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Gillingham 1 Walsall 2 – match report

Gillingham’s automatic promotion hopes were all but ended with a home defeat to Walsall on Tuesday.

Luke Norris had a first-half penalty saved, while the hosts hit the bar from a free-kick.

Milan Lalkovic put the visitors ahead midway through the second half and Jordy Hiwula doubled their advantage.

Luke Norris scored late on against Walsall, but his missed penalty proved crucial Picture: Barry Goodwin
Luke Norris scored late on against Walsall, but his missed penalty proved crucial Picture: Barry Goodwin

Norris halved the deficit with almost the last kick, but it was too late for the Gills.

The last time the two sides met it was in a battle for top spot, with Walsall winning the match 3-2 at the Bescot Stadium. Gillingham conceded their place at the summit that day.

This time around their 2-1 defeat meant they slipped to sixth in the League 1 table.

Since the first meeting at the end of October the two sides have drifted out of contention for the title and neither had been so low in the table. The Gills started the game in fifth, just one place above the visitors.

Victory for Walsall gives them in with a chance of catching second-placed Burton, while the Gills may be looking nervously over their shoulders with seventh-spot Barnsley just three points behind.

Gillingham were rightly confident before the match, welcoming both Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald back into their starting line-up.

Justin Edinburgh’s side had failed to find the net in their previous two games, but there was nothing wrong with their early attacking intent on Tuesday - even if a goal didn’t materialise in the opening half.

Dack had a super effort, on the volley, with a shot from the edge of the box but keeper Neil Etheridge got a hand to it and turned it over.

Prior to that Etheridge had also tipped over a header from Deji Oshilaja, as he got on the end of an Andrew Crofts’ corner without a challenge in sight.

Etheridge was there again to deny the Gills on 23 minutes. Paul Downing handled in the box, but Norris’ spot-kick was saved by the Walsall keeper. It was Gillingham’s third penalty miss of the season.

Norris struck a shot wide moments after, but the home side were soon on the back foot as Walsall improved.

The visitors were the better of the sides towards the end of the half, with Lalkovic planting a free-kick onto the top of the bar and Anthony Forde heading wide and firing another shot into the Town End. Sam Mantom had been Walsall’s biggest threat in the early stages, twice going close from distance.

Walsall missed a good early second-half chance. Hiwila, 10 yards out, took a swing at a great cross but missed and the ball bounced off his opposite leg and was cleared.

The visitors had much of the play during the start of the second period and were rewarded with the opening goal, the first Gillingham had conceded in more than 300 minutes.

Dack had conceded possession to Lalkovic and the Walsall man ran at goal before curling a fine effort past Stuart Nelson with just over 20 minutes left.

Walsall added a second in the 77th minute when the Gills were caught on the break. Norris’ shot was blocked and the ball ended up at the feet of Hiwula, who stroked home.

Gillingham pulled a goal back in the final minute of stoppage-time as Norris scored with a super bicycle kick, but it was too late for the hosts to stage a fightback.

Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Garmston, Ehmer, El-Abd (Egan 56mins), Oshilaja (Hessenthaler 67mins), Crofts, Wright, Dack (Dickenson 80mins), McDonald, Norris. Subs not used: G Morris, McGlashan, Donnelly, A Morris.

Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, Pennington, Downing, Chambers, Mantom, Sawyers (Flanagan 90mins), Forde (Morris 69mins), Henry, Lalkovic (Cook 84mins), Hiwula. Subs not used: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Kinsella.

Attendance: 6,246 (204 away).

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