Luke Norris’ second half strike saw Gillingham earn a share of the spoils in a feisty encounter against Southend United at Roots Hall in front of just under 2,000 travelling fans.
Anthony Wordsworth opened the scoring for the hosts after 21 minutes, but Norris volleyed home Brennan Dickenson’s cross to draw Gillingham level for his sixth of the season. The result means that Gillingham stay in fourth position, just five points shy of Wigan in the second automatic position.
Gills manager Justin Edinburgh stayed with the same 3-5-2 formation that overcame Crewe last weekend, but named two new additions in the starting XI, both of whom have had previous spells with the Gills. Deji Oshilaja went straight in at centre-back and there was a start in midfield for Andrew Crofts, who returned to the club this morning on-loan until the end of the season from parent club Brighton.
In the Southend starting XI was ex-Gills League Two winning captain, Adam Barrett and there was a place on the bench for Myles Weston, who played in the same title-winning squad.
The Gills started brightly and had the first opportunity on goal after just five minutes. Dan Bentley made two close-range saves to deny Luke Norris and
Jake Hessenthaler, before the ball came out to Brennan Dickenson, whose effort looked to heading for the bottom corner but for an important block from John White.
Southend had their first effort on 15 minutes gone, as Tyrone Barnett received the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box, spun and shot, but his effort was comfortably stopped by Stuart Nelson.
However, the Gills found themselves under increasing pressure for the following five minutes and were punished for not clearing their lines midway through the first half. Following a looping cross, the ball fell perfectly into the path of WORDSWORTH, who swept the ball past a stranded Nelson.
The Gills’ main threat was coming from the left boot of Dickenson; the away side had plenty of deliveries into the Shrimpers box, many of which were from by the 23-year-old, but on each occasion the Southend defence managed to clear.
In a tough-tackling opening 45 minutes, Crofts and Oshilaja both picked up cautions from referee Dean Whitestone. The latter also had the ball in the back of the net on the stroke of half-time, but he was adjudged to have fouled Bentley.
The second half began with Edinburgh’s men on the front foot, much as the first half did. Within a minute of the restart the Gills were in the opposition box, and looking for an equaliser: determination from Crofts won him the ball, with Barrett scrabbling on the ground on the edge of the area, and the Welshman rifled a shot that flew just over the bar.
The Shrimpers went straight up the other end from the goal-kick and were inches to a second. Jack Payne’s trickery took him to the edge of the box and the number ten struck a left-foot shot that went just wide of Nelson’s left-hand post.
But on 53 minutes, the Gills were level. Dickenson found space on the left once again, and whipped in the ball to NORRIS who converted from six-yards. The striker ran straight over to the away stand, which erupted as the ball hit the back of the net.
The second-half seemed like a completely different game to the first; both sets of fans were creating a lively atmosphere and the game was being played in a box-to-box fashion, although the Gills began to dominate as full time neared.
Striker Dominic Samuel launched a shot from 25-yards and was unlucky not to score; Bentley dived to his left and dramatically parried the shot around the post for a corner. From the resulting set play, the keeper made a brilliant save to deny the same player, then Oshilaja’s header was cleared off the line by Wordsworth.
Southend United: Bentley, White, Coker, Wordsworth, Thompson, Payne, Hurst (McQueen 76), Barnett, Deegan, Kamara (Loza 63), Berrett
Unused subs: Weston, Atkinson, Smith, McLaughlin, O’Neill
Gillingham: Nelson, Ehmer, A.Morris, Hessenthaler (Williams 76), Oshilaja, McGlashan (Jackson 80), Dickenson, Crofts, Wright, Norris, Samuel
Unused subs: G. Morris, Osadebe, Oldaker, Donnelly, Garmston
Attendance: 9,135 (1,921 away)
Referee: Dean Whitestone