Maximum points for Gills on opening day.
Gillingham got off to the perfect start to the new League 1 season on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Accrington Stanley at the Wham Stadium.
A goal from new signing Brandon Hanlan and a Josh Parker header helped secure Steve Lovell’s side a deserved victory.
In what was a free flowing first half performance, the Gills could have been further ahead had things been different. Hanlan turned home a Charles-Cook cross before Parker headed in a superb O’Neill cross. The second half was a much more tentative affair, but the Gills defence held firm as they recorded a comfortable win on the road.
Summer signings Charles-Cook, Dean Parrett and Hanlan all made their competitive debuts for the Gills, while there was a place on the bench for returning full back Barry Fuller alongside last season’s top scorer Tom Eaves.
For Stanley, who went up as League 2 champions last season, Billy Kee, who was top scorer in the fourth division last term lined up top alongside much sought after striker Kayden Jackson.
In the warm Lancashire sun it was the home side who made the brighter start, winning an early corner off O’Neill and Parrett did well to clear the danger twice.
Six minutes in and Gills had their first chance, a deflected Bradley Garmston cross found its way to Mark Byrne and following a sweet volley on the edge of the box it took a good save to deny the midfielder.
At the other end, following a deep cross from the right-hand side, a Sean McConville header was cleared off the line by Max Ehmer, just as it had looked like the midfielder had done enough to put the home side ahead.
Gills responded though. A move down the right-hand side resulted in Parker firing over following a Charles-Cook cut back, a chance he will feel he should have done better with.
22 minutes in and the Gills took the lead; a powerful break from Billy Bingham in the middle of the park opened the defence before setting up Charles-Cook, the midfielder’s cross scrambled across the face of goal and there was Hanlan to stick it away. It was his first competitive goal for the Gills, as the travelling fans were sent in to raptures.
As the half an hour mark ticked over, an Accrington cross from the left hand side found its way through to Jordan Clark at the back post, luckily for Gills though, his effort fell the wrong side of the post to keep the away side ahead.
With half-time approaching, the Gills began to take control. Seven minutes before the break Mark Byrne went in to the book following a lunge in the middle of the park, with the home fans calling for a more severe punishment to be branded.
Just before the break the Gills had two golden chances to double their lead. Firstly, Hanlan decided to cut back when it looked like a shot was the best option before Parker could only guide a Byrne cross wide of the post, just seconds later.
There was still time for Parker’s hard work to be rewarded though. With the visitors ramping up the pressure, an O’Neill cross was steered in to the bottom corner by the attacker to double their lead. Keeper Jonny Maxted was unable to keep out the attacker’s header to send the number 14 wheeling away as over 400 odd Gills fans celebrated once more.
The second half started with the Gills kicking towards the fans who had made the long journey north as both sides kept the same eleven out and the half started with the Gills continuing to look the most threatening side. An O’Neill shot was just about turned behind by Maxted as Steve Lovell’s side went in search of a third.
The home side finally started to pose a threat ten minutes in to the second half, an attacking free kick was taken quickly but a deep cross to the back post could only be flicked wide by defender Mark Hughes.
Following a spell of relative calm, the home side started to get on top. A cross from the right was fired past the post and Tomas Holy had to be alert to stop Sean McConville getting on the end of a cross.
The Gills attacking threat was not what it was in the first half as the Gills looked to hold what they had but despite the lack of threat going forward, the Gills still looked relatively secure at the back, with the home side reduced to shots from distance.
On 70 minutes, scorer of the first goal, Brandon Hanlan, was replaced by number nine Tom Eaves, who returned after being out for the latter part of pre-season with an ankle injury.
With 15 minutes left, the home fans were appealing for a penalty as Jackson went down under pressure, but not for the first time, the referee waved away appeals.
With 78 minutes on the clock the Gills surged forward, a long ball was picked up on the edge of the box by Dean Parrett, but his shot flew agonisingly past the post. The home side were soon back on the attack though as Brown’s effort was blocked by his team-mate just after he had pulled the trigger.
As the game entered in to the final five minutes, Accrington threw caution to the wind as they looked for a way back in to the game, but it was proving to be difficult to get any joy out of the solid Gills defence. In fact, Gills nearly added some gloss to the score line when Tom Eaves’ header looped over the bar.
One final attack for the home side saw them win a corner with the resulting cross a good one but the Gills held firm as Ben Richards-Everton could only head wide. With the almost the last kick of the game another corner was put in as Sykes’ header was blocked by Luke O’Neill.
Gillingham: Tomas Holy, Luke O’Neill, Bradley Garmston, Max Ehmer, Gabriel Zakuani, Brandan Hanlan (Tom Eaves 70), Dean Parrett, Regan Charles- Cook, Josh Parker, Billy Bingham, Mark Byrne
Unused Subs: Tom Hadler, Barry Fuller, Navid Nasseri, Liam Nash, Aaron Simpson, Bradley Stevenson
Accrington Stanley: Johnny Maxted, Callum Johnson (Sam Finley 61) , Mark Hughes, Ben Richards-Everton, Jordan Clark, Scott Brown, Kayden Jackson (Offrande Zanzala 82), Sean McConville, Ross Sykes, Seamus Connelly, Billy Kee
Unused Subs: Tony Warner, Erico Sousa, Harvey Rodgers, Piero Mignoia, Matty Platt
Referee: Mr A Backhouse
Attendance: 2201 (418