Photographs courtesy of All Sports Kent (Bob Searle)
Four goals in the second half was enough to see Gillingham cap off a win over Luton Town LFC and spring into third place in the league at the expense of the visiting side.
After last weeks victory of Denham, Gillingham faced 3rd placed Luton who had been in good league form since the turn of the year with three wins out of four, only falling to defeat to top of the table Crystal Palace. Manager Jack Wheeler knew his side would be in for a tough test at Chatham, making two changes as Madison North was called back into the starting eleven while Ashleigh Loosemore returned to the fold after a few weeks on the sideline with injury.
Gillingham had a stuttered first half last week, something they looked to amend for this week, retaining a lot of possession in the opening quarter but it was to be the visitors that sprung the first chance of the game. Erisa Byron turned a chance over the bar from the right hand side of the six yard box after Natasha Fensome got past the Gills fullback to deliver a cross to the far post.
The talking point of the first half came on the half hour mark, Luton found themselves on an uphill task as they went down to ten players, Zara Carroll got her marching orders for a second bookable offence. With the Hatters forward already on a yellow card, a challenge from behind on Kallie Balfour as the ball was going out of play for a throw in had the referee Marcin Indyk in no mind to reach for another yellow and brandish the red card.
Although shorter on numbers Luton were resilient till half time, only allowing Gillingham to a solitary chance on goal before the break, Katie Hardaker with a deflected shot onto the bar from a Madison North corner.
Half Time: Gillingham LFC 0 Luton Town LFC 0
After the half time interval and with just five minutes on the clock of the second half, Gills looked to be heading into the lead. Jade Keogh found space to thread in Lauren Davis into the box and as the Gills winger broke through on goal her run was halted unfairly by Luton defender Rachel Kosky and the referee duly pointed for a penalty. Shannon Redhouse stepped up to take the spot kick, her effort was low but well within the keepers reach and Rachael Evans saved the shot much to Luton’s relief.
The penalty save sparked life into Luton, who within minutes nearly took the lead themselves, Fensome created space on the left to cross a dangerous ball into the six yard box, as the dangerous ball bounced in to Joanne Rutherford she couldn’t beat Gills keeper Courtney Shanly who with quick reactions pushed the ball to safety from close range.
Gillingham’s break through came on the hour mark, Hardaker’s ball through the middle channel was smartly knocked on over the top of the Luton defence by Davis. Balfour was quick to react bustling past two defenders marking her and slotted a shot ten yards out past Evans in the Luton goal.
Gills quickly looked to add to the scoreline, Redhouse neatly intercepted a Luton defenders pass on the edge of the box, noticing Davis on the edge of the area a smart pass gave the winger time to shoot, but her curling effort was just high of the target.
The single goal lead still looked nervy for Gillingham though, Luton came close to a leveler not long after. Luton forward Fensome on the left hand side causing some problems for Gillingham, a square ball on the edge of the box set up Byron for a shot but was calmly dealt with by Shanly.
Gills doubled their advantage on the 72nd minute, Hardaker’s corner fell to Balfour on the far side of the area and a sweet right foot volley across the goal rocketed past the Luton keeper.
Luton by no means looked out of it, Fensome again teaming up with Byron to force Gills keeper Shanly into a fine acrobatic save before Lauren Williams cleared the ball out to safety.
Gills did seal the victory three minutes later, North’s pass set up Davis into the box and on goal, the winger at an acute angle managed to execute a delightful lob over the Luton keeper and nestle the ball into the far bottom corner of the goal.
But that wasn’t to be that in the game, Gillingham found one more quality finish out the hat to increase the score line. Captain and centre back Lauren Williams found the top corner from the edge of the box with a fine strike past the fingertips of the diving Luton keeper.
Gillingham came close again in the closing stages, second half substitute Lydia Wills found Balfour inside the box and her effort rattled off the crossbar to deny the striker her hat trick on the day. In the follow up, Emma Tune saw her looping shot from the edge of the area over the bar and onto the roof of the netting.
Full Time: Gillingham LFC 4 Luton Town LFC 0
Gillingham go third with the victory over Luton, nine points off the top of the league with two fixtures in hand. Gills host Lowestoft LFC and Old Actonians LFC both at home in the next two weeks.
Gillingham: Courtney Shanly, Lauren Williams, Ashleigh Loosemore, Rachel Ahern, Lauren Davis (Georgia Reece 76), Emma Tune, Katie Hardaker, Jade Keogh, Kallie Balfour, Shannon Redhouse (Lydia Wills 65), Madison North
Subs: Imogen Bullivant, Georgia Reece, Lydia Wills
GOALS: Balfour 60 72, Davis 75, Williams 84
Luton Town: Rachael Evans, Rachel Kosky, Rachel Carter, Michelle Byrne, Jessica McKay, Zara Carroll, Natasha Fensome, Joanne Rutherford, Shannon Pratt, Erisa Byron, Shanice Jiminez
Subs: Samiara Khan, Abby Luby, Hollie Staples
Referee: Marcin Indyk
Assistant Referees: Aimee Kier, Peter Worton