Gillingham’s return to the Kent Senior Cup lasted just one match after Bradley Dack’s 93rd minute own goal gave Welling United a 2-1 win at Park View Road.
It was a tight, cagey affair in the first half, Stefan Payne opened the scoring on 52 minutes from the penalty spot after Ashley Miller was felled inside the box by substitute Jack Taylor.
Lee Clarke equalised for the home side from a penalty too, after skipper Conor Essam hauled back Tamer Tuna’s belligerent run. Essam’s only saving grace was seeing referee Ian Crouch retrieve a yellow card from his pocket.
Whilst neither side would have fancied the effort of another 30 minutes, Gillingham can feel aggrieved that their young side walked away with nothing to show for their efforts.
With fit first teamers a rare commodity at Priestfield these days, Gillingham’s return from a 12 year exile from the Kent County Cup was always going to present opportunities for the acadamy products and squad player to stand up and be counted.
Jamie Day treated the game with less contempt, picking himself in the centre of midfield, as well as first team regulars Luis Cumbers, Andy Sambrook and Quentin Conteh.
The first drama on the pitch came after just 6 minutes when Welling United were instructed to change shirts by the referee, who checked with both benches before deeming the contrast between Gillingham’s vibrant pink and Welling’s red too narrow.
On went the blue for Welling and they will have been feeling a similar shade as Gillingham enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges, Dean Rance dominating the midfield battle and the visitors setting up camp in the Wings’ half.
After bright bursts into the box from Payne and Nyafli, Gillingham’s centre back pairing of Davies and Essam both warmed up the gloves of Craig Ross in the Wings goal with soft efforts from free kicks. Nathan Nyafli wasted too good chances for the Gills, blasting over on two separate occasions from the edge of the box.
The spark and energy that the came so desperately needed was provided on 33 minutes after Miller and Sambrook clashed in the box, resulting in the pair squaring up to each other. A senseless push by the onrushing Stefan Payne sent Sambrook to the ground, a few more players to the resulting fracas and the referee reaching for his yellow card for the three aforementioned players.
The scurmish brought about Welling’s best spell of the first half, constantly threatening the Gillingham penalty area and coming close to penetrating their defence.
Parkinson saw his prod from a swirling free kick cleared off the line by Davies after Gazzaniga flapped at the ball. On the stroke of half time, Luis Cumbers’ instant control and shot oozed quality as Gazzaniga gathered the awkward bouncing ball well.
After the interval, the tempo of the game rose remarkably and when the tenacious Miller broke past substitute Jack Taylor in the box, an ill-advised lunge left the referee with no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Payne smashed home the spot-kick into the top left corner.
Not to be perturbed, Welling responded well and when Cumbers’ neat flick sent Tuna through on goal, Essam’s tug on the striker’s shoulder left the referee with no choice but to even things up on 70 minutes. The more curious decision was to only award Essam a yellow for his troubles. It would appear goalscoring opportunities have to be really obvious these days!
Lee Clarke stepped up to calmly send Gazzaniga the wrong way and construct a fascinating finale.
Gillingham’s youngsters continued to battle and with the injection of Parter and Haysman, the weary legs received a timely boost and almost created a winner but time and time again, Welling’s back line proved impregnable as the visitors resorted to long ball tactics.
Even Stefan Payne, arguably the senior pro, couldn’t wiggle or worm his way past and find a second goal to cap a professional performance.
Five minutes before the end, Bradley Dack’s ugly studs up tackle saw tempers fray once more in both camps. Remarkably the referee booked Cumbers for dissent but failed to discipline Dack.
But as the footballing gods busily typed out a fitting script, both sides went in search for that illusive winner and it came in the third minute of stoppage time in hearbreaking fashion.
Luis Cumbers broke well down the Wings’ wing, and whipped in a vicious low cross that collected the outstretched boot of Dack at the nearpost and sent the ball looping cruelly over Gazzaniga.
Final Score: Welling United 2-1 Gillingham
Tuesday, 18th October 2011