Gills produce excellent performance at Stockport to clinch all three points on the opening day of the season.
Robbie McKenzie came off the bench to score a late winner as Gillingham beat Stockport County 1-0 at Edgeley Park on the opening day of the season.
Having defended valiantly for the duration of the second-half, the visitors had a free-kick on the left of the box. Cheye Alexander tried to drill the ball towards the near post, but it deflected off the wall and back into the middle of the penalty area. It bounced into the path of McKenzie, who made no mistake as he smashed the ball into the bottom corner.
Stockport thought that they had found a late equaliser through Paddy Madden, but he was ruled to be offside, meaning that Gillingham held on for a well-deserved win.
Neil Harris opted to start with Jake Turner in goal for the opening fixture of the 2023/24 season. Shad Ogie, Scott Malone and Jonny Williams made their Gillingham debuts, while Ashley Nadesan started among the substitutes.
Gills started the game with a 4-2-3-1 formation, as Ethan Coleman and Shaun Williams played behind Dom Jefferies, George Lapslie and Jonny Williams. Tom Nichols led the line in attack.
The hosts had the first half-chance of the game in the 14th minute. Louie Barry and Ryan Rydel combine down the left before finding Nick Powell inside the penalty area. Powell struck it on the volley and it fizzed across the six-yard box. Fortunately for Gillingham, no one was in the vicinity to get the all-important touch.
Jonny Williams had Gillingham’s first opportunity moments later, but his shot from distance was comfortable for Ben Hinchliffe, who gathered the ball.
Nichols had a great opportunity in the 24th minute. Max Ehmer played a ball forward and it made its way out to Jefferies, who took it down the right before crossing into the box. He picked out Nichols, who shot goalward. It seemingly took a deflection off a Stockport defender as it looped over the crossbar, but the referee gave a goal kick.
Turner made a great save to deny Macauley Southam-Hales in the 38th minute. Rydel curled the ball towards the back post, and Southam-Hales was there to head the ball into the ground. It bounced up just in front of the Gills keeper, who got down to push it away before the Gills cleared their lines.
Malone had a good opportunity after Nichols saw a shot blocked. It came out to the left-back, who moved it onto his left foot before curling towards the far corner. It went over the head of Hinchliffe but landed on the roof of the net.
HALF-TIME: Stockport County 0-0 Gillingham
Coleman provided a goal-saving block in the 54th minute. Rydel’s corner from the left found the head of Ibou Touray, who thumped a header goalward from six yards out. It looked as if it would find the back of the net, but Coleman was on hand to get in front of the effort and keep it out.
Powell tested Turner with a shot from over 25 yards moments later. His effort had the height but lacked the power, as Turner did well to catch it.
Gills made two changes in the 69th minute as Nadesan and Robbie McKenzie replaced Jefferies and Jonny Williams. It saw a change of formation as the visitors switched to a back five, with McKenzie slotting in at centre-back while Nadesan joined Nichols in the attack.
The hosts came very close to taking the lead through Kyle Knoyle. Gillingham could not clear the lines, and the ball came to Paddy Madden on the edge of the penalty area. He played it to Knoyle, who had the entire goal to aim at. He smashed it with plenty of venom as it beat Turner but smashed off the crossbar, leaving Gillingham's hearts in their mouths.
Malone had a great opportunity as Hinchliffe pulled off a magnificent save. Nadesan took the ball down the right wing before cutting it back towards Nichols and Lapslie. It was then played back to Malone, who struck a first-time low-driven effort. It seemed as if it would nestle into the bottom right corner, but Hinchliffe got down to make the save.
Gills made two more changes in the 84th minute, as Max Clark and Jayden Clarke replaced Lapslie and Malone respectively.
In the 86th minute, McKenzie fired Gills in front. Cheye Alexander fired a free-kick towards the near post from the left of the penalty area, but it deflected off the wall and into the middle of the box. It bounced around before falling to McKenzie, who rifled an effort beyond Hinchliffe and into the back of the net, sending the 739 Gillingham supporters into raptures.
Turner did brilliantly in the dying moments to deny Madden. A shot was sent goalward, and Madden managed to flick it towards the goal, but Turner bravely got in front of the effort to keep it out.
Madden thought he had scored a last-gasp equaliser for the hosts deep into stoppage time, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.
Jayden Richardson almost broke Gillingham’s hearts at the death as he was played the ball in space down the right side of the penalty area. He rifled a shot towards the near post that nestled into the side netting. Some Stockport fans thought it had found the back of the net, but it was not to be, as the Gills hung on for all three points.
FULL-TIME: Stockport County 0-1 Gillingham
Stockport County: Hinchcliffe, Knoyle, Touray, Horsfall (Richardson 90’), Southam-Hales (Evans 90’), Camps (Wright 79’), Sarcevic, Powell, Rydel, Barry (Madden 64’), Olaofe
Unused Substitutes: Smith, Byrne, Pye
Gillingham: Turner, Alexander, Ehmer, Ogie, Malone (Clark 84’), S.Williams, Coleman, Jefferies (Nadesan 69’), Lapslie (Clarke 84’), J.Williams (McKenzie 69’), Nichols (Gbode 90’)
Unused Substitutes: Morris, Chambers
Referee: Benjamin Speedie
Attendance: 9116 (739 Gillingham supporters)