Gillingham 3-1 Southend United
Gillingham 3-1 Southend United

Gillingham despatched Southend United back through the Dartford Tunnel with a display that for long periods very few sides in SKYBet League One could have lived with as the home side dominated for long, long periods of what at times was a very one-sided contest!

It was a mystery that the home side only had Alfie Jones’ first goal for the club to lead at half time such was the Gills almost total dominance.  Stuart O’Keefe doubled the lead literally seconds into the second half with his first Gillingham goal before totally against the run of play Simon Cox squeezed one in for the visitors, before a truly ridiculous final quarter that saw two missed penalties; a substitute being sent off eleven minutes after coming on and Brandon Hanlon’s third goal of the season sealed a three one triumph and sent the home fans home very happy!

The Gills eager to put last weekend’s desperate drubbing at Oxford United behind them came out of the traps flying and in the first seven minutes forced Southend keeper Mark Oxley into not one, not two but three stunning saves to deny Mikael Ndjoli’s low drive, Hanlon’s near post pile driver and Olly Lee’s shot from the edge of the box as he tipped the drive onto the bar.

Hanlon then headed wide and sadly you could see from the visitor’s demeanour just why at kick off there were only two sides below the manager-less Shrimper in the League table, as the Gills dominated. 

The breakthrough finally arrived two minutes from the break and ironically started with Southend’s only worthwhile chance of the half.  Isaac Hutchinson was played through only for Jack Bonham to sprint from his line to cleanly take the ball off the foot of the Southend man.  Bonham then in turned released Ndjoli down the left and the on-loan Bournemouth striker was gone!  The Southend defence struggled to catch him and the ball was laid to the edge of the box, Jones didn’t break stride to drill the ball home – Oxley did valiantly but couldn’t get a strong enough hand down to keep the ball out, and Jones had his first Gillingham goal! 

It could even have been two in stoppage time when Lee curled a corker over Oxley only to see the ball crash down off the underside of the bar.

The lead was doubled though before a proportion of the crowd were back in their seats at the start of the second period.  Hanlon managed to hurdle two challenges down the left, and his lay back was brilliantly diverted to O’Keefe from Lee and O’Keefe duly curled home his first for the club.

Southend were facing the abyss of a real thrashing when totally out of the blue (or yellow) Cox fired a low shot in that squirmed under Bonham to give the visitors a likely lifeline which for ten minutes they almost took.  The introduction of Emile Acquah – the tall gangly striker – seemed to rally the visitors by his physical nature that twice left Connor Ogilvie floored.

From the first many observers thought the card would be red and not the yellow produced by the frustrating official Mr Doughty – but there was no doubt at all when Acquah saw his second yellow card in the nine minutes he’d been on the pitch as he lunged into a challenge with Barry Fuller which nearly sent the Gills Player of the Year into the front row of the Gordon Road stand.

Hanlon was desperately unlucky not to score when set up by Mark Byrne – his shot curled just a fraction past the post with Oxley grabbing thin air, before the game now took a truly ridiculous turn as the home side were awarded two penalties in a daft ninety second spell. 

For the first one, Ndjoli was scythed down racing through before he picked himself up and struck the spot kick off the outside of the right post.  In the Gills very next attack, they won a corner and as it dropped in the box, Max Ehmer this time was felled, and the Gills had another penalty.  There was a surprise around the ground when Ndjoli stepped up again – this time the striker shot to the left and not the right, but Oxley guessed correctly and pulled off a stunning save.

Riding their luck, the Shrimpers nearly grabbed the most unlikely of equalisers as Joe Shaughnessy couldn’t reach Stephen Humphrys driven centre and the ball went out for a throw. 

It seemed the kick start the Gills needed to press on to seal their win and Hanlon duly obliged with the goal that his performance deserved and rightly earned him the Gills player of the game – although the Man of the Match must have headed to the Southend keeper.  But even Oxley was left scrambling and flat on his back as he did well to block Mark Marshall’s drive before Hanlon slid in for the rebound and just got enough of a touch to seal the points.

This defeat leaves the visitors with just luckless Bolton Wanderers below them and on this very disjointed, disappointing and poor display it really could be a long cold winter on the Essex coast.  Meantime at Priestfleld, that’s three home wins in six games with two draws and finally belief that home base could be becoming the fortress that Steve Evans was looking for in June when he took over!

GILLINGHAM – Bonham, Fuller (Tucker 90+2), Ehmer, Ogilvie, O’Connor, Byrne, O’Keefe, Jones, Lee (Marshall 64), Hanlon (Jakubiak 90+1), Ndjoli

Subs – Mandron, Charles-Cook, Pringle, Walsh

SOUTHEND UNITED Oxley, Demetriou (Shaughnessy 54), Lennon, Kiernan, Bwomono, Hutchinson (Acquah 54), Hamilton, Milligan, McLaughlin, Cox, Humphrys

Subs – Hyam, Dieng, Bishop, Ndukwu, Taylor

REFEREE – Mr Doughty

ASSISTANTS – Mr Butler & Mr Ogles      FOURTH OFFICIAL – Mr Cook