Gillingham had to settle for a point from their relegation battle against Fleetwood Town.
Little separated the sides in the opening half, as quality was in short supply, and it remained a tense affair in the second, ending 10 versus 10 as Charlie Kelman and Paddy Lane were red carded as they challenged for the ball.
After two relatively solid seasons, Gillingham’s stay in the third-tier was once again under threat. Easter Monday’s game was the most important the club had played in some time.
The match was just as important for Fleetwood, starting the game a place and a point behind the Gills, occupying the last of the four relegation places in 21st place. With just one win in their last 17, the visitors were desperately short of points.
A big crowd turned out for the Gills, encouraged by discounted tickets and a new hope under boss Neil Harris. When he arrived in February the Gills were 10 points adrift of safety, 11 behind Fleetwood.
That renewed belief in the Gills made them favourites for the crunch clash but it was a tense start from the hosts as Fleetwood had the better of the early chances.
Ellis Harrison fired a half-volley narrowly wide and was then a whisker away from getting on the end of a couple of inviting crosses, close to converting from Harvey McAdam and Cian Hayes.
Charlie Kelman was closest for Gillingham as the home side warmed up as the half progressed. A cross from Ryan Jackson reached the striker but from close-range couldn’t get the contact he wanted and keeper Alex Cairns was relieved to make a save from his downward header.
Cairns did well moments after that to stay on his feet and make it difficult for Kelman to get a shot away after Robbie McKenzie had dropped a ball into his path.
Referee James Linington had issued a couple of early yellow cards for nothing challenges from both Olly Lee and Max Ehmer but as the players went for a half-time break, kept his cards in his pockets as Toto Nsiala and Vadaine Olvier clashed.
Nsiala had got away with man-handling Oliver throughout the half and also bundled Kelman down in the box as he headed the ball back to his goalkeeper but referee Linington decided against giving the penalty despite Gills’ big protests.
With Ben Reeves on the bench, Gills boss Neil Harris knew he had an attacking threat up his sleeve. Reeves was introduced at the break for captain Stuart O’Keefe - the skipper having only just returned to the side from injury.
Fleetwood’s Lane tested Gills keeper Aaron Chapman early in the second half from distance but the low shot was straight at him.
Gillingham continued to work for an opening against a Fleetwood side trying just as hard to stay in League 1.
Reeves had a shot blocked following a corner and Oliver volleyed an effort at goal, only for two defenders to slide in simultaneously to make the block.
The referee had a big call to make after Lane and Kelman went in full-blooded for a challenge, which left the Fleetwood man down injured. In the end both men were shown straight red cards for the coming together, Lane leaving the field on a stretcher after a long stoppage to treat his injury.
Neither side could find the moment of magic to win the game.
Gillingham: Chapman, Tucker, Ehmer, Masterson (Phillips 90+4mins), Jackson, McKenzie (Tutonda 72mins), O’Keefe (Reeves 46mins), Lee, Thompson, Kelman, Oliver. Subs: Dahlberg, Maghoma, Dickson-Peters, Chambers.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Jules, Harrop (Pilkington 75mins), Harrison, Camps, Batty (Boyle 90+5mins), Johnson, Lane, Nsiala, Hayes (Garner 90+11mins), MacAdam. Subs: O’Hara, Butterworth, Baggley, Bird.
Referee: James Linington
Attendance: 8,436 (90 away)