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Match report: Gillingham 1, York City 1
YORK City have now taken points from every other side in League Two’s top-16 places following a 1-1 draw at long-time former leaders Gillingham.
Incredibly, considering that record has been achieved with three months of the season still to play, City remain 15th in the table.
But Gary Mills’ team are tantalisingly close to finding the right formula to finally bridge that gap to the play-off positions, which seems permanently fixed at six points.
The Minstermen are difficult to beat, as Saturday’s 13th, and perhaps unluckiest draw of the season, testified.
Nor are many sides in the division as comfortable in possession as Mills’ team but converting that superiority into goals looks like holding the key to any successful climb up the standings between now and April.
Only once in their last seven matches have City managed to score more than one goal.
Leading 1-0 against Gillingham after 17 minutes, courtesy of Paddy McLaughlin’s goal direct from a corner, the visitors had further opportunities to double their lead in front of a home crowd growing restless and anxious that their team’s form at Priestfield could yet derail a push for automatic promotion.
A record of one point from a possible 12 at home had seen the Gills surrender top spot to Port Vale prior to the visit of the Minstermen and, after manager Martin Allen had used all his three substitutes by the 55th minute, there was a growing sense of desperation about the hosts’ afternoon work.
But, when City were unable to double their advantage, home midfielder Charlie Lee summed up the character of his team.
Lee was involved in a sickening clash of heads with recalled City right-back Lanre Oyebanjo on 71 minutes but, with no more replacements permitted, first defied the orders of physio Gary Hemens and then manager Allen, who both summoned him to the bench at different stages.
Allen hauled the clearly disorientated player off after he hurled a throw-in straight out of play but Lee returned to the pitch twice and was still contributing to his team’s efforts when substitute Cody McDonald headed in an 85th-minute equaliser.
He also saw out the seven minutes of stoppage-time allowed for his injury.
Gillingham, therefore, deserved respect for their efforts but the game provided further evidence that City need not fear anybody at this level of football.
The hosts’ only real threat came from aerial bombardments.
Initially, this approach heralded regular diagonal crossfield balls for Danny Kedwell to contest, after peeling off towards the right flank.
But, when stand-in left-back Dan Parslow, who will soon have more strings to his bow than the Philharmonic Orchestra, nullified that threat, the hosts’ play became even more rudimentary.
Balls were thereafter hurled into the visitors’ box from long throws, corners, free-kicks and general play with the intended target not always obvious.
City were pleasingly more patient and measured, and forged ahead after Charlie Allen had headed wide from a long throw and Chris Whelpdale had dragged a 20-yard shot off target.
For a team that warmed up to the strains of Crazy Horses and whose manager is nicknamed Mad Dog, it should have perhaps come as no surprise that there was a little lunacy in the manner Gillingham conceded the first goal.
Quite what home ’keeper Stuart Nelson was trying to achieve when McLaughlin’s flag kick from the right swung towards his goal was unclear but he only succeeded in helping the ball cross over the line.
At the other end, Adam Barrett headed over from ten yards after Kedwell had hooked the ball back into the box and Lee’s rising drive from an acute angle smashed high into Michael Ingham’s sidenetting.
Lee survived a 35th-minute scare, however, when his headed back pass required acrobatic reflexes from Nelson.
The reactions of City ’keeper Ingham were even more impressive when he thrust out his right arm to keep out Barrett’s powerful close-range header moments later.
Three minutes after the restart, Blair burst through the right channel to leave Joe Martin trailing but could not beat Nelson at his near post.
For Gillingham, Adam Birchall’s header from a Lee long throw was punched away by Ingham and Barrett saw another aerial attempt bounce off the top of the netting following Martin’s free-kick.
McLaughlin, though, almost caught out Nelson on 51 minutes with a 35-yard lob that just lacked the height to beat the Gills ’keeper.
He then delivered the right-wing free-kick that saw Chris Smith glance a header against the post.
Lee’s 30-yard drive was kept out low to his right by Ingham just after the hour but Blair charged on to a Scott Kerr pass down the left flank and, after going past Legge, unleashed a shot that Nelson parried weakly before Martin cleared the danger.
A terrific Parslow charge from inside his own half then saw him narrowly fail to find an unmarked Walker with his square pass into the penalty box.
Gillingham were still mustering little in response with a couple of long-range Whelpdale efforts failing to trouble Ingham.
But, when substitute Myles Weston’s right-wing cross travelled across the face of Ingham’s six-yard box, fellow replacement McDonald steamed in at the far post to beat the City ’keeper, who had chosen to stay on his line.
Ingham reacted well though to keep out another McDonald header from Whelpdale’s corner before the hosts survived a late penalty shout.
After Kedwell had appeared to escape an earlier handball appeal, Blair then looked to be nudged in the back by Martin as he prepared to shoot after McLaughlin and Walker had combined to open up the Gills down the right.
An off-balance Blair could not keep his subsequent shot on target but referee David Phillips was unmoved in front of a baying away end.
In the seventh and final minute of stoppage time, City sub Lee Bullock was unable to turn in McLaughlin’s corner at the near post.
Gillingham 1 (McDonald 85), York City (McLaughlin 17)
Michael Ingham 8
Excellent shot-stopping, but might have come off his line to prevent equaliser.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Strong and brave as highlighted by the head injury that ended his afternoon.
Chris Smith 8
Marshalled a new-look back four well and came close to scoring.
Jack O’Connell 8
Strong in the air for a teenager and never looked daunted by the challenge.
Dan Parslow 8
Displayed his versatility by impressing in yet another position.
Michael Potts 7
Involved very little before the break, but found his stride more in the second half.
Scott Kerr 8
Inspired others around him with his ability on the ball and communication.
Paddy McLaughlin 8
STAR MAN – provided moments of class from dead balls and in general play.
Matty Blair 8
Could not be caught when he hit full throttle, just needs a little more composure.
Jason Walker 7
Given a tough task against Barrett and Legge, but battled manfully.
Alex Rodman 6
Very quiet throughout and could not make an impact in the final third.
Subs: Jon Challinor (for Oyebanjo, 81), Lee Bullock (for Rodman, 90).
Not used: Paul Musselwhite, Oli Johnson, John McReady, Ben Everson, Tom Allan.
Stuart Nelson, Charlie Lee, Leon Legge, Adam Barrett, Joe Martin, Chris Whelpdale, Andy Frampton (Myles Weston, 38), Steven Gregory, Charlie Allen (Matt Fish, 46), Danny Kedwell, Adam Birchall (Cody McDonald, 55).
Subs not used: Callum Davies, Deon Burton, Tommy Forecast, Sam Muggleton.
Star man: Barrett – solid at one end and an aerial threat at the other.
Referee: David Phillips (West Sussex).
Rating: 6/10 – appeared to ignore two valid shouts for a penalty late on in the game.
Booked: Gregory 58.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 4,893 (258 from City).
Shots on target: Gillingham 7, City 6.
Shots off target: Gillingham 8, City 1.
Corners: Gillingham 6, City 6.
Fouls conceded: Gillingham 12, City 10.
Offsides: Gillingham 2, City 2.
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