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Rovers 1 Gillingham 1

3 August 2019

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Rovers had to settle for a opening day point despite an impressive second half performance against Gillingham.

Darren Moore handed out competitive debuts to Brad Halliday, Reece James, Alex Baptiste, Ben Sheaf and Madger Gomes, while club captain James Coppinger stepped on the pitch for the 554th time for Rovers in the league.

The opening 15 minutes had a feel of two sides trying to play their way into a new season. A few misplaced passes and mistimed tackles went both ways and while Rovers carried a threat in possession, Gillingham’s long forward balls were also dangerous.

And it was the visitors who would register the first shot on target. Regan Charles-Cook’s effort looked goal-bound, but Tom Anderson cleared off the line. Charles-Cook was in the action again a moment later, picking the pocket of Sheaf but pulling his effort wide.

Rovers first real effort fell to the newly appointed skipper Ben Whiteman. Coppinger’s free kick was squared to Whiteman who had space to shoot. He struck it well, but it didn’t quite dip enough to go under the bar.

When Gillingham broke from a Rovers corner, Ian Lawlor needed a good save down to his right to keep Mikael Ndjoli’s effort from sneaking in at the near post. And Whiteman was in the action again – this time at the other end of the park - blocking Brandon Hanlon’s effort.

Gillingham did take the lead on the half-hour mark. Alex Jakubiak tapped home from two yards from Ndjoli’s cross. The Gills no. 10 did well to bully his way past the Rovers backline and draw the ‘keeper before slipping the ball across the goal for an easy finish.

Charles-Cook continued to be a threat down Rovers’ right-hand side. His pace took him away from Baptiste, but Lawlor was on hand not once but twice to stop the visitors from doubling their lead.

Rovers got one back right on half-time with their first shot on target. A wonderful first-time finish on the spin by Kieran Sadlier to bury Coppinger’s forward ball into the back of the net. Jack Bonham in The Gills net stood no chance and that rounded off the first-half action.

No changes in either line-up but a complete change in momentum. Rovers fired out of the blocks with neat one-touch passing football around midfield which offered Gomes a chance from the edge of the box putting it just over the bar.

Gomes was soon in the action again. Halliday’s low cross picked him out in the middle of the box, but the Spaniard’s effort was blocked sending it looping over the bar.

Rovers kept building the pressure. Alfie May went on a good solo run to earn himself a shooting effort. He struck it well from distance, but Bonham got down well to make the save.

Moore opted to make his first change with just over 20 minutes to go - Niall Ennis replaced Gomes to make his Rovers debut. The substitution prompted a change around up front with Ennis taking the No.9 role and Sadlier switching to his preferred wide position. Ennis was lively and received a standing ovation from the Blank Bank when his tireless running meant he closed down the Gills defence winning back possession high up the pitch.

The home side seemed have most of the possession without really creating any clear-cut chances while the visitors weren’t in any rush to get on with proceedings. Both sides exchanged half-chances, Baptiste’s header from a Coppinger free-kick the best of the chances created.

May went close as he slid in in an attempt to get on the end of Whiteman’s forward ball. May was close again when a sublime cross-field pass from Ennis picked him out. Bonham’s blocked the shot but only to substitute Ali Crawford who was also agonisingly close to snatching a winner with almost his first kick of the game.

Whiteman was also close to a winner – his effort from distance dragged just wide of the far post in injury time.


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