Asaba crowns an extravaganza

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The Independent Football

Carl Asaba's equaliser two minutes from time earned Gillingham a point and capped a thrilling eight-goal affair which showed the best and worst of both sides at Selhurst Park.

Carl Asaba's equaliser two minutes from time earned Gillingham a point and capped a thrilling eight-goal affair which showed the best and worst of both sides at Selhurst Park.

The Wimbledon boss Terry Burton gave the new £1.3m signing Darren Holloway his debut after his switch from Sunderland and the 23-year-old set up the home side's first goal after five minutes.

The right-back found space down the right and fed the midfielder Damien Francis, who turned sharply and fired in a rasping 20-yarder which flew in off the goalkeeper Vince Bartram's right-hand post.

John Hartson, who has scored five goals in seven league games since being made captain, showed no illeffects from his midweek international trip for Wales as he almost doubled the Londoners' lead seven minutes later. A left-wing Marcus Gayle cross was headed goalwards by Hartson, but Bartram was able to parry round the post.

The visitors fought back with the player-manager Andy Hessenthaler finding his feet in a midfield battle. An innocuous 20th-minute Carl Asaba shot caught a wicked deflection off his strike partner Andy Thomson and brought the Gills level.

Thomson's second two minutes later rendered the home fans silent. The Scot profited when a long Bartram goal-kick hit the defender Chris Willmott on the back and Thomson lobbed into the empty net.

In an open first half it was no surprise when Hartson scored a 25th-minute equaliser after a mistake by Bartram. Just a minute after the right-back Mark Patterson had cleared off his own line, Jonathan Hunt swung in a left-wing corner which was seized upon by Hartson as Bartram dropped the ball at his feet.

But parity was restored for only a few seconds when full-back Mark Saunders powerfully headed home at the back post after a precise corner from Hessenthaler.

Thomson was denied a hat-trick when his 53rd minute snap-shot was saved by Davis, and the visitors were made to pay six minutes later when Jason Euell broke free to fire through the legs of Bartram.

Hartson delivered the goods again with 11 minutes left, beating Barry Ashby to a ball in the box and slotting home but Asaba earned Gillingham a deserved point.

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