Josh Parker on target as Gillingham clinch victory at Priestfield.
Gillingham began their Checkatrade Trophy campaign in the best possible way following a 2-1 win over Southend United at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Josh Parker struck in the first half to put the hosts in front only for Stephen McLaughlin to equalise before the break.
A perfectly struck free-kick from Darren Oldaker on 57 minutes crashed against the bar, only for Anton Ferdinand to get the final touch as Gills restored their lead.
The Shrimpers went in search of an equaliser late on but were thwarted by some good defending, and some equally good goalkeeping by Steve Arnold.
Arnold and Ben Nugent were both handed full debuts by Ady Pennock with Jake Hessenthaler and Scott Wagstaff both returning to the starting XI.
Greg Cundle started up front alongside Conor Wilkinson whose suspension didn’t count in this competition.
The tie certainly didn’t lack competitiveness in the early stages with both teams not shy to get forward and Gillingham reaped the rewards of their tactics on eight minutes.
Josh Parker, returning to the starting line-up, decided to shoot from 20 yards but saw his effort blocked. The ball returned to him though right into his path and he smashed an effort beyond Mark Oxley and into the corner.
The minutes that followed were comparatively uneventful with Gills enjoying more possession but looking slightly vulnerable on the counter attack. On 20 minutes Jermaine McGlashan was through on goal and looked destined to score only for Arnold to stick out a leg and impressively divert the effort wide for a corner which was well dealt with.
The visitors progressively began to get on top, pinning the Gills defence back and on 31 minutes got on level terms. A low cross from the right hand side was well directed towards the back post and McLaughlin was on hand to tap home from close range.
Gills were undeterred though and immediately went in search of a second goal. Cundle came the closest to scoring before the break with his low effort narrowly missing the goalkeeper’s left hand post.
The game continued in the same way as the first half had ended. Both sides were getting forward on a regular basis but not able to carve out clear cut opportunities as regularly as they would like.
However on 57 minutes the Gills were given a chance to at least force Oxley into a save when Oldaker was brought down by John White. The midfielder took the kick himself and struck the bar with an excellent effort, the ball appeared to strike Parker and then Ferdinand before it nestled in the back of the net.
A good defensive header by Ogilvie prevented McGlashan from finding the net before the winger was booked for colliding with Arnold as the keeper came out to collect a loose ball.
Simpson was then introduced, making his debut in the process, for Ogilvie and immediately made a goal saving block with Arnold also well placed to make the save if needed.
Cox tested the Gills keeper late on and Wilkinson was booked for a late foul on Harry Kyprianou but the hosts held out for victory despite ten minutes of stoppage time.
Gills: Arnold, O’Neill, Ehmer, Nugent, Ogilvie (Simpson 80), Parker, Hessenthaler, Oldaker, Wagstaff (Byrne 90), Cundle (List 70), Wilkinson.
Unused subs: Holy, Lacey, Chapman, Eaves.
Southend: Oxley, Ferdinand, Timlin, McLaughlin, Ba (Cox 70), Yearwood (Klass 62), McGlashan, Leonard, Robinson, Bwomono, White (Kyprianou 85)
Unused subs: Smith, Bridge, Kightly, Fortune.
Attendance: 1549 (135 Southend).
Referee: Mr A Haines