Match analysis: Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 0 - A familiar tale of woe

Rovers Richard Chaplow tussles with Gillingham's Josh Wright
Rovers Richard Chaplow tussles with Gillingham's Josh Wright

When it is not going your way, it is not going your way.

Rovers were left counting the cost of another hard luck story as they returned home from Gillingham with less than they deserved.

Rovers James Coppinger turns away from  Gillingham's Emmanuel Osadebe

Rovers James Coppinger turns away from Gillingham's Emmanuel Osadebe

It is a narrative that is a familiar one for Paul Dickov and company. But just because we have seen and it heard it all before, it does not make the account of Saturday’s trip to the Priestfield Stadium any less honest.

Bottom line, Rovers did not deserve to lose against Gillingham, who went top of League One courtesy of Jake Hessenthaler’s highly controversial second half strike.

Not only was the game’s only goal up for considerable debate but Dickov’s men were denied a stonewall penalty and Andy Williams robbed of a glorious chance to score before half time by a bizarre piece of officiating.

But, the fact Rovers hit the long road back to Doncaster with nothing was not all down to circumstances beyond their control.

Cameron Stewart goes close with his shot against Gillingham

Cameron Stewart goes close with his shot against Gillingham

They missed chances to score themselves - better chances than the side who would ultimately emerge victorious.

And they simply did not get going for the first 25 minutes of the game, struggling against a Gillingham side high on confidence after their impressive start to the campaign.

On the goals scored front, five in nine games so far this season is simply not good enough for a side with promotion aspirations.

And, at this point, there does not appear to be an end of the dry period in sight. Rovers continue to struggle to feed Williams in the manner which will get the best out of one of last season’s top scorers in the division. Curtis Main, meanwhile, still appears to lack confidence in front of goal.

Rovers Cedric Evina controls the ball to take it past  Gillingham's Ryan Jackson

Rovers Cedric Evina controls the ball to take it past Gillingham's Ryan Jackson

On Saturday, there was a lack of attacking support from midfield, leaving the forward pairing rather isolated for much of the game.

The reluctance of the midfield men to get forward was likely down to their concern about dealing with the threat of their Gillingham counterparts.

The hosts lined up in a 4-4-2 formation including a midfield diamond with on form Bradley Dack at the tip. Dickov opted for a more conventional 4-4-2, handing a debut to Oscar Gobern in the middle of the park.

It was a tough introduction for Gobern who, along with his new team mates, really struggled to get into the game. Rovers were passed around in the early stages with Gillingham bringing their full backs into play brilliantly.

Rovers Cedric Evina chases a through ball with Gillingham Ryan Jackson

Rovers Cedric Evina chases a through ball with Gillingham Ryan Jackson

It left Rovers under a lot of pressure and they were wobbling in the first ten minutes with the defence looking shaky as they were pushed deeper and deeper.

Defensively, they soon settled with Cedric Evina shining on the left wing as he consistently nullified the threat of right back Ryan Jackson and explained his selection over loanee Cameron Stewart.

But how Rovers used the ball themselves only increased the pressure. Passes were panicky and wayward bringing Gillingham right back on them.

Though they were largely camped in Rovers’ half, Gillingham struggled to threaten Thorsten Stuckmann’s goal. In fact throughout the game, there were no periods when a goal from the hosts seemed an inevitability.

Rovers broke forward well on a couple of occasions through Main and Evina only for the final ball to let them down.

There was a point in the first half when Rovers were on the verge of falling off a cliff in the manner in which they did in the horror show at Port Vale a fortnight ago. It seemed as though they could easily capitulate and allow Gillingham to take full control of possession.

But to their credit, they dug in, settled down and finally began to make the ball work for them which took the pressure off and saw the balance of play even out as the half wore on.

Dack showed his danger with a shot deflected just wide from a Jackson long throw. But soon after Rovers were denied the chance to take the lead.

Williams was sent surging clear, one-on-one with Stuart Nelson, but play was brought back. While most were expecting an offside call, referee Chris Sargison instead called for a Rovers free kick.

Emmanuel Osadebe and Dack tested Stuckmann in quick succession, the latter with a deft flick from a pass from Josh Wright, who was superb in a deep-lying role for the hosts.

But Rovers finished the half the stronger and Main should have sent them into the break ahead.

Put in one-on-one with Nelson, he went for power and blasted it straight at the Gillingham keeper. It was Rovers’ best chance of the game.

James Coppinger and Gobern both went close from the edge of the box as Rovers finished the half much stronger than they started it.

Cody McDonald drilled over the bar from eight yards as Gillingham fired the first shot of the second period.

But then came the penalty incident on 51 minutes which seemed clear cut. Evina flicked the ball past Jackson just inside the box and was tripped by a trailing leg as he looked to round the defender. Sargison raised his whistle but did not blow.

Williams hooked straight at Nelson from 15 yards after a lovely sweeping move from Rovers while Osadebe and Wright both brought good saves from Stuckmann at the other end.

Dickov prepared to send on Dany N’Guessan for his debut and in search of a goal. But then came what proved to be the winner for the hosts on 66 minutes.

Dack played a zipping low cross which Stuckmann missed. Hessenthaler collected the ball spun away and drilled a shot which Lund hacked away on the line before heading clear the follow up. The flag went up to signal a goal.

It is hard to understand how assistant referee Gavin Muge could make the call with steadfast certainty. Such fine margins were in play with Lund’s position on the line and the shot came in at real pace.

N’Guessan quickly appeared, as did Cameron Stewart who smashed a shot which Nelson struggled to hold soon after his introduction.

But after an initial burst back from Rovers, Gillingham stuck in and soon looked to have the greater threat once more.

Stuckmann produced the save of the match to get down to the foot of his post and keep out a long range strike from Luke Norris.

Rovers should have levelled up with seven minutes to go. Coppinger’s teasing cross was met at the back post by Stewart who had all the time in the world only to side-foot first time well over the bar. Chance gone.

The clock ticked down with Gillingham sitting comfortably on their lead, leaving Rovers to rue missed opportunities both in and out of their control.

Luck must change soon, one way or another.

Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer, Loft, Garmston, Wright, Houghton (Hessenthaler 60), Osadebe, Dack, Norris, McDonald. Subs not used: Morris, Williamson, McGlashan, Donnelly, Dickenson, List.

Rovers: Stuckmann, Lund, MacKenzie, Butler, Taylor-Sinclair, Coppinger, Chaplow, Gobern, Evina, Main, Williams. Subs not used: Marosi, P McKay, Middleton, Whitehouse, Keegan, N’Guessan, Stewart.

Referee: Chris Sarginson (Staffordshire)

Attendance: 5,685 (234 away)