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Southall nets vital equaliser

POINT PROVED: Gillingham players celebrate Nicky Southall's goal. Picture: GRANT FALVEY
POINT PROVED: Gillingham players celebrate Nicky Southall's goal. Picture: GRANT FALVEY

Gillingham 1 Crewe 1

NICKY SOUTHALL can really pick his moments. Without a goal in two and a half years, the Gills’ No.7 popped up with a crucial leveller 10 minutes from time to give his side a share of the points in this crucial fixture at the bottom of the Championship.

And there should have been more strikes on a day where there certainly wasn’t a lack of goalmouth action.

The game started on a sombre note with a minute’s silence in memory of former Gills youth team striker Paul Sykes, who tragically died playing for Folkestone last week.

But when the game got under way, Gills made the better start of the two teams whose form coming into the game was diametrically opposite – Crewe couldn’t buy a win and Gills were seemingly unbeatable.

The dangerous Jonathon Douglas, who had another superb game in midfield, signalled his side’s intentions as he flicked the ball over a Crewe defender but his volley went well wide after just two minutes.

Mamady Sidibe and Darius Henderson both threatened before Henderson came close to breaking the deadlock on 10 minutes. After a spell of penalty box pinball following a Gills corner his left-foot volley from eight yards whistled over the bar as the ball dropped over his shoulder.

Steve Jones had Crewe’s first real attempt on goal after 12 minutes when he latched onto Neil Sorvel’s through ball, but his left-footed shot flashed wide of the post.

And as the half wore on, Crewe’s pass-and-move football started to cause Gillingham’s midfield all sorts of problems.

Kenny Lunt squandered a great chance on 21 minutes after a delicate lay-off from big Andy White.

But Gills’ direct brand of play always looked a threat going forward and Douglas almost got his first goal for the club with a superb shot from 25 yards, which produced a flying stop from Clayton Ince.

Crewe boss Dario Gradi was told to slow down a couple of years ago after being diagnosed with heart trouble, but Luke Varney’s miss on the half hour won’t have done his ticker any good.

Jones robbed Ian Cox before his effort from a tight angle was kept out by Jason Brown and the ball fell to Varney, but the 22-year-old could only lash his shot off the bar.

Douglas again tested Ince from distance but this time the keeper produced a save for the cameras rather than catching it and then lashed a shot over from eight yards as the game approached half-time with the 10,315 crowd wondering how the match was still goalless.

The second-half started in the same vein as the first ended. Both teams were hell-bent on scoring and getting the win that could save their skins as the season draws to its frantic finale.

But the longer the game went on, the more Gradi will have thought it was going to be one of those days.

Substitute Justin Cochrane, on for Jones, turned Jay McEveley inside and out and got his cross in despite the Gills full-back having a hand full of his shirt. And his effort sailed over Brown but came back off the post and Gills scrambled the ball away.

At the other end, the impressive Henderson, who has been a revelation under Stan Ternent, powered a header straight at Ince from Matt Jarvis’ cross.

The youngster had a shot of his own as he made a break through the middle of the shaky-looking Crewe defence, but dragged his attempt wide.

The game needed and deserved a goal and it got one that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the very highest level.

It came from David Vaughan, who smashed the ball home from 25 yards after the Crewe winger got a break of the ball and then ran across the edge of the area before unleashing his unstoppable shot.

The goal brought an immediate change from Ternent, who threw on Darren Byfield to try and rescue a point for the home side. And his valour paid dividends on the 80th minute when the quietly efficient Southall popped up with a vital strike.

The ball broke to Southall on the edge of the area as Gills started to pen Crewe back and his shot bobbled through a packed penalty area and into the net.

The goal almost took the roof of the stadium and had Ian Cox’s header from Southall’s free-kick gone in two minutes later it would have registered on the Richter scale.

But the excitement wasn’t over as the game reached a dramatic climax.

Substitute Michael Higden had a great chance in stoppage time to snatch all three points but he somehow missed a free header from six yards out.

And with the last kick of the game, Vaughan made sure he was Crewe’s hero as he produced a stop almost as crucial as his goal to deny Gillingham the win. Henderson rose above the Crewe defence and powered a header goalwards only for Vaughan to hack the ball off the line.

Referee Mike Russell brought a superb game to an end but ironically the result did neither side many favours. But come the end of the season, who knows how crucial this point could be.

Gillingham: Brown, Nosworthy, Cox, Hope (Byfield 75), McEveley, Southall, Smith, Flynn (Jarvis 63), Douglas, Sidibe, Henderson. Subs: Banks, Hills, Crofts, Jarvis, Byfield.

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