Gillingham slipped to defeat in front of the TV cameras on Sunday afternoon at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium, as Sheffield United came behind from a one goal half-time deficit to claim all three points.
The Gills were leading at the break through a superb from Bradley Dack
free-kick, on his return from injury, however goals from Kieron Freeman and a last-minute penalty from Billy Sharp saw the Blades return to Yorkshire with all three points.
Gills manager Justin Edinburgh made two changes to the team that earned the fantastic win at Shrewsbury. Dack made his first start since the League Cup victory at Southend on August 9 and Ryan Jackson also returned from injury, replacing Emmanuel Osadebe and Josh Pask respectively, as Edinburgh elected for a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Gillingham had the first clear-cut chance of the game as Cody McDonald
went through on goal. Paul Konchesky pounced on a loose ball on half way to thread the ball behind the Blades defence and, although McDonald held off one defender and beat another, his shot was smothered by Simon Moore.
A minute later the Blades tested home debutant Jonathan Bond with their first effort on target, as Sharp pulled the ball back for Paul Coutts, whose side-footed shot was comfortably saved by Bond.
The home side looked threatening upfront, with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas showing his power and pace to beat a number of Blades defenders, but the final defender denied the striker, as Konchesky offered an option charging down the left wing.
With the game settling down, it took until the 17th minute for the Gills to threaten next. Neat interchange between Billy Knott and Emmanuel-Thomas set Konchesky away down the left, whose cross was met by Dack but he could not divert the ball towards the opposition goal.
Sheffield United, however, nearly broke the deadlock as Matt Done somehow bundled the ball onto Freeman in the Gills area. Freeman looked set to pull the trigger and score before Deji Oshilaja did superbly well to get the block in. Mark Duffy was the next to go close yet Bond was equal to his driven effort from 30 yards.
The away team should have taken the lead on 29 minutes when Dack was dispossessed and a low ball across the box found Sharp with the goal at his mercy. However, Max Ehmer got back to get a block on the ball, taking the power off the shot and allowing Bond to make an easy save.
Gillingham opened the scoring after 32 minutes from Dack's brilliant, curling free-kick. McDonald was barged over by Daniel Lafferty on the top left of the penalty area as he attempted to burst into the area, earning a yellow card in the process, before Dack sweetly dispatched the resulting set piece.
Shortly after, United had a free-kick in an identical position to the right of the goal; however, the Gills wall did its job to deflect the shot for a corner. From the corner, Chris Basham soared above McDonald but Bond got down well to keep the ball out. The Gills striker suffered a nasty cut to the head as a result of the clash with Basham, but continued to play.
Josh Pask came on at the start of the second period, replacing Knott, as Edinburgh reverted to a 3-5-2 formation to match the visitors.
Gillingham started the second half the livelier, as Konchesky had licence to break down the left flank. He whipped in a great ball when freed by Dack, which just eluded McDonald.
Bond was called into action immediately after as United broke. Sharp forced the ball past Jackson on the right edge of the box, before cutting in and smashing a left foot shot that Bond did very well to parry behind.
The away side continued to press and Sharp should have done better when Lafferty’s cross found him free in the area, however he could only head wide of the goal. Soon after, Mark Byrne went close for the Gills with a flashing drive past the left upright.
Sheffield United equalised in the 64th minute to bring the scores level; Sharp did well to keep the ball alive in the box, and his volley on the by-line was tucked home by Freeman.
Gillingham won a free-kick in the 70th minute in a similar position to the one from which Dack scored in the first half. This time Emmanuel-Thomas took responsibility and he curled the ball over the wall, but it was safely claimed by Moore.
Emmanuel-Thomas went close again with the game approaching 75 minutes, as Byrne found him outside the area. The big striker shaped to go onto his left, before taking the ball on his right foot in the middle of the area and curling straight at the goalkeeper.
Gillingham were in the ascendancy all of a sudden, and a dangerous Jamie O’Hara free-kick was spilled by Moore; Ehmer’s follow-up was blocked before United scrambled the ball away. United then went right up the other end and nearly snatched a goal but Oshilaja was in the right place and superbly executed the bicycle block.
Sheffield United had the chance to win it in the last minute of normal time, when substitute Pask was penalised for a handball inside the box. Sharp took the penalty and beat Bond, despite the Gills stopper going the right way, and the away side saw out the final three minutes of extra time to claim the victory.
The Gills return to action next Saturday with Bradford the visitors to MEMS Priestfield as Gillingham look to once again climb the League One table.
Gillingham: Bond; Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Konchesky; Wright, Knott (Pask, 46), Byrne, Dack (O’Hara, 76); Emmanuel-Thomas (Donnelly, 76), McDonald
Unused subs: Nelson (GK), Osadebe, Oldaker, List
Sheffield United: Moore; O’Connell, Basham, Wilson (Ebanks-Landell, 60), Freeman, Lafferty; Wright, Duffy (Scougall, 86), Coutts; Done (Clarke, 66), Sharpe
Unused Subs: Long (GK), Hussey, Fleck, Whiteman
Attendance: 5,598 (408)
Referee: Darren Handley