Crewe Alexandra started 2015 with a third victory from four games thanks to two goals again from Nicky Ajose and a killer third from Uche Ikpeazu when we really needed another goal.
Gillingham felt aggrieved by two of those goals though, believing that the ball had gone out of play in the initial build up that led to a penalty and then feeling Ikpeazu had used his hand to keep the move alive for the third goal on 84 minutes.
Ajose slotted home his second penalty following his successful one on Boxing Day against Oldham Athletic to give Crewe the lead on 25 minutes and he added a second five minutes later when we got the final touch to bundle home his initial save.
With the benefit of the wind behind them, Gillingham came out in the second half and gave it a real go and a deflected effort from Bradley Dack on 54 minutes made it an anxious second half, really until Ikpeazu made it relatively save with his second goal of the season.
The result takes Crewe Alexandra out of the bottom four and into 19th position.
Uche Ikpeazu returned to the Crewe Alexandra starting line-up after being rested against Preston North End on 28th December. The on-loan teenager from Watford replaced the club’s Canadian International Marcus Haber.
Ikpeazu partnered Nicky Ajose upfront after he extended his loan spell from Leeds United until the end of the season. The returning Alan Tate replaced Anthony Stewart in the back three alongside Jon Guthrie and Captain Harry Davis. A fit again Adam Dugdale was named on the substitutes’ bench.
There was also a change in midfield with Academy graduate James Jones replace Oliver Turton. Jones, 18, was marking his full debut after previously appearing in five matches this season as a substitute.
Crewe boss Steve Davis went without a goalkeeper thus giving him an extra outfield option from the bench, thus allowing forward Lauri Dalla Valle to be named in the squad for the first time since signing on a permanent deal in early December.
A unique occurrence saw both managers name their sons in the starting XI with Gillingham boss Andy Hessenthaler selecting his son Jake in their midfield.
Played out in blustery conditions, it was difficult for both sides when the ball was in the air. A fairly opening spell of the game saw both sides presented with half chances to take an early lead.
Gillingham’s Bradley Dack shot just wide of Ben Garratt’s far post from a good position before Crewe's debutant Jones side-footed a yard wide after the lively Ajose had escaped the offside trap to lay the chance on.
Ajose was again the creator, when finding the advanced Ness with a splendid pass into the Gillingham penalty and the midfielder was unfortunate that his lifted effort was cleared off the line by the covering Leon Legge.
The in-form Garratt was called into action to prevent Gillingham’s new loan signing John Marquis from slotting the visitors into the lead after he had been slipped in by Doug Loft. The Alex goalkeeper rushed from his line to save Marquis’ low shot.
Ikpeazu continued to impose himself on the proceedings with his power and Crewe tried to play off him in the windy conditions.
After a bright start, the game turned into a midfield battle in difficult conditions but after 25 minutes the match sprung into life. Gillingham complained that the ball had gone out for a throw-in close to the technical area but the assistant referee never flagged and after the ball had broken invitingly into the path of Ness, he slipped Ikpeau beyond the Gills back line. He clashed with Hoyte and referee Brown awarded the penalty. Gillingham protested that it was a soft award.
Nicky Ajose confidently grabbed the ball and he slotted it past Stuart Nelson for the opening goal.
Five minutes later, Ajose forced home the second goal to give the Railwaymen a real platform to go on and win their third game in the last four matches. Loft was penalised for a push on James Baillie close to the touchline and from the resultant free-kick Ness found Ajose in enough space for him to turn a shot goalwards. Nelson made a decent save but it spun backwards towards the line and it was bundled in through a combination of Davis, Tate and Ajose, with the goal poached from Leeds applying the final touch.
Another Ness free-kick saw Davis direct a back header on goal that Nelson did well to claim and Ajose was unfortunate not to go clean through after a Gillingham defender rather than one from Ikpeazu had applied the final touch. The assistant flagged for offside as Ajose left the Gillingham defence exposed.
In reply, Gillingham finished the first half strongly with Marquis heading a Loft free-kick over and winger Jermaine McGlashan fired right across the goal with McDonald sliding in at the far post, trying to apply a decisive touch.
Ajose could have killed the game as contest in the opening minutes of the second half when he once again escaped the clutches of the Gillingham defence to go one-on-one, but on this occasion Nelson made a telling save and reacted quickest to re-gather the rebound as well.
Gillingham, with the wind in their favour, certainly improved in the early period of the second half. With Harry Davis off the field receiving treatment after losing a tooth, Gillingham halved the deficit. After Loft and Hoyte had combined on the right hand side of the box, the Alex didn’t deal with the deep cross as well as we could and McDonald’s drilled cross was touched in by Dack on 54 minutes.
With Gillingham certainly on top, McGlashan whistled a shot wide after a forceful run. Andy Hessenthaler made the first change with Luke Norris replacing Marquis.
Crewe found it difficult to keep possession well enough to ease the pressure growing on our back three. Ness continued to be our best asset when looking to find the runs of Ajose and Ikpeazu and he was unlucky not to release them in the final third. Ikpeazu did sort his feet out to shoot straight at Nelson and after another trademark run, the powerful striker chopped back before firing his shot into the side netting.
Gillingham replaced McGlashan with young Ben Dickenson before debutant Jones made way for Turton with 13 minutes remaining.
With eight minutes left, there was a late outing for Lauri Dalla Valle for the two-goal hero Ajose.
In the search of a late equaliser, Dack had a powerful drive blocked by the well positioned Tate. Garratt continued to come for crosses and Davis was voted the man-of-the-match.
Ikpeazu settled the points with six minutes remaining. Ness was once again the provider with the through pass and after having his shot saved by Nelson, he re-gathered his footing and composure to take it beyond Nelson and guide home his shot and seal the three points for the Railwaymen.