Gills clinch a point in entertaining game.
A second half hat-trick from Tom Eaves secured Gillingham a draw in a topsy-turvy match against Southend United at MEMS Priestfield Stadium, with the Gills twice coming from behind to earn a deserved point.
The only goal of the first half came from Ryan Leonard who knocked into the net following a mix-up in the Gills box. Two headers from Eaves, his first for the club, one a towering effort that looped home and the other a stooped attempt low into the corner, put the Gills ahead mid-way through the second half.
However, Southend hit back twice in quick succession to put themselves back in front as Michael Kightly fired home from the edge of the box before Simon Cox scored a tap-in. Gillingham were not to be denied though and Eaves got his hat-trick when Mark Byrne was fouled in the box; the big striker’s initial spot-kick attempt was saved but he was quickest to react, smashing into the empty net to get a deserved equaliser.
Gills Head Coach Ady Pennock made two changes from the MK Dons defeat. Billy Bingham recovered from a foot injury sustained on the opening day of the season to return to centre midfield, and Liam Nash made his first start for Gillingham, alongside Eaves.
Southend United had the first real chance of the game as ex-Gillingham winger Jermaine McGlashan beat Lee Martin for pace and drove into the box but Tomas Holy was equal to his powerful effort.
The Gills immediately countered and Luke O’Neill, against his former club, did brilliantly to take down Holy’s long ball before shooting low towards the corner of the goal. Oxley pushed his ball to safety before Martin curled the ball over the bar as he looked to place it in the top corner.
It was a promising start from the home team as they looked to get in behind the Shrimpers’ defence, and Ferdinand had to be alert to hack clear a cross from Nash with Eaves lurking. From the resulting corner, Max Ehmer headed a brilliant, whipped corner from Martin over the bar as the Gills looked to get an early goal.
Gillingham continued to boss the ball with Eaves heading just wide after O’Neill looped a ball towards the target man inside ten minutes.
Nash was looking lively and he did fantastically well to somehow win a header against Ferdinand before retrieving the ball and drawing a foul on the edge of the box which was well defend by the Shrimpers.
Southend nearly grabbed the first goal of the game after a quarter of an hour as Cox chested a ball into the box towards Fortune, but the striker blazed into the Rainham End, to the delight of the home fans. It was the start of a bright spell of possession for the orange-clad visitors, resulting in the opening goal of the game. A delivery into the box was not dealt with and, as Holy attempted to claim the cross, the ball came free and Leonard managed to loop the ball home into the empty net.
Cox nearly doubled the lead as Gillingham played themselves into danger on the halfway line. The Shrimpers broke quickly with Gabs Zakuani making a fantastic block before Cox screwed his cross-come-shot inches wide of the post. Then, from a Southend corner, Ferdinand hooked a loose ball over the bar.
Southend had established a strong grip on the game despite the positive start from Gillingham with Holy making a good stop with his legs to deny Fortune when Kightly burst into the box and pulled the ball back. Fortune then got up highest to divert a Hendrie cross towards goal but Holy made another solid save low down to his left.
A Byrne long-throw created a half-chance as Ehmer flicked the ball on to the back post but there was no Gills player to apply the final touch. Southend counter-attacked quickly through McGlashan as the ball was cleared but as he slipped Kightly in down the right, Connor Ogilvie did well to make a sliding tackle and deny Kightly, before Holy made another save to tip a powerful effort behind goal.
The Gills continued to press forward, with Pennock moving to a 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of Josh Parker for Ehmer. The move nearly paid dividends immediately as Ogilvie won a free-kick which found Eaves in the box, however his touch let him down with the ball rolling behind for a goal-kick – the last chance of the first half.
Southend started the second period on the front foot, with Kightly looking dangerous on the left, bursting into the box and delivering a dangerous low cross that Holy did well to deal with before Cox picked up the loose ball but was blocked by Zakuani with the linesman’s flag up regardless.
The Gills did create an opening when Eaves and Nash played a quick corner kick to each other as Eaves did well to pressure Ferdinand into conceding the set piece. Nash beat one man charging into the box, but took on one too many and was eventually tackled.
Gillingham finally did get the equaliser their efforts deserved through big TOM EAVES in the 54th minute. Byrne put in a great delivery and Eaves rose superbly to loop a brilliant header post Oxley and into the net to get Gillingham off the mark for the campaign.
With the momentum in their favour, the Gills pushed forward and Eaves nearly grabbed another as he flicked on Ogilvie’s throw towards goal but a Southend defender was well placed to hack clear.
Gillingham did score their second goal after 63 minutes as Martin released Ogilivie with a brilliant back-heel and the left-back powered up to deliver a cross that TOM EAVES stooped to head home into the corner of the net.
Southend levelled up the match immediately, however as Kightly found space in the box after a long ball was pumped towards goal. He swivelled well and found the back of the net.
Cox had a great chance to put the visitors back ahead after a chipped cross was headed back to the striker, but he could only head over the bar from six yards out.
The game was now incredibly open as both sides pushed for the equaliser. A great ball from O’Neill nearly found Eaves for a third time while Holy made a decent save to deny the visitors from 25 yards.
Southend took the lead after 72 minutes despite the home side’s protestations of offside. A looping shot from outside the box rebounded off the crossbar, Holy then denied Cox from point-blank range but the striker eventually poked home to give the away team the lead.
Gillingham were awarded a penalty on 79 minutes when Byrne was brought down inside the box. TOM EAVES stepped up for his hat-trick and although the initial spot-kick was saved by Oxley, the striker followed up to poke the ball home on the line and get a deserved hat-trick.
The game was anybody’s for taking as the two teams continued to battle it out hammer and tongs in the Kent sunshine.
Parker had a chance to win it in the 84th minute as a deep cross from Martin found him unmarked at the back post but, from a tight angle, his effort hit the side netting. Eaves then jinked his way past a few Southend defenders but his cross to the back-post eluded Cundle who made a late move to the near post.
Timlin nearly won the game for Southend right at the death as the ball ricocheted to him 30 yards out, but his fierce left foot shot whizzed past the post as well as the beaten Holy.
Cundle then had an effort after Martin did brilliantly well to block a clearance but his placed shot was deflected wide for a corner which was defended in the final action of the game.
The Gills host Southend again next week in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy game, and Shrewsbury Town are the visitors next Saturday as Gillingham look to get their first victory of the season.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Lacey, Zakuani (Nugent, 68), Ehmer (Parker, 40), Ogilvie; Byrne, Bingham, Martin; Nash (Cundle, 73), Eaves
Unused subs: Arnold, Hessenthaler, Wagstaff, Oldaker
Southend United: Oxley; Hendrie, Ferdinand, White, Demetriou; McGlashan, Leonard, Timlin, Kightly; Cox, Fortune (Robinson, 62)
Unused subs: Smith, McLaughlin, Ba, Yearwood, Bridge, Kyprianou
Referee: Charles Breakspear