Despite a battling performance, nine man Rochdale fell to a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium on Saturday.
In six second half minutes Dale were reduced to nine men as Jamie Jones and Matty Lund were sent off in controversial circumstances. However, it was Bradley Dack’s first half header which was enough to separate the two sides.
Manager Keith Hill made three changes to the side that lined up against Swindon Town midweek. Lund was named in the starting eleven – his first appearance since dislocating his shoulder on Boxing Day. There were also starts for Reuben Noble-Lazarus and Calvin Andrew. Rhys Bennett, Michael Rose and Joe Bunney dropped to the bench.
It was a relatively scrappy affair during the opening exchanges, and while neither side created a clear cut opportunity, the home side had the edge and went on to open the scoring in the 14th minute. Bradley Dack headed beyond Jamie Jones from six-yards after getting on the end of a Doug Loft corner ball.
GOAL: Gillingham 1-0 Rochdale (Dack, 14 mins)
Dale responded excellently after going behind, though, and created the best of the opportunities during the half.
Noble-Lazarus came agonisingly close to netting an equaliser with 25 minutes on the clock. The ball was sent from right to left for the winger, who struck across the face of goal. It looked intended for the bottom corner of the net, but it was inadvertently blocked on the line by Ian Henderson, who was waiting at the back post, before being quickly scrambled away by the Gills.
In the 41st minute Henderson was denied by the woodwork. He got to the by-line, before clipping the ball across goal towards the back post. He had beaten goalkeeper Glenn Morris, but was kept out by the inside of the upright.
In stoppage time Dale came close again, as Lund sent a free header narrowly wide of the post after getting on the end of a Noble-Lazarus corner.
HT: GILLINGHAM 1-0 ROCHDALE
Rochdale started brightly and Jamie Allen headed wide two minutes after the re-start.
Dale's first substitution soon followed as Noble-Lazarus made way for Rose in the 52nd minute.
Shortly before the hour mark Ashley Eastham kept out John Marquis as the Dale defender cleared an effort off the line.
In the 64th minute Dale were reduced to ten men in controversial circumstances. Jones came out of his area to deal with a short back pass, and despite winning the ball, the referee chose to send the ‘keeper off for a foul on Marquis. 'Keeper Josh Lillis was quickly called into the action as he replaced Peter Vincenti.
Shortly after the sending off Morris was on hand to deny Dale as he tipped an excellent Rose free-kick from 40-yards, over the bar.
And as Dale looked to build momentum they were dealt another blow. Lund was shown red just six minutes after Jones had been dismissed for a challenge on Dack, which again seemed harsh, with the tackle, on first viewing, looking to be undeserving of a dismissal.
Initially, the home side looked to capitalise, and soon after Lund was dismissed, Lillis saved brilliantly to his left as he kept out Egan.
Dale didn’t give up, though, and finished the game the better of the two sides, despite the numerical disadvantage, but they were unable to net the goal which would have secured a point as Rafferty and Rose both fired over the bar late in the game.
FT: Gillingham 1-0 Rochdale