Match Analysis: Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 1

Harry Forrester celebrates with Stephen Bywater and Enda Stevens

Harry Forrester celebrates with Stephen Bywater and Enda Stevens

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With the finishing line in sight, this is not the time to get the jitters.

Rovers returned from the long trip to Kent with a valuable point but there was little else to be pleased about after the clash with Gillingham.

Dean Furman beats John Marquis to the ball

Dean Furman beats John Marquis to the ball

The performance was largely poor, strewn with errors and a real lack of composure.

Conditions at the Priestfield Stadium were horrendous but Rovers did little to aid their own cause.

There was barely time to sit back down after Harry Forrester’s opening goal before John Marquis nodded in from close range at the other end.

And for a long time it was clear Rovers were not likely to get the three huge points which would have provided a real shot in the arm for their play-off aspirations.

Rovers Nathan Tyson and Gilinghams Max Ehmer duel mid air

Rovers Nathan Tyson and Gilinghams Max Ehmer duel mid air

The draw was the fairest result but if anyone was going to win the game it looked more likely to be the hosts.

In the larger context of the campaign for the League One play-offs, things could have gone much worse for Rovers.

They remain sixth and have gained a little more ground on floundering Sheffield United, making the once seemingly out of reach fifth spot into a genuine possibility.

They also slowed the charge of a potential challenger to their sixth placing in Gillingham.

Abdul Razak lets fly

Abdul Razak lets fly

But the security of sixth looks a little loose after remarkably resurgent Barnsley and next weekend’s opponents Peterborough joined Rovers on 50 points.

And the manner of Saturday’s performance will hardly help those feeling a little nervous about Rovers’ prospects.

In defence of Paul Dickov’s men, any team in the country would have found some difficulty playing in the conditions which met them on Saturday.

The strong wind favoured no one, changing direction constantly so that neither side could ever use it to their advantage other.

Richie Wellens on the ball

Richie Wellens on the ball

The Priestfield pitch was rather unpredictable as well, though that is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue across League One after the harsh winter.

Rovers never coped properly with either factor however.

Paul Keegan’s injury-enforced absence was felt dearly, not only with his ability to break up play but, more pressingly, with the manner in which he marshals Rovers’ midfield.

Richie Wellens started the game in the Keegan role but Dean Furman spent most of the game in the deeper lying midfield position.

Both men successfully harried and pressed but the Rovers midfield looks disjointed in Keegan’s absence and with one of its most energising attacking forces pushed into a deeper role.

The fluidity among those midfielders operating in front of the blocker was gone.

In games where Rovers’ midfield has been able to take control, they have done so with short, composed, quick passing. And the conditions in Gillingham at the weekend were crying out for such play.

On Saturday, the attack-minded midfielders were either too spread out or too deep to mount such strong possession football. And so came lofted hopeful balls looking for workhorse strikers Nathan Tyson and Curtis Main, who had a torrid time on Saturday.

The Keegan problem must be solved quickly with the reliable Irishman set to be out for 80 per cent of what remains of the regular season.

Abdul Razak’s place in the equation to solve the problem looks unlikely after his performance at the weekend.

The skill and confidence of the Ivorian are without question but it is clear he still has plenty to learn about League One football.

Razak craves time and space with the ball as well as a smooth surface on which to operate. He got none of that on Saturday and he is unlikely to do so for the rest of the season.

He was sloppy in possession and rather reckless without it, regularly mistiming tackles. Razak’s cause was hardly aided by the fact he stupidly conceded the free kick which led directly to Gillingham’s equaliser.

At this present time, the talented Razak looks more like a luxury player and Rovers currently have little room for luxuries.

Overall, Saturday’s game was an open affair from the first whistle though there were few clear cut chances from either side.

Rovers were certainly indebted to Andy Butler for the fact they came away from Gillingham with a point after a mammoth performance from the centre half.

He produced a superbly timed blocking tackle as McDonald looked to pounce from 12 yards on a bouncing ball in the Rovers box.

And he was incredibly well positioned to head the ball out from under the crossbar when Bradley Dack and the wind lifted a looping ball over Stephen Bywater, seemingly destined for goal.

But Butler could easily have changed the complexion of the game at the other end and probably should have.

He rose unmarked at the back post to meet a Wellens free kick and scuffed a header wide with the goal at his mercy.

Within just a few minutes, Butler had his let off.

Forrester had only been on the pitch a short while after replacing James Coppinger - worryingly forced off with another ankle injury - when he lined up a free kick around 40 yards out.

Knowing he had a chance of using the wind to his advantage and that Stuart Nelson would have expected a cross, Forrester powered a high ball at goal, beating the Gillingham keeper and dropping the ball under the bar.

If Forrester’s goal was aided by the wind, Mother Nature looked to even things out as she provided a huge gust to assist the Gills in finding an equaliser just four minutes later.

Razak charged in recklessly on Gavin Hoyte, conceding a free kick on the right around 40 yards out. Doug Loft sent the ball into the area, the wind changing its course and leaving Bywater in two minds about coming to claim, and Marquis nipped in to head in at the near post from close range.

The pattern of the game continued through the second half with both sides enjoying short spells of possession but largely unable to forge any clear cut chances.

Main really ought to have edged Rovers in front just after the hour mark but he hooked over from inside the six yard box after a knockdown from Butler.

That was as close as either side went, although Forrester will have rued his lack of composure after bursting through and stabbing a shot from the edge of the box which Nelson comfortably dealt with.

The threat from Gillingham grew as the came reached its conclusion but they could not break down a resolute Rovers rear guard and both sides had to settle for the point apiece.

Rovers are better than this and they will be better than this in the weeks to come.

They just cannot afford many more days like this during the next eight weeks.

Gillingham: Nelson 6, Hoyte 6, Egan 6, Ehmer 6, Martin 6, Pritchard 5 (Morris 25 6), Hessenthaler 6, Dack 7 (McGlashan 83), Loft 6, Marquis 7, McDonald 6 (Norris 74 6).

Subs not used: Morris, Legge, Galbraith, Dickenson.

Rovers: Bywater 6, Wabara 6, Butler 7, McCullough 6, Stevens 6, Furman 6, Coppinger 6 (Forrester 35 7), Wellens 6, Razak 4 (Bennett 58 6), Main 6, Tyson 6 (Robinson 76 5).

Subs not used: Marosi, McCombe, Middleton, Ikpeazu.

Att: 5,909 (370 away)

Referee: Keith Hill (Hertfordshire)

Hill did a very good job given the conditions, leaving the game to attempt to flow and keeping his cards in his pocket in the main.

MATCH REACTION

HERO

Andy Butler was Rovers’ much-needed rock at the back. Well positioned, alert and strong despite the difficult conditions at the Priestfield, he prevented two certain goals for the hosts. But he was somewhat of a villain for failing to put Rovers ahead in the first half from a great position.

KEY MOMENT

Gillingham’s equaliser came so quickly after Rovers’ opening goal that it gave the visitors no time to settle and reflect on what needed to be done. Had they survived another couple of minutes to reach the break ahead, Rovers’ chances of leaving Kent with all three points would have been much greater.

VIEWPOINT

It was a bad day at the office for Rovers in performance terms but the fact they remain sixth is a major positive. This game needs to be taken as a warning that they cannot afford many more off days during the final 11 games.

MANAGERS’ VIEW

PAUL DICKOV

“We’re disappointed with the quality of the play we had. It was really difficult conditions, the wind, the pitch was bobbly, it was a really scrappy game.

“We had a few chances but the final ball let us down.

“We’ve picked up a point playing no where near as good as we have been recently against a team that’s been in really good form at a hard place to come. We’ll take that.”

JUSTIN EDINBURGH

“Both teams were trying to play football, but as you can see when people were trying to pass it or run with it, it became a very difficult pitch to play on.

“I think the weather played it’s part with the goal, it caught Nelson out slightly - wind assisted, it picked up pace and flew into the back of the net”