Gillingham's task last night, as outlined by their chairman Paul Scally, was to stop what he described as the Palace train, which had rolled on to a win and a draw since the acrimonious suspension of manager Steve Bruce. By the end Palace for whom a win would have meant going top of the First Division were not so much stopped as derailed as their defence shipped three goals in just over half an hour. The surprise win lifted the Gills four places away from the relegation area.
"We were second best and we got what we deserved nothing," Palace's caretaker manager, Steve Kember, said. "I don't like to think that my players were complacent but too many of them gave performances that weren't up to their full potential. We knew we had to match them physically, but we never did that. It was 3-0, it could have been a lot more."
Palace had gone close after four minutes, Jovan Kirovski's drive skimming the bar, but five minutes later the visiting supporters witnessed the first of what proved to be a series of blows to their morale as the home side took the lead with their first coherent attack.
A through-ball from Nayron Nosworthy reached Marcus Browning on the right and, as Dean Austin was drawn across to cover, Browning found the unattended Guy Ipoua, who drove home a cross-shot.
Eleven minutes later Palace's gloom deepened after they conceded a second goal which owed much to the efforts of their former midfielder Simon Osborn. After being cynically obstructed by Aki Riihilahti as he threatened to break clear on the left, Osborn got up and, using the swirling wind to his advantage, curled a free-kick to the far post where Iffy Onuora rose to nod the ball home.
The Gillingham fans, who had not seen a goal from their team in more than three hours play before this match, were jubilant. "Steve Bruce, there's only one Steve Bruce," they chanted, just to make the visiting fans even more miserable.
Ipoua added to Palace's misery after 32 minutes with a volley for Gillingham's third and his second goal of the night.
Five minutes before the break, Clinton Morrison almost pulled a goal back for Palace with a powerful drive but the Gills' keeper Vince Bartram was equal to it. It was a small glimmer of hope in what had been a very dark 45 minutes for the South Londoners.
As time, and the points, slipped away, many Palace fans diverted themselves by seeking an autograph from their former-goal scorer of legend, Ian Wright, who was discovered in the crowd. How they must have wished he could have been on the other side of the hoardings.
Gillingham (4-4-3): Bartram; Nosworthy, Ashby, Hope, Perpetuini; Browning, Smith, Osborn; King, Onuora (Shaw, 70), Ipoua. Substitutes not used: Butters, Saunders, Patterson, Hessenthaler.
Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Clarke; Edwards, Austin, Mullins; Hopkin, Riihilahti, Kirovski (Berhalter, 78), Rodger (Black, 64), Gray; Morrison, Freedman. Substitutes not used: Kolinko (gk), Thomson, Kabba.
Referee: P Danson (Leicester).
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