Gillingham 2-3 Colchester United
Gillingham 2-3 Colchester United

Gillingham fell to a 3-2 defeat against League Two side Colchester United in their first group game of this season’s Trophy.

The Gills, featuring 9 changes from the side that beat Bolton Wanderers 5-0 on Saturday, dominated possession but struggled to break down a resilient Colchester defence on a number of occasions.

Defensive errors cost Steve Evans’ men and the away side had three goals to show for their efforts courtesy of new signing Theo Robinson and a Paris Cowan-Hall double. Stuart O’Keefe and Mikael Mandron netted either side of half-time for Gillingham.

Gillingham won a corner within seconds of the first whistle, however it was wasted by Mark Marshall. Mikael Ndjoli, too, soon fired over following a cross deflected off of Paris Cowan-Hall.

Despite Gillingham’s early pressure, it was Colchester who took the lead in the opening ten minutes through Cowan-Hall. United built up well, and new signing Theo Robinson beat young Gillingham ‘keeper Joe Walsh to a ball in the box to square it to Cowan-Hall, who was able to pass the cross into an empty net.

Ndjoli had another good chance up the other end just a minute later for Gillingham, however he was stopped by United stopper Ethan Ross when trying to round him from a tight angle.

Despite Colchester’s opener, Gillingham continued to dominate proceedings however had to be weary of the counter attack, that proven when Jevani Brown fumbled a good chance following good build-up play from the away side.

Gillingham’s pressure paid off on 23 minutes when the hosts equalised thanks to captain for the night Stuart O’Keefe. Mark Marshall took on his full-back on the left hand side before putting in a cross that was too deflected. A defensive header was mistimed and the ball fell into the path of O’Keefe, who fired home on the half volley at the first time of asking.

Connor Ogilvie almost gifted the visitors the lead on the half hour mark when he was forced to clear over his own cross-bar, before Steve Evans got a stern talking to from referee David Rock following an animated appeal against a refereeing decision – actions greeted by a huge cheer from the home faithful.

Gillingham tried to utilise their width as the half progressed with Mikael Ndjoli showing good form to earn his side another corner before Mark Marshall produced a fine bit of trickery, but the hard-working United defence blocked his effort before it could test Ross.

Stuart O’Keefe found himself trying his luck from a similar position to his earlier goal as the second-half began, but he sliced his effort over before Colchester retook the lead.

It was Theo Robinson who netter for United in what seemed to be a simple goal. A neat ball was played down the left where Robinson waited, and the forward cut onto his right foot before firing past an unsighted Walsh to give Colchester the lead.

Two soon became three thanks to Pairs Cowan-Hall’s second of the evening. This one came from good build-up play form Gillingham’s visitors, and the ball was, eventually, moved to Cowan-Hall on the right, who fired hard and high past the onrushing Walsh to secure United’s two goal advantage just after the hour mark.

Colchester were happy to sit on their lead and frustrate Gillingham as the game progressed, but they found their lead halved when substitute Oliver Lee fired in a beauty of a corner for big striker Mikael Mandron to head home, leaving The Gills just over ten minutes to find an equaliser.

The hosts peppered the away goal in-front of The Rainham End with second-half substitute Alex Jakubiak forcing Ross into a save before Oliver Lee blazed a free-kick just over the crossbar. At the other end, Colchester substitute Courtney Senior shot just wide on the counter.

Gillingham thought they had their equaliser in added time when Mandron once again headed in a Lee corner, but the home celebrations were halted when the referee blew up almost immediately for a push in the back of a defender.

Gillingham still had the opportunity to save the game late on when Southampton loanee Thomas O’Connor forced Ross into a stop from point blank range, but it wasn’t to be for Gillingham, and they began their trophy campaign with a 3-2 loss on the evening.

Gillingham: Walsh, Hodson, Tucker, Ogilvie, O’Connor, O’Keefe, Cissé (Lee 70), Marshall, Charles-Cook (Byrne 73), Ndjoli (Jakubiak 70), Mandron.

Subs not used: Bonham, Fuller, Ehmer, Jones.

Goals: O’Keefe 23, Mandron 78

Colchester: Ross, Sarpong-Wiredu, Sowunmi (Eastman 60), Kensdale, Clampin, Comley, Chilvers (James 82), Cowan-Hall (Senior 76), Brown, Poku, Robinson.

Subs not used: Stevenson, Hasanally, Nouble, Vose.

Goals: Cowan-Hall 8 & 63, Robinson 55

Attendance: 1055

Referee: Mr D. Rock

Assistants: Mr N. Cooper and Mr G. Byrne

Fourth official: Mr S. Brown