Lester's finesse leaves Gillingham floundering

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The Independent Football

The match-day programme described in gory detail how Nottingham Forest had won all four games they had ever played against Gillingham, including a 9-2 thrashing some 50 years ago.

The match-day programme described in gory detail how Nottingham Forest had won all four games they had ever played against Gillingham, including a 9-2 thrashing some 50 years ago.

The scoreline was not quite so horrific this time round, but Forest, who now boast the best away record in the Nationwide First Division with six wins, certainly could have come close to matching their feat of half a century ago. As it was, it fell to Jack Lester to do the damage, scoring all three goals for his first hat-trick since joining Forest from Grimsby in January.

Not that this win - Forest's fourth consecutive victory - did much to their League position, as they remain in ninth place, but they are now just one point off the play-off zone.

Gillingham, by contrast, are in something of a slump having now won just once in their last eight games, and they remain uncomfortably close to the relegation zone.

Their player-manager, Andy Hessenthaler, conceded they had deserved to lose, in the end blaming the margin of defeat on his players leaving space in defence as they pressed forward to get back in the game.

He said: "We tried too hard and mistakes crept in. In the second half we couldn't string together enough passes but Forest played very well."

His counterpart, David Platt, thought so. He said: "We were worth the win and especially counter-attacked very well. Now we are delicately poised in the table."

He was full of praise for Lester, saying: "He is a constant threat, leads the line well, and works the channels. He keeps centre-halves on their toes."

Lester had threatened to score earlier than the ninth minute, when, on the counter-attack from Robbie Blake's pass, he found himself in space and drilled the ball past Vince Bartram from 18 yards for what he considered his best of the day.

Gillingham's method of attack all afternoon was high balls to Iffy Onuora but, despite plenty of first-half possession, that ploy worked only once, with 18 minutes gone, as the striker headed home Ty Gooden's pass from close range.

Hessenthaler felt that was when Gillingham were in control, and Andy Thomson and Paul Smith both went close before Forest, against the run of play, scored their crucial second goal in injury time that had accrued from an injury to Forest's Alan Rogers.

Again on the counter, Lester tapped in from Blake's pass, and they could have finished it off a minute later but for Blake hitting the crossbar.

However Lester, and Forest, eventually got their third after 76 minutes, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances. With the home defence claiming offside, Gary Jones teed up Lester, who ended Gillingham's hopes with a shot that went in off Bartram's body.

Goals: Lester (9) 0-1; Onuora (18) 1-1; Lester (45) 1-2; Lester (76) 1-3.

Gillingham (3-5-2): Bartram; Ashby, Pennock, Hope; Patterson (Southall, 63), Gooden, Hessenthaler, Thomson, Smith; Shaw (King, 75) Onuora. Substitutes not used: Browning, Saunders, Lewis.

Nottingham Forest (3-5-2): Beasant; Bart-Williams, Edwards, Vaughan; Rogers (Olsen, 27), Prutton, Jones, Scimeca, Johnson; Lester, Blake (Williams, 70). Substitutes not used: John, Harewood, Roche (gk).

Referee: D Crick (Surrey).

Booking: Nottingham Forest: Jones.

Man of the match: Lester.

Attendance: 9,884.

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