Gillingham 0-0 Stockport County

A long midweek schlep down to Kent saw County put in a much-improved performance, following two defeats, to earn a no-score draw at Gillingham.

In a match rescheduled from early January due to the hosts’ continuing involvement at the time in the FA Cup, the scorers may not have been troubled – but the Hatters were much the better side for long spells of the contest against a side they had not beaten home or away over 13 previous attempts in all competitions since 2000. And, most importantly, the result – with a first clean sheet of 2024 thrown in for good measure – extended their lead at the top of the table to two points.

County took to the field on a balmy but breezy evening, with the number of changes rung coming in at a round half a dozen from the starting line-up at Tranmere three days earlier. Will Collar, Fraser Horsfall, Myles Hippolyte, skipper Paddy Madden, Ibby Touray and Kyle Wootton made up the recalled sextet, with the six they replaced – namely, Odin Bailey, Rhys Bennett, Ethan Bristow, Connor Lemonheigh Evans, Tanto Olaofe and Nick Powell – comprising the entire outfield complement of substitutes.

The hosts, beneficiaries of a one-goal win at Edgeley Park on the current campaign’s opening day, included among their starters midfielder Ethan Coleman, who had turned out for the Hatters as a trialist during the 2020 close season.

The Hatters enjoyed the greater share of possession in the initial stages – fashioning a first chance of note with six on the clock, as Ryan Croasdale drilled wide of the right post, and a second three minutes later, when Lewis Cass connected with Hippolyte’s cross from the left to head narrowly beyond the opposite upright.

Just after the quarter-hour mark, Wootton, fed by Collar, saw his cross from the right deflected by home goalkeeper Jake Turner around the near post. And, as the mid-point of the first half approached, Hippolyte went closest of all with a free-kick from the right that struck the far one.

Hippolyte unleashed another shot shortly afterwards that Turner did well to tip beyond the left post – but the Hatters were then to lose the services of Collar, who, clearly unable to continue his shift, received a rather bizarre yellow card for dissent as, having been waved off the pitch by Referee Swabey, he departed with a hobble more slowly than the official would have liked, before eventually being replaced by Bailey.

The hosts finally set their sights on goal five minutes ahead of the break, with Jonny Williams letting rip with a shot from 25 yards that was gathered up by Ben Hinchliffe.

HALF-TIME: Gillingham 0, County 0. 

Having finished the first half very much on top, the Hatters began the second with continued positive intent, as a low shot by Bailey from the edge of the box fizzed past the left post. Gillingham, meanwhile, relied on long throws by Shad Ogie – but initially without leading to any tangible end-product in front of goal.

Both sides also re-appraised their options up front, with County introducing Olaofe and, subsequently, Powell, after the hosts had brought on Oli Hawkins and Ashley Nadesan – the latter of whom skied over, following one of Ogie’s throw-ins from the left.

Despite these changes, the second period generally remained a scrappy affair – albeit ultimately producing a draw that was the least the Hatters deserved.

FULL-TIME: Gillingham 0, County 0.

Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Cass, Horsfall, Byrne; Hippolyte, Collar (Bailey, 28), Croasdale, Sarcevic, Touray; Madden (Capt.) (Powell, 88), Wootton (Olaofe, 69).

Unused Subs: Smith, Bristow, Lemonheigh Evans, Bennett.

Booked: Collar, Croasdale.

Attendance: 5,321 (378 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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