Cheyenne Dunkley’s goal in the 66th minute meant the Gills suffered defeat at the hands of Oxford United at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Monday.
Defender Deji Oshilaja was sent off for the home side on 76 minutes after being shown a second yellow card for a foul on U’s Ryan Taylor.
Gillingham manager Justin Edinburgh made three changes to the starting XI, with Frank Nouble, Oshilaja and Mark Byrne replacing Bradley Dack, Paul Konchesky and Cody McDonald.
United started the game brightly and had some great chances early on in the game. Chris Maguire had the first opportunity on 11 minutes, but could only shoot into the side netting after coolly taking the ball around Stuart Nelson in goal.
The U’s then had two chances from set-piece situations. Alex MacDonald played a quick free-kick to Maguire on the 14-minute mark, but the striker failed to hit the target with a scuffed effort. Shortly afterwards on 17 minutes, Taylor was the first to react to a low driven corner, but could not convert after being put under pressure by the alert Ehmer.
After soaking up early pressure, the Gills began to get forward with some great attacking play. Nouble did extremely well to control the ball in the opposition’s box on 21 minutes, with three players around him, but his snapshot was well-saved by Simon Eastwood.
Oshilaja’s clearance nearly ended up in his own net on with 28 minutes played, but the looping ball landed on the roof of the net, to the relief of the Rainham End behind the goal.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas won a free-kick in a dangerous position on 43 minutes, after being fouled by U’s Maguire. The Gills’ top scorer took the set-piece and whipped in a left-footed cross to the far-post, however no men in blue were able to get a touch to nod the ball into the back of the net.
H/T: 0-0
The Gills began the second period on the front foot, and won a corner on 47minutes after Emmanuel-Thomas’s cross caused confusion in the U’s defence.
Maguire and Rob Hall played some great football on the apex of the Gills’ area on 59 minutes, passing between one another before hall’s effort was superbly blocked by Baily Cargill.
Edinburgh decided to change things on the hour-mark, bringing McDonald and Rory Donnelly to replace Scott Wagstaff and Nouble.
Donnelly challenged for a Ryan Jackson cross just a minute later, which Eastwood collected, but the passage of play injected some life into the crowd, who were in fine voice cheering on their team.
United took the lead on 66 minutes through Dunkley. The big centre-half latched on to a drilled corner and smashed the ball into the back of the net in front of the jubilant 1,238 travelling fans.
Michael Appleton made his first substitution of the game on 71 minutes, as Tyler Roberts replaced Hall down the left-hand side.
Matters got worse for the home side with just 13 minutes left to play, when Oshilaja was shown his second yellow card for a foul on Taylor.
Substitute Roberts nearly scored within minutes of coming on with 80 minutes on the clock. Oxford broke with the Gills players still up from an attack, and Maguire charged down the right, before crossing for the substitute, but his side-footed volley was well saved by Nelson.
The pair’s roles reversed on 85 minutes, as the away side once again broke away, outnumbering the Gills. This time it was Roberts who set up Maguire, but the attacker could only find the side-netting with a right-footed effort.
Donnelly nearly scored a goal of the season contender on 86 minutes, meeting Cargill’s header with a bicycle-kick, but the acrobatic effort flew over the bar.
It should have been two for the away side just one minute later. Roberts’ clever back-heel fell to John Lundstram six-yards out, but the captain blazed over the bar.
Appleton’s team held on through five minutes of added time to take all three points, leaving the Gills in 17th position in the Sky Bet League One table at full-time.
F/T: 0-1
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, Wagstaff (Donnelly, 62), Hessenthaler, Cargill, Byrne, Wright (Oldaker, 79), Nouble (McDonald, 62), Emmanuel-Thomas
Unused subs: Hadler, Herd, Knott, Osadebe
Oxford: Eastwood, Lundstram, Nelson, Maguire, MacDonald, Edwards, Hall (Roberts, 71), Taylor, Ledson, Johnson, Dunkley
Unused subs: Buchel, Scarz, Ruffels, Hemmings, Rothwell, Raglan
Referee: Lee Swaby
Attendance: 6,414 (1,238 away)