In seven previous meetings Accrington Stanley and Gillingham had never fought out a draw – so there was a certain inevitability about the fact that the two teams had to settle for a point each at Priestfield.
A stalemate looked on the cards as they slugged out a goalless 83 minutes before a frantic finish saw Ian Craney give the Reds the lead and Luke Rooney level from the penalty spot seconds later.
Manager John Coleman made two changes from the side that had also drawn at Barnet a week earlier, with Craig Lindfield and Peter Murphy coming in after impressing in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in midweek.
Goalkeeper Sean Murdoch was restored to the starting line up having been left on the bench for that Carlisle match, and quickly had to be on his mettle. Charlie Lee tested the Stanley number one in the third minute, receiving the ball inside the box and shooting low, with Murdoch getting down to his left to push the effort away.
Stanley were trying to force errors by pressing the ball, and Padraig Amond was almost a beneficiary three times in the first period. First the Irishman drove a shot into defender Matt Lawrence from a counter attack before he fired the ball across the face of goal and then lashed over the top when well placed.
Gillingham were enjoying the territorial advantage but creating few openings, though they went close in the 33rd minute. Danny Jackman fired in a corner to the unmarked Lee, but his effort was cleared out of the six-yard box by Dean Winnard.
At the other end Ross Flitney had only had to field crosses until seven minutes from the break when Lindfield squared for Kevin McIntyre on the left and the home goalkeeper was called upon to turn his shot behind for a corner.
Things were all square at the break, but before the whistle went Stanley felt they should have been facing ten men. Jackman caught Andy Procter on the half way line after the ball had gone and referee Darren Sheldrake elected to show a yellow card, with Reds’ players and management calling for a red.
After the interval things were a little more open, with Lewis Montrose seeing an effort fly over the Stanley bar early on. With 58 on the watch Stanley should have gone in front when Winnard could only guide his header from a corner straight at Flitney.
Gillingham broke away and Danny Kedwell released Rooney down the left. The wideman got into the area, but his shot went wide.
With seven minutes left the Reds went in front, with Lindfield running in from the left and finding Murphy, who showed good skill to control the ball, turn and feed Craney. The sub did the rest, marking his 200th club appearance with a finish beyond Flitney into the left corner of the net.
But celebrations were to be short lived as the Gills levelled straight from the restart. From the kick off they fired a high ball down the Stanley left and with McIntyre seemingly poleaxed by an aerial challenge play continued. Kedwell’s cross was headed away but as he went for the rebound he was caught by Louis Moult and tumbled, prompting referee Darren Sheldrake to point to the spot.
Kedwell went off injured, leaving Rooney to take the kick and he smashed it in off the right upright to give Andy Hessenthaler’s team a share of the spoils.