Gills leave Roots Hall empty handed after 4-0 defeat.
Four first-half goals and a red card for skipper for Lee Martin saw Gillingham fall to their heaviest defeat of the season against rivals Southend United at Roots Hall on Monday.
Michael Turner, Theo Robinson and Michael Kightly put Southend ahead after just 18 minutes, with McLaughlin adding a fourth towards the end of the half. Gillingham’s misery was further compounded by Tom Eaves seeing a header ruled out by the linesman’s flag and then captain Lee Martin was given a straight red for a high tackle in first-half added time.
Ten-man Gills battled valiantly in the second half and saw another Eaves effort disallowed for offside while restricting the home side to no further goals to limit the damage on a miserable afternoon in Essex.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made two changes from the side that slipped to defeat against MK Dons on Thursday evening. Eaves replaced Conor Wilkinson up front and Martin was sufficiently recovered from his illness to replace Thursday’s goalscorer, Navid Nasseri, and captain the team.
Ex-Gills captain Josh Wright was in the squad for the Shrimpers, forced to settle for a place on the bench as he faced the visitors for the first time since departing Priestfield earlier this season.
The game started quickly with both sets of fans in good voice with Gillingham getting the first chance as Bradley Garmston did well to win a free-kick down the left but Martin’s low free-kick was cleared by the home side before a Luke O’Neill corner ended up with Max Ehmer on the right of the box but he blazed his shot on the turn wide.
Southend were ahead after just eight minutes, however, after Tomas Holy gave away a corner following a sliced clearance. McLaughlin delivered the set piece and found Turner, and he powered a header which squeezed between Holy and Ehmer into the bottom corner.
The lead was doubled three minutes later as Cox slipped Coker in down the left of the box. His shot was superbly saved by Holy but the rebound fell to Robinson who volleyed home from 10 yards out.
Gillingham had to withstand heavy pressure by the home team who had made a bright start and as they broke after a Mark Byrne long throw was defended, Robinson found space but blazed his shot into the travelling fans as he cut in on his right foot.
The third was not long coming though as another Southend break down the right hand side led by McLaughlin ended with the winger cutting in on his left foot and smashing a shot against the bar but Kightly couldn’t not miss the rebound, nodding home from inches.
Steve Lovell responded to the three-goal deficit with a change in formation sacrificing Connor Ogilvie for Conor Wilkinson and shifting to a 4-4-2 formation. The added physicality nearly paid immediate dividends as a long ball to Eaves caused troubled and was just cleared from the feet of Wilkinson as he looked to finish.
Gillingham were nearly four down in comedic fashion as a header back towards goal from Ehmer nearly caught Holy out, with the Czech back-pedalling furiously to tip the ball over.
The Shrimpers should really have been four up as another break released Robinson down the left and his ball in found Cox unmarked on the top of the box but he hit first time and sliced his shot, perhaps not realising the amount of space he had.
Cox had another opportunity just after the half when he controlled a ball into the box, and had the goal in his sights but Holy was out of his goal quickly to block the ball behind.
The Gills looked to respond as Martin did well to control a pass down the right however he was unfortunate to see his cross on the stretch evade those in red in the box and narrowly bounce wide of the post. Scott Wagstaff was then played in the down the left hand side of the Southend box through a good ball from Garmston but Oxley got off his line quickly to tackle the winger.
Despite the mini-fightback, Southend soon grabbed their fourth of the game as a Kightly corner from the right hand side found McLaughlin unmarked in the box and he simply the flicked the ball into the bottom left corner.
The Gills looked to get back in the game as Garmston, a dangerous threat in the half crossed a teasing ball into the box which Wilkinson looked to get on the end of but his header under pressure flicked wide of the post.
Eaves looked like he had grabbed a goal back for the visitors as he rose highest to power home a header from another brilliant Garmston cross but the linesman’s flag was raised to deny Gillingham’s top scorer.
A miserable first half for the Gills was further compounded when captain Lee Martin was given a straight red for a late tackle on the right by-line. The tackle was late but a red card seemed harsh, but Martin had to go leaving the visitors to play the second half with just ten men.
H/T: 4 – 0
Nasseri was brought on for the Gills at half-time in place of Jake Hessenthaler, who had been cautioned with Lovell switching to a three man central defence.
Southend, with their man advantage, were out of the traps quickly with McLaughlin testing Holy with a fierce shot from 30 yards which he got down well to beat behind for a corner.
O’Neill then had to be alert to nod behind a dangerous that came in from the right after Gills had given the ball away in the middle of the park as Southend continued to press. That was to be his final action as the right back had to be replaced with what looked like a muscle strain as the afternoon went from bad to worse.
The Shrimpers were close to adding a fifth when Gillingham failed to clear a corner and the ball lodged at the feet of Cox but Holy was equal to his shot as he span away from Ehmer. With an hour on the clock, Yearwood was the next to test Holy as he blasted from 30 yards but Holy again managed to get his fists to the shot and punch it to safety.
For a second time, Eaves thought he had got the Gills back into the game as he headed home a Garmston free-kick but the linesman’s flag was again raised.
Southend were nearly gifted a fifth when Holy mis-kicked a free-kick from miles outside his box giving Cox a shot from halfway at an empty goal, however the striker pulled his shot comfortably wide of the empty goal.
Despite the four goal lead, Southend continued to search for a fifth which nearly arrived when a dee corner made its way to Turner sliding in at the far post, but his effort only found the side netting.
As the game ticked into added time, Cox nearly added another for the Shrimpers as a quickly taken free-kick caught the Gills defence napping but the big striker’s shot after a good first touch was inches wide of Holy’s goal, and then Ladapo’s effort seconds later was comfortably saved.
F/T: 4 – 0
The Gills are back at Priestfield this Saturday when they take on Doncaster Rovers, their opponents from the first day of the SkyBet League One season when Gillingham battled to a goalless draw.
Southend United: Oxley; Demetriou, Turner, White, Coker; Kightly, Timlin, Yearwood (Wright, 82), McLaughlin (Harrison, 69); Cox, Robinson (Ladapo, 77)
Unused subs: Bishop (GK), Ferdinand, Wordsworth, Mantom
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill (Nugent, 51), Ehmer, Zakuani, Ogilvie (Wilkinson, 25); Byrne Hessenthaler (Nasseri, 46); Wagstaff, Martin, Garmston; Eaves
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), List, Moussa, Murphy
Referee: Mr Graham Salisbury
Attendance: 8,466 (1,307)