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Gillingham 0, Oxford Utd 1
ALFIE Potter struck late on as Oxford United magnificently toppled league leaders Gillingham at Priestfield tonight.
The winger, who was effectively used through the middle in a new-look side, ran through to beat goalkeeper Stuart Nelson to claim a superb result.
It was far from a smash and grab raid for the visitors, who went toe-to-toe with Gillingham all evening.
There was little to choose between the sides throughout in a fiercely contested game, but United deserved their result for a mature display.
When their moment arrived, Potter showed a ruthlessness to take the chance and punish the home side - an attribute which has been absent in recent weeks.
U’s boss Chris Wilder made four changes from the side which began Saturday’s goalless draw against York City.
Deane Smalley, who had started just once since the Gills visited the Kassam in October, came in up front.
Potter was brought in to play just behind him, as James Constable and Tom Craddock dropped to the bench.
Simon Heslop and Tony Capldi came into midfield for Josh Parker and the ineligible Lewis Montrose.
It looked a gamble against the leaders, but the line-up gelled quickly.
Gillingham were the first to threaten, when Joe Martin robbed Damian Batt and fizzed in a fourth-minute shot which keeper Luke McCormick tipped over.
After the early scare the U’s bounced back to take control of the game.
Potter played with a confidence which had been absent in recent weeks and was an irritation to the Gills back four.
He won three free-kicks in quick succession all within 30 yards of goal, with Adam Chapman firing the last of them into the arms of Nelson.
United showed a real intent in possession and they were a particular threat down the left flank, where Liam Davis and Sean Rigg combined well.
One bustling run from Davis ended with a low cross which found its way to Potter, who could not readjust his feet in time to take advantage.
But Gillingham showed why they have the best defensive record in League Two, with their back four working well under pressure to prevent any clear chances.
The hosts’ lack of success began to frustrate the majority of the crowd, but their side came into the game as an attacking force in the ten minutes before half-time.
Another burst from Martin exposed United’s defence, but the full back’s cross was only flicked goalwards by Adam Birchall and McCormick easily gathered.
Six minutes before the break McCormick was needed to make a far more testing stop.
Bradley Dack, brought on seconds earlier for the injured Myles Weston, should have scored with this first touch, but his close-range shot was too close to the U’s goalkeeper, who parried.
The pattern continued after half-time, as both centre back pairings excelled.
Gillingham withdrew all but Birchall when United pressed forward, strangling them for space.
United, looking for a third successive clean sheet, were equally impressive defensively.
Both sides made changes up front in the final 20 minutes.
Constable replaced Smalley, who had worked extremely hard to occupy the centre backs.
Gillingham threw on Antonio German, who had signed on loan from Brentford hours before the game.
He had a chance to crown his debut with a goal eight minutes from time, but scuffed a shot straight at McCormick.
The previous two meetings between the sides had finished goalless and as the game headed into the final ten minutes another stalemate looked on the cards.
But United stunned Priestfield when Capaldi sent Potter clear and the winger held off a challenge before tucking a neat shot past Nelson and into the net.
Michael Duberry was brought on to help repel Gillingham’s frantic search for an equaliser.
There were some nervous moments, but McCormick went untested and the away fans celebrated a memorable win.