Gillingham 1 Accrington Stanley 0 match report: Matt Fish breathes life into Gills to stretch lead

Gillingham's League Two promotion charge stays on course, but Accrington's survival is in doubt

Priestfield Stadium

It was not just the numbing cold that chilled Accrington Stanley yesterday. While Gillingham marched on towards the League Two title, only York City's defeat to Torquay at Plainmoor kept Stanley from slipping back into League Two's relegation zone.

It took the Lancashire club 44 years to regain the Football League place surrendered  when debts forced them to resign in 1962. This loss leaves that status very much in peril. A match away to the champions-elect may look like one that could be written off but Stanley had travelled south in hope after successive wins with seven goals scored. Their hosts were not only showing poorer form but have been vulnerable at home. 

"The lads are disappointed as we really fancied ourselves today," manager Leam Richardson told Stanley's website afterwards. "We were outstanding in the second half. At times we played them off the park."

Gillingham's Martin Allen said, however, that he never feared his team would lose the lead provided by Matt Fish's stunning goal 24 minutes into a first half his team controlled. Stanley did then dominate much of the second half but despite utilising two former England international strikers were unable to gain reward.

"We now have six matches we must win," said Richardson, "but we are playing good football and creating chances so we must be positive."

Looming over everyone at Stanley is the knowledge that relegation to the Conference could be ruinous. Only Torquay and Oxford of the 16 clubs to be relegated in the last eight seasons have returned to stay and four have experienced severe financial problems. In the case of Rushden & Diamonds these were terminal. Accrington, with their small supporter base (at 1,620 their average gate is the league's lowest), would certainly have reason to fear the drop.

'Pride not £££' read a banner hanging in the corner of Priestfield Stadium allocated to the 28 away fans. It is an admirable attitude but one borne of necessity not choice. The club has the division's lowest budget yet still failed to pay players' wages on time this month. Stanley work hard to engage with its community raising £1,600 for a local charity at their midweek win over Wimbledon and polling the fans to see what they wanted (a new toilet block and covered bar in the home end being the answer).

Yet even in Accrington the English game's cash and glamour attracts exotic imported talent. They were without Rommy Boco, who is on World Cup duty with Benin in Algeria on Wednesday, but did include Congo DR international Amine Linganzi.

A more recognisable figure led the line: former Everton striker Francis Jeffers who a decade ago scored on his only international appearance but whose career has been in steady decline ever since with his most recent club in Malta.

Gillingham had their own glamour striker, Deon Burton, who played in the 1998 World Cup for Jamaica. He was first to threaten but Tom Aldred scrambled his 18th-minute header off the line after Leon Legge had headed back Charlie Allen's free-kick. When Aldred followed up by heading away Danny Kedwell's goalbund header it looked as if it might take something special to break the deadlock. On cue Fish provided just that, the right-back cutting in from the flank to unleash a left-foot drive which went in off the underside of the bar.

Shortly before the break Chris Whelpdale should have put doubled Gills' lead but scuffed his chip when clear and with Joe Martin, watched by his father, former England defender Alvin, fizzing a shot narrowly wide Gills' pressure had scant reward.

Jeffers had been a spectator in the first period but after the break dropped deeper and Stanley began to keep possession. Peter Murphy, then Jeffers with a curling shot, brought Stuart Nelson into action and Gills grew anxious. Jeffers sent a glancing header, the same manner in which he scored his England goal, just wide, but then a cold hamstring twanged. Off the 32-year-old limped to cries of 'old man' from the home support, and on came Stanley's other ex-England veteran, James Beattie.

He won a couple of headers but did little else against the tightest defence in the division. It was nevertheless a nervy finish with all the relevant cliches: Gills taking the ball into the corner flag, Stanley keeper Paul Rachubka coming up for corners, and 10,000 fans whistling for the end.

Gills are now eight points clear and not only promotion seems certain but also their first honour since winning this division 49 years ago. For Stanley fans the only consolation was the free burger and chips Gills provided them at half-time.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas