Southend began their Checkatrade Trophy campaign with a 2-1 defeat at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium as an unfortunate own goal from Anton Ferdinand sealed all three points for Gillingham.
The Gills opened the scoring early on in this Group B tie in the 8th minute as Josh Parker scored at the second attempt from outside the box after John White had blocked the midfielder’s first effort.
Blues though should have been level midway through the first half as Jermaine McGlashan was slipped in brilliantly by Theo Robinson, but the former Gills midfielder couldn’t beat Steve Arnold.
Southend didn’t have to wait too long to get back on level terms however as Stephen McLaughlin grabbed his fourth goal in successive games against Gillingham to level after half an hour.
Elvis Bwomono stole the ball off Parker with a crunching challenge with Dru Yearwood carrying the ball forward before smashing a low cross across the face of goal for McLaughlin to tap in.
Both sides had chances to go into the break with a lead with Robinson wildly hitting a shot wide after being put through, whilst Scott Wagstaff had a goalbound effort deflected just over.
Southend had an early opportunity to take the lead in the second half as Yearwood got himself into a good shooting position only for his near-post strike to be smartly saved by Arnold.
Max Ehmer had a decent chance for the home side minutes later with a header, but Gillingham would go on to retake the lead in fortunate circumstances before the hour mark.
After Darren Oldaker saw his free-kick come back off the crossbar, Bwomono was first to the loose ball but he could only hit his clearance onto Anton Ferdinand who deflected the ball in.
There was little the Blues skipper could do about the own goal but Southend did have a great chance late on to take the tie to penalties and the chance of a bonus point through McGlashan.
Substitute Simon Cox laid the ball on a plate for the former Gills winger and, with Arnold scampering, Aaron Simpson superbly got his body in the way of the strike to stop a certain equaliser.
After a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Arnold earlier in the half, the fourth official indicated 10 minutes added on at the end of the game but Gillingham held on to top the group.
Gillingham XI: Arnold, O’Neill, Ehmer, Wagstaff (C)(Byrne 90+5’), Hessenthaler, Wilkinson, Ogilvie (Simpson 79’), Parker, Nugent, Oldaker, Cundle (List 70’). Subs Not Used: Holy, Lacey, Eaves, Chapman
Blues XI: Oxley, Ferdinand (C), Timlin, McLaughlin, Ba (Cox 70’), Yearwood (Klass 62’), McGlashan, Leonard, Robinson, Bwomono, White (Kyprianou 85’). Subs Not Used: Smith, Kightly, Fortune, Bridge
Referee: Andy Haines
Assistants: Thomas Ramsey & Daniel Cook
Fourth Official: Anthony Da Costa
Gillingham: Josh Parker 8’, Anton Ferdinand OG 57’
Southend: Stephen McLaughlin 31’
Gillingham: Josh Parker 33’, Connor Ogilvie 63’, Conor Wilkinson 90+12'
Southend: Stephen McLaughlin 31’, John White 55’, Amadou Ba 66’, Jermaine McGlashan 73’, Mark Oxley 90+12'