Gillingham 1-1 Charlton Athletic
Gillingham 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Gillingham battled back to earn a hard fought for point in the League One clash against local rivals Charlton Athletic at Priestfield on Tuesday night.

A double half time substitution was the catalyst for Gillingham’s comeback to earn a deserved “derby” point against Charlton Athletic under the Priestfield lights.

After the visitors dominated an opening half and could have had more than just Elliott Lee’s 18th minute strike that had the home side well and truly on the back foot, Steve Evans made two changes at the break and all of a sudden the Gills looked a completely different side and duly levelled when Kyle Dempsey’s curling effort came back off the left post only to hit defender Ben Purrington and rebound into the Rainham End net prompting wild celebrations for the home side and silencing Charlton’s travelling army.

Inspirational sub-Danny Lloyd almost put the Gills’ noses in front with a thunderous shot which cannoned to safety off the left post whilst at the other end Jamie Cumming pulled off one of the most sensational saves seen at Priestfield for many a long year to magnificently – and somehow – deny Josh Davison.

With such anticipation before kick off for this eagerly awaited fixture, the Gills really struggled to get going in the opening forty-five minutes as the visitors piled forward creating chance after chance. Elliot Lee was denied by Cumming after Jack Tucker had been caught in possession before the Charlton midfielder shot wide after being set up by Corey Blackett-Taylor.

The home side were well and truly on the back foot and only Connor Washington will know how he headed Purrington’s driven cross wide of a gaping goal. Lee then was on hand at the back post to give Charlton the lead that they deserved which but for a brilliant back tracking sliding block from Tucker to deny Lee again, would have been doubled before the break.

The manager’s half time changes brought almost instant rewards as only referee Stroud will know how he didn’t give a penalty right after the start of the second period as second sub–Gerald Sithole’s flick clearly struck a defender’s hand – despite loud protests (that “earned” Max Ehmer a yellow card), the official was unmoved.

The Gills were all of a sudden well and truly in the game and Vadaine Oliver was inches away from levelling as the big man slid in at the back post but just couldn’t net Robbie McKenzie’s cross. Keeper Craig MacGillivray then pulled off a great save to deny a Lloyd drive but was fortunate to see the ball rebound behind the onrushing Oliver.

If the Gills were unfortunate on that occasion, lady luck finally smiled on Evans’ side when skipper Dempsey brilliantly curled the ball round a statuesque MacGillivray and as the ball thudded off the post the unlucky Purrington saw the ball ricochet into the net.

Charlton rallied and from a swift break down the right, the ball reached Davison at the back post, and the Charlton man was left holding his head in disbelief – along with nearly all the crowd – as somehow Cumming made his ground across his goal-line to magnificently turn the ball round the right post with a full length double handed save.

The rampaging Lloyd – whose runs pushed the visitors defence further and further back and gave the whole place a huge boost – was then desperately unlucky with a run and shot that flew past a startled keeper and smacked off the inside of the left post.

Overall, a point each was probably just about right for both sides and whatever Steve Evans and Paul Raynor said to their charges at the break should be bottled as the difference in Gillingham in the two halves was to be frank astounding!

The point sees Gillingham climb one place to 19th in League One, above Ipswich Town, whilst Charlton remain in the bottom four.

The Gills now face a tricky trip to Oxford United on Saturday knowing a win could pull them clear of the drop zone, whilst a defeat could see them staring down the barrel of a gun.

Gillingham: Cumming, Bennett (Tutonda 75), Ehmer, Tucker, McKenzie, MacDonald, Adshead (Lloyd H/T), Dempsey, Lee, Kelman (Sithole H/T), Oliver.

Subs not used: Chapman, Akehurst, Reeves, Akinde.

Goal: Purrington (og 56).

Booked: Ehmer (48), Lee (76).

Charlton Athletic: MacGillivray, Matthews, Lavelle, Pearce, Purrington, Lee (Gilbey 75), Watson, Morgan, Blackett-Taylor, Washington (Leko H/T), Davison (Stockley 81).

Subs not used: Harness, Famewo, Kirk, Clare.

Goal: Lee (18).

Referee: Mr Keith Stroud

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.