Southend United began the Sky Bet League One season with a 3-1 home defeat to Gillingham.
Blues had taken the lead in the match as a strong start to the game was rewarded with Stephen McLaughlin firing Southend ahead inside the opening 25 minutes.
Jay Emmanuel Thomas levelled things up for the Gills just before the break before the game was turned on its head by two second half goals from Max Ehmer and Emmanuel Osadebe.
Phil Brown handed four debuts to Mark Oxley, Jason Demetriou, Jermaine McGlashan and Simon Cox amid sun-soaked conditions in the league opener at Roots Hall.
Blues started the brighter with wingers McGlashan and McLaughlin looking to take the game to the visitors.
A Leonard long throw special found the head of skipper Barrett on eight minutes, but the defender couldn’t generate enough power on the nod and Nelson comfortably collected.
Back came Blues again, Cox and Mooney showing great link up play inside the opening ten minutes as the new signing cut the ball back to Mooney in the box. The striker mistimed the effort and it skewed wide.
For all of Southend’s early pressure, Gillingham look to hit them on the counter – Konchesky hitting a first time cross which was met by the head of McDonald which flew over the bar.
Blues went close to the hitting the front on 18’ – Another Leonard throw was pumped into the box from the left which found its way to McGlashan at the back post. The former Gills man steadied himself before hitting a low zipping right-footed drive which Nelson denied with an arm at his near post.
He couldn’t deny McLaughlin five minutes later though. The winger received the ball 25-yards out and hit a thunderous low strike which Nelson could only tip into the bottom right-hand corner.
As the Roots Hall crowd was bouncing after going in front, the home team were boosted by that strike and went in search of more. Mooney found himself unmarked in the box on the half-hour mark but his header was denied point-blank by Nelson before the ball broke out to Leonard who headed over.
Southend continued to probe in a thoroughly dominant first half display. McGlashan fired one low across the six-yard box which Jackson managed to clear wide for a corner as Blues’ strike force lurked.
Against the run of play, Gillingham levelled things up on 38’ - Konchesky's corner was low and Emmanuel-Thomas whipped it past Oxley from 12 yards on his debut. 1-1 just before the break.
From being in control, Southend now looked in need of the half time whistle as Gillingham, buoyed by that goal enjoyed a spell of pressure.
Blues held strong though and went in to the half level.
Half Time – Southend United 1-1 Gillingham
Not long had the second half been up and running before Ehmer turned the game on its head.
After Blues had just scrambled away a looping cross, the resulting throw was chucked into the box by Jackson who found the head of the German defender to put Gills in front on 47 minutes.
The visitors, galvanised by that goal were in the ascendency with both Emmanuel-Thomas and McDonald firing over before 55 minutes.
Blues, after having to hold on to the game for a period came back to try and force an equaliser – McLaughlin crossed one to Mooney at the back post, though keeper Nelson did enough to put the striker off and the ball went behind for a goal kick just before the hour-mark.
Emmanuel-Thomas looked to catch Blues on the counter, playing through Byrne on the right. The playmaker dragged his shot wide on 64’.
Jason Williams replaced David Mooney in a straight swap up top on 67’. It was his strike partner, Cox who was next to go close as a Demetriou cross was chested into his path by McLaughlin. Unfortunately, the striker couldn’t his head over the ball and shot over on 73’.
A tactical change was next for Blues as Demetriou made way for King to make his debut as Phil Brown’s side reverted to a three-four-three formation with just over ten minutes to go.
Before Blues had any chance to impose a threat with a new-look formation, Gillingham stretched the lead on 80 minutes. Emmanuel-Thomas played in Osadebe who angled a shot into the far corner to give daylight between the teams.
Cox looked for the spectacular to get Blues back in it on 86’ minutes – but his long-range effort was deflected behind.
The game ran out of energy and Southend ran out of time as it was a losing start to the new season.
SOUTHEND XI | Oxley, Demetriou (King 77’), Barrett (C), Thompson, Coker, McGlashan, Leonard, Atkinson, McLaughlin (O’Neill 84’), Cox, Mooney (Williams 67’)
SUBS | Smith, White, Sokolik, O'Neill, King, Bridge, Williams.
Gillingham XI | Nelson, Jackson, Ehmer, Oshilaja, McDonald (Donnelly 75’), Konchesky, Osadebe, Dack, Byrne, Wright (C), Emmanuel-Thomas (Quigley 86’).
Subs | Hadler, Hessenthaler, Donnelly, Knott, Quigley, Oldaker, Dickenson.