Doug Loft’s late wonderstrike earns the Gills a hard-fought point against in-form Southend
Substitute Doug Loft’s 45-yard goal maintained the Gills’ unbeaten record at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium this season and kept the club top of Sky Bet League One in a 1-1 draw against Southend United today.
The Gills had trailed for much of the game after Stephen McLaughlin’s well-taken opener, before Loft’s equaliser ensured the end-to-end encounter ended all-square.
Manager Justin Edinburgh made four changes to the starting line-up from Tuesday night’s win against Scunthorpe United: Ryan Jackson, Jordan Houghton, Brennan Dickenson and Jermaine McGlashan came into the XI, as Ben Williamson, Jake Hessenthaler and Emmanuel Osadebe dropped to the bench, and Josh Wright served the first of his three-match ban.
Playing on the right wing of a 4-2-3-1 formation, McGlashan had the first chance of the game, firing a volley into the hand of United goalkeeper Daniel Bentley on three minutes.
Anthony Wordsworth had the Shrimpers’ opening opportunity barely 60 seconds later, a low shot that Stuart Nelson collected at the second attempt.
And after a couple more half chances, the visitors took the lead on 11 minutes. John Egan failed to clear his lines, allowing ex-Gill loanee Joe Pigott to play through McLaughlin, who brilliantly chipped Nelson.
McLaughlin threatened again on 19 minutes with a well-executed volley from 25 yards; this time, the ball thankfully ended up wide.
Only a last-ditch Luke Prosser tackle prevented Bradley Dack from a likely equaliser on 23 minutes following good play from Jackson, and seconds later Brennan Dickenson volleyed over from close range.
But another Gills mistake almost allowed United to score a second on the counter. Houghton gave the ball away to Ryan Leonard in midfield, he played in Pigott, but Nelson did well to save his powerful effort.
McLaughlin was lucky not to be sent off for a poor challenge on McGlashan in the 38th minute, and from Egan’s long free-kick that followed, Dack fired over from the edge of the box.
Houghton volleyed wide and a deep Bradley Garmston cross tested Bentley as the Gills started the second half well.
Cody McDonald replaced Houghton shortly before the hour, before his strike partner and the Gills’ leading scorer Rory Donnelly saw his ambitious overhead kick saved comfortably by the Southend goalkeeper.
United were again lucky not to have a man sent off on 63 minutes, as the already-booked Gary Deegan fouled the on-rushing Dack as he charged into the penalty area. The Gills midfielder shot the resulting free-kick just over the bar.
Cian Bolger headed straight at Nelson from a Southend free-kick on 66 minutes in a rare second half opportunity for the visitors.
Dack’s narrowly-wide blazed effort on 81st minutes triggered a fighting finale from the Gills. Harry Lennon was somehow denied a close-range equaliser by a brilliantly Bentley save on 85 minutes, before Loft fired in the equaliser.
He picked up the ball just inside the Southend half, and his curling 45-yard cross into the box caught out Bentley and went into the top corner of the goal.
McGlashan tested the goalkeeper seconds into added on time, but there was to be no stoppage time Gills winner for the third-consecutive game.
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson (Osadebe 82), Egan, Lennon, Garmston (Loft 71), Houghton (McDonald 58), A Morris , Dickenson, Dack, McGlashan, Donnelly
Unused subs: G Morris, Ehmer, Hessenthaler, Williamson
Southend United: Bentley, White, Bolger, Prosser, Coker, Leonard, Deegan (Atkinson 65), Wordsworth, McLaughlin (Weston 81), Pigott, Mooney (Rea 77)
Unused subs: T. Smith, O’Neill, Worrall, Payne
Attendance: 6, 983
Referee: Mr B Toner