A new signing in action, youngsters getting game-time, lots of minutes in the legs... not to mention a victory to kick-off the pre-season schedule.
The Royals' two goals came two minutes apart, as Lucas João headed in before Andy Rinomhota stormed through to double the lead.
John Akinde converted a soft penalty midway through the match, but Reading were the victors at the final whistle.
It was a strong starting XI for the opening encounter – that included the return to action for Andy Yiadom and Lucas João after their injuries at the tail end of 2019-20, and a first appearance in the hoops for summer arrival Josh Laurent.
As always in pre-season, it’s a case of trying to get a feel for the ball… and the Royals were certainly doing that by dominating possession in the early exchanges, and not letting the visitors get much of a sniff.
Nevertheless Gillingham weren’t giving away a lot of space at the rear, and when João fired the first shot of the game after 10 minutes, it needed to be an ambitious chip which cleared the bar from outside the area.
Soon after, the Gills registered their first effort through Jacob Mellis – from 25 yards, his free-kick flashed through the wall but well wide.
But then two goals in quick succession got the Royals going. The first came from João, using his big frame to outmuscle his marker in the box as John Swift whipped in an inswinging corner and nod in.
Less than two minutes later, the second followed. João was involved as he killed the ball in the centre-circle for Rinomhota to sprint onto – after winning his 50-50 duel, he used his pace to burst through the Gills’ half and eventually to prod past the exposed goalkeeper, one on one.
The two teams and the match officials had agreed to split the game into three 30-minute periods – at the start of the second, Swift’s hammered free-kick was miraculously turned onto the crossbar by Gills goalie Jack Bonham and bounced to safety.
Yiadom had been replaced on 30 minutes by Felipe Araruna, and the Brazilian came close to adding to the Royals’ tally when he made a late run into the area to meet and Omar Richards cross – the goalie saved.
Strikers George Pușcaș and Sam Baldock each entered the game in quick succession, replacing João and Swift in turn as more players got minutes into the legs.
It looked a sure thing that it would be the Royals who would add the game’s third goal – until the visitors won and converted a tame penalty. Akinde crumbled under a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge with Laurent, and the ref pointed for a penalty to everyone’s surprise. Akinde dusted himself off to smash in from the spot.
For the final half-hour period, returning loanees Luke Southwood, Tom Holmes and Jordan Holsgrove each got called into action – the Gills made a raft of changes of their own too. Imari Samuels, Marc McNulty and Yakou Méïté all came on for the final 20 minutes of the game, soon after.
Centre-half Michael Morrison almost turned into playmaker when he won the ball in the centre of the park and saw space opening up – he drove into it and threaded a ball into the channel for Pușcaș, who wasn’t quite able to squeeze in from a narrow angle.
Holsgrove’s delightfully-weighted inswinging delivery was almost converted by Baldock, who did brilliantly to make a clean contact on the volley as the ball dropped over his shoulder. Then Pușcaș was wasteful as Méïté slotted him in behind – the angle was tight but he went for power and ended up smashing into the stand.
Reading stopper Southwood was largely a spectator after entering the pitch – but needed to be sharp when Connor Ogilvie suddenly found space outside the area and struck hard and low. Kept out well by the youngster on the stretch.
Pușcaș was just denied room to put daylight between the sides, five minutes from time – it was a well-weighted seeking ball by McNulty which found the Romanian on the run off the shoulders of the defence, but he was shown away from goal and eventually the chance fizzled out.
All in, a good workout for the Royals on their return to action… not to mention a winning start to the pre-season schedule. Next stop, Spurs!
Full-time: Reading 2-1 Gillingham
Reading: Rafael (Southwood 61), Yiadom (Araruna 31), Richards (Samuels 71), Moore (Holmes 61), Morrison, McIntyre, Rinomhota (Méïté 71), Laurent (Holsgrove 61), Swift (Baldock 47), Olise (McNulty 71), João (Pușcaș 43).
Unused subs: Tetek, Aluko.
Goals: João (21), Rinomhota (23).
Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson, Ogilvie, O’Keefe, McKensie, Medley, Hanlan, Dempsey, Akinde, Mellis, MacDonald.
Subs: Walsh, Graham, Willock, Tucker, Woods, Oliver, Coyle, M.Baker, G.Baker, Bancroft, Medhurst.
Goal: Akinde (50 pen).