Full-time: Bristol Rovers 0 Gillingham 2
Bristol Rovers boss John Ward has this afternoon suffered the first defeat since succeeding Mark McGhee last month.
Ward had managed to secure a victory and a draw in his first two games in charge – but was unable to extend that unbeaten run to three games after seeing a clinical Gillingham side maintain their promotion charge at the Memorial Stadium this afternoon.
Ward watched his side show plenty of endeavour – but a lack of creativity proved costly in a game which threatened to be a one-sided rout when Gillingham took the lead in the third minute.
That opener came off the boot of Chris Whelpdale, who produced a blistering shot from the left-hand corner of the penalty area to supply the perfect finish to a sweeping move by Martin Allen's side.
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Rovers, surprisingly, did not capitulate following that early setback and proceeded to take the game to the League Two leaders for the remainder of an opening period – only to allow Gillingham striker Deon Burton the opportunity to double the advantage against the run of play in the 43rd minute.
The goal was simple in creation – a route one clearance from goalkeeper Stuart Nelson flicked into the path of Burton by Adam Birchall – despite the best efforts of Rovers' debutant Mark McChrystal to win the ball in the air.
Burton still had a bit to do when collecting the ball inside the penalty area – but a deft touch was executed to evade Garry Kenneth's challenge to create the time and space to beat Steve Mildenhall with a powerful finish.
Rovers, however, had been unlucky not to level the scores in the 18th minute when John-Joe O'Toole's side-footed effort from close-range hit the inside of a post before rolling away to safety after the midfielder connected cleanly with Tom Parkes' cross.
Ward changed things around at the start of the opening period; young striker Tom Hitchcock introduced to form a two-man partnership with Eliot Richards after Joe Anyinsah had been asked to plough a lone furrow throughout the opening period.
Fabian Broghammer's low free-kick – that zipped dangerously across the six-yard box before being deflected wide – and Richards' speculative effort from distance in stoppage time being the closest Rovers came to finding a way through a resolute Gillingham defence that was clearly content to sit on the lead they had carved out in the opening 45 minutes.
Rovers (4-5-1): Mildenhall; Smith, Kenneth, McChrystal, Brown; Richards, Clucas, Parkes, O'Toole, Broghammer; Anyinsah. Subs: Gough, Woodards, Norburn, Harrison, Harding, Hitchcock, Lockyer.
Gillingham (4-4-2): Nelson; Fish, Legge, Barrett, Martin; Whelpdale, Frampton, Payne, Weston; Burton, Birchall. Subs: Forecast, Lee, Kedwell, Jackman, Allen, Davies, Gregory.