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Gillingham head coach Stephen Clemence reacts to 1-1 home draw against Tranmere Rovers in League 2

Head coach Stephen Clemence claimed it was the assistant referee - not referee James Linington - who ruled out Gillingham’s stoppage-time winner against Tranmere on Saturday.

Midfielder Tim Dieng thought he had won the League 2 match in stoppage time but he saw his effort controversially disallowed for handball, as the away side attempted to clear and the ball ricocheted off Dieng before he slotted home at Priestfield in the 1-1 draw.

Ethan Coleman on the ball for Gillingham at Priestfield in their weekend 1-1 draw with Tranmere. Picture: Julian_KPI
Ethan Coleman on the ball for Gillingham at Priestfield in their weekend 1-1 draw with Tranmere. Picture: Julian_KPI

Clemence had seen one of Mr Linington’s assistants flagging after Frenchman Dieng found the net, so he was then surprised to learn the Gills’ second had been chalked off for handball rather than offside.

He said: “As soon as I saw it land, I thought ‘Go on, someone put it in.’

“I looked straight away at the linesman and the referee, not because I thought there was a handball, but I thought is there an offside? I saw the linesman start flagging straight away.

“To then be told it was (ruled out) for a handball, I think the referee is a lot closer than the linesman.

“It’s a big decision for a linesman to make when he’s that far away, in my opinion.”

Report: Gillingham 1-1 Tranmere

While Clemence feels officiating calls usually balance themselves out over the course of the campaign, he conceded Dieng’s disallowed goal probably cost the play-off chasing Gills two points.

“I’m not one of those who moans about referees,” he added. “Decisions do even themselves out over the season. I’m one of those that believes that can happen.

“But I feel today that it’s probably robbed us of all three points.”

The late drama came after home defender Conor Masterson cancelled out Regan Hendry's early opener with his sixth goal of the season in front of a crowd of 6,077, with a point against 17th-placed Tranmere still good enough for Gillingham to move into the play-off places.

“I’m disappointed again with how we have started the first half,” stated Clemence, who will take Gillingham to AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night.

Forward Oli Hawkins in possession for Gillingham at Priestfield. Picture: Julian_KPI
Forward Oli Hawkins in possession for Gillingham at Priestfield. Picture: Julian_KPI

“It’s probably happened too many times for my liking and we definitely have got to improve in that area. But the second half was good.

“We had to change the shape and I thought the boys executed that very well, and the boys that came on contributed and made a difference. That’s good.

“It gives me some problems picking a team for Tuesday.”

Clemence also explained why he had opted to go with an unchanged starting line-up which delivered a disappointing first-half display - just four days after their 2-0 defeat at Barrow.

He explained: “We had an extra day’s rest and that group of players had done well previously. So, I felt they deserved the chance to go again.

Gillingham boss Stephen Clemence. Picture: Julian_KPI
Gillingham boss Stephen Clemence. Picture: Julian_KPI

“Obviously, we had to change it at half-time because I felt we had to change the system to give us more attacking impetus.

“I probably could have changed it in the first half - but I wanted to give the boys the chance to come back and get themselves back into the game.

“But, sometimes, you have got to make difficult decisions and I had to make them today. Thankfully, they went okay.

“We came back into the game and, on a different day, we could have got all three points.”

The draw also maintained the Gills’ impressive unbeaten home league streak, with the team not having been defeated at Priestfield since Boxing Day.

“The boys have had to work really hard for that,” said Clemence. “Obviously, you want your home ground to be a fortress.

“The last three or four home games, I’ve really felt a shift in the atmosphere. I think the song at the start (The Last Waltz) really helps in terms of getting everybody going. I think that really does help the boys get results.

“I can remember as a player myself what it’s like when you are getting cheered on by the crowd, getting behind every tackle, every cross and every corner. It helps to drive you on and gives you that extra five or 10 percent.

“It’s been a good 2024 in terms of the results at Priestfield - but we have got to keep that going between now and the end of the season.”

AFC Wimbledon, just a point and a place behind Gillingham with a much better goal difference ahead of the midweek meeting between the clubs, earned a 2-0 weekend win at Notts County.

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