The greatest games of the last 25 years – No 25


25) 1998-99 GILLS 1 PRESTON N E 0
(PLAY OFF SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG)

The Rainham End’s last stand and perhaps it’s finest moment. The end result was a trip to Wembley and total euphoria but the match from a Gillingham point of view was almost unwatchable. The tension was overwhelming, the atmosphere hysterical, the emotion on a hot, humid night was heightened to unbearable levels. We all cared too much. The crowd was still settling down when after just sixty four seconds Andy Hessenthaler scored. The pocket dynamo received the ball in midfield, it was laid back to Ashby, he guided it through to Asaba on the edge of the box and he touched it invitingly into the path of the onrushing Hess.. He took the ball on before arrowing the ball low, under Lucas and into the Town End net. Priestfield exploded in rapture, years of pent up frustration were unleashed by a seething crowd baying with primordial rage. The Gills then found themselves a mere eighty-nine minutes from Wembley…

Those minutes seemed like weeks, it was horrible, horrible stuff. The heroes in Blue and Black, battled and fought and showed all the intrinsic qualities of a Pulis side but could not kill off Preston. The visitors swept forward but were rarely allowed a sight of goal. It was relentless, gripping stuff. The Gills fans were almost beside themselves with panic and excitement. Watching the game later on video reveals only a few real chances for either side but it was compelling all the same. It was all in the head, a mental challenge which became pure torture as the minutes ticked away. The last ten minutes saw a wall of noise rattling the old ground to its very foundations, and then after five ghastly minutes of injury time referee Halsey blew time on a night we’ll never ever forget.

Bartram, Southall, Ashby, Smith, Butters, Pennock, Patterson, Hessenthaler, Asaba (Hodge), Galloway (Saunders), Taylor.

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