Points shared at Beechings.
Craig Stone’s Gillingham U18’s secure a point against their close rivals in a 2-2 draw against Southend United on Saturday morning, in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Division.
Southend started off the better side by pressing Gillingham high up the pitch, which they seemed to handle well to begin with.
However, Southend managed to go one in front after 16 minutes from a corner which Gills failed to clear. The ball eventually went in after a ricochet or two, leading to Ergis Shala getting the final touch from close range.
After a disappointing start, Gills started to see more of the ball and created a number of decent opportunities to draw level. They finally did so through Toby Bancroft on the half hour mark. A long ball was flicked on by George Baker-Moran, which Bancroft managed to get on the end of, beat the defender, and most importantly beat the keeper with a clinical finish to make the score 1-1.
Southend’s keeper did manage to get a hand to the ball, but there was just too much power in the strike for him to keep it out.
Just a minute later, Southend came knocking on Gillingham’s door after that equaliser with an opportunity that should have been put away by forward Bobby Unwin. He managed to cut in from the right, and fire a low effort just past the post, which had Charlie Walker scrambling to his right.
The rest of the first half became a lot tighter, and goalscoring opportunities were few and far between. That was until the last passage of play of the first 45, which saw a driven cross from the left almost turned in by Max Niblett into his own goal. Luckily for him, the ball flew off his right boot and past the post for a corner.
The second half got off to a slow start for the home side after allowing Southend a couple of glaring opportunities in front of goal. The first came seven minutes after the restart as Tommy Lambourne’s cross was cut out by Niblett, but the ball dropped for Louie Arrowsmith who fired his shot over the bar.
Another Southend chance came on the hour mark, and this time Lambourne was unable to get on the end of an inviting ball towards the far post. Warning signs were there for Gills who, at this point, needed to switch things up to regain control of the game.
Manager Craig Stone did just that with 30 minutes left to play, by changing to a 4-3-3 formation, moving Bancroft to right-wing with substitute Jay Hards through the middle.
The change in tactics almost had an immediate impact. Gills winger Jimmy Witt showed a quick turn of pace and brilliant skill to beat the defender, cutting in from the left and curling a decent effort towards the far post which was parried out by the keeper.
The home side were now hitting their stride and were piling on the pressure.
This high pressure soon paid off as Gills took the lead thanks to Bancroft who scored his second of the game in the 71st minute. Ronny Nelson floated the ball into the box which found Bancroft unmarked at the back post. He had enough time to chest the ball down and rifle a half volley across goal into the far corner, giving the keeper no chance and making the score 2-1.
With 15 minutes to go in the game, Bancroft could have completed his hat-trick after an almost exact replica of his second goal. This time, the keeper was equal to his volley and was parried out for a corner.
Ten minutes from time and Southend were starting to make a late charge for an equaliser with pressure mounting on the Gills backline.
Lambourne found himself with another golden opportunity to put his side level after a long ball into the box found its way to him, but couldn’t quite get enough weight on the lob to trouble Walker.
Southend’s late pressure finally broke Gillingham’s defence as they levelled proceedings in stoppage time. The goal came from a free-kick on the left which was swung in by Ahmet Biler. Tommy Davis at the far post knocked it back into the danger area, and Kenny Coker was there to bundle the ball in from four yards.
The Gills therefore went away with the one point, having felt they’d done enough to deserve a victory, in what was a tough battle against their South East Conference rivals.
Gills: Walker, Lintott, Nelson, Baker, Niblett, Laing (Maher 82), Medhurst, Lamb, Baker-Moran (Hards 54), Bancroft, Witt.
Scorers: Bancroft (X2)
Southend: Taylor, Davis, Biler, Brogan (Coker 75), Shala, Wallace, Arrowsmith (Crowhurst 81), Brown, Adedoja, Lambourne, Unwin.
Scorers: Shala, Coker