- Saturday, 07 April 2012
- Written by Modou Lamin Beyai
Two hotly-disputed penalty decisions overshadowed a game which extended Mustapha Carayol’s Bristol Rovers unbeaten home record under Mark McGhee – but could have dealt a potentially fatal blow to Gillingham’s play-off aspirations.
All four goals came after the break. Chris Whelpdale fired the Gills in front, before substitute Eliot Richards and Mustapha Carayol looked to have put Rovers on the road to victory but substitute Dennis Oli nodded home a last-gasp leveller which salvaged a point for the visitors – although it may not be enough to keep their promotion dream alive from what manager Andy Hessenthaler had labelled a must-win game.
The outcome could easily have been different after two highly controversial penalty calls by referee Dean Whitestone. He awarded Gillingham a generous first-half spot-kick. which brought a superb double save from Rovers keeper Scott Bevan – then turned down what looked a nailed-on spot-kick for the home side in the second half after Matt Harrold was hauled down inside the box.
Gambian Mustapha Carayol went close to handing Rovers an early lead when he let fly from 20 yards with a viciously swerving right-foot shot in the eighth minute. Gills’ keeper Paulo Gazzaniga appeared to get a touch to help it over the crossbar, but referee Whitestone awarded a goal-kick. Rovers had a couple of escapes in the space of three minutes. First, Lewis Montrose supplied a cross from the right which flew across the face of the Pirates’ goal – but Whelpdale somehow failed to make contact with the ball at the far post.
Then, a poor pass from Craig Stanley – presumably intended for Bevan – went straight to Kedwell just outside the penalty area, only for the Gillingham striker to blaze his shot over the top. Joe Martin received the first caution of the game for a clumsy challenge which sent Danny Woodards tumbling near the touchline, and Matthew Lund’s delivery from the resulting free-kick took an awkward bounce off a dry pitch and bounced just over Matt Harrold’s head in front of goal.
The game exploded into life in the 26th minute, sparked by a moment of controversy. It appeared that Danny Kedwell had to score when he was set up by Rowan Vine inside the box, but Woodards raced in to make a superb close-range block to prevent the shot reaching goal. Gillingham, however, complained that the ball had struck the defender's arm and, after consulting his assistant Nick Hobbs, referee Whitestone pointed to the spot.
The decision looked harsh – but justice was done when Bevan dived to his right to make an excellent double stop, first blocking Kedwell’s poor penalty strike and then reacting smartly to deny Vine from the follow-up. Bevan was called into action again four minutes before the break. Although he couldn’t hold a low shot from Montrose, he again showed sharp reactions to smother Danny Jackman’s attempt from the loose ball.
Rovers almost made a breakthrough early in the second half when Harrold fed Lund, whose low shot from the edge of the box was saved well by Gazzaniga. But it was the visitors who drew first blood in the 55th minute. As the home defence stood off, Kedwell laid the ball back for Whelpdale to fire a fierce, rising shot into the corner of the net from 16 yards. Their lead lasted less than three minutes, however, as the home side summoned up a quick response.
Substitute Matt Gill was the creator, seizing on a loose ball inside the box and floating over a cross from the byline which Richards headed home. Gazzaniga got a hand to the ball, but could not keep it out. Having awarded the visitors a dubious spot-kick, referee Whitestone then enraged home fans further by turning down what looked a cast-iron penalty for Rovers.
Harrold was brought down inside the penalty area by Connor Essam, who made no contact with the ball, but the official waved away the Pirates’ appeals. Rovers were not to be denied though, and Carayol fired them in front ten minutes from time after Harrold chested the ball on and allowed the Gambian the opportunity to break through.
He almost added a second in the closing moments, but Gazzaniga managed to block a fierce angled drive. Gillingham snatched a late leveller after slack defending by Rovers. Keeper Gazzaniga’s long clearance was allowed to bounce into the Pirates’ penalty area and substitute Oli looped a header over Bevan.