The Gills beat Southend United 3-1 for the second time in four days on Tuesday evening, thanks to two goals from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and one from Cody McDonald, to progress to the second round of the EFL Cup.
Just as in Saturday’s League One games, Southend took the lead through Stephen McLaughlin. However, after McDonald equalised not long after the break, substitute Emmanuel-Thomas came on and changed the game with his two goals and all-round performance.
The EFL Cup draw takes place on Wednesday night at 10pm, with ties being help in the week commencing August 22.
Manager Justin Edinburgh made four changes to the starting 11 that beat the Shrimpers on Saturday, with Emmanuel-Thomas, Deji Oshilaja, Emmanuel Osadebe and Mark Byrne having to settle for a place on the bench. Summer signings Billy Knott, Josh Pask and Joe Quigley made their first starts for the Gills, and Jake Hessenthaler came into midfield.
The first chance of the tie went to the hosts, after good work from McLaughlin. The midfielder held up the ball well before playing in Simon Cox with a neat ball back over his head, but Cox’s effort went high and wide into the stands.
Unfortunately, Max Ehmer went down after a clash of heads with Luke O’Neill inside his box on 12 minutes and had to be substituted. The centre-back was carried off in a stretcher and replaced by Oshilaja.
Knott had the first effort for the visitors halfway through the opening 45 with a shot from 25 yards, but Mark Oxley made a comfortable save in the Southend goal. The former Bradford man showed his defensive qualities just minutes later, chasing back to deny Cox. The striker was just about the pull the trigger on the edge of the box, but Knott’s last-ditch tackle was enough to prevent Stuart Nelson from having to make a save.
There was more bad news on the injury front for Edinburgh on the half-hour mark, when Bradley Dack went down holding his left knee following a challenge in the centre circle. Last season’s top scorer was replaced by Osadebe in midfield, the club will have the talisman midfielder scanned on Wednesday morning.
The Shrimpers took the lead on 34 minutes. Jakub Sokolik headed down Ryan Leonard’s throw and McLaughlin bundled the ball into the back of the net.
McDonald then had two half chances in as many minutes for the visitors. The first came from Josh Wright’s curling cross on 36 minutes; he rose highest but couldn’t guide his header on target.
The second was a scissor-kick after Ryan Jackson held the ball up in the area. The spectacular effort was blocked and the ball landed at Hessenthaler’s feet, but the midfielder’s effort spun wide of goal and into the advertising boards.
Gillingham looked more promising towards the end of the half as they tried to grab an equaliser before the break.
Quigley’s deft touch and hold-up play allowed Knott join him on the edge of the box in stoppage time. When the Gills number 11 received the ball he played in Konchesky with a clever pass, but the left-back’s cross was cleared by Coker.
There was still time for one more attack in the sixth minute of stoppage time, this time from Southend, but Coker mistimed his free header and the ball went out for a goal-kick.
On 51 minutes, Cox had the ball at his feet and swivelled on the edge of the box, advancing a yard on his defender before eventually getting a shot away. However, he dragged the effort wide for the hosts.
The Gills drew level on 55 minutes thanks to McDonald’s striker’s instinct. Knott whipped a left-footed cross in and the ball fell to the striker, who took a touch and volleyed the ball past the helpless Oxley.
On 61 minutes Southend had the chance to go in front once again, but Mooney’s shot from inside the box was deflected for a corner by debutant Pask.
Emmanuel-Thomas replaced Quigley immediately after, and the Gills began to look more fluid going forward.
The forward started a move down the left on 70 minutes, and nearly provided an assist to end the passage of play. After playing a clever one-two with Konchesky, Emmanuel-Thomas fizzed the ball across goal, where Hessenthaler was waiting at the back post. However, Coker just got enough of his foot on the ball to kick it out for a corner.
Four minutes later, Edinburgh’s side were in front. Emmanuel-Thomas scored his second goal in as many games for the Gills, after Knott’s build-up play. Emmanuel-Thomas received the ball 20-yards from goal, took a touch and unleashed his left-footed shot into the corner of the net to complete the turnaround.
The team celebrated towards the travelling fans in the North Stand, who began singing: “It’s happened again, it’s happened again. Southend United, it’s happened again.”
On 84 minutes the man-of-the-moment Emmanuel-Thomas had the ball on the right-wing and beat both ex-Gill Jermaine McGlashan and Coker with two step-overs. He then cut in on his left-foot and hit an effort that looked destined for the top corner, only to swerve at the last minute and fly into the stand.
The result was decided on 88 minutes: Emmanuel-Thomas rounded the goalkeeper to score his third goal in four days at Roots Hall from Nelson’s clearance and end the game as a contest.
The draw for the second round will take place on Wednesday at 10pm, while the Gills return to action at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday to face Bury in a League One fixture.
Southend: Oxley, White, Coker, O’Neill, Mooney (Bridge, 79), Cox, McLaughlin (McGlashan, 79), Sokolik, King (Williams, 87), Leonard, Demetriou
Unused subs: Thompson, Barrett, Atkinson, Williams, Smith
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer (Oshilaja, 17), Pask, Konchesky, Hessenthaler, Dack (Osadebe, 30), Wright, Knott, McDonald, Quigley (Emmanuel-Thomas, 63)
Unused subs: Hadler, Byrne, Donnelly, Oldaker
Referee: Tim Robinson
Attendance: 3,175 (359 away)