The Gills suffer a late blow as United strike in the 89th minuteDespite the warm weather, this entertaining, high tempo game at MEMS Priestfield Stadium wasn’t decided until Andrew Bond tucked away a chance for the visitors in the 89th minute.
Both team’s battled well throughout in the heat, chances had come and gone, and the game looked destined for a draw thanks to the fine form of keepers Stuart Nelson and Sam Walker until the Colchester substitute, who had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, struck.
Ultimately it was bitter pill for the Gills and their supporters to take but proved that League One was going to be a tough division.
Amine Linganzi was selected to make his Gills debut alongside Stephen Gregory, Chris Whelpdale and Charlie Lee in midfield while Danny Kedwell and Cody McDonald were the front pairing. Unsurprisingly the back five were unchanged from last season.
While ‘Super Bob’ Taylor was unveiled as the official legend of the day it proved to be the case that he was not the only one. Joe Dunne was of course managing Colchester and also in the crowd, well the one’s we know about anyway, were both Damien Richardson and Ade Pennock.
Before the third minute had passed, which the Gills had dominated possession wise, Matt Fish went down with no-one near him and the right-back looked in some pain. Young debutant Stephen Butcher came on as his replacement and he certainly didn't let anyone down.
Despite the high tempo start the first real threat on either goal didn’t come until the eighth minute, although Lee had seemingly been hauled to the ground by Tom Eastman just before. The hardworking Lee had a cross blocked but the ball fell perfectly for Kedwell to smash a volley across the face of goal.
Once the visitors did find their feet Nelson had to punch clear under pressure from Jabo Ibehre, Craig Eastmond shot straight at the Gills keeper while U’s striker Ibehre did well to get a touch to a decent low ball in from Freddie Sears but could only watch as his effort cleared the bar from six yards.
In the 20th minute Kedwell, celebrating his 30th birthday, went close to opening the scoring, his superb strike from around 30 yards struck the angle of bar and post and luckily, for United, bounced wide off the flying Walker.
The end to end play continued, Whelpdale fired over the top from Lee’s resultant corner before at the other end Sears curled a shot narrowly wide.
Skipper Adam Barrett went close in the 32nd minute, Nelson fired a free-kick forward from just inside his own half, Kedwell knocked the ball down but the Gills defenders low shot hit the side netting.
Linganzi was the next to try his luck but his shot ended high on the Town End.
The half ended with the Gills on the attack once more, Lee got in on the blind side but saw a low angled shot blocked by keeper Walker before Joe Martin curled a free-kick straight at the on-loan Chelsea keeper.
H/T: Gills 0-0 United
The Gills began the second-half brightly and an error from ex-Gill David Wright almost gifted McDonald a chance but visiting skipper Brian Wilson got in a great last-ditch challenge.
A second Gillingham change came in the 56th minute when Myles Weston replaced McDonald.
Rather against the run of play the Essex side had a great chance in the 61st minute. Ryan Dickson broke down the left and crossed, Marcus Bean forced his way onto it but his first time effort was turned aside by the alert Nelson.
The third and final Gills change came 60 seconds later, Bayo Akinfenwa taking over from the impressive Lee. He went up front alongside Kedwell with Weston moving wide left.
With 20 minutes remaining Whelpdale did well to win a throw wide on the right. The winger took it himself and when it was helped on it fell invitingly for Weston who unfortunately snatched at the chance and it flew off target.
The first yellow card of the afternoon came in the 74th minute, Leon Legge fouled Bean but referee Keith Hill flashed the yellow at Kedwell, perhaps for something he said.
Ibehre turned and fired a shot straight at a well-positioned Nelson who then had to collect a header from U’s substitute Alex Gilbey.
In the 80th minute Martin blocked a run from Gavin Massey and picked up a yellow. There were cheers from most sections of the Gills supporters from Dickson’s free-kick that followed as David Wright’s attempt flew high and well wide.
Almost immediately at the other end Linganzi made space on the edge of the area but his drilled strike was straight at Walker once again.
The lively Massey got to the right bye-line in the 84th minute and crossed, it was met by the oncoming Gilbey who planted his header from eight yards directly at Nelson.
Two minutes later Walker flapped at a Whelpdale corner and the ball was half-cleared. Martin picked up the loose ball and cracked a terrific effort just inches over the top.
Then in the 89th minute, after the visitors had seemingly settled for a draw, they struck the winner. Drey Wright got down the left and played a low ball into the area and there was Andrew Bond, who had just gone on, to tuck home a low shot.
The goalscorer was booked for celebrating with some of the 779 travelling Colchester supporters behind the goal.
Gills: Nelson, Fish (Butcher 3m), Martin, Barrett, Legge, Linganzi, Lee (Akinfenwa 62m) , Gregory, Whelpdale, Kedwell, McDonald (Weston 56m) Unused subs – Davies, Dack, German, Howard
United: Walker, David Wright, Dickson, Okuonghae, Eastmond (Bond 88m), Sears (Drey Wright 78m), Bean (Gilbey 74m), Ibehre, Eastman, Wilson, Massey Unused subs – Cousins, Thompson, Morrison, Olufemi,
Attendance: 6,792 (779 from Colchester)
Referee: Keith Hill
Assistants: Stephen Daly & Dan Robathan
Fourth official: Ryan Atkin