SOUTHEND United slumped to an eventful 3-1 defeat at Gillingham this afternoon.

The Shrimpers found themselves 2-0 down following a poor start to the game before Simon Cox got them back into the clash with a well-taken effort.

However, Blues then had young striker Emile Acquah sent off in the 66th minute and saw Gills striker Mikael Ndjoli miss two penalties.

But the Kent club were still able to secure all three points with Brandon Hanlan’s late goal sealing their victory.

Gillingham threatened first with Ndjoli having a low 25 yard shot tipped wide of the left post by Blues goalkeeper Mark Oxley who then also did well to push away a powerful effort from Hanlan.

With the Gills remaining on top, Oliver Lee also saw a well struck shot impressively saved by Oxley before Hanlan headed Lee’s left wing free-kick wide of the left post from 12 yards.

Mark Byrne then had a close range effort ruled out for offside before Blues replied with Isaac Hutchinson having an angled effort blocked by the advancing Gills goalkeeper Jack Bonham.

But the hosts hit back and opened the scoring just before the break when Alfie Jones’ 25 yard shot was deflected into the left hand side of the net, despite the best efforts of Oxley.

Gillingham then came close to doubling their lead when Lee slammed a 10 yard shot against the underside of the crossbar.

But the Kent club were not to be denied for long as they doubled their lead immediately after half time when ex Shrimper Stuart O’Keefe curled a 20 yard shot into the right hand side of the net.

Blues responded with a double change in the 54th minute as Joe Shaughnessy replaced Jason Demetriou and Acquah came on for Hutchinson as the visitors looked to get back into the game.

And, just four minutes later, the Shrimpers halved Gills' lead as a clever Stephen McLaughlin free-kick teed Cox who turned and scored with a low, left footed shot.

But, with 66 minutes on the clock Blues were reduced to 10 men when Acquah was shown a second yellow card for a sliding challenge on Barry Fuller.

Four minutes later, the Gills had a golden chance to extend their lead referee Lee Doughty pointed to the spot after Harry Lennon was adjudged to have brought down Ndjoli in the box.

But Ndjoli was unable to make the most of the opportunity as he sent his penalty wide of the left post.

Remarkably, just three minutes later, Gillingham were awarded another penalty and Ndjoli was again unable to take advantage as his penalty was impressively kept out to his left hand side by a diving Oxley.

However, the missed opportunities did not prove costly as Gillingham sealed their win in the 87th minute with Hanlan stabbing home after Oxley had parried out a low shot from Marshall.