Fejiri Okenabirhie’s red card was the turning point in Gillingham’s come-from-behind 2-1 win over Doncaster, according to Gills assistant manager Paul Raynor.
Ben Sheaf had given Rovers the lead with a sublime 20-yard strike but Okenabirhie saw red in the 38th minute for appearing to elbow Gillingham right-back Barry Fuller, sparking the hosts’ turnaround at Priestfield.
Cameron John was unfortunate to net two own goals, the first just before half-time and the second in the 67th minute, to condemn the visitors but Raynor believes it was Doncaster being reduced to 10 men that enabled his side to extend their unbeaten league run to 13 games.
“It wasn’t a vintage performance – it was gritty and we had to grind it out, so I’m delighted to take the three points,” he said.
“We scored crucial goals at crucial times and the sending off had a big say in how the game panned out.
“It looked as though he (Okenabirhie) may have swung at Barry Fuller. Nobody wants to think that somebody’s deliberately gone and elbowed somebody.
“We don’t know if it was deliberate – only their boy will know that – but it was right in front of us and it looked pretty obvious to us.”
Doncaster boss Darren Moore also accepted Okenabirhie’s sending off, although he was disappointed his side couldn’t find a way to grind out a result.
“I’ve got no complaints,” said Moore. “He’s put his arm up to try and control the ball but the only problem is that he’s caught Barry Fuller in the face.
“These things come and you’ve got to rise above it.”
John’s first own goal came when Tom O’Connor’s corner appeared to deflect in off the Rovers defender, before he sliced Jordan Roberts’ cross into his own net midway through the second half.
Raynor was keen to give O’Connor credit for the first, saying: “I think the first one from Tom’s in-swinging corner was over the line when their lad scuffed it.
“Then Jordan Roberts puts in a fantastic ball for our second. A cross of that quality gave their defender nightmares – he didn’t know how to deal with it.”
And Moore is convinced his 20-year-old defender will use the double misfortune as a learning experience.
“When you look at the two goals we conceded, they weren’t anything from Gillingham’s perspective,” added the Rovers boss.
“They’re just misjudgements. Cameron will learn from it; going forward he’ll get his positional sense, projection of the ball and playing the conditions right.
“It’s a bizarre loss. I’ve got no complaints with the players given how they performed in difficult conditions against difficult opponents in their own back yard.
“When we look back at this game we’ll learn from it but there was a willingness from the players to put their bodies on the line, which is really rewarding.”