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Stockport 0 Gillingham 1: Robbie McKenzie scored late winner in League 2 match at Edgeley Park

Gillingham opened up their League 2 season with a win after scoring late on to beat well-fancied Stockport County.

Stockport looked the more dangerous side in the second half after an encouraging first 45 from the Gills. Kyle Knoyle smashed an effort off the bar for the hosts but Robbie McKenzie pounced for Neil Harris’ side after getting on the end of a free-kick.

Gillingham score the winner at Stockport Picture: @Julian_KPI
Gillingham score the winner at Stockport Picture: @Julian_KPI

More: “That’s not going to dampen expectation levels is it?!”

Tim Dieng, Conor Masterson and Oli Hawkins were all missing for the Gills on their opening day, three players who may well have started.

One big decision the manager had pre-match was between his two senior goalkeepers. Jake Turner got the nod to play ahead of last season’s first-choice stopper Glenn Morris.

There were first league starts for Jonny Williams, Scott Malone and Shad Ogie for the Gills.

Stockport were, in Harris’ eyes, the League 2 title favourites. Like the Gills, they too enjoyed a great second half to the past campaign. County finished it at Wembley, beaten on penalties by Carlisle in the playoff final.

Ethan Coleman started for the Gills on Saturday Picture: @Julian_KPI
Ethan Coleman started for the Gills on Saturday Picture: @Julian_KPI

County had also strengthened with the likes of striker Nick Powell (Stoke) and their newly-named captain Ibou Touray (Salford) arriving to push their side on.

Fast-starting Gillingham didn’t allow the hosts to settle in the early minutes but when Stockport were able to find space on the edge of the box they looked threatening, Powell sending a shot wide across goal.

Gillingham showed their physical side early on, with Shaun Williams picking up a third-minute caution. A new appraoch by referees on toughening up on dissent also led to goalkeeper coach Deren Ibraham going in the book.

Midway through the half the game really opened up. A nice move from the Gills saw George Lapslie send Dom Jefferies down the right flank and his cross was met by Tom Nichols, denied only by a block from Kyle Knoyle.

Dom Jefferies takes control of the ball for Gillingham Picture: @Julian_KPI
Dom Jefferies takes control of the ball for Gillingham Picture: @Julian_KPI

Max Ehmer needed to be equally as efficient at the back to deny Louie Barry at the other end.

While Scott Malone had his head in his hands as a shot dropped onto the roof of the Stockport net, the home side had a flurry of chances themselves before half-time came around.

Turner had saved well from Macauley Southam-Hales, who met a cross with a powerful header at goal, while Ryan Rydel fired wide. Both chances came after initial shots were blocked, the Gills defence working hard to keep the hosts out.

Fans of both sides clapped their team off at the break after an evenly-balanced first 45. Stockport edged the chances but the Gills produced an encouraging display.

Ogie was strong again in the early stages of the second half, winning the ball from Aston Villa loanee Barry on one attack and standing strong to block a cross from Isaac Olaofe as the hosts threatened again.

Scott Malone made his Gillingham league debut Picture: @Julian_KPI
Scott Malone made his Gillingham league debut Picture: @Julian_KPI

Gillingham were struggling to create much themselves as the noisy home Cheadle End sensed things were starting to click for their side. Turner held onto one speculative effort from distance while Southam-Hales drove another shot through a crowded area and out the other side.

Gillingham’s bench picked up another booking for dissent on the hour from referee Benjamin Speedie, assistant boss David Livermore seemingly the recipient, shortly after a challenge from Ogie that led to his yellow card.

The lively Barry was replaced on the hour after picking up an injury but Paddy Madden came on in his place as the hosts kept the pressure on.

Gillingham made changes to personnel and to their shape with 20 minutes left, Ashley Nadesan coming on to partner Nichols up top. Robbie McKenzie also took to the field as Harris switched to a back five.

Gills’ frustration with the officials continued as what looked like a corner was signalled as a goal-kick when keeper Ben Hinchcliffe fumbled Cheye Alexander’s cross out of play.

The change did help get the Gills into more attacking areas but Nichols nearly gave the hosts an opener, a stray pass was picked up by Knoyle and he blasted an effort off the crossbar.

Jayden Clarke was a second half sub for Gillingham Picture: @Julian_KPI
Jayden Clarke was a second half sub for Gillingham Picture: @Julian_KPI

Hinchcliffe was at full stretch to save from Scott Malone as it opened up for the Gillingham defender. His shot was destined for the bottom corner before the keeper intervened.

A free-kick led to Gills’ winner. Alexander swung the cross in from the corner of the box, Shaun Williams got a touch, but it dropped for substitute McKenzie and he turned the ball home in the 86th minute.

There were eight minutes of injury-time added on and Madden thought he had levelled in the 97th minute when he prodded in Knoyle’s cross but the linesman had his flag up for offside.

In the 100th minute Turner came out to put Jayden Richardson off and he shot into the side-netting.

Stockport: Hinchcliffe, Knoyle, Touray, Horsfall (Evans 90mins), Southam-Hales (Richardson 90mins), Camps (Wright 80mins), Sarcevic, Rydel, Barry (Madden 64mins), Powell, Olaofe. Subs not used: Smit, Byrne, Pye.

Gillingham: Turner, Alexander, Malone (Clark 84mins), Ehmer, Ogie, S Williams, Coleman, Jefferies (McKenzie 69mins), Lapslie (Clarke 84mins), J Williams (Nadesan 69mins), Nichols (Gbode 90mins. Subs not used: Morris, Chambers.

Referee: Benjamin Speedie

Attendance: 9,116 (739 away)

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