Gillingham 2-0 Tranmere: Rovers Sink Closer To Drop Zone

What a difference a week makes for Tranmere, who seven days ago looked like they were marching towards League One safety after securing a second successive win over Shrewsbury.

But they have now slipped back towards the bottom four after suffering their second successive 2-0 defeat on the road, this time to Gillingham at Priestfield.

John McMahon’s side came distinctly second best in Kent, as two late goals from Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald reduced their advantage over the relegation zone to two points.

In a tight game where defenders were definitely coming out on top, it was always likely that a moment of magic would win the points.

And that proved to be the case as with 78-minutes on the clock, Dack unleashed a vicious shot that flew into the far top corner from 10-yards.

Gillingham then doubled their lead in injury time as Rovers pushed forward in search of an equaliser, with McDonald finding the net after Owain fon Williams had gone up for a Tranmere corner.

This was the first of two crucial fixtures in four days for Rovers, who also host Sheffield United at Prenton Park on Easter Monday.

And they will now be desperate to pick up something against the Blades after a long week on the road yielded no points.

John McMahon’s side were buoyed by the return of leading scorer Ryan Lowe, who had recovered from a knock that kept him out of Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Crawley.

The striker has been instrumental in so far managing to keep Tranmere above the relegation zone, becoming the first player to reach twenty goals in a single season for the club since Simon Haworth in 2003/04.

Rovers however were without Steven Jennings who missed out through injury, but Jason Koumas was fit enough to return from a toe problem, pushing Jake Kirby on to the bench.

Gillingham started on the front foot but wasted a great chance to take the lead in the seventh minute after counter-attacking quickly down the right.

The move came about after Stuart Nelson easily saved a flick from Tranmere’s John-Louis Akpa Akpro. The ‘keeper then fed the ball to Elliott Hewitt and after he had surged forward, his deep cross was met by Charlie Lee who failed to hit the target with a back post header.

Rovers then missed a golden opportunity themselves though, with Jake Cassidy tamely scuffing a shot wide from 10-yards after being found by Lowe.

The visitors then had goalkeeper Owain fon Williams to thank for keeping the tie all-square as he spread himself expertly to deny McDonald from inside the six-yard box.

That battle was to continue throughout the afternoon, but the next chance fell to Tranmere, as Akpa Akpro fired a skidding shot into the side netting .

However, moments later John McMahon’s side were dealt a huge blow as captain Ian Goodison was forced off injured, replaced by Danny Holmes.

Rovers’ biggest problem now was the physical battle against Gillingham forward Bayo Akinfenwa, who was matching up nicely against Goodison.

And it was the giant striker who forced fon Williams into another good save, powerfully heading goalwards only for the ‘keeper to arch his back and tip the ball over the bar.

Then moments before the break, the former Northampton man was presented with another superb opportunity to open the scoring, but his delicate lob dropped just wide of fon Williams’ post after the ‘keeper found himself stranded on the penalty spot.

Both teams endured a nervy start to the second period that saw very few chances.

Indeed, it was very much tit for tat, as whilst the final ball at times may have been lacking, the likes of Pennington and Taylor held up strongly in the Rovers defence.

Koumas meanwhile attempted to pull the strings in midfield, but all too often found his teammates were not anticipating the pass he was set to make, and with Gillingham intent on closing him down quickly, Tranmere’s attacks often broke down.

The first chance of the half fell to McDonald, but again fon Williams was on hand to save, as he pounced off his line and saved with his feet from the striker’s powerful drive.

Tranmere then failed to deal with the resulting corner, and they were given another let off when a loose ball fell to Myles Weston, who curled over the bar.

Rovers then had a brace of chances themselves, with a drilled effort from 25-yards from Koumas saved by Nelson, whilst the ‘keeper was again on hand two minutes later to thwart Akpa Akpro.

Jake Cassidy was then unlucky not to break the deadlock for the visitors as he shot wide from 20-yards, before fon Williams continued to dominate his battle with McDonald, saving another effort from the striker at his near post.

The Welsh stopper could do nothing about the next effort that came his way though, as Dack opened the scoring on 78-minutes.

The midfielder was found by Joe Martin’s left-wing cross, and he superbly volleyed into the roof of the net, beating both fon Williams and Matthew Pennington who was stood on the post.

Tranmere will be extremely disappointed with the goal though, as Martin was allowed space and time to pick out Dack in the box, as after surging forward on the overlap, no Rovers defender went out to meet him.

John McMahon tried to change things around after the goal, and threw on youngster Cole Stockton as a replacement for Koumas.

That left Rovers were four strikers on the pitch, but ultimately it had been creating chances, and not taking them, that had been their problem all afternoon.

And even though it was the visitors chasing the game, it was Gillingham who pressed forward as they looked to kill the game off, with Weston forcing fon Williams into a reasonably comfortable save low down.

And in injury time, they found that much coveted second as after fon Williams went forward for a Tranmere corner, Gills broke forward and Cody McDonald calmly slotted home from 25-yards.

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