The Gills lost 2-1 to Luton Town in the first game of the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night, despite a late strike from debutant Darren Oldaker.
First-half goals from Frankie Musonda and Jonathan Smith put the visitors in front, before Oldaker struck from 18-yards in second-half injury time.
Justin Edinburgh started with a 3-5-2 formation, with three players who came through the academy making their full senior debuts, in Darren Oldaker, Elliott List and Mitchell Dickenson.
came in to captain the side with Josh Wright on the bench, after starting as a substitute against Shrewsbury at the weekend.
After a quiet start to the game, the visitors took the lead on 10 minutes through Musonda. After what looked like a defensive mix up, the defender flicked on a free-kick from the left-hand side and guided the ball into the net.
On 23 minutes Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was close to grabbing his first goal at the MEMS Prestfield Stadium, after outmuscling the Luton defence. However, goalkeeper Craig King pulled off a great save that forced a corner for the home team.
The Hatters went back up the other end and doubled their advantage a minute later. Jake Gray made a great run down the right, before pulling the ball back to the six-yard line. The ball took a couple of deflection before landing at Smith’s feet, and the midfielder made no mistake in burying his effort.
With just two minutes of the first half remaining, Town’s summer signing Isaac Vassell was played in down the right and only had Nelson to beat from the apex, but the Gills’ number one got down well and parried the effort to safety.
Edinburgh brought on Rory Donnelly and Jamie O’Hara for the restart, replacing Bradley Dack
and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, as the Gills looked to get back in the game.
Oldaker had a speculative effort from 18-yards on 52 minutes, but the 17-year-old’s low shot was saved comfortably by King.
The Gills’ best chance of the game came one minute short of the hour mark. List used his pace down the right, before playing the ball to O’Hara, who picked out Cody McDonald
, but the onrushing King was quick off his line to deny the striker.
With 62 minutes played another debutant entered the field of play. Promising youth product Bradley Stevenson replaced Dickenson as Edinburgh decided to implement a 4-4-2 formation.
Luton should have punished the Gils on 70 minutes as Vassell raced throught the penalty area, before swinging a ball towards the back-post. With Nelson beaten, Josh McQuoid needed only the slightest of touches to score, but the striker’s header ballooned into the Brian Moore Stand.
Oldaker tried his luck from range again, and his shot was rebounded into the path of Stevenson, but the substitute couldn’t find enough power to beat King in goal.
The debutant was looking to get beyond the defence with his blistering pace, but was outnumbered by Luton defenders on every occasion.
In second-half stoppage time, it was third time lucky for Oldaker, who scored a consolation for the Gills shooting low from just outside the box.
The Gills return to action in Sunday’s Sky Bet League One game against Sheffield United, which is our first Kids 4 A Quid match of the season. Tickets are still available by calling (01634) 300000.
Gillingham: Nelson, Pask, Dickenson (Stevenson, 59), Osadebe, Ehmer, List, Dack (O’Hara, 45), Hessenthaler, McDonald, Oldaker, Emmanuel-Thomas (Donnelly, 45)
Unused subs: Bond, Oshilaja, Cundle, Wright
Luton: King, Cotter, Musondo, Famewo, Justin, Bakinson, Smith, Gray, Banton (Tomlinson, 90+2), Vassell, McQuoid (Atkinson, 83)
Unused subs: Gooch, Read, Hinds, Bean, Snelus
Referee: John Busby
Attendance: 2,128 (137 away)