Walsall 3-2 Gillingham - Report
31/10/2015 - 15:00
The Saddlers came from two goals down to beat Gillingham and leapfrog the visitors at the summit of League One, after a comeback that was as unlikely on 35 minutes as it was deserved by the end.
An opening minute free kick from Milan Lalkovic that hit the shins of the men in the wall was as good as it got for the Saddlers in the opening half hour against a side who may have found themselves top of League One going into today, but are unlikely to figure too highly up the Fair Play League at any point this season. The Gills were physical and aggressive, but unlike most League One cloggers actually had the ability within the side to back it up.
They took the lead 12 minutes in, Cody McDonald finishing with ease after Doug Loft`s through ball had split our defence like a hot knife through butter.
It would have been an entirely different game had the Gills been reduced to 10 men in the 17th minute when Jermaine McGlashan, went through the back of Romaine Sawyers with a late, reckless challenge that was a clear a red card as you`re ever likely to see. Fortunately for McGlashan, referee Darren Drysdale was producing a performance of such ineptitude you`d have been forgiven for thinking he was Andy Haines.
He did however make the correct call in awarding the Gills a penalty in the 32nd minute, Bradley Dack slipping in the area with Paul Downing in close attendance, but despite landing on his backside still managed to get to his feet and get round Downing before the Saddlers centre back shoved him to the floor. Spot kick all day long, no arguments there. Dack slammed the penalty home himself to give the visitors what looked an unassailable lead.
The reason it looked so unassailable was the apathy of most of the Saddlers forward play which had fallen into its usual habit of lacking pace, purpose or movement. Then, out of the blue, Kieron Morris took matters into his own hands by cutting in from the right hand side and firing a low left footed drive beyond Stuart Nelson from all of 25 yards to halve the deficit. Game on!
Less than 90 seconds later the Saddlers were level, the ball making its way across the box via Manchester City loanee George Evans before being tucked home from close range by Lalkovic. I`m not sure if the Gillingham fans went into meltdown having thrown away a two goal lead away from home, but the Banks`s was rocking with the crowd, boosted by the 1,000 or so tickets handed out to local schools, combining to give the team tremendous vocal backing.
The second half was a tremendous 45 minutes of football that had everything. Attacking football, aggressive tackling, fast paced passing, and a winning goal to boot. The players, who having realised the ref was a complete twunt and that they could get away with most things, took to hacking each other down as first Dack for the Gills, and then Demetriou for the Saddlers were booked for what we`ll call crude challenges, while Lalkovic and Ryan Jackson picked up a booking each after the two squared up following a tackle by Jackson that hilariously resulted in a free kick to the visitors.
Desperate for victory, Smith turned to his fellow gingers with Jordan Cook and Reece Flanagan coming on for Lalkovic and Evans in a pair of substitutions that smacked of us settling for a point. However, what do I know, as they both had a hand in the winning goal. As the board went up for just 3 minutes injury time (I was expecting at least 5), Flanagan played it to Rico Henry who made his way to the byline, cutting it back just as you thought he might have run it out of play. A sliced attempt at a clearance by a Gills defender saw Jordan Cook attempt a comedy overhead kick that looped to the edge of the six yard box where Demetriou was on hand to smash home a Saddlers winner. Given the Gills irritating recent knack of scoring late goals, it felt extra sweet that they were on the receiving end this time.
It could have been four in the final minute of injury time when Flanagan had a golden chance to open his account for the club, only for Nelson to make a smart stop when the youngster really should have given him no chance.
It didn`t prove costly however and the refs final whistle greeted by a rousing chorus of "We are top of the league", only now, unlike for the previous 90 minutes, it wasn`t coming from the away end.