It was frustration all round for Carlisle United as they came away from Gillingham with nothing to show from a game they dominated for long periods without quite managing to find a way through.
Match official Charlie Breakspear took centre stage as he denied the Cumbrians what looked to be a clear-cut penalty before pointing to the spot at the other end to hand the prolific Danny Kedwell the chance to seal the points from the spot.
And there was more controversy late in the day when Lee Miller received his marching orders after a flick of the leg following a tangle in the box. A second yellow for Gills defender Leon Legge followed and it was ten against ten as the home side sat deep and held on to make strengthen Peter Taylor’s claims to a permanent appointment at the Priestfield Stadium.
A slow start brought, dictated by a strong wind, made passing the ball with any kind of accuracy a difficult task but Matt Robson won possession in midfield to create the first chance of the day. He shot from distance and it bounced behind for a corner.
Set pieces were always going to play a part and Robson was disappointed when his powerful 28-yard effort cannoned into the wall. Prince Buaben thought he was about to mark his full debut with an early goal but Legge jumped across to make the block.
A high ball caused problems for Carlisle as it hung in the wind and dropped at the edge of their box and Danny Kedwell did well to bring it under control. Charlie Lee put his boot through it as a gap opened up but his shot whisked over the bar.
The Cumbrians started to impose themselves and a string of crosses from Robson eventually led to an opening for Liam Noble as he lurked patiently behind the front line. He connected with a sweet volley but it ricocheted behind to safety off Barrett.
A foul on Chantler gave Noble the chance to swing another ball into the box and Sean O’Hanlon moved first to get his head to the ball. Nelson was beaten but it skimmed past the post as Miller steamed in to try to get a touch.
It was all about the visitors as they moved the ball well and they carved the Gills wide open on the half hour when Buaben and Robson linked passes in the centre circle. The wide man kept his run going but he couldn’t get the direction he needed to squeeze his shot past Nelson as he dropped low to grasp it.
The Cumbrians upped the pace and threw more men forward as they restricted Gillingham to hopeful long balls but they remained frustrated as they couldn’t quite find a way through. The lively Prince Buaben had yet another snapshot blocked at source moments before O’Hanlon looped a header at the far post only for Nelson to leap from his line to grab it.
The Cumbrians felt they’d been denied a cast iron penalty in time added on at the end of the first half when Amoo ghosted past two challenges before sending in a low cross. Robson met that with a perfect volley from Robson, just eight yards out, and there were huge screams for handball as Michael Harriman slipped to the floor. The referee took one look and immediately waved play on despite a double movement of the hand from the lucky defender.
The home side sharpened up after the break and Kedwell showed confidence with an instinctive volley from a very tight angle. Gillespie claimed it as it skipped up off the greasy surface.
A huge free kick from Nelson from deep inside the Gills half followed and the keeper had to spread himself as Barrett directed a downward header at the far corner. The increased pressure was made to count when Gillespie punched a plunging cross from beneath his bar. Danny Hollands got to the half clearance a moment before Danny Livesey and the touch on his heels was enough to send him sprawling to the floor. The unflappable Danny Kedwell did the rest with an unstoppable and emphatic spot kick finish.
United were stung and they battled hard to reassert their authority as Amoo asked for more of the ball. One touch football left him with options and he wheeled away in horror as he stroked a decent opening into the stands. Lee Miller then released the same man with a fantastic slide rule pass but he put it too close to Nelson as he tried to bend it into the far corner as he burst through on the left.
Referee Charlie Breakspear then took centre stage as he mulled over a fracas in the box involving Lee Miller. He decided he’d seen a flick of a leg from the big striker and he stunned everyone when he produced a straight red card. The numerical balance was restored almost immediately when Leon Legge arrived late on David Amoo to receive his second yellow of the day.
The closing stages became frantic as the game stretched itself out and it needed excellent goalkeeping from Gillespie to deny substitute Cody McDonald his moment of late glory.
Carlisle threw men forward in search of an equaliser, with Symington and Berrett peppering the box, but Gillespie was the man of the moment again when Chris Whelpdale weaved his way into a shooting position. The keeper stayed big and spread himself to make another important stop.
Another low cross from Symington went begging as it fizzed across the face of goal and a succession of blocks protected the slender Gillingham lead until the final whistle eventually blew on a very frustrating away day on the banks of the Medway.
Gills - Kedwell (62 pen)
Gills - Legge (26 & 81), Lee (44)
United - Livesey (10), Amoo (53), O'Hanlon (56) - Miller sent off (79)
Gillingham - Nelson, Martin, Linganzi (Dack 34), Legge, Whelpdale, Kedwell, Weston (McDonald 46), Lee (Gregory 46), Hollands, Harriman, Barrett. Subs - Davies, Akinfenwa, German, Howard.
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Chimbonda, Livesey (Berrett 71), O'Hanlon, Chantler (Guy 75), Thirlwell, Buaben, Noble (Symington 58), Amoo, Miller, Robson. Subs - Fleming, Potts, Beck, Eccleston.
Referee - Mr Charles Breakspear
Attendance - 5,697 (260 away fans)