Published: 16:30, 19 November 2016
Gillingham claimed a much-needed three points with a late winner at Walsall.
Cody McDonald gave the Gills an early lead but Walsall struck back through Jason McCarthy, who appeared to handle the ball in the build-up.
Walsall were in charge for much of the second half but the Gills went ahead against the run of play as Max Ehmer diverted Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ 84th-minute free-kick into the net.
Emmanuel-Thomas was credited with the winner, taking his goal tally to 10 for the season so far.
Boss Justin Edinburgh reshuffled his defence in the wake of Wednesday night’s embarrassing FA Cup defeat to part-timers Brackley Town, although injuries did force his hand to some degree.
Deji Oshilaja was dropped to the bench but an injury meant Ryan Jackson was not included in the squad. Chris Herd (ankle) and Bradley Garmston (hamstring) both missed out with injuries picked up in that game.
Chairman Paul Scally had labelled some of the performances in that cup game as worse than Sunday League while Edinburgh was unable to defend his players.
The Gills were back to league action and a major response was required. They were up against a team who they were fighting it out with at the top of League 1 a year ago. Saturday’s match started with both in the bottom half.
Edinburgh had demanded a response from his side and they did just that, taking the lead with less than two minute gone, when Bradley Dack’s cross was only partially cleared and McDonald was on hand at the second attempt to head the ball home.
That lead didn’t last long, however, with Walsall level after nine minutes. Baily Cargill’s clearance hit McCarthy on the arm but referee John Busby waved play on and he squeezed the ball home.
Both teams had chances during an open half but the Gills were unable to trouble keeper Neil Etheridge too often.
Late in the half Walsall came close to going ahead. Max Ehmer had to clear one dangerous cross and moments later Cargill was on hand to hook the ball off the line from Franck Moussa.
Walsall bossed the second half, with former Gills striker Simeon Jackson close to converting a left-sided cross and Erhun Oztumer twice shooting wide, either side of Nelson’s goal.
Joe Edwards also put a chance wide as the Gills struggled to create an opening of their own.
Walsall had appeals of their own for handball with 20 minutes left, as the Gills cleared a corner, but again Busby said no.
Edinburgh introduced fresh legs midway through the half, with Dack and Billy Knott both taken off, but Walsall remained the most likely team to score a second.
Gillingham’s first real chance at goal in the second half came from that free-kick, after Wright was fouled, and they scored from it. Emmanuel-Thomas fired in at goal and a slight deflection off Ehmer took it past keeper Etheridge with six minutes left.
Walsall put the pressure on in the closing minutes but the Gills hung on for a win.
Walsall: Etheridge, Edwards (Bakayoko 88mins), Laird, McCarthy, Chambers, Preston, Ginnelly, Toner, Moussa (Cuvelier 86mins), Oztumer, Jackson. Subs not used: MacGillivray, O’Connor, Dobson, Kinsella, Makris.
Gillingham: Nelson, Wagstaff, Konchesky, Cargill, Ehmer, Wright, Hessenthaler, Knott (Byrne 73mins), Dack (Osadebe 73mins), Emmanuel-Thomas, McDonald. Subs not used: Hadler, Oshilaja, Donnelly, Oldaker, Cundle.
Attendance: 5,420 (318 away).