Sheffield United came close, mighty close in fact, to recording their fourth straight home win when Gillingham visited Bramall Lane this afternoon.
But a performance bristling with purpose, determination and no little invention failed to deliver the desired result as the visitors’ claimed an extremely hard-fought point.
Nigel Adkins’ team, beaten 4-0 at Priestfield on the opening day of the season, were a much more formidable proposition here and created chances aplenty with Che Adams and Paul Coutts among those to go close.
A combination of profligate finishing, poor fortune and Stuart Nelson’s brilliance, however, combined to ensure none were converted.
It was an undeserved but, given the state of play in the League One table, costly outcome for the South Yorkshire club.
United impressed as they burst out of the blocks against Justin Edinburgh’s side but the score remained deadlocked at the break.
Ryan Flynn thought he had won a 43rd minute penalty after tumbling under a challenge from Stuart Nelson but the Gillingham goalkeeper, who had earlier made several fine blocks to deny the likes of Coutts and Billy Sharp, survived as the officials remained unmoved.
Edinburgh was also infuriated by the decision-making of referee Rob Lewis and his assistants when, just before the hour mark, Andrew Crofts appeared to be tripped on the edge of the box only for the free-kick to be awarded just outside.
United regained their poise to again pose questions of Gillingham’s defence with Adams nearly controlling the ball with the goal at his mercy during the closing stages. But the breakthrough their contribution warranted did not come.
Fast starts have been the key to success, on home soil at least, for United in recent weeks and they made another one here although Gillingham also carried a considerable threat. Adams hit the woodwork from the tightest of angles with a second minute shot before Jake Hessenthaler forced George Long to save from long-distance. Adams, very much the junior partner in what is fast becoming an effective double act with Sharp, appeared determined to enjoy a more prominent role against the visitors from Kent and went close again as United pressed. Nelson, Long’s Gillingham counterpart, demonstrated a safe pair of hands to smother his powerful drive before performing the same trick when some clever work by Flynn and Dean Hammond carved-out a chance for Paul Coutts.
As the half progressed, Nelson was the only thing standing between United and a healthy lead. The 34-year-old excelled himself again to gather Sharp’s first time shot from the edge of the six yard box.
Adkins had warned beforehand that Gillingham would test the hosts’ aerial prowess and, soon after Sharp’s attempt, so it proved when Deji Oshilaja inexplicably headed over the crossbar after meeting Max Ehmer’s touch at the far post.
Another opportunity presented itself for United just before the interval following another decent spell of pressure but Sharp and Flynn got in each other’s way as they hunted down Adams’ slide-rule pass. If the home bench was frustrated then, their patience was stretched even further when, on the next drive forward, Flynn seemed to be clipped by Nelson as he prepared to sweep home but Lewis waved play on.
The Scot, who has spokenly openly about his desire to sign a new contract when his deal expires this summer, was in the thick of things again after meeting Coutts’ wonderful cross to the far post.
At the other end, Flynn feared he had conceded a spot-kick after clipping Crofts but the foul was deemed to have taken place just outside the area.
Matt Done headed high and wide at the far post after Chris Basham, again operating as a wing-back, and Sharp combined well. Hammond went close with a powerful drive from 25 yards out before Adams went close.
Sheffield United: Long, Basham, Flynn, Coutts, Sharp, Done, McEveley, Baptiste, Adams, Edgar, Hammond. Not used: Howard, Woolford, Sammon, Calvert-Lewin, McGahey, Cuvelier, Whiteman.
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer, Al-Abd, Hessenthaler (Williams 32) (Dack 83), Donnelly (McDonald 62), Crofts, Norris, Dickenson, Wright, Oshilaja. Not used: Garmston, Egan, G Morris, A Morris.
Referee: Rob Lewis (Shropshire).