Richard Day reports from Beechings CrossAn experienced Gillingham side were beaten by the odd goal in five by a Colchester United XI in an entertaining but physical encounter at a chilly Beechings Cross this afternoon.
The Gills, who included Tommy Forecast, Callum Davies, Steven Gregory, Charlie Lee, Charlie Allen, and Danny Jackman, pulled back a two-goal deficit through a Ben Strevens double only to concede a deflected late third.
With U’s manager Joe Dunne and his assistant Mark Kinsella looking on, it was the visitors that started well and took a two-goal lead with just eleven minutes on the clock.
Ben Coker had already seen a header tipped over by Forecast before the Essex side went ahead in the ninth minute when an unfortunate slip allowed Jordan Sanderson through to finish neatly.
Two minutes later the defence was caught napping at the far post and former Leeds United, Coventry City and Leicester City centre-half Matt Heath was on hand to prod home.
A great run into the area by Allen ended with young striker Aaron Millbank having an effort blocked at the near post and moments later Allen himself fired a shot wide.
Then after Tom Bender put a far post header wide for United the Gills pulled one back on the half-hour. A long throw from Sam Muggleton wasn’t dealt with by the Colchester rearguard and Strevens was able to poke the ball home from around six yards.
Just before the half-time whistle it was all-square, Strevens held off his marker to move onto a long free-kick knocked forward by Gregory and with Carl Pentney advancing the Gillingham striker was able to lob the ball into an empty net.
After the break a great tackle in midfield by skipper Steve Gregory set up a shot for Allen from distance but his strike took an unfortunate deflection off Nathan Nyafli who had earlier replaced Lee.
Having allowed a number of previous ‘fouls’ to go unpunished both Nyafli and McKain were harshly booked in the space of five second-half minutes by the referee. Heath seemed to strike Nyafli’s foot as the defender cleared and then McKain took the ball first in a challenge with Andy Bond.
In the 65th minute Tom Eastman hit a shot against the post from eight yards after Heath knocked a ball across goal following a Jordan Sanderson free-kick.
What turned out to be the winner came in the 82nd minute when Tosin Olufemi’s shot took a deflection on its way past Forecast.
The Gills went in search of an equaliser and first Muggleton had a shot saved by Pentney who was then in the right place to collect a downward header from McKain following Allen’s corner.
Gills – Forecast, Romeo, Muggleton, Gregory, McKain, Davies, Allen, Lee (Nyafli 49m), Millbank (Hessenthaler 54m), Strevens, Jackman (Parter 65m) Unused sub: Hawkes