Published: 16:40, 26 August 2017
Tom Eaves bagged a hat-trick for Gillingham as they took a point from a thriller against Southend.
His treble ended Gillingham’s goal drought during an all-action League 1 encounter.
Ryan Leonard put the visitors ahead midway through the first half but a brace from Eaves after the break put Gills infront.
Goals from Michael Kightly and Simon Cox restored Southend’s lead but Eaves claimed the matchball with his and Gills’ third, converting from close-range after his penalty had been saved.
Gillingham beat Southend three times last season, with a home win in February ending Ady Pennock’s wait for a first win as Gills boss. He was again anxious for a result after picking up just one point from their first three league games, without scoring.
Josh Wright scored both goals in a 2-1 win that day but was absent from the Gills squad on Saturday. Billy Bingham took Wright’s place in the team, making a welcome return from injury.
Fans got their wish with former non-league hot-shot Liam Nash starting his first game for Gillingham. Pennock’s side went into the weekend as the only EFL team without a goal since the season kicked off.
Gills had an early chance on target, from former Southend man O’Neill, but his well-struck shot was saved by visiting keeper Mark Oxley. The hosts had started at a good tempo but that was to be their only shot on target in the half.
Their early swagger evaporated when Southend took a 21st minute lead.
Gills keeper Tomas Holy tried to claim a deflected cross from Jermaine McGlashan, under pressure from Leonard. The ball dropped, Gills froze and the Southend man hooked the ball home.
Gillingham’s confidence went straight away and Southend dominated for the rest of the half.
Even experienced man Gabriel Zakuani was looking shaky at the back, conceding possession and being thankful that Southend were wasteful on the break.
Pennock’s side were coming under mounting pressure, prompting Pennock to make a switch in formation. Max Ehmer was replaced by Josh Parker, abandoning the wing-back system and matching up with Southend’s 4-4-2 setup.
The Gills got their first goal of the season, and first for almost nine hours of football, when Eaves sent a looping header over keeper Oxley. The chance came from Byrne’s cross after he and O’Neill created space with a one-two.
Eaves put the Gills ahead seven minutes later as he stooped low to head home a curling cross from Connor Ogilvie.
Gillingham’s joy was shortlived, however, as Southend responded within two minutes, Kightly finding the bottom corner to make it 2-2.
Southend were back infront with 16 minutes left when Cox bundled the ball home after Theo Robinson’s shot had struck the bar. Cox and Jason Demetriou had both reacted to the loose ball, while the Gills were left standing.
The game was level again with 10 minutes left. Byrne had been fouled in the box by Robinson and although Oxley saved Eaves’ penalty, the big striker was there to stick away the rebound.
Eaves and Parker both had chances at the far post, while Southend could have won it too, but the points were eventually shared.
Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill, Lacey, Zakuani (Nugent 69mins), Ehmer (Parker 41mins), Ogilvie, Byrne, Bingham, Martin, Nash (Cundle 74mins), Eaves. Subs not used: Arnold, Hessenthaler, Oldaker, Wagstaff.
Southend: Oxley, Demetriou, White, Ferdinand, Hendrie, Timlin, Kightly, McGlashan, Leonard, Cox, Fortune (Robinson 62mins). Subs not used: Kyprianou, Smith, McLaughlin, Yearwood, Bridge, Ba.
Attendance: 5,339 (1,027)