Gillingham claimed all three points with a deserved 1-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park on Tuesday evening.
The first half was a cracking contest with both sides going toe-to-toe with each other in a game full of pace, skill and physical power. The turning point was the injury to Chairboys midfielder Sam Wood just before half time. He had to be substituted with a knee injury and it left the hosts playing with ten men.
His replacement, Dennis Oli, having left the visitors during the close season, was more of a hindrance than a help and it tipped the balance in the second half with Gillingham scoring the winner on 55 minutes through full-back Joe Martin, who tapped home from six yards after winger Myles Weston’s free-kick came off the foot of the post.
Weston provided the kind of attacking threat and end product sadly missing from the Wanderers side. The visitors kindly evened things up with 12 minutes remaining when defender Tom Flanagan was sent-off for a foul on Richard Logan but it merely highlighted the inadequacies of the hosts’ attack as they huffed and puffed and simply ended out of breath.
The first 45 minutes were absorbing from both sides and provided plenty of entertainment for the disappointingly low crowd of 3,507. Anthony Stewart was in the right place to clear the danger from a sharp counter-attack from the visitors who were forced back into their own half for much of the opening period.
It was a tactic that was working well for Wycombe with the midfield five pushing the Gills back, giving them no time and space whilst controlling much of the possession. One of the reasons for this was the work rate of the midfield trio of Stuart Lewis, Matt Spring and Matt Bloomfield but it was Wood out on the left who shone the brightest.
He curled a shot just wide of the far post from the edge of the area shortly after Stuart Beavon had shown more fabulous skill to bring the ball down and get away a shot which was deflected for a corner. Leon Johnson then made a vital block to prevent Weston from testing Nikki Bull.
Weston then rode two sliding tackles from Wood and Spring to race clear down the right and hit a powerful drive which Bull did well to push around the post. Beavon almost got on the end of Spring’s deflected shot inside the area before Joel Grant summed himself up with a piece of sublime skill to wrong foot Martin only to choke his shot.
Gills goalkeeper Stuart Nelson was a little fortunate when he could only parry Spring’s stinging 30-yard free-kick and his defence smuggled the ball away for a corner. Wood’s tenacity was to be his undoing as he chased after the ball only to take a knock to his knee. He trudged off to be replaced by Oli and the half ended goal-less.
The second half was a totally different story. Gillingham pushed forward from the kick off and put the hosts under increasing pressure. All the play was now in the Wycombe half as the defending from the front all but evaporated. The visitors kept possession and it was only a matter of time before they scored.
Bull had already been called into action twice, pushing away a powerful shot from substitute Charlie Allen and then tipping Flanagan’s header over the bar, before he was beaten in the 55th minute. Weston’s daisy-cutter of a free-kick smashed against the foot of the post and a completely unmarked Martin tapped the rebound into the empty net.
The Chairboys immediately responded with 25-yard effort from Grant which flew wide before Chris Whelpdale connected sweetly with a thunderbolt from 35 yards which Bull did well to push away from goal. Grant did likewise soon afterwards but his shot was hit straight at Nelson who fisted the ball clear of danger.
Having already weakened the team with the enforced substitution of Wood, Gary Waddock decided to replace Matt Bloomfield with Richard Logan. It made no absolutely no difference as Beavon remained isolated and increasingly frustrated with no service as the visitors continued to control possession and the game.
That did finally change in the 78th minute when Flanagan, having already been booked, pulled back Logan and was sent for an early bath. The Gills retreated into the last third to protect what they had and they did so comfortably against a desperate side with no attacking threat. Beavon tried to conjure up some magic but his shot was blocked.
Oli went up top to form a three-pronged attack alongside Beavon and Logan which saw both Stewart and Lewis become auxiliary right-wingers. The best chance fell to Oli but he hooked the ball high over the valley end from six yards. Logan was anonymous whilst late substitute Lee Angol simply looked lost.
Gillingham deservedly claimed the points and showed the standard Wycombe will need to reach if they are to have any hope of challenging at the top of League Two this season.
There were several times last season when the team put in an excellent display for 45 minutes but were unable to keep it up for 90 minutes. The lack of depth in the squad is extremely concerning as is the attacking threat, which without Beavon, is non existent.
Ratings: Bull 6, Stewart 6, Doherty 7, Johnson 6, Basey 6 (Angol N/A), Grant 6, Lewis 6, Spring 7, Bloomfield 7 (Logan 5), Wood 8* (Oli 3), Beavon 6.