Gillingham 3 v 4 Millers - Report
The Millers won by a nose on Grand National Day as substitute Tom Hitchcock's hat-trick helped them to a 4-3 win over Gillingham at Priestfield Stadium.
Kieran Agard's opener inside 20 seconds set the tone for an end-to-end affair in Kent, before Adebayo Akinfenwa replied on the half-hour mark.
Miles Weston then put the hosts in front, until the introduction of Hitchcock who levelled things at 2-2.
Bradley Dack then thought he'd won it for his side with his strike on 84 minutes, but the on loan QPR forward was on hand moments later to curtail Gillingham celebrations, before sending the Millers' supporters into raptures with his stoppage time winner that ensured he would take the matchball back to South Yorkshire and end a 26-year winless spell at Priestfield Stadium.
Following their hard-fought victory over Bristol City last week, the Millers retained the same starting line-up for the fourth successive match as they make the long trek south looking to break their Priestfield Stadium hoodoo, with their last victory gained in the form of 2-0 win back in 1988.
The omens looked good when the Millers made the perfect start when they took the lead immediately from the kick-off.
The visitors started the proceedings by kicking to the Rainham End and some fast interplay put the Gills on the backfoot and Lee Frecklington advanced with menace to the edge of the box before spotting Nicky Adams in space on the right flank, who got a yard on his marker Joe Martin to play a perfectly weighted pass across the face of goal and with ‘keeper Stuart Nelson a helpless bystander, Kieran Agard had the simple task of tapping into the empty net.
The Millers were buoyed by the breakthrough and James Tavernier floated a free-kick beyond the onrushing Rotherham runners before Gillingham had their first sight of the visitors’ goal when Bradley Dack’s outswinging corner gave Cody McDonald an opportunity to volley goalwards but he failed to make a clean connection before the Millers’ cleared the danger.
Minutes later, Ben Pringle’s arrowed a tantalising ball into the path of Alex Revell, who knocked down into the path of Adams, who gave Frecklington a shooting opportunity and the ex-Peterborough midfielder stung the palms of Nelson with a snap shot.
From the resultant corner from Pringle, Gillingham failed to clear decisively paving the way for Tavernier to strike a rasping effort which cleared the home crossbar.
Minutes later, the Millers came within a whisker of doubling their advantage when home skipper Adam Barrett made a hash of a clearance and Tavernier pounced on the loose ball before drilling a low effort from the edge of the box which shaved the wrong side of the upright.
The visitors were nearly made to rue that miss when McDonald got the better of Joe Skarz before floating a delicate cross which left Adam Collin grasping at thin air but fortunately for the Millers, Dack was unable to turn the ball goalwards at the far post.
Minutes later, Rotherham were denied a spot-kick when Martin appeared to clumsily bundle over Freckington inside the box but referee Steven Rushton waved away strong Millers’ appeals and with the visitors’ heads still in a daze, Kari Arnason made a superb block at the other end to deny McDonald, who fired goalwards from the edge of the box.
Just shy of the half-hour, Gillingham stunned the visitors when they levelled matters after skipper Craig Morgan was penalised for nudging over Myles Weston on the edge of the box.
The home side made the visitors pay from the resultant free-kick when Dack curled a centre into the danger area and Adebayo Akinfenwa got a yard on his marker to plant a downward header from point-blank range which found the bottom corner of the net despite a last-ditch attempt from a retreating defender to clear the danger.
The visitors responded well to the setback and Tavernier floated a delicate ball over the Gills backline presenting Freckington the opportunity to show great technique to volley goalwards but despite Nelson making an acrobatic save to keep the ball out, any goal would have been chalked off for offside.
With half-time approaching, the home rearguard failed to deal with a punt forward by the Millers and Revell cushioned the ball before firing a bobbling effort from distance which had Nelson nervously scrambling across goal as it shaved the home upright.
Half-time:- Gillingham 1 Rotherham United 1
Following the restart, Martin floated an inviting free-kick which saw Akinfenwa climb highest but his powerful header was straight down the throat of Collin.
At the other end, Arnason played a slide-rule pass into the feet of Agard, who cleverly worked a shooting opportunity but he screwed his long-range effort wide of the target before the ex-Yeovil strike combined with Freckington to put the Gills on the backfoot but following ping-pong in the home box, Adams blasted over the bar when he should have done better.
The Millers were left to regret that miss seconds later when Gillingham took the lead just three minutes shy of the hour mark.
There looked little danger until a long punt forward saw Weston beat the offside trap with Tavernier seemingly playing him on-side and with the Newcastle loanee in his wake, Weston kept his nerve to slide the ball into the corner of the net giving Collin no chance.
The home side were sniffing blood and the lively Weston ghosted past Arnason before advancing into the visitors’ box before fizzing an effort which was arrowing towards the near post until Collin parried the ball to safety.
Despite the Millers struggling to find their rhythm, they stunned the noisy home faithful by equalising against the run of play with 21 minutes remaining.
With the home side penned back, Richard Smallwood played a superb reverse pass which caught the home side napping and sub Tom Hitchcock showed great composure to get the ball from under his feet before giving Nelson the eyes, to calmly wrongfoot the home ‘keeper and slide the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
With the game in the balance, Barrett rose highest from Elliott Hewitt’s bullet long-throw to plant a header which had Collin nervously backtracking but the ex-Carlisle ‘keeper clawed the ball to safety before Gillingham failed to clear a Millers’ corner at the other end and Morgan screwed a shot into the path of Pringle, who looked to squeeze the ball into the near post but Nelson was alert to block his goalbound effort.
With talismanic midfielder Freckington forced off because of injury, the Millers woes continued when Gillingham took the lead for the second time with six minutes to go.
There looked little danger for the visitors until Arnason dallied in possession and with the ball caught under his feet, Dack pounced on the loose ball to calmly clip the ball over the onrushing Collin into the unguarded net.
However, the Gills’ joy proved short-lived as Rotherham fought back to equalise two minutes later infront of their loyal band of travelling supporters.
With Gillingham unable to clear the danger, the visitors took advantage of Barrett’s slip at the heart of the home defence and Hitchcock kept his nerve to clip the ball over the advancing Nelson to level the scores.
With the game on a knifeedge, Barrett was yellow-carded and from the resultant free-kick from Pringle, Nelson showed good reactions to block Tavernier’s snap shot.
However, the Millers continued to press and with the home side unable to clear the danger, the ball fell invitingly into the feet of Hitchcock, who showed a touch of class to chip the ball over the outstretched hand of Nelson to find the roof of the net and send the away fans into ecstasy.
The visitors’ withstood a late aerial bombardment from the home side as six-minutes of injury-time was declared as the Millers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Full-time:- Gillingham 3 Rotherham United 4
Teams:- Gillingham- Nelson, Martin, Akinfenwa (Linganzi 78), McDonald, Weston (Lee 71), Gregory, Dack, Harriman, Inniss, Barrett, Hewitt. Unused:- Baxter, German, Birchall, Smith, Hessenthaler
Rotherham- Collin, Skarz, Arnason, Frecklington (Milsom 81), Revell, Pringle, Morgan, Agard, Tavernier, Smallwood, Adams (Hitchcock 60). Unused:- Shearer, Davis, O’Connor, Thomas, Vuckic.
Referee:- Steven Rushton
Attendance:- 6027 (420).