Hessenthaler endures nervy ride as Gillingham avoid drop

Stoke City 0 Gillingham 0
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The Independent Football

You could argue it was all about what might have happened rather than what did happen. A Gillingham side perceived as a last-day accident-in-the-making, a text message and radio hotline to Bescot and any number of old-boy contributions ... the ingredients were there for some rare old drama.

Gripping it certainly was to the end, but mainly for the unfolding events elsewhere.

On the pitch at the Britannia Stadium, it was much more mundane, although Kent's only Nationwide League representatives deserve credit for their fortitude in preserving this nervy deadlock and their four-year-old First Division status.

The only way a draw wouldn't have been enough for them was in the unlikely event of a Walsall win by three goals.

And, as ever, the terrace grapevine did its bit - if only to a point. "Our fans let us know what was happening in the other game but I came off the pitch thinking Rotherham had won 3-2," said the Gillingham player-manager, Andy Hessenthaler.

The former Gillingham midfielder, Simon Osborn, played no little part in the happenings in the West Midlands while three men up against their old employers had a big say 45 minutes north.

The one-time Priestfield hero, Carl Asaba, miscued from one glaring chance to silence the taunts from a tremendous 3,500-strong away following and saw a close-range effort blocked on the line late in the second half.

Gillingham, having also survived thanks to a wayward header from Gifton Noel-Williams, had their own fleeting opportunities to ease the tension, only for Barry Ashby's header to be nodded off the line by Karl Henry and for the clean-through Patrick Agyemang to hit the legs of Ed de Goey.

They were certainly done no favours by Tony Pulis's team. The manager had kicked off his programme notes by saying he would like to extend "the warmest of welcomes to almost everyone from my former club".

The one name missing from his guest list would have been the Gillingham chairman and chief executive, Paul Scally, with whom he remains daggers drawn following their bitter parting in 1999.

There was only warmth, though, for the former Ajax and Netherlands midfielder, Peter Hoekstra, who took to the microphone to sing at the end of a game which marked his farewell, and that of the referee, George Cain. What with an appearance by a male streaker from the Boothen End in the second half, it was a newsy old lunchtime as goalless draws go.

Stoke City (4-4-2): De Goey; Halls, Thomas, Taggart, Hall; Henry (Neal, 69), Russell, Clarke, Commons (Hoekstra, 69); Noel-Williams, Asaba. Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Owen, Wilkinson.

Gillingham (3-5-2): Banks; Cox, Ashby, Hope; Southall, Saunders, Hessenthaler, Pouton (Spiller, 66), Hills; Agyemang (Jarvis, 84), Wales (Sidibe, 71). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Johnson.

Referee: G Cain (Lancashire).

Booking: Stoke City: Taggart.

Man of the match: Russell.

Attendance: 19,240.