Published: 16:45, 16 October 2021
| Updated: 19:44, 19 October 2021
Former Gillingham defender Tom Flanagan scored a winner for Sunderland as fans protested at Priestfield.
There was conflict in the stands and the Factory bar among Gills fans, with those who want the chairman to go making their voices heard and taking their efforts up a level, with a plane circling overhead early in the game. The banner attached read “Time for Change: Scally Out”.
On the field Danny Lloyd put Gillingham ahead from the penalty spot - having taken the ball off regular taker Vadaine Oliver - but Sunderland replied through Aiden O’Brien and Flanagan before then holding on with 10 men for the final 20 minutes under intense pressure after Elliot Embleton was sent off.
Gills boss Steve Evans sprang a surprise as both Ryan Jackson and Mustapha Carayol started, having been major doubts in the lead up to the game.
There was also an unfamiliar role for centre-half Jack Tucker, playing infront of the back four as a defensive midfielder.
The Gills enjoyed a good first 45 but were undone in stoppage-time.
Tucker forced a flying save from Sunderland keeper Thorben Hoffman early on after O’Brien had a low shot comfortably gathered by Jamie Cumming at the other end. Tucker was also alert to keep the visitors quiet, making a good challenge on Alex Pritchard to break up a promising move.
Vadaine Oliver headed a Ryan Jackson cross over the bar before the Gills were handed a chance from the penalty spot.
There was no debate about the challenge, as Luke O’Nien hacked down Stuart O’Keefe, but there was debate among the GIllingham players. Oliver had missed a spot-kick last time out and was determined to make amends but Lloyd had different thoughts, picking up the ball himself and then smashing home from the spot.
Gillingham celebrated while Oliver walked back to the centre circle clearly annoyed, gesturing to the bench.
Sunderland attempted a response after conceding but were met by a Gills side determined to extend their lead. Lloyd and Carayol both put efforts wide.
It looked as though Gillingham would be heading into the break a goal up but in the third minute of added-on time Sunderland equalised. Dan Neal’s cross was met by O’Brien, who beat Max Ehmer to the ball, to slide it home.
Gills striker Oliver had an early effort in the second half, an overhead kick that Hoffman was able to deal with. Jackson also had a low shot blocked.
It was Sunderland who managed to find the net, former Gills defender Flanagan beating Ryan Jackson to Pritchard’s far post cross to head home.
Gillingham had a man advantage for the final 20 minutes when Embleton gave referee Lee Swabey little choice but to show a straight red. The Sunderland player went in hard on Tucker and left him grounded following a late challenge.
Akinde blasted a chance wide for the Gills as they looked to take advantage. He had another shot blocked after taking down Robbie McKenzie’s deep cross on his chest. Hoffmann also saved from Kyle Dempsey.
Charlie Kelman was introduced with 10 minutes left for the Gills as they went with a four-man attack in the latter stages. Kelman had a shot blocked, as did Lloyd and Oliver headed over.
It took a super save from Hoffmann to keep Robbie McKenzie’s header as GIlls piled on the pressure. The Sunderland stopper also denied Stuart O’Keefe.
Gills striker Gerald Sithole went on in stoppage-time for defender Ehmer but the Gills were unable to get the goal they deserved.
They had a stoppage-time penalty appeal turned down as Akinde went to ground in the box and Oliver headed a chance onto the top of the crossbar.
Gillingham: Cumming, Jackson, McKenzie. Ehmer (Sithole 90mins), Tucker, Bennett (Kelman 81mins), O'Keefe, Dempsey, Carayol (Akinde 61mins), Lloyd, Oliver. Subs not used: Chapman, Adshead, Lee, Reeves.
Sunderland: Hoffmann, Flanagan, Doyle, Embleton, O'Brien (Harris 90mins), O'Nien, Stewart, Winchester, Cirkin, Pritchard (Wright 71mins), Neil. Subs not used: Burge, Younger, Hume, Sohna, Wearne.
Referee: Lee Swabey