Stuart Nelson’s heroics weren’t enough for the Gills, as substitute Nicky Ajose’s last minute penalty earned Charlton a 1-1 draw at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Saturday.
Nelson replaced Jonathan Bond on 31 minutes, with the latter going down with a groin problem, and Nelson made a number of world-class saves to deny the Addicks throughout the second-half.
Bradley Dack opened the scoring against his former club with a sublime header, before Nelson saved Ricky Holmes’ second-half penalty. Ajose scored from the penalty spot on 90 minutes to take a point back the Valley.
Justin Edinburgh started with a 4-3-3 formation, with Frank Nouble, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Cody McDonald leading the line up front.
Chris Herd dropped to centre-back with the absence of Deji Oshilaja through suspension, and captain Josh Wright also missed out after picking up his fifth yellow card in midweek against Walsall.
Emmanuel-Thomas had the first effort of the game on 10 minutes, shooting in to the wall after Dack’s laid off free-kick.
The Gills dominated the opening 20 minutes, and McDonald was making a nuisance of himself up front, challenging for every ball that came his way and causing Ezri Konsa problems in the Addicks’ defence.
Josh Macgennis held the ball up well for Charlton on the few occasions he received it with his back to goal, but the away side weren’t getting the ball in forward areas enough for the striker to make an impact.
Ryan Jackson tried to replicate the goal he scored away at Shrewsbury last season with 24 minutes played. Charlton did well to clear a corner-kick, and the right-back let fly from 30-yards but the ball flew into the Brian Moore Stand, where the away following were housed.
The Gills had a great opportunity on 26 minutes, as Emmanuel-Thomas played through Dack. The forward took a sublime touch and, with Dack on the overlap, played him in but the Gills number 23 couldn’t get enough lift on the ball to dink it over the onrushing Declan Rudd.
Bond was replaced by Nelson on 31 minutes, with the latter receiving a great reception from the Rainham End toward which he was running.
On 32 minutes Charlton had half a chance when the ball fell to Macgennis on the six-yard line, but it was easily smothered by Nelson before a Charlton player could attack the ball.
Emmanuel-Thomas looked scintillating on the right-had side of the attacking trio, and produced a sublime piece of skill on 35 minutes. The forward picked up the ball on the wing, and cut inside, nutmegging one player, then shimmied to the right, nutmegging another and setting the Gills on an attack.
On 41 minutes the Gills were in front after two ex-Addicks combined. Emmanuel-Thomas, who was in fine form, switched the ball to Paul Konchesky, and the left-back cut in and hit a right-footed cross, where Dack popped up with a top-class header to make it 1-0.
Gillingham went into half-time with a well-deserved 1-0 lead.
Russel Slade brought on last year’s Sky Bet League One top scorer Nicky Ajose for the restart, replacing captain Jonnie Jackson, as Charlton reverted to a 4-4-2 formation.
Emmanuel-Thomas was looking hungry to get on the scoresheet himself, and had a long-range effort saved on 54 minutes, after great play from Nouble. The latter picked up the ball in the centre of the park and switched play to the right-hand side, where Emmanuel-Thomas cut inside and shot, but his effort was gathered by Rudd.
Charlton had their best opportunity of the match on 58 minutes. Ex-Gill Andrew Crofts whipped the ball in to Macgennis, but Nelson was equal to his header, that looked to be heading for the top corner, with a magnificent save.
From the resulting corner, the Addicks were awarded a penalty after Jackson was adjudged to have man-handled Frederik Ulvestad.
Holmes stepped up to take the spot-kick, and struck the ball sweetly to the left, but Nelson made an astonishing save to deny the midfielder, palming away fort a corner.
The atmosphere ramped up a notch following the save, with both sets of supporters spurring on their team, and the Rainham End chanting “England’s number one” to the Gills stopper.
On 65 minutes the crowd were on their feet as McDonald went rushing in on goal and was taken down from behind. No penalty was given, to the dismay of the stadium and Charlton broke on the attack.
Man of the match Nelson made yet another world-class save to deny Jason Pearce’s volley on 70 minutes, as Charlton looked to get their way back into the game.
Nouble and Dack were the next to combine for the Gills on 76 minutes. Nouble held the ball on the left-hand side of the six-yard line and played in Dack, who took a snap-shot that went just wide of the upright.
80. Substitute Lee Novak scored for Chesterfield when visiting the MEMS Priestfield Stadium last season, but he wasn’t in luck today. With 80 minutes played the forward took a touch past Herd and tried squeezing the ball under Nelson, but the keeper made yet another great save.
Emmanuel Osadebe replaced Jackson on 84 minutes, with the right-back going down with cramp.
The away side were awarded a second penalty with one minute of normal time remaining, after Herd handballed in the box.
This time, it was Ajose who stepped up, and the substitute made no mistake from six-yards, sending Nelson the wrong way.
Gillingham had the chance to take all three points with the last kick of the game, but McDonald’s free-kick was blocked by the wall and the full-time whistle went to give both teams a share of the points.
Gillingham: Bond (Nelson, 31), Jackson (Osadebe, 84), Ehmer, Herd, Konchesky, Knott, Hessenthaler, Dack, Nouble, Emmanuel-Thomas, McDonald
Unused subs: Donnelly, Pask, Oldaker, List, Byrne
Charlton: Rudd, Jackson, Lookman (Ajose, 45), Crofts, Macgennis (Novak, 78), Holmes, Konsa, Pearce, Ulvestad, Solly, Fox
Unused subs: Phillips, Foley, Lennon, Hanlan, Teixeira
Referee: Mark Hayward
Attendance: 8,670 (2,260 away)