GILLS GET TASTE OF FAMILIAR MEDICINE
Walsall now top of table
ANOTHER Gillingham game, another decisive late goal – but this time the last-gasp specialists were the ones with their heads in their hands.
Justin Edinburgh’s side have built their road to the top of League One on late winners and equalisers, but Walsall beat them at their own game to replace them at the summit.
Jason Demetriou’s stoppage-time volley capped a stirring comeback from the Saddlers, who were 2-0 down after 32 minutes but ultimately ran out deserved winners.
And delighted Walsall boss Dean Smith said: “We showed an awful lot of character and I thought we just deserved it in the end as we were dominant for periods.
“A couple of mistakes from us let them in and I thought it was going to be a mountain to climb with how well they have been doing.
“The winning goal came from us having both our full-backs in the box in the 92nd minute, which shows you how much we were trying to win the game.
“It’s always pleasing to go top. It’s nice going into the FA Cup next week as the top seeded team!
“To see ourselves, Gillingham and Burton up there is great for League One, when you consider there are teams like Wigan, Sheffield United and Coventry in it. It shows how competitive the division is.”
A blood and thunder first half was packed full of meaty challenges, but there were also moments of quality.
It was from the first of these that the Gills took a 12th-minute lead, Cody McDonald keeping his cool to poke past Saddlers goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from Doug Loft’s excellent through ball.
If that goal was all about Gillingham’s class, their second on 32 minutes was a defensive disaster show from Walsall centre-half Paul Downing.
He dawdled in dealing with a high ball, allowing Bradley Dack to steal possession and then hauled him down in the area. Dack coolly tucked home his sixth league goal of the season from the spot.
However, amazingly, Walsall were level by the break, with the revival sparked by winger Kieron Morris who drilled a rocket into the bottom corner from 25 yards.
And a minute later, it was 2-2. Milan Lalkovic caught full-back Ryan Jackson napping as he stole in at the far post to poke home Man City loanee George Evans’ classy cross.
Walsall bossed the second half and Gills keeper Stuart Nelson saved well from long-range efforts from Morris and Downing, the former coming close to atoning for his earlier error with a marauding run and shot.
The Gills did have ten or 15 minutes on top but McDonald blazed over on the turn, while centre-half John Egan headed a corner wide.
Walsall won it when Demetriou volleyed home the excellent Rico Henry’s diverted cross in the first minute of time added on, while only a fine Nelson save from substitute Reece Flanagan stopped it being 4-2.
After seeing his side fall victim to a late goal after a three-game run in which they had salvaged either last-gasp levellers or bagged injury-time winners, Edinburgh was philosophical. He said: “I thought it was a fantastic advert for League One, a benchmark for the division. It was a very entertaining game with lots of good football and periods that swung from one team being in control to the other. We’ve inflicted late goals on other teams this season and I’ve just said to the players sometimes you have to take your medicine and move on.
“It’s about the reaction now from this group and I expect it to be a positive one. Late goals are certainly becoming a common feature of our games.”
KILLER BLOW: Jason Demetriou celebrates hitting the winner for Walsall in stoppage time
MAIN MAN MILAN: Stuart Nelson can’t stop Milan Lalkovic’s equaliser just before half-time
LEVEL: Lalkovic wheels away to celebrate after making it 2-2
STAR MAN RICO HENRY Walsall