Sheffield United’s hopes of making a positive start to the new League One season were dashed, in ruthless fashion, at Priestfield this afternoon.
This This match was supposed to be an opportunity for Nigel Adkins’ side to showcase the talents which, before the contest at least, had prompted bookmakers to install them as title favourites.
Gillingham, however, had other ideas as they ensured the former Scunthorpe and Southampton’s chief’s reign began on a bitterly disappointing rather than bright note.
Emmanuel Osadebe, Deji Oshilaja and former United defender John Egan scored the goals which sent the near 2,000 strong travelling support home in decidedly unhappy mood before Bradley Dack rubbed salt into their wounds.
United proved vulnerable at set-pieces last term and the trend continued here.
A sixth minute throw, which saw Gillingham’s players swarm around goalkeeper George Long, ended with Osadebe bundling the ball across the line.
Predictably, understandably perhaps, it provoked a nervous reaction among the visiting players who were forced to hack clear on several occasions as Gillingham attempted to drive home their advantage.
United heads cleared after a series of scares but they were unable to seize control of the game with Billy Sharp forced to survive on a smattering of half chances and scraps.
By then, Oshilaja had already doubled Gillingham’s lead two minutes before the interval.
Adkins’ first team sheet since arriving at Bramall Lane, for a competitive fixture at least, contained several big calls. Long was preferred to Mark Howard while Callum McFadzean started at left-back after impressing during pre-season. In attack, Che Adams partnered Sharp rather than Conor Sammon.
Adams, a raw but razor-sharp talent, found the early going tough but combined well with Sharp midway through the opening period before the latter’s angled shot was blocked.
Gillingham. though, had clearly identified set-pieces as their best route towards victory.
McFadzean and Adams were both forced to head clear when Dack’s corner caused United yet more problems.
The response came in the shape of a fierce drive from Kieran Freeman which powered into the side-netting. Gillingham, though, landed another decisive blow during the closing stages of the first half.
Again, United were undone at a set-piece. Dack swept the ball in from a corner and Oshilaja turned it home.
Adkins decided a change was required with Conor Sammon replacing Jose Baxter for the start of the second-half. United posed questions of Gillingham’s rearguard for the first time, on a consistent basis
at least, since the match had got underway.
But, as the hour approached, Long was called into action when Chris Basham tripped Dack on the edge of the box and Luke Norris sent a free-kick past the wall.
Murphy - and not before time - tested Stuart Nelson’s handling in the 79th minute with an angled shot which the former Doncaster Rovers player punched clear.
Two minutes later, however, United’s hopes of salvaging something were dashed when Egan converted from Brennan Dickenson’s corner. Dack swept home a spectacular shot in added time.
GILLINGHAM: Nelson, Jackson, Egan, Houghton, Williamson, Morris (Hessenthaler 46), Osadebe (Wright 88), Norris, Dack, Dickensen, Oshilaja. Not used: Garmston, Ehmer, McGlashan, Morris, Donnelly.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long, Freeman, Basham, Murphy, Sharp, Baxter (Sammon 46), Collins, Woolford (Reed 70), McEveley, McFadzean, Adams (Scougall 70). Not used: Howard, J Wallace, Higdon, K Wallace.
REFEREE: Brendan Malone (Wiltshire).