The Gills came back from 1-0 down to secure a fantastic 3-1 opening-day victory away at Southend United on Saturday.
Goals from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Max Ehmer and Emmanuel Osadebe completed the turnaround, after McLaughlin opened the scoring for the Shrimpers at Roots Hall.
Summer signings Mark Byrne, Paul Konchesky and Emmanuel-Thomas made their debuts for the Gills, while Joe Quigley and Billy Knott had to settle for a place on the bench.
Ex-Gill Jermaine McGlashan started for the hosts after his move from Kent to Essex back in June, as did promotion-winning captain Adam Barrett.
The hosts started the game on the front foot and had most of the possession in the Gills’ half in the opening 10 minutes.
Cox and Payne were linking up well, and the latter would have had just the keeper to beat, but for a well-timed interception by Max Ehmer, who saw the danger and cleared his lines on six minutes.
Barrett had the first effort on goal just moments later. Ryan Leonard’s throw-in was met by the centre-back, but Stuart Nelson made a comfortable save down to his left.
Southend debutant Simon Cox should have done better on 10 minutes after clever play down the left. David Mooney ran to the byline and cut the ball back to Cox, but the number 10 scuffed his lines and the ball went out for a throw-in.
The Gills’ first effort came from a Konchesky cross just after 13 minutes. Cody McDonald met the whipped ball with a header, but couldn’t hit the target and the ball sailed over the bar.
McGlashan was next to go close, striking from the right of the box after a headed clearance from Emmanuel Osadebe on 19 minutes. The winger’s shot went through three Gills players before reaching Nelson, but the goalkeeper did well to gather the effort.
On 23 minutes, the Shrimpers took the lead from a long-range shot. Stephen McLaughlin picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, touched the ball forward and struck low from 25-yards, into the bottom right-hand corner.
Nelson was called into action again shortly after the goal, saving from point-blank range. Ben Coker took the out-swinging corner and David Mooney rose highest and should have scored with his header, but Nelson was quick off his line and blocked superbly with his chest.
McDonald had his second effort of the match for the visitors with a spectacular scissor kick from Ryan Jackson’s long throw. The ball fell to Barrett, who carelessly sliced his clearance.
From the resulting corner the Gills were level after a move that came straight from the training ground. Konchesky drilled the corner low to the front post, where it was met by Emmanuel-Thomas. The striker struck the ball first time, left-footed and left Mark Oxley with no chance in goal.
The Gills came out at the restart picking up where they left off upon equalising before the break.
On 46 minutes Emmanuel-Thomas picked out Konchesky on the left wing, and the defender’s cross was missed by Oxley in the hosts’ goal. Coker was first to the ball, however, and cleared for a throw-in.
Jackson took the set play and found Max Ehmer, who guided the ball into the corner past Oxley to complete the turnaround and make it 2-1.
The goal scorer and his team-mates ran towards the corner flag in front of the near 1,800 travelling fans, who erupted once the ball hit the back of the net.
Following his goal, Emmanuel-Thomas looked full of confidence. The striker plucked the ball from the air in the centre circle, before nut-megging Jason Demetriou and setting his team in the attack. Will Atkinson made a last-ditch tackle, just before Emmanuel-Thomas was about to shoot, and the ball went out for another Gills corner.
The striker did get a shot away moments later, but his effort flew into the stands behind the goal, which was filled with Gillingham supporters.
Southend had a couple of chances just after the hour mark. McLaughlin whipped the ball in to Barrett on 61 minutes, but the captain failed with his header and the ball was cleared up field.
Two minutes later McLaughlin created another opportunity, this time for Jack Payne. The former chested the ball down on the edge of the area, setting up Payne for a half-volley, but his first-time effort was well blocked by Gills captain Josh Wright.
Emmanuel-Thomas looked dangerous with the ball at his feet, and became scorer-turned-provider on 79 minutes. Substitute Rory Donnelly cut the ball inside to the striker, who calmly found Emmanuel Osadebe, who coolly slotted the ball into the corner of the net off the post.
The Gills looked comfortable going into the final stages of the match, and Edinburgh sent on Joe Quigley and Billy Knott, who made their debuts for the away side.
The Gills return to Roots Hall on Tuesday night, to play Southend in an EFL Cup round fixture. Tickets are still available for the 7.45pm kick-off.
Southend: Oxley, Coker, Thompson, Barrett, Mooney (Williams, 68), Cox, McLaughlin (O’Neill, 85), Atkinson, McGlashan, Leonard, Demetriou (King, 78)
Unuseds subs: White, Sokolik, Bridge, Smith
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Konchesky, Byrne, Dack, Wright, Osadebe (Knott, 90), McDonald (Donnelly, 74), Emmanuel-Thomas (Quigley, 87)
Unused subs: Hadler, Hessenthaler, Oldaker, Dickenson
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 8,141 (1,769 away)