MORECAMBE boss Sammy McIlroy said his players were “gutted” to be denied their third successive win by a late Gillingham equaliser on Saturday.
With skipper Barry Roche looking unbeatable the Shrimps looked set to hand Gillingham their first defeat in 17 games after Phil Jevons’s 21st minute penalty.
But their resistance was finally broken by an 88th minute header from the home side’s top scorer Cody McDonald.
It was a cruel blow for the Shrimps who produced a superb defensive performance inspired by some top quality saves from skipper Barry Roche.
McIlroy said: “Before the game we would have been absolutely delighted with a point but my players were absolutely gutted.
“We had a game plan and it was three minutes away from working. We set our stall out - we knew exactly what to do and my lads did it to a tee.
“My lads gave me 110% and their work ethic was fantastic with Barry Roche absolutely outstanding and it’s a shame we couldn’t hang on. Hopefully that will be enough for us now .
“We had our stall set out - we knew exactly what to do and my lads did it to a tee.”
McIlroy’s game plan worked a treat in the first half against a confident home side.
They guarded the always dangerous Bayo Akinfenwa and Andy Marcham well all afternoon and restricted the home side to long range efforts from Barry Fuller and Kevin Maher which were well saved by Roche.
At the other end Morecambe caused Gillingham more worrying moments than they expected.
In only the third minute Jevons had a chance from close range but failed to connect with Kevan Hurst’s header.
But Jevons was not to be denied later in the half as the Shrimps were awarded a penalty when Gills’ defender Matt Lawrence handled in the area and Jevons sent Alan Julian the wrong way from the spot to shock the home fans.
Danny Carlton then had a half chance to make it 2-0 on the half hour with a volley from the edge of the box that was well saved by Julian.
After a slow start the home side stepped up a gear towards the end of the half and Roche shone again with a great save from Akinfenwa’s close range header.
As the half came to a close both Chris McCready and Niall Cowperthwaite blocked goalbound efforts as the Shrimps defended stoutly.
Roche continued to shine in the second half as Gillingham poured forward.
McDonald showed his quality when he cut inside from the left and drilled a low shot goalwards which Roche turned aside.
The same player then forced Roche into one of the saves of the season when Barcham headed back across goal and McDonald tried his luck with an overhead kick that was heading for the bottom left hand corner of the Shrimps’ goal.
With the Gills well in the ascendancy, Akinfenwa then set up a great shooting chance for Danny Spiller but the midfielder side-footed straight at Roche when he looked certain to score.
Spiller was then again denied by the legs of Roche and with time running out the Shrimps looked set for one of their best wins of the season.
Although Gillingham were on the front foot the Shrimps has a great chance to double their advantage when Jimmy Spencer was put through on goal but fired wide from 10 yards out.
It was to prove a costly miss as Roche was finally beaten two minutes from time.
Jon Nutter got to the left goal-line and crossed deep where McDonald rose to plant a header back across Roche and into the far side of the net.
With five minutes of injury time there was still more defending to do and twice Barcham twice fired wide from good openings in the closing stages and the Shrimps held on for a deserved point.
Gillingham: Julian; Fuller, Gowling, Lawrence, Martin (rep Nutter 56); Spiller, Weston (rep Payne 69), Maher (rep Rooney 56), Barcham; McDonald, Akinfenwa. Subs not used: Cronin (gk), J Payne, Bentley, Richards, Jackman.
Morecambe: Roche 9; Parrish 8, Haining 8, McCready 8, Cowperthwaite 7; Hurst 7 (rep Wainwright 72), Drummond 8, Hunter 8, Holdsworth 8, Jevons 7 (rep Brown 75), Carlton 7 (rep Spencer 64). Subs not used: Walker (Gk), Bentley, Aley, Shuker.
Booked: Carlton, Drummond, Roche, Cowperthwaite
Referee: D McDermid
Star man: Barry Roche - deserved to keep a clean sheet with a string of superb saves.