistant. The goal stood and Shea for his trouble was shown a Yellow Card.
That really was the only blemish on Shea’s performance, since he made two stunning saves in the second half to keep the Dons in the match. He did have a bit of an issue with A Divot when he tried to clear his penalty box and the ball kicked up and he shied his connection. Hard looks at pitch, red faced goal keeper. That bobbly pitch again.
The half time change to 3-5-2 with Nightingale replacing Kelly saw the side transformed as all out attack became the order of the day. Too gung ho at times was how Ardley put it, and thankfully Shea was up to the challenge.
Eventually though a break through came. Taylor, Elliott and Barcham were a real thorn in Gillingham’s defence and it was the latter who found the equaliser in the 65thminute from just inside the penalty box.
That is now back to back games was Barcham to score. Five league goals now and he looks back to his best.
Running at players, putting in crosses and scoring goals. What is not to like?
With Meades soon back and Parrett champing to get involved again the threadbare squad is looking once again full of quality.
This Saturday sees Walsall visit and a great opportunity to build upon the confidence seeping back into the team.
There were smiles on Tuesday night – that has been rare in recent weeks.