Counago's skills bamboozle Gills

Gillingham 1 Ipswich Town 3
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The Independent Online

Ipswich can still contemplate the outside possibility of relieving their financial difficulties by winning promotion back to the Premiership by way of the First Division play-offs. But yesterday they again struggled to impose themselves on a team of lesser individual ability and team understanding.

Ipswich can still contemplate the outside possibility of relieving their financial difficulties by winning promotion back to the Premiership by way of the First Division play-offs. But yesterday they again struggled to impose themselves on a team of lesser individual ability and team understanding.

Gillingham had never beaten Ipswich on their own ground and were still living in the shadow of last weekend's 6-0 defeat by Wolves. Yet for the bulk of a changeable game they were dogged and driven enough to warrant a draw.

All problems considered – and these included going into administration, and the need to sell to survive, resulting in the departures of Darren Ambrose to Newcastle and Hermann Hreidarsson to Charl- ton – the fact that Ipswich visited Priestfield Stadium even talking of a play-off place was commendable.

Yesterday they were weakened by the absence of Matt Holland on international duty, but Gillingham were also depleted, with Mamady Sidibe away representing Mali and the regular goalkeeper Jason Brown injured. None of that much altered the anticipated pattern of a spirited contest. Ipswich immediately embarked on a smooth, well-constructed passing game, while Gillingham intercepted hard, worked solidly in midfield and retreated effectively.

A generous decision by the referee allowed Gillingham to survive an early and seemingly legitimate penalty appeal when Nyron Nosworthy ruggedly bundled over Tommy Miller. That moment of good fortune allowed them to impose themselves more efficiently. Even so, Martijn Reuser, who replaced Thomas Gaardsoe early in the game, clipped a shot on to their crossbar before, after 28 minutes, their industry was rewarded.

A corner by Simon Osborn was strongly headed directly at goal from three yards. Andy Marshall, on his line, managed to push the ball out but only to Paul Smith, who rapped it straight back past him.

Gillingham's lead lasted for four minutes. Miller attacked them on the left side, cutting in before trying a short, angled drive that Pablo Couñago seemed ready to divert in but chose to leave, allowing the shot to slip past goalkeeper Vince Bartram.

Gillingham's resolve was impressive. Leon Johnson kept a good watch in central defence with diligent support from Chris Hope. Meanwhile, Paul Shaw moved forward from midfield with increasing menace. Shaw stood in total amazement when, early in the second half, he ran on to a cross from substitute David Perpetuini and drove a ferocious shot towards the underside of the bar. Somehow, Marshall directed it over the top.

Gillingham's earlier sheer energy began to transform itself into a more thoughtful game. Ipswich found themselves doing little more than counterattacking. They also felt the horror of seeing first Osborn hit the base of the post and then the ever-more-dangerous Shaw clout the crossbar. Suddenly, though, in the 73rd minute Gillingham found themselves desperately trying to crowd out a well supported Ipswich break. Reuser threaded the ball through the assembly and Couñago stabbed it in at the far post.

Five minutes later Gillingham were sorely disappointed to go from having every chance of recovery to losing serious hope. Reuser hit the bar but Ipswich maintained their pressure. Marcus Bent, who had replaced Darren Bent, neatly controlled the ball inside the Gillingham penalty area before smashing a fine shot home.

That was encouraging enough for Ipswich's manager, Joe Royle, to suggest that "the play-offs are still wide open and we're in with a shout".

More realistically, a whisper.

Gillingham 1
Smith 28

Ipswich Town 3
Miller 32, Couñago 73, M Bent 78

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 8,508

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