Crewe Alexandra slipped to their third defeat in six matches as Gillinham continued their drive to promotion with a 3-0 win in Kent.
Justin Edinburgh’s side took a 12th minute lead after we failed to deal with a cross from Jermaine McGlashan with any real conviction. We allowed Luke Norris to turn an inaccurate cross to the far post into a good one and his header back was nodded home at close range by Dominic Samuel.
Crewe’s best chance of the first half saw the lively Zoumana Bakayogo strike the post with a fantastic volley from 25 yards out and Tom Hitchcock wasted a good opportunity to level things up before Gillingham doubled their advantage just after the hour mark. Jon Guthrie was rather unlucky to score an own goal after Samuel’s powerful strike had hit the underside of the crossbar and deflected off him as he raced towards the line.
Crewe huffed and puffed to try and give us a lifeline back into the game with George Cooper and Billy Bingham always prepared to try from distance but we didn’t force Stuart Nelson into number of notable saves. Cooper did after a mazy run with five minutes left by the Gills keeper pushed it away.
Josh Wright completed the scoring in stoppage time with his first goal for the Gills. His shot seemed to squirm away from Garratt with one of the final touches of the afternoon.
Club Captain Harry Davis was handed his first start since September for today’s encounter in Kent. Davis, who replaced the injured Jon Guthrie late on last week replaced youngster Perry Ng in the Crewe back four.
Ollie Turton slotted back into his right back role, with vice captain David Fox returning in central midfield after he overcome the sore calf injury that kept him out of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Burton Albion. As expected, Brad Inman was ruled out with a slight groin strain and not risked at the Priestfield Stadium. His place on the left hand side saw Zoumana Bakayogo push further forward.
George Ray and Billy Bingham were named on the substitutes’ bench, as was midfield player Chris Atkinson after he returned from his loan spell at Crawley Town.
An early shot from the Gills captain Doug Loft was well held by the diving Ben Garratt and Davis was soon called into action to head out a dangerous looking cross from left full-back Brennan Dickenson.
With more early pressure coming from the home side, the Railwaymen had to survive a low free-kick from George Williams that entered a crowded penalty area at pace. On-loan defender Adam El-Abd made contact in front of Garratt but his shot seemed to strike the heal of Davis and it was eventually hooked clear by Turton.
Crewe’s first productive more came after eight minutes and saw us switch play from right to left with some really accurate passing. Most of the Crewe side got a touch of the ball before Guthrie fed Bakayogo down the side of the Gills defence and his far post cross would have been nodded in by the anticipating Marcus Haber if Dickenson had not been able to stretch and flick it away from danger.
After that bright moment from the visitors, it was Gillingham who went ahead just four minutes later. The pacey winger Jermaine McGlashan was slipped in behind Guthrie down our left hand side but he had appeared to have spun his cross behind the by-line but the alert Luke Norris kept the move alive by getting his head on it and the well placed Dominic Samuel too easily nodded past Garratt. It was a soft goal to concede from the Alex, who didn’t really deal effectively enough after McGlashan had technically mis-hit his delivery.
The Gills continued to press and were prepared to shoot from distance but Garratt was equal to efforts from Williams and another from goal scorer Samuel. Another free-kick delivery from Williams was touched tamely into the gloves of Garratt by Aaron Morris at the far post when he perhaps didn’t realise he had more time than he had. Crewe continued to concede too many free-kicks.
Crewe’s best outlet continued to be Bakayogo down the left hand side and he forced a couple of corners, the best of which saw Haber rather harshly penalised for jumping into the Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson.
Just after the half an hour mark, a promising break from the Railwaymen was halted by the experienced El-Abd, who grabbed a large chunk of George Cooper’s body to prevent him from making sufficient inroads into the Gillingham half of the field. Cooper had taken the ball well in his stride after Hitchcock’s flick-on and it was no surprise that the defender became the first player to be cautioned.
Garratt had a let-off after he failed to collect a straight forward cross from Norris but under pressure from Davis, Samuel could only divert it wide of the right hand post. The referee would not have blown for an infringement if he had been able to turn it home.
Crewe did not offer too much as an attacking threat in the first period with Nelson not called into making any serious saves but in stoppage time, Bakayogo nearly surprised the entire Stadium with a wonderful effort. There didn’t appear to be too much danger when Haber won his challenge header but Bakayogo tried his luck with an outrageous volley from 25 yards and he was unfortunate to see it strike the inside of the post and rebound out.
Both sides made a change at the half-time interval with Brad Garmston replacing El-Abd and Charlie Kirk coming on for Davis. That meant a change around with Guthrie moving to centre-half and Bakayogo switching back to left-back. Fox took the captain’s armband.
After a bright start to the second half in terms of possession, Crewe Alexandra tried to get on the front foot and pin the Gills back but it was the home side conjuring up the first shot on target with the lively Williams forcing Garratt to push his curling effort behind for a corner.
Crewe’s first opportunity of the second half saw Turton whip over a tempting cross aimed for Hitchcock’s head but Max Ehmer did exceedingly well to get ahead of the Crewe striker and head away. Moments later, Cooper forced Nelson into a decent save with a well struck shot from distance.
The game was developing into a fairly open affair with gaps appearing in the middle of the park on a regular basis.
Another promising attack from the Railwaymen saw Fox instantly feed Cooper and after he had played a sharp one-two with Kirk, he couldn’t direct his shot on target.
Ten minutes in and Crewe were presented with our best chance of the game. A route one clearance from Garratt was flicked on by Haber and it placed Hitchcock in behind the Gills back line but the on-loan striker from MK Dons didn’t connect with his shot well enough and his rather scuffed effort bounced harmlessly out of play. Hitchcock didn’t need telling that it had been a chance to level things up.
From a Gillingham corner, Crewe had to scramble away a downward header from Aaron Morris with Garratt dong well - but the second goal wasn’t long in coming on 62minutes. Samuel found too much space inside the Crewe box and his powerful shot struck the crossbar and bounce into a net off the unfortunate Guthrie as he tried to retreat to the line. It was a killer goal as Crewe had made a much better fist of it in the second half.
The second goal for the Gills prompted a double change from Alex boss Steve Davis with Callum Ainley and Billy Bingham replacing Fox and Hitchcock. Justin Edinburgh made his second change with the injured Loft making way for Jake Hessenthaler.
Nugent was booked for a lunging tackle on Samuel before Ainley lashed a shot that was blocked by Garmston. A forceful run from Turton nearly saw his pull back find Haber but the big Canadian sttriekr couldn’t get the ball under his spell as he stretched for it on the edge of the six yard box.
Cooper’s clever movement continued to see him find pockets of space and he was always prepared to get a shot off from distance. Bingham too, but a little off balance, he could only drive his effort from 20 yards wide of Nelson’s post. His second effort was more accurate and fizzed the gloves of Nelson after we had worked a corner out to the midfielder.
At the other end of the pitch, sub Hessenthaler whistled one just over the top of the crossbar.
Gillingham were quite content to sit back and absorb our pressure. We were restricted to shots from distance but our best hope of a goal George Cooper did force Nelson into a fine save with five minutes left after a fine dribble into the box. Turton couldn’t apply a solid connection in the follow.
Crewe could have staged a grandstand finish in the dying minutes when the well placed Haber tapped home a cross from Bakayogo but the referee’s assistant had flagged him offside before he had applied the close range finish.
In stoppage time, Josh Wright rubbed salt into the wounds with his first goal for the club after the Gills had worked an opening for him inside our box following a throw-in towards the corner flag.