Match report: Gillingham 1, Port Vale 2
LEE Hughes was last night claiming the goal which sent Vale to the top of the table.
The debutant striker looked to have got the last touch in a goal-mouth melee as the Valiants grabbed a fabulous 2-1 win at long-timeleaders and promotion rivals Gillingham.
Tom Pope had grabbed his 26th goal of the season after only four minutes and Hughes increased the lead after 20. Though the home side pulled one back a minute later, the visitors' defence, superbly marshalled by another new signing in Darren Purse, held firm.
Hughes started up front alongside Pope, while Purse was handed his debut in central defence.
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Ben Williamson and Joe Davis were the pair to make way, and there were two more changes to the team which beat Plymouth last week.
Chris Shuker was replaced by Ryan Burge in the centre of midfield, while Richard Duffy returned to the defence, with Rob Taylor dropping to the bench.
Vale got off to the best possible start with a goal after just three minutes.
Adam Yates raced down the left and cut inside to deliver a peach of a right-footed cross and that man Pope climbed highest to send a perfectly placed header beyond goalkeeper Stuart Nelson and into the corner of the net.
It was just what the doctor ordered to put the home side on the back foot early on, though Gillingham went close to an equaliser soon after when Andy Frampton fired just wide from 25 yards.
Though Kedwell went close again with a header that was just too high following a long throw from Chris Whelpdale, Vale were more than holding their own.
Myles Weston was causing a problem with his pace down the left and he troubled Chris Neal with a 15th-minute shot that had the keeper diving to turn the ball around his near post.
The Valiants surged further in front after 20 minutes. Pope forced a great save from Nelson with a header from a Ryan Burge free-kick and,in the ensuing melee inside the Gills' six-yard box, defender Adam Barrett seemed to deflect the ball into his own goal under pressure from Hughes, though the striker was quick to claim the last touch afterwards.
But the visitors were two up for only one minute as Gillingham hit straight back. Kedwell found space inside the penalty area and rattled a superbly-struck shot from 16 yards into the top corner.
Hughes was booked for an unnecessary shove on a defender after 38 minutes, but Vale went into the break well satisfied with their work in the first half.
Pope was wide of the target, having pulled the trigger from distance after 55 minutes, and as Gillingham struggled to make headway, boss Martin Allen made a double switch after 65, taking off Payne and Burton and throwing on Steven Gregory and Adam Birchall.
Vale, superbly marshalled at the back by Purse, looked in little trouble and had claims for a penalty waved away when Pope looked to have been sent tumbling inside the box by Leon Legge.
The visitors were under pressure after 74 minutes when they were lucky not to have conceded a second goal.
Birchall's effort from 12 yards was saved by Neal and his follow-up cleared off the line by Ashley Vincent. Whelpdale then smashed a shot over from the edge of the area.
Neal then came to the rescue again with 10 minutes to go, standing firm to turn away another Birchall shot from close range.
Substitute Ben Williamson was through on goal in injury time, but fired wide just when you expected the net to bulge.
It mattered little in the end. Vale had done enough.
Gillingham: Nelson, Fish, Martin, Payne (Gregory, 65), Legge, Whelpdale (Lee, 75), Kedwell, Frampton, Burton (A Birchall, 65), Weston, Barrett. Subs not used: Strevens, Jackman, Allen, Forecast.
Port Vale: Neal, Duffy, Chilvers, Purse, Yates, Myrie-Williams (Andrew, 76), Burge, Loft, Vincent (Taylor, 81), Pope, Hughes (Williamson, 75). Subs not used: Johnson, Shuker, Davis, C Birchall.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)