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Gillingham 1 Sutton United 0: Report and match highlights as Scott Malone nets winner during League 2 fixture at Priestfield

Defender Scott Malone came off the bench to volley in a winner for Gillingham at home to struggling Sutton United.

The Gills were playing against 10 men for over an hour but were unable to capitalise on a dominant showing until substitute Malone scored with a terrific finish in the 72nd minute.

Scott Malone fires in the winner for Gillingham against Sutton United at Priestfield Picture: @Julian_KPI
Scott Malone fires in the winner for Gillingham against Sutton United at Priestfield Picture: @Julian_KPI

Gills head coach Stephen Clemence picked a team to combat Sutton’s physicality and that meant a first start of the season for Oli Hawkins, paired upfront alongside Ashley Nadesan.

A couple of early fouls from United defender Ben Goodliffe on Jonny Williams earned him a caution as the visitors showed what they were about. The challenges were to get worse.

Max Clark got his chance at left-back for the Gills, as Malone dropped to the bench, having been at fault for a few recent goals against. Malone was to atone for those errors with a fine strike as Gillingham’s pressure finally paid off.

Second bottom Sutton started with former Gillingham players Ryan Jackson and Aiden O’Brien in their line-up, buoyed by a first away win in the league this term on Boxing Day under an interim boss following a recent 8-0 drubbing at Stockport.

Their big striker Harry Smith once played for the Gills youth team and he had a great chance midway through the half, heading wide from close range. Moments later he was sent off for a reckless challenge on Max Ehmer.

Seconds before that coming together, Harry Beautyman escaped punishment for another strong tackle, on Ethan Coleman.

Oli Hawkins goes close for Gillingham at the back post Picture: @Julian_KPI
Oli Hawkins goes close for Gillingham at the back post Picture: @Julian_KPI

This was a game the Gills badly needed to win and the man advantage gave them extra hope.

Since losing at home to Crawley last time out there had been plenty of emotion shown from the Gills fans, with anger, frustration and disappointment at the forefront. Joint owner Shannon Galinson waded in on social medial with a call for patience after Clemence had asked for a united front.

This game was a year on from a match which had seen the Gills lose 2-1 at Sutton - a result that had left the club three points adrift of safety and bottom of the table.

Chairman Brad Galinson’s financial input led to an influx of quality needed to lift the club out of trouble, helped by former boss Neil Harris who got instant results with a newlook team, but there are questions now about whether the same group have what it takes to make a challenge for promotion.

Harris’ surprising dismissal while well placed in League 2 leaves the Gills looking to adopt a new style mid-season and it’s not been a smooth transition.

Jonny Williams fouled by Ben Goodliffe Picture: @Julian_KPI
Jonny Williams fouled by Ben Goodliffe Picture: @Julian_KPI

The football was a lot better on Friday night against a poor looking Sutton team. Gills were quicker with the ball and created numerous chances against 11 men and then 10. The poor finishing, however, continued.

Visiting keeper Dean Bouzanis played his part, pulling off a good early save after Joe Kizzi missed a kick, allowing Nadesan a run at goal, but the striker was denied when he should have scored.

Williams fired wide while his team-mates were appealing for a penalty after Max Clark had been taken down in the box.

The Gills were putting the pressure on with Hawkins forcing Bouzanis into a one-handed stop, having nodded another good chance wide. Cheye Alexander put in some inviting balls and substitute Connor Mahoney tormented the visiting defence late in the half. The hosts were well on top of possession, shots, corners, the lot, but still reached the break goalless.

Sutton had kept two strikers on the pitch, with Lee Angol introduced following Smith’s dismissal, ensuring there was always a threat from the visitors. The Gills started the second half like they ended the first, with plenty of balls into the box.

Dom Jefferies back in the team for Gillingham against Sutton Picture: @Julian_KPI
Dom Jefferies back in the team for Gillingham against Sutton Picture: @Julian_KPI

There was an important challenge from Masterson to deny Angol during a rare Sutton break and with an hour gone Clemence turned to his subs, introducing Tom Nichols and Jayden Clarke into the attack.

Hawkins headed over just before the reshuffle and the Gills were queuing up at one stage. Jefferies hit a belter at a defender and Hawkins again went close as he narrowly missed converting Conor Masterson’s deep cross.

Gills were camped inside the Sutton half and finally had the breakthrough when the ball dropped for substitute Malone from Mahoney’s cross. The left-back picked out the top corner from 12 yards on the volley, celebrating with a finger to the lips in front of the home fans.

Hawkins had a header at goal saved as the Gills looked to increase their lead against a Sutton side unable to offer little in reply after going behind. Sutton sub Omari Patrick had half a chance that Jake Turner saved without too much fuss.

The Gills had been booed off against Crawley but answered the negativity with a dominant display and a worthy three points, giving them something to build on for 2024.

Gillingham: Turner, Alexander (Clarke 63mins), Clark (Malone 63mins), Masterson, Ehmer, Ogie, Coleman, J Williams (Mahoney 45mins), Jefferies (Lapslie 81mins), Hawkins, Nadesan (Nichols 63mins). Subs not used: Morris, Bonne.

Sutton: Bouzanis, Jackson, Kizzi, Milsom, Goodliffe (Sowunmi 46mins), Clay, Fadahunsi (N’Guessan 46mins), Beautyman (Hart 77mins), Pereira (Angol 33mins), O’Brien (Patrick 66mins), Smith. Subs not used: Arnold.

Referee: David Rock

Attendance: 6,334 (309 away)

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