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Gillingham 1, Southend United 0
IT was a case of one penalty that was and another that wasn’t for Southend United as they sunk to a controversial 1-0 defeat at 10 man Gillingham tonight.
Danny Kedwell’s first half spot-kick ultimately handed the table-topping Gills a hard fought victory.
But, just seconds before the striker’s effort, Blues had strong appeals for a penalty waved away despite Michael Timlin appearing to have been brought down by Charlie Allen.
That frustrated Paul Sturrock’s side but they were unable to make the most of an extra man for the entire second half after Gillingham substitute Bradley Dack had been sent off for a poorly timed tackle on Mark Phillips.
To add to Blues’ problems both goalkeeper Paul Smith and centre back Phillips were forced off with injuries during an eventful first 45 minutes.
Smith appeared to be have been knocked out after just 10 minutes following an aerial challenge with Deon Burton.
The shot stopper was placed in a neck brace and given an oxygen mask during eight minutes of assistance before being carried off and replaced between the sticks by Daniel Bentley.
But, moments after the enforced substitution, Blues should have taken the lead when the in-form Britt Assombalonga headed over Kevan Hurst’s right wing free-kick when left unmarked just six yards from goal.
Southend then went close again in the 32nd minute when another fine cross from Hurst picked out Gavin Tomlin but his well struck close range shot was superbly saved by Stuart Nelson who tipped the ball around the right post.
In reply, the Gills then also nearly broke the deadlock when former Billericay Town winger Chris Whelpdale volleyed Joe Martin’s left wing cross wide of the right post from 12 yards.
However, Southend were soon back on top and had strong shouts for a penalty ignored when Timlin went crashing down inside the areas after appearing to have been brought down by Allen but referee Philip Gibbs waved away the protests.
But it was soon a different story at the other end of the pitch three minutes in to the additional 11 of injury time when Gibbs awarded the home side a penalty after adjudging John Spicer to have harshly brought down Gillingham winger Dack.
That enabled Gills striker Kedwell to step forward and fire home a powerfully struck penalty in to the left hand side of the net for his eighth goal of the season.
Yet the Kent club’s subsequent celebrations were cut short as just five minutes later they were reduced to 10 men when Dack was sent off for a late lunge on Phillips.
The Blues centre back did not reappear for the second half and was replaced by Anthony Straker in a switch which saw Chris Barker move in to the middle of the defence.
Yet, with Gillingham sitting back to defend their lead, Southend initially struggled to create clear cut chances but, with 66 minutes on the clock, they should have drawn back level when Tomlin volleyed over the crossbar from six yards.
Tomlin then sent a deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area in to Nelson’s grateful gloves before Assombalonga failed to convert a fine chance in the 77th minute when he stabbed David Martin’s left wing cross wide of the left post from close range.
Martin was immediately replaced by Elliot Benyon and Ryan Cresswell was soon also pushed up front as Blues chased a late leveler.
But they were unable to net an equaliser despite piling on the pressure in the closing stages.