Gillingham drew 1-1 with Millwall in their latest pre-season game on Tuesday evening, with Gills captain Kyle Dempsey and Millwall's Jake Cooper on the scoresheet.
In what was the Gills’ third game of their 2021/22 preparations following a COVID-impacted summer, a mixture of senior pros and youth players put in a strong showing in front of the home fans returning to Priestfield for the first time in over 500 days.
Story of the match
The start of the game was dominated by the atmosphere moreso than the game itself, with 2,500 fans back inside Priestfield for the first time in over 500 days.
When play settled down, Gillingham had the first opportunity of the game when a trialist – former Gills defender Connor Ogilvie – long throw wasn’t dealt with by Millwall. Kyle Dempsey headed the ball back into the area, but a defender got to the ball before Danny Lloyd could pounce.
The Gills were rewarded for their early pressure on the quarter hour mark when captain Kyle Dempsey opened the scoring. Finding himself in space on the edge of the box, the midfielder let fly and caught it sweetly, the ball cannoning off the post and leaving Millwall ‘keeper Bartosz Bialkowski with no chance.
Millwall began to settle in the game and Arsenal loanee Dan Ballard headed over the bar from a corner. Vadaine Oliver then missed a cross from Rhys Bennett by inches as the hosts continued to look threatening on the counterattack.
Millwall penalty calls were waved away when Benik Afobe hit the deck under pressure from Daniel Phillips, and the visitors struggled to test Jamie Cumming in the Gillingham goal for the majority of the first half.
Ballard fired inches wide on the volley from a corner five minutes before the break, and the teams went into the interval with the hosts ahead after an impressive half.
Gillingham started the second half the better side too and were almost in when Lloyd found substitute Stuart O’Keefe on the counter, but the midfielder lacked the pace to break and saw his shot blocked.
Both teams began to ring the changes on the hour mark and the game became scrappy with no real chances for either team.
Aaron Chapman saved from Connor Mahoney with his legs following a deflection as the match entered the final 10 minutes, and punched a cross over his own bar soon after as the visitors pushed for an equaliser.
The stopper then saved with his chest from Tom Bradshaw, but was unable to keep out a header from point blank range from Jake Cooper, following a neat corner routine that allowed Millwall to equalise.
1-1 was how it finished, with both teams able to take plenty from their latest outings.
Takeaways from the match
Diamond an option for Gillingham
For most of last season, Gills boss Steve Evans utilised a system with wingers, whether it be a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation. He has regularly stated his desire to get the ball wide and into the box, however the loss of key man Jordan Graham this summer may cause him to alter his ideas.
He employed a diamond system from the start here and it worked well, with Kyle Dempsey and Ben Reeves providing the width when needed and Danny Lloyd playing just off talisman Vadaine Oliver up front. Don’t be too surprised to see the Scot start the season with this system in place given the personnel he currently has at his disposal.
Gills not looking tired
Gillingham have been behind in their preparations for most of pre-season, with the team missing three scheduled friendlies due to COVID cases in the camp. This was just their third game of their pre-season, but the squad didn’t look off the pace, despite Steve Evans saying his team were 70% there last Saturday.
The Watford loanee looked off the pace in Gillingham’s second pre-season game on Saturday vs Colchester United but impressed here in a deeper role. The 20-year-old protected his back four well, flying into tackles when necessary but also looking to play when he could, recycling possession well.
Phillips will have some work to do if he’s to secure a regular starting spot for the Gills this season, but he put a good showing in in just his second outing for the club.
Tucker had a below-par season last year by his own standards but has been back to his best this pre-season, looking matured, vocal, and confident. Despite his partners being older, he is the leader of the Gills defence now and comes out on top more often than not in his duels. He will be an important player for Gillingham this season.
Gillingham: Cumming (Chapman 61), Bennett (Lintott 46), Ehmer, Tucker, Trialist (Akehurst 46), Phillips (Trialist 61), Dempsey (O’Keefe 46), Reeves (Trialist 61), Lee (Trialist 61), Lloyd (MacDonald 61), Oliver (Gale 79).
Subs not used: Akinde.
Millwall: Bialkowski, McNamara (Romeo 73), M. Wallace, Thompson (B. Mitchell 61), Malone, Pearce (Cooper 61), Leonard (Saville 73), Bennett (Smith 46), Afobe (Bradshaw 46), Ballard, Evans (Mahoney 73).
Subs not used: Sandford, Bodvarsson, Burney, A. Mitchell.