Gillingham complete pre-season unbeaten after a narrow 1-0 win over Canvey Island on Saturday afternoon.
Ady Pennock emphasised the importance of the fixture following Friday night’s win at Colchester and selected a mixture of youth and experience for the trip to Canvey.
Jack Tucker and Ryan Huckle, both second year scholars, partnered Finn O’Mara in the centre of defence with Elliott List and Bradley Garmston operating as the wing-backs.
Liam Nash and Greg Cundle started up front with Noel Mbo available from the bench if required.
The opening exchanges belonged to the visitors but without anything significant advances on goal.
The first chance was created on 11 minutes when a slip on the left hand side allowed Garmston the chance to advance on the left hand side; his cross found Nash but his header was guided a couple of yards wide of the far post.
Six minutes later and Canvey Island very nearly took the lead against the run of play. Callum Ibe used his pace to scamper clear of the Gills defence and looked odds on to at least get a shot on goal, however O’Mara got back to put in an excellent challenge to concede only a corner.
Ben Chapman got the crowd going on 24 minutes when a brilliant solo run allowed him to play in O’Mara on the left hand side. His cross found the head of Hessenthaler but he was unable to force Conor Gough into a save as the effort went wide.
The hosts continued to have a go and with 32 minutes on the clock they should have taken the initiative. A long ball forward was brilliantly headed on by James Walker and Ibe made the perfect run at the right time and had the goal at his mercy but blazed his shot high of the target.
Huckle certainly showed his defensive qualities shortly afterwards when Ibe took advantage of a short pass at the back and was through one on one with Stuart Nelson. The keeper stayed on his feet allowing time for defenders to recover and Huckle did brilliantly to slide in and stop the ball crossing the line.
Sam Collins was next to try his luck for Canvey. From a tight angle on the left hand side he drilled an effort towards the far post which went a yard or so wide with Nelson well placed to get a touch if needed.
The second half began just like the first half had, with very few clear cut chances. Wright saw a shot deflected over before Hessenthaler sent another header wide of the target.
Pennock made four substitutions with half an hour to play but the match remained very much the same with both teams looking capable of breaking the deadlock.
However Stevenson, one of the subs, had the Gills best chance on 72 minutes to grab the opener. From a second successive Canvey corner a short back pass gave the forward impetus to play the ball around the defender and advance on goal.
Gough stood his ground and made himself big and got down well to save low to his right before stopping yet another effort from Hessenthaler at his near post.
With the clock ticking down Canvey saw an opportunity to grab a winner and nearly did so with nine minutes to play. Teddy Nesbitt played a clever ball over the top to sub David Knight, he got a shot away but Nelson made himself big and saved with his legs before the defence cleared the resulting corner.
With a draw seemingly inevitable the Gills finally got their goal on 86 minutes. Hessenthaler played a neat one-two with Wright inside the box and on receiving it back he took his chance early and beat Gough from close range.
Canvey: Gough, Pitty, Nesbitt, Levett (Lacey 69), Sheehan, Dumas, Gilbey, Merrifield, Walker, Ibe (Knight 62), Collins (Hirst 87).
Gills: Nelson, Huckle, Tucker, O’Mara, Chapman (Oldaker 64), Hessenthaler, Wright, Garmston, List (Stevenson 64), Cundle (Simpson 64), Nash (Mbo 64).
Unused subs: Hadler
Referee: Mr R Bloy