|Gillingham 3 v 1 Ipswich Town|
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Saturday, 6th March 2021 Kick-off 13:00
Gillingham 3-1 Ipswich Town - Match Report
Saturday, 6th Mar 2021 14:59
Paul Cook’s first game in charge of Town ended in defeat as the Blues were beaten 3-1 at Gillingham. Jack Tucker gave the Gills the lead in the seventh minute but skipper Luke Chambers pulled a goal back for Town on 65, however, Vadaine Oliver netted in the 73rd and 80th minutes to see the home side to a deserved first home league victory over the Blues.
Josh Harrop started in place of Alan Judge in an otherwise unchanged Town line-up for new boss Paul Cook’s first game in charge of the Blues.
Judge was missing from the 18 due to a family bereavement and the team wore black armbands on their light blue away strip as a mark of respect.
The Blues set up in the same system as employed in their last four games with former Gill Tomas Holy in goal.
Chambers was at right-back as he entered the top 10 of Town’s all-time appearance makers, Myles Kenlock at left-back with Toto Nsiala and James Wilson the centre-halves.
In midfield, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop continued as the central two with Harrop a direct replacement for Judge on the left with Keanan Bennetts on the right. Parrott was in the number 10 role behind lone out-and-out striker James Norwood.
Jackson was back in the 18 for the first time since his sending off against Sunderland and exile to the U23s under former manager Paul Lambert. Luke Woolfenden also returned to the matchday squad.
Gillingham were unchanged from their 1-1 home draw with the MK Dons on Tuesday evening with former Blues loanee Jordan Graham and one-time Town academy youngster Stuart O’Keefe in their starting line-up.
The home side took the lead in the seventh minute from the game’s first serious attack. Dozzell fouled Graham not far outside the area to the right and Tom O’Connor lifted a ball into the area which was nodded on to the back post by Robbie Cundy from where Tucker smashed his first ever league goal past Holy.
The home side continued to look the more dangerous team and in the 11th minute keeper Jack Bonham’s long ball forward was flicked towards goal by Cundy but without enough power to trouble Holy.
Three minutes later the Gills felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Kenlock and Graham tangled as the winger tried to bring the ball in from the right.
Home manager Steve Evans and his assistant Paul Raynor, already constantly vocal towards the officials in any case, made that point forcefully towards the referee, his assistant and the fourth official. Town manager Cook had a quieter word with the fourth official, presumably to enquire whether Kenlock had been fouled.
O’Connor’s free-kick was blocked by Dozzell before the ball was blazed over by skipper Kyle Dempsey from the edge of the box.
Gillingham were very close to doubling their lead in the 19th minute when Olly Lee struck an effort on the turn which slammed against the foot of the post and away to safety.
Town were struggling to get into the game with too many battles being won by the more physical Gills.
However, in the 24th minute, Norwood drilled a bouncing ball over from the left and it fell to Harrop, who took a touch before hitting a strike which cannoned off a defender.
The Blues started to settle down and began get their passing going for a spell and in the 29th minute Parrott came very close to a leveller. After a long spell of Blues possession, Bennetts worked himself space on the right and crossed for Parrott, whose brilliant overhead kick struck the outside of the post.
The on-loan Tottenham man rued his bad luck as he continued his wait for his first senior goal.
Town should have been back on terms in the 39th minute when Harrop’s ball over the top beat Tucker and sent Norwood away on goal. The striker took the ball into the area but just as he was pulling the trigger, the Gillingham defender got back to slide in and block. Norwood will feel he shouldn’t have waited so long to shoot.
Two minutes into injury time Harrop curled a free-kick into the wall after Parrott had been fouled and moments later referee Graham Salisbury brought the half to an end.
Aside from the spell in which Parrott hit the post, the Blues had been disappointing having been unable to impose their game on the more frantic, direct approach taken by the Gills. Town needed to show more patience and avoid being drawn into playing in a way more suited to the home side.
However, they ought to have been on terms with Parrott unlucky and Norwood having spurned the best opportunity when through one-on-one.
The Gills struck the first shot of the second period, Oliver hitting an effort wide of Holy’s right post two minutes after the restart.
The home side went close again in the 51st minute when a loose ball fell to Oliver on the right of the area but Wilson dived in to make a vital challenge.
Again Town had struggled to get going, although on 58 Harrop was able to cross into the box but too close to Gills keeper Jack Bonham, who was yet to make a save.
The Kent side ought to have been 2-0 in front in the 63rd minute when a long throw from the right was flicked on and Lee headed weakly within Holy’s reach. A bit more power and direction and the game would have been all but over.
But two minutes later the Blues were on terms. Bishop was felled as he burst through midway inside the Gills half, much to the frustration of home manager Evans, who loudly claimed it was a “scandalous decision”.
Town’s set pieces hadn’t been up to much previously and Harrop appeared to under-hit his ball into the box but Chambers looped a brilliant header from not far inside the area over Bonham and just under the bar for his third goal of the season.
Parity having been restored, manager Cook made a triple substitution, swapping Parrott, Harrop and Bennetts for Gwion Edwards, Freddie Sears and Flynn Downes with Bishop moving into the number 10 role.
The Blues looked to have the momentum with them but in the 73rd minute the Gills went back in front. Sears sloppily gave the ball away midway inside the opposition half and the home side broke quickly down the right before Dempsey sent over a cross for Oliver, who swept into the net from eight yards out.
Town immediately swapped Dozzell for Jackson as they chased a second equaliser of the afternoon using a 4-4-2 system with Bishop having moved back into the centre of midfield.
Sub Jackson came very close to his second goal of the season in the 77th minute when he headed a Dozzell corner from the right off the bar. The ball looped to Norwood who nodded goalwards with his effort appearing to be kept out by O’Connor’s arm. However, referee Salisbury saw it otherwise despite Town protests.
Four minutes later, the game was effectively over as Gillingham scored their third of the afternoon. The Blues struggled to clear their lines after Holy had twice blocked on the edge of the area. A clearance down the right only reached Connor Ogilvie, the left-back’s header back reached Oliver, who deftly curled past Holy and inside his left post.
After seven minutes of additional time, referee Salisbury confirmed the Blues’ first defeat in six and a loss in the opening game of the Cook era.
Town got themselves back on terms via Chambers’s excellent header and needed to push on from there, however, they let Gillingham off the hook by allowing them their second goal and the third sealed the result.
Early days for manager Cook, who only took training for the first time on Thursday, although the new boss will be disappointed that the momentum built up by the results prior to his arrival couldn’t be maintained.
Town, who drop to eighth in the table but still two off the top six, are next in action when currently third Lincoln City are at Portman Road on Tuesday.
Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson, Cundy, Tucker, Ogilvie, O'Keefe, Dempsey (c), Graham (MacDonald 90), Lee (Akinde 80), O'Connor, Oliver. Unused: Bastien, Johnson, McKenzie, Willock, Morton.
Town: Holy, Chambers (c), Nsiala, Wilson, Kenlock, Dozzell (Jackson 74), Bishop, Bennetts (Edwards 68), Harrop (Sears 68), Parrott (Downes 68), Norwood. Unused: Cornell, Woolfenden, Ward, Downes, Edwards, Sears, Jackson. Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).
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