Henderson punishes Wigan's wastefulness

Gillingham 2 - Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Online

Quite against all the indications of their respective League positions and the first half at Priestfield Stadium yesterday, Gillingham persecuted Wigan for failing to secure a match they had in their grasp.

Quite against all the indications of their respective League positions and the first half at Priestfield Stadium yesterday, Gillingham persecuted Wigan for failing to secure a match they had in their grasp.

Pressure, so managers say, is easily controlled when you're going for a title or promotion. Real pressure is being near the bottom, like Gillingham, where the fight against relegation can seriously damage your health. Stan Ternent, their manager, did not need to be reminded of that yesterday.

Just as he thought his troubled team were looking upwards, West Ham's fortunate 1-0 win had sent them back and made the visit of top-of-the-table Wigan all the more threatening.

The most significant threat that Wigan pose to any team is the striking combination of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts who began the match with a combined total of 36 goals. Here they imposed themselves on the Gillingham defence early enough to give the impression that it was only a matter of time before they broke through.

Six minutes in and Roberts was sending in a searing shot that brushed the crossbar. Ellington's strength on the ground and his power in the air became a constant problem and the two players had an understanding that was a well-developed link.

It took Gillingham half an hour to raise more than the odd long ball in the vague direction of Darius Henderson, and when they did break away they were easily contained. Gillingham's Nicky Southall did at least worry the Wigan defence when his high ball had just about been caught by John Filan, who was bundled over by Henderson. The goalkeeper's angry reaction brought him a booking as well as the Gillingham striker.

Wigan failed to exploit their clear superiority, and even allowed Gillingham to bring them down to something akin to their own standards. Indeed, after 52 minutes, their defence was static when the Gillingham substitute Mamady Sidibe slid the ball low across their penalty area and Henderson diverted it past Filan.

Three minutes later Ellington reacted in typically exciting style. Gillingham had failed to mop up an attack that was none too threatening. The ball ended at Ellington's feet and he drove in his 21st goal of the season from some 25 yards.

If any Gillingham player was going to haul them back again, it had to be the abrasive Henderson. Sure enough, when, in the 65th minute, Sidibe pushed the ball wide across the penalty area, Filan chased out, but Henderson beat him to it and lifted the ball over him and into goal.

Wigan reacted strongly. The excellent, elusive Gary Teale weaved in and out and struck a shot on to the bar. Then, amazingly, Roberts hit the post from an unopposed position two yards out, and Lee McCulloch did the same with a header.

Had the urgency and purpose Wigan put into the last quarter of an hour been seen after they had first allowed Gillingham to have a voice, they would surely have won by a substantial margin.

Although the result did not deprive Wigan of their leading position on goal difference it may well have put some doubts in their minds, though they would have, of course, not called it pressure.

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