Published: 16:50, 30 March 2019
| Updated: 09:40, 31 March 2019
Gillingham edged a point closer to safety on Saturday.
Ian Henderson put the visitors infront but Mark Byrne headed the Gills level just before the break.
Gillingham, who had three penalty appeals turned down, stood up to some robust Rochdale play in the second half and although they had more of the play, they couldn’t find a winner.
Rochdale headed to Priestfield in good form, taking seven points from their previous three games, having seemingly tightened up a defence with the worst record in the division.
Dale caretaker boss Brian Barry-Murphy had overseen those three games following Keith Hill’s sacking and made it four unbeaten following their trip to Priestfield.
The Gills, sitting mid-table prior to the match, were just three points away from the magic 50 that should guarantee survival. There was still work to be done, however.
Steve Lovell’s men began the game with an air of confidence, knocking the ball around well. Max Ehmer came close to connecting with an early Luke O’Neill free-kick and the defender also had a shot blocked as the Gills dominated the early play. Brandon Hanlan also picked out Graham Burke inside the box but the forward couldn’t find the target.
O’Neill had a pop at goal himself but his curling effort wasn’t good enough to beat keeper Josh Lillis.
Gillingham’s good early play came to nothing and they were almost caught out on the break. Matt Done found Aaron Wilbraham in the box but the first effort was blocked by Connor Ogilvie and the follow-up was hit wide.
Burke’s speculative 25-yard effort at the other end was comfortably saved by Lillis while O’Neill had appeals for a penalty turned down, adamant his shot had been blocked by an arm, but the home side were soon behind.
Joe Bunney’s 37th minute free-kick was knocked down by Kgosi Ntlhe and Henderson - who scored a hat-trick when the sides met in september - was well placed to guide the ball home unmarked from six yards out.
The Gills finished the half well and Byrne hit the bar, after good play from Hanlan again, before finding the net in first half stoppage-time. Tom Eaves picked him out with the cross and Byrne rose well to head home at the far post, his third goal of the season.
Hanlan put a shot wide early in the second half as he continued where he had left off in the first, always looking to run at the defence when given a chance.
Leo Da Silva Lopes served up a great chance for Burke to put the Gills ahead, but from just a few yards out he put the ball over the bar.
Referee Alan Young was in the spotlight as Connor Ogilvie twice came off worse from some poor challenges. Aaron Wilbraham went into the book after leading with his arm and substitute Calvin Andrew went in late on the same player soon after.
Mr Young had already irked the home fans after booking Hanlan for dissent. The Gills forward looked to have fairly won the ball off the Rochdale left-back, who had fallen on the ball and was in all sorts of bother, but the free-kick bizarrely went to the visitors.
The official wasn’t giving the Gills much and when Ehmer was pulled about in the box as he got on the end of a corner, it was no surprise to see play waved on, much to the annoyance of the defender and a frustrated home crowd.
Rochdale had made the most of any opportunity they could to run the clock down, clearly happy with a point from the match. They might have got more but Tomas Holy was alert to get down to save Ollie Rathbone’s long-range effort.
Jimmy Keohane wasted a good chance for Rochdale on the break. With a team-mate running free to his left, he failed to pick him out and put a weak shot wide.
A third penalty appeal was turned down 10 minutes from time when Eaves fired a cross into a crowded box. Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s arm connected to the ball as it fell kindly to keeper Lillis.
There were six added-on minutes but Rochdale, happy for an opportunity, wasted a couple of those with Callum Camps going down with cramp.
Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill, Fuller, Ogilvie, Ehmer, Parrett (Rees 90mins), Byrne, Lopes, Burke (Charles-Cook 86mins), Hanlan, Eaves. Subs not used: Catherall, Oldaker, Lacey, Campbell, King.
Rochdale: Lillis, McLaughlin, Ntlhe, McNulty, Ebanks-Landell, Camps, Rathbone (Dooley 84mins), Done, Wilbraham (Andrew 63mins), Bunney, Henderson (Keohane 73mins). Subs not used: Wade, Delaney, Holden, Hamilton.
Attendance: 4,686 (137 away)