An outstanding team performance saw the Gills record a richly deserved victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane
Peter Taylor made five changes from the side that started the cup tie with Brackley last weekend, introducing new signings Elliott Hewitt, John Mousinho and Craig Fagan for their Gills league debuts, while Leon Legge and Danny Hollands also returned to the line-up.
The Gills set out in a 4-5-1 formation with Whelpdale and Fagan pushing up to support Kedwell down the flanks, and Steven Gregory sitting deep in front of the back four, making it hard for the Blades to attack through the middle.
Having quietened the home crowd in the opening stages the Gills then stole an unlikely lead in the seventh minutes as Danny Kedwell capitalised on a woeful back pass from Harry Maguire, Blades keeper George Long raced out to clear, only to see his effort cannon off the advancing striker and roll into his unguarded net.
The home side responded and fashioned a clever opening on 10 minutes as Shaun Miller anticipated the run of Aidy White down the left flank, he returned a dangerous centre but Joe Martin held off Chris Porter to head behind.
Gills were dealt a blow soon after as Steven Gregory’s contribution was curtailed by injury, the midfielder making way for Bradley Dack while Danny Hollands dropped back into the defensive midfield role.
Three minutes later Simon Lappin rolled a low effort wide of the mark and from the resulting corner Neill Collins header was cleared off the line from Elliott Hewitt, as the home side stepped up a gear.
From the following corner, Sheffield grabbed a 17th minute equaliser, Chris Porter heading home at the near post and to make matters worse for the visitors, Danny Kedwell collected an injury, limping off to be replaced by Cody McDonald with less than 20 minutes on the clock.
Miller saw another effort deflected behind for a corner two minutes later, then went close again, soon after, cutting in from the right angle of the area before rolling a low effort just wide of Nelson’s right hand post.
The lively forward fired straight at Nelson on 29 minutes, after collecting a great pass from full-back Tony McMahon before the Gills enjoyed another good spell of play to dampen down the home supporters’ enthusiasm.
Their patient passing build-up play left the home fans frustrated, while skipper Adam Barrett was unlucky not to test the United keeper after Whelpdale had helped a Hewitt cross into his path, sadly the Gills skipper couldn’t get enough on the ball to force a save from George Long.
Four minutes from the interval the Gills carved out another good opening as Craig Fagan sent John Mousinho clear with a deft pass down the right channel; unfortunately the midfielder opted to square the ball when a shot may have been his better option.
Deep into time added-on, and with the visitors dictating the play, McDonald pounced on a weak defensive header to sprint through on goal, but as the Gills striker shaped to shoot, he was robbed by a perfectly timed block tackle from Matthew Hill, sending the sides in all square at half time.
Two minutes after the restart the Gills retook the lead from their first attack of the half, new boy Fagan crossing for Mousinho to head goalwards, his effort came back off the crossbar, struck the keeper and Cody McDonald was perfectly placed to force home the loose ball.
With the Gills fans still celebrating the Blades spurned a great opening, Ryan Flynn bursting clear of the visitors defence on the left of goal, Stuart Nelson advanced to narrow the angle and did his job as Flynn fired well wide of his far post.
The Blades upped their efforts, enjoying a 10 minute spell of concerted pressure but with Mousinho and Hollands dropping deep to help out the defence, the Gills held firm. On the hour mark Elliott Hewitt earned the games’ first booking for a foul on White and the Blades wasted the resulting free-kick.
Adam Barrett was perfectly placed to deny McMahon’s header at the near post on 65 minutes, and White dragged a shot across goal wide of Nelson’s back stick as the home fans urged their team to get back into the game.
At the opposite end Cody McDonald brought a save from Long after climbing above the Blades defence to meet a Whelpdale corner. And with 15 minutes still to play the home fans began booing as Gills pressed their defenders into passing back to their keeper.
With the home fans urging their players to attack, Michael Doyle hooked a ball through to Porter in the area but he shot wide with only Nelson to beat, prompting a change from Peter Taylor who introduced the pace of Myles Weston for Craig Fagan.
The Gills continued to defend resolutely and had Weston booked two minutes from time for raising his boot. The resulting free-kick caused mayhem on the Gills goal line as players dived in on a loose ball but the Blades could not force home a finish and the ref awarded a free-kick to the visitors.
Despite an additional four minutes of time added on, Gillingham soaked up the pressure and held tight to record a memorable victory.
Attendance: 16,560 (617 Gillingham)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Leon Legge, Adam Barrett, Elliott Hewitt, Chris Whelpdale, Steven Gregory (Bradley Dack 13), Danny Hollands, John Mousinho, Craig Fagan (Myles Weston 78), Danny Kedwell (Cody McDonald 18).
Subs not used: George Howard, Callum Davies, Bayo Akinfenwa, Jake Hessenthaler.
Sheffield United: George Long, Aidy White, Harry Maguire, Matthew Hill (Stephen McGinn 71), Ryan Flynn (Lyle Taylor 78), Michael Doyle, Chris Porter, Shaun Miller, Neill Collins, Simon Lappin (Jose Baxter 64), Tony McMahon.
Subs not used: Mark Howard, Florent Cuvelier, Conor Coady, Marlon King.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham
Assistants: Nicholas Gibbons & Jason Whiteley
4th Officials: Mark Jones