Rochdale inflicted the first defeat of the season on league leaders Gillingham on Saturday with a 2-1 win over the Gills at Priestfield.
There were two changes to the Dale starting eleven as Matt Pearson replaced the suspended Kevin McIntyre and George Donnelly was given the nod ahead of Ashley Grimes.
Rochdale were first to apply the pressure in a lively first half after Bobby Grant was fouled on the edge of the area with just four minutes on the clock.
George Donnelly stepped up to take the resulting free kick but failed to clear the wall. The ball however rebounded back into play and fell for Bobby Grant who sent it back into a busy box. Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson did well to see off Dele Adebola after coming off his line to punch the ball clear, but danger was far over and Grant got on the end of the ball as it rebounded back into play for the third time. Nelson again was quick off the mark however to punch the ball clear after diving through the packed box.
As the match continued, both teams saw plenty of the ball during the early opening period without really troubling either goalkeeper, but with Rochdale looking lively and playing some fast attacking football, it was on 15 minutes following a set piece that Andrew Tutte fired Dale ahead.
Jason Kennedy played a corner ball short to Tutte who was waiting just outside the area. The stand-in skipper controlled the ball impeccably before unleashing a curling effort past Nelson and into the corner of the net to give Dale a 1-0 lead.
With Dale a goal to the good, Gillingham went search of the equaliser and had two opportunities in quick succession as Matt Fish and Deon Burton looked to pull the Gills level.
On 25 miniutes, Chris Whelpdale, who had broken forward in a speedy counter attack, slotted a well-placed ball through for the onrunning Fish who in the end hit it over the bar.
Five minutes later and Burton had the home side’s best opportunity of the half. He found space at the far post and should have turned the ball into the back of the net from six yards out but instead volleyed the effort over the bar.
As in recent weeks, the match wasn’t short of drama and on 33 minutes Gillingham found themselves down to ten men after Danny Jackman was ordered off for what appeared to be a two footed challenge on Tutte.
With Jackman shown red, Gills manager Martin Allen was forced into an immediate substitution with Robbie Findley being replaced by Myles Weston.
The red card seemed to spur Gillingham on and they had a short spell of possession but failed to break down the Dale defence and ‘keeper Lillis.
And as the half ticked towards the interval it could have been Dale who added a second of the afternoon after Donnelly broke through on goal following a well-timed run. In the end however, his effort was blocked by two Gills defenders who had got back to stop the frontman making a clean connection with the ball.
After the break Gillingham started the livelier of the two teams as they dug deep in a bid in a bid to find a break through, but the Dale defence continued to stand strong, denying the Gills the opportunity to make the most of their attacking football in the final third.
On 51 minutes, a diagonal pass in the path of the onrunning David Wright caught out the back four and he was given the chance to cut inside before unleashing an effort inside the 18-yard-box. Rhys Bennett did well to get back and block the strike.
As in the first half, both teams saw plenty of the ball but it was Dale who went on to double their lead shortly before the hour mark.
Tutte, who was impressive throughout the match, picked out the on-running Grant and played a long diagonal ball forward. Grant smashed his first effort off the legs of goalkeeper Nelson but got on the end of the re-bound and drove the ball into the back of the net to double Dale’s advantage.
The goal by Grant seemed to inject a sense of urgency in the Gills play and they continued to drive forward.
Just minutes after the goal, Weston’s free-kick rebounded off the Dale wall and fell perfectly Tom Flanagan who was denied only by Tutte who had got back to defend.
Following the red card drama in the first half, there was yet another turning point in the game which ensured a nervy finish to the match.
On 73 minutes Gillingham were awarded a penalty which would lead to their first goal of the game. There was confusion over why the spot kick was awarded, but substitute Danny Kedwell stepped up to take the resulting kick and netted with a well struck effort.
Just minutes later and a brave Josh Lillis denied Whelpdale who had got on the end of a neat through ball. The goalkeeper came off his line but did extremely well to scoop the ball away from his before he was able to get a shot away.
Ray Putterill was introduced onto the field of play shortly after and was involved in the action just minutes later. He tore down the left hand flank before cutting inside and unleashing a shot. It was however deflected past the post.
On 82 minutes, Gillingham had goalkeeper Nelson to thank for keeping the score as was he pulled off a fantastic save to see out Grant. Donnelly had played a fine ball across the face of goal for the onrunning Grant who had had made himself available at the back post. All he had to do was turn into the back of the net but Nelson some how came from nowhere to block the shot and send it round the post.
Four minutes later, Donnelly sent a shot wide agonisingly wide of the post before Whelpdale rattled the ball over the bar for the Gills on the stroke of the 90 minutes.
It finished Gillingham 1, Rochdale 2.