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Salford City 0 Gillingham 1: League 2 match report from the Peninsula Stadium – Cheye Alexander scores winner from penalty spot

Gillingham made it a nervy end to the season for play-off chasing Salford after winning Monday’s season finale from the penalty spot.

Salford needed to avoid defeat to guarantee themselves of a top-seven spot but the Gills scored late on when Cheye Alexander converted an 84th minute penalty to end their season on a high. Goal difference kept the home side inside the play-off places at the end of the day.

Salford v Gillingham - Cheye Alexander scores
Salford v Gillingham - Cheye Alexander scores

Gillingham’s miss and hit season came to an end at Salford, their survival guaranteed several weeks before, thanks to a super turnaround since the turn of the year.

The Gills will be gunning for the top positions in League 2 next season but results on the road still need to improve. Their survival this term has been built on a scintillating home record since January, interspersed with patchy away form.

Much of this side will still be here next season - in a refreshing change to the routine of yearly clear-outs. Gills’ January transfer business has assured they have a backbone to build on.

The Gills had wins at strugglers Colchester and bottom side Rochdale, their only three-point hauls on their travels this season, in contrast to 11 wins from 23 at Priestfield.

Jayden Clarke was handed his first Gillingham start - on his 22nd birthday - as one of four changes to the side which kicked off last time out, a 2-1 defeat at home to Newport.

This was Gills’ first away game against Salford and there was a sell-out crowd at the Peninsula Stadium, albeit one that seemed quite content with it being goalless. The hosts had the better of the first 45, certainly in the opening exchanges, as they dominated possession.

Gills keeper Jake Turner - in for Glenn Morris - was the busier of the two goalies and his best stop was to divert Louie Barry’s deflected effort over the bar. A low shot from Stevie Mallan also needed tipping wide.

Ethan Coleman on the ball for Gillingham as they take on Salford in League 2
Ethan Coleman on the ball for Gillingham as they take on Salford in League 2

Gillingham’s defence had a busy afternoon looking after giant striker Matt Smith but Barry’s pace from the left flank was also giving Salford chance to break the deadlock.

The Gills had started with a 4-4-2 set-up and a midfield diamond but changed things up midway through the first half, with Lapslie moving into his more favoured position behind the striker, leaving Nichols and Clarke to flank the big front-man Hawkins.

The best opportunity for the visitors, who improved as the game progressed, came off the crossing from Robbie McKenzie. Alex Cairns claimed a half chance from Nichols and Hawkins - back in the starting XI – fired over.

Hawkins had a chance early in the second half from a Conor Masterson ball in but put his header over the crossbar.

With the game nearing the hour mark Salford began to really threaten during a flurry of chances. Turner saved well from Smith and Max Ehmer had to make a block to deny Callum Hendry.

Mallan’s dipping effort from a 30-yard free-kick went over for the home side while Nichols couldn’t keep his shot down at the other end.

Substitutions disrupted the flow of the game in the latter stages but one of those, Lewis Page, won the penalty as he was fouled in the box and another Gills replacement, Alexander, converted from 12 yards with six minutes left.

Gillingham: Turner, McKenzie (Alexander 67mins), Tutonda (Page 81mins), Masterson, Ehmer, Coleman, Jefferies, Lapslie (Chambers 75mins), Clarke (MacDonald 67mins), Hawkins, Nichols. Subs not used: Morris, Wright, Gbode.

Salford: Cairns, Touray, Watt, Hendry (McAleny 75mins), Mallan, Mariappa, Smith, Barry (Lund 75mins), Bolton, Shephard (Morton 90mins), Vassell. Subs not used: Bellagambi, Galbraith, Leak, McLoughlin.

Referee: Rebecca Welch

Attendance: 3,519 (754 away)

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