GILLINGHAM 2-1 SOUTHEND UNITED: MATCH REPORT
Josh Wright's quick-fire double at the end of the first half helped Gillingham record their first victory under Ady Pennock with a thrilling 2-1 win against 10-man Southend United at MEMS Priestfield on Saturday afternoon.
Wright scored from the penalty spot on 41 minutes and then tapped home from close range following a brilliant team move in stoppage time. Frmer Gills loanee Ryan Innis was the sent off for a second booking before the break.
However, promotion-chasing Southend fought back in the second period but substitute Nile Ranger's header wasn’t enough to prevent the Gills securing three crucial points.
Gillingham head coach Pennock handed a debut to new signing Zesh Rehman, who started in the heart of a back three, while Joe Quigley also made his first league start for the club after returning to the club on loan in January.
Emmanuel Osadebe, Scott Wagstaff and Cody McDonald also returned to the XI as the Gills made five changes in total.
Southend had the first opportunity but striker Marc-Antonine Fortune mistimed his run as Jason Demetriou looked to slide him in down the right. A dangerous situation was averted by the linesman’s flag.
However, McDonald thought he had given the Gills the lead on 17 minutes as he outmuscled Innis before firing past Ted Smith, however a whistle from referee Dean Whitestone brought a halt to the celebrations. The Gills striker was adjudged to have fouled the big defender in the build-up.
New signing Rehman posed an attacking threat for the home side, rising highest from a Martin corner, but nobody was on hand to divert the ball home from close range.
The Gills were dealt a blow just before the half-hour as Rory Donnelly was clattered by Innis – who was booked for the challenge – and limped off to be replaced by Josh Parker.
And after Rehman did brilliantly to deny Innis, who tried to find the space to shoot towards goal on the turn, the Gills were handed a golden chance to take the lead.
McDonald used his pace to get in behind the Southend defence following a great Quigley pass, and he was clumsily brought down by Demetriou. Wright stepped up to take the penalty and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to give the Gills the lead.
Another former Gills player, winger Jermaine McGlashan, had a chance to equalise immediately for the Shrimpers, however he blasted a snapshot deep into the Rainham End as a loose ball fell to him in the box. As the half entered five minutes of added time, Michael Timlin headed over unmarked from six yards, though the offside flag was up to save his blushes.
The Gills doubled their lead just before the break with Wright adding his second of the game from point-blank range. Quigley did fantastically well down the left to keep the ball, taking it past several defenders, before playing in McDonald. He delivered a fantastic cross along the face of goal, and Wright managed to bundle the ball over the line.
Matters improved further for the Gills as the visitors were reduced to 10 just before the break. Inniss received a second yellow for bringing down Quigley as the Gillingham striker looked to break to clear and after a long consultation with his linesman, Whitestone sent him off.
Parker had the first attempt of the second period for the Gills as he sent two defenders the wrong way with a sublime bit of skill before lashing a shot inches wide from 25 yards. He then went even closer as he ran down the left channel, cut inside the box and shot towards the near post, an effort Smith saved with his feet to keep his side in the game.
The Shrimpers were still posing a threat despite their man deficit and a Ryan Leonard shot from outside the area was deflected inches wide with Stuart Nelson stranded.
Nelson was forced into action action just after the hour as Simon Cox played a great one-two with Ranger and his powerful shot was beaten behind at the near post. Wordsworth was next to test the Gillingham goalkeeper, but his effort lacked power and direction, allowing for an easy save.
The Gills were soaking up the pressure and break, with Quigley doing an excellent job of holding the ball up to allow the home defence time to breath. McDonald saw an opening after one such break, but skewed his shot from 25 yards high and wide, with Parker perhaps better placed to his right.
Wagstaff nearly added a third for the Gills as the game continued to see-saw but his cross-turned-shot was well blocked by the Southend keeper as Parker waited to slot home.
Southend pulled one back after 83 minutes, as Ranger headed home from a tight angle following a great Demetrious cross to the far post. He nearly equalised with full-time in sight, but Nelson got across superbly to punch the ball off the striker's head six yards out.
The Gills put their bodies on the line and defended for their lives in three minutes of added time. Their efforts were rewarded as they recorded the triple over their Essex neighbours this season and, more importantly, claim a vital victory.
Gillingham: Nelson; Jackson, Rehman, Ehmer, Wagstaff; Wright, Osadebe, Martin; Donnelly (Parker, 28), McDonald, Quigley
Unused subs: Holy (GK), Dickenson, List, Muldoon, Hessenthaler, Mbo
Southend: Smith; Demetriou, Inniss, Thompson, Coker; Timlin, Leonard, Wordsworth (Robinson, 73), McGlashan (White, 46); Cox, Fortune (Ranger, 46)
Unused subs: Amos (GK), O’Neill, Bexon, Atkinson
Attendance: 6,542 (1,760 away)
Referee: Dean Whitestone