Josh Brownhill was the match winner for North End on a dream debut at Priestfield.
The two goals came as a blitz straight after half-time, Keane Keane and Josh Browhnhill both firing right foot shots into the bottom left hand corner of Stuart Nelson’s goal right in front of the travelling Lilywhites faithful in the open Rainham End Stand.
Danny Kedwell reduced the arrears on 76 minutes with a close range header, but PNE held on for the win.
The first half was a sea of PNE possession without too many clear cut opportunities. Manager Simon Grayson has made two changes, Josh Brownhill handed his first team debut and John Welsh also coming into the midfield, Iain Hume and Joel Byrom dropping to the bench.
The Lilywhites started brightly and won a free kick on five minutes after Kevin Davies was fouled 30 yards out. John Welsh took the initial free kick that was cleared out, the North End skipper put the ball back in which was headed on by Davies, but Stuart Beavon headed wide of the right hand post.
On seven minutes a good chance fell to Scott Laird, but his right0footed effort was pulled left after some excellent build-up play involving Chris Humphrey, Tom Clarke, Beavon and Davies.
The front partnership of Kevin Davies and Stuart Beavon linked up well shorty after with the latter in receipt of a pass from the former, shooting high and hard but into the side netting from 12 yards out.
All this came in the first dozen minutes, with Davies fouled again right on that mark, this time in the right hand channel 22 yards out; Scott Laird took the free kick, but fired it high and over the bar.
Just before the quarter of an hour mark a Tom Clarke cross came in from the right, Stuart Beavon rose highest to get a header on target, but it did not have enough loop and Stuart Nelson in the Gills goal claimed.
Just before the mid-point in the half Keith Keane was set up by Beavon edge of box, the midfield man went for placement where power was probably required and he couldn’t hit the target from a good opportunity.
Just before half hour mark a good flowing move from the whites, the ball was played up to Davies, he laid it off to Keane, it was then played into Beavon and then out to Humphrey; the Jamaican had a driving run and fired a shot that Nelson needed to palm around the post. From Laird’s corner, Kevin Davies had a free header but it went wide left.
It took until 33 minutes for the home side to come close to Declan Rudd’s goal; Gillingham’s first effort high from Michael Harriman into the open stand housing the North End fans braving the elements.
Three minutes later some great play by Scott Laird – a ball long up to the left wing back was headed down to Beavon and he then ran off the header, collected the one-two and fired first time left footed just wide of Nelson’s right hand post from the left hand corner of the box.
North End had the lead within 90 seconds of the break. A good header won by Stuart Beavon on the right allowed Kevin Davies to win a throw. The throw in was taken quickly to Davies who laid it off to the onrushing Keane who hit a sweet shot with the outside of his right foot that took a deflection and took it into the bottom left hand corner right in front of the North End faithful.
Declan Rudd was needed for the first time on 49 minutes and what a save! The Gills worked the ball well to send Chris Whelpdale clean through on goal, but the stopper stood big and denied the winger with an excellent block.
And it was 2-0 on 53 minutes and what a story! Josh Brownhill on his full debut at 17-years-old wrote his name into the North End books.
Stuart Beavon broke away down the right hand side and charged into the box. He did brilliantly to slow up and then lay the ball off for Brownhill to smashed it first time into the same bottom corner that Keane had found a couple of minutes earlier.
Bizarrely the second goal had come a bit against the run of play as the home side between the two strikes had had the better of the possession and were putting some pressure on the Lilywhites, but the goal brought a relief.
Substitute Myles Weston saw a 30 yard free kick headed over the bar by the PNE wall. The corner needed Kevin Davies to head clear as the visitors applied some pressure to the North End backline.
The deficit was halved by Danny Kedwell on 76 minutes. The front man was lucky to still be on the pitch after the officials missed his stamp on Bailey Wright a few minutes earlier, but a free kick was awarded on the right and the front man met the curled cross to head down and into the left hand corner .
Five minutes were added on by the match official and in the third minute of stoppage time the home side got a corner, piling men forward. Bailey Wright made and incredible clearance in. North End broke and sub Lee Holmes almost added a third for PNE, but PNE held on for the win.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Humphrey (Holmes, 90), Laird, Clarke, Huntingtonn, Wright; Keane, Brownhill (Byrom, 70), Welsh; K Davies, Beavon (Buchanan, 85). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Garner, Mousinho, Hume.
Gillingham line-up: Nelson, Martin, Legge, Whelpdale, Kedwell, McDonald (Weston, 57), Gregory, Lee (German, 67), Hollands (Akinfenwa, 88), Harriman, Barrett. Subs not used: Linganzi, Davies, Dack, Howard.
Referee: Mr G Horwood
Attendance: 7,054 (301 away fans)