Deon Burton’s double salvo saw high-flying Gillingham put an end to Rotherham United’s recent surge up the League Two standings.
The veteran striker scored either side of the interval to give Martin Allen’s men a two-goal cushion and although a Jason Taylor piledriver gave the Millers’ hope, the Gills withstood a late barrage from the home side to maintain their healthy advantage at the top of the table.
Following their hard-fought FA Cup draw with Notts County, Steve Evans made two changes to his starting line-up with Icelandic international Kari Arnason making a welcome return to the fold at centre-half with Johnny Mullins reverting to the right-back slot as Mark Bradley was ruled out by injury.
Huddersfield loanee Liam Ridehalgh was making his home debut at left-back while there was a familiar face in the visitors’ line-up with Burton forming a partnership with hot-shot Danny Kedwell.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and a menacing run from Daniel Nardiello split open the visitors’ rearguard but his slide-rule pass saw Lee Frecklington fail to connect on the edge of the box.
Minutes later, after Matt Fish was forced to turn behind, Michael O’Connor swung a tantalising centre which saw Alex Revell climb highest but he was penalised for a push as he looked to head goalwards.
However, in their first attack of note, Gillingham stunned the home side as they broke the deadlock on 12 minutes.
Charlie Lee arrowed a throw into the box and the ball was flicked-on by Kedwell into the path of Burton, who got on the wrong side of his marker to carefully steer the ball past the outstretched hand of Andy Warrington into the bottom corner of the goal.
The Millers’ hopes were dealt a blow when skipper Ian Sharps had to be replaced by Jack O’Connell as he came off worst following a collision with Burton.
However, the Millers’ responded bravely to the setback when O’Connor curled a free-kick around the wall which Stuart Nelson could only parry into the path of Nardiello, who headed goalwards but a well-stationed defender cleared the danger from under his own crossbar.
The home side then came within a whisker of the equaliser when Nardiello’s clever inside pass released Frecklington, who slipped an inviting pass into the path of O’Connor, who rounded Nelson with a minimum of fuss but from an acute angle, he lost his footing as he looked to turn the ball goalwards.
Just shy of the half-hour, following a game of head tennis in and around the visitors’ box, Taylor controlled smartly before firing a dipping volley from the edge of the box which forced Nelson to tip over.
The Millers were looking the most likely and Nardiello teased and tormented Fish before firing a snap shot which failed to catch Nelson out at his near post as it careered into the side netting.
To the delight of the home faithful, Burton was shown the yellow-card for bundling over Mullins in full flight before Nardiello fizzed a skimming cross which saw Andrew Frampton almost slice the ball towards his own goal.
In a swift counter attack, Burton shrugged off the attentions of his marker to volley a ball across the face of goal and with no home defender taking charge, Jack Payne nipped in to hoick the ball over.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Gillingham 1
The home side started the second stanza on the frontfoot and Ben Pringle curled a free-kick into the box which paved the way for Nardiello, to plant a header which failed to trouble Nelson.
Moments later, a long punt from Warrington was flicked on by Revell into the path of Nardiello, who blazed his volley over when he should have done better.
The home side were pressing hard for a leveller and Arnason’s eye-of-a-needle pass found Pringle, who fired a skimming low drive from distance which stung the palms of Nelson.
In a rare attack by the visitors, Burton cushioned a long punt forward into the path of Lee, who volleyed over from the edge of the box.
However, Gillingham took a stranglehold on the proceedings when they doubled the advantage on 57 minutes thanks again to Burton. There looked little danger when Romain Vincelot threaded a ball forward but the ex-Derby striker, calmly let the ball run across his body as it bisected the home rearguard and with only Warrington to beat, he calmly slipped the ball home.
The Millers responded bravely and sub Courtney Cameron floated a delightful centre which picked out the unmarked Revell, who looked a certain scorer as he powered a header goalwards but Nelson produced a superb reflex save to preserve the Gills’ lead.
However, the Millers were finally rewarded for their pressure on 69 minutes when Gillingham failed to clear the danger and Taylor pounced on the loose ball to unleash a fantastic drive from distance which arrowed past the outstretched hand of Nelson before nestling into the far corner of the net.
The home side were galvanised by the goal and they came within a whisker of getting back on level terms when Nardiello was the first to meet an inswinging centre from Pringle, but to his anguish, his towering header shaved the wrong side of the upright.
Moments later, Frecklington waltzed into the box before curling a delightful left-footed effort which had Nelson nervously scurrying across goal.
The home momentum was lost when there was a lengthy stoppage after Vincelot was stretchered off following a collision with Taylor before Fish was shown the yellow-card for hauling down Cameron when play restarted.
The Millers’ were in the ascendancy and Pringle’s inswinging centre was met by the head of O’Connell, who diverted his header towards goal but the ball crashed against the upright before going behind.
With eleven minutes of injury-time scheduled, sub Myles Weston got on the end of a long clearance but screwed his effort wide under pressure from O’Connell.
The visitors’ nervousness was summed up when Nelson was yellow-carded for time wasting before Revell almost got on the end of another tantalising delivery from Pringle but the Gills ‘keeper snuffed out the danger.
With time running out, Frecklington had a half chance on the edge of the box but his drive was bravely blocked by sub Lewis Montrose as the Gills’ held on to maintain their position at the head of League Two.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Gillingham 2
Rotherham- Warrington, Mullins, Sharps (O’Connell 18), Arnason, Ridehalgh, O’Connor (Cameron 64), Taylor, Frecklington, Nardiello (Odejayi 89), Pringle, Revell.
Unused:- Shearer, Hunt, Agard, Rooney.
Gillingham:- Nelson, Fish, Martin, Frampton, Payne (Montrose 71), Allen, Lee, Burton (Weston 71), Kedwell, Barrett, Vincelot (Dack 84).
Unused:- Forecast, Birchall, Jackman, McKain.
Attendance:- 8029 (511)