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On this day: Gillingham stun Sheffield Wednesday in FA Cup cracker

On a cold afternoon at Priestfield 18 years ago today, Gillingham FC produced the most memorable FA Cup performance in their long history.

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The 1999/2000 season remains the high watermark in Gillingham’s history. Under the management of Peter Taylor, the Gills bounced back from playoff heartbreak against Manchester City the previous May to earn promotion via the playoff finals against Wigan Athletic.

But before the Gills made earned promotion to the Championship at Wembley, they embarked on the greatest FA Cup run in the club’s history, knocking out a host of higher-division opposition as the team battled all the way to the quarter-finals of the competition.

The finest moment on that cup run came on this very day, 18 years ago, as Gillingham took on Premier League Sheffield Wednesday on a bitingly cold afternoon at Priestfield Stadium.

The Medway Stand rebuild hadn’t started yet, so fans on the Redfern Avenue side of the pitch were housed in a crudely-constructed temporary stand. I was sat just a couple of rows in front of the even more crudely-constructed commentary box, which was occupied by a legend on that particular day.

The BBC had smelled a possible FA Cup upset and sent the Match of the Day cameras – and a sheepskin coat-wearing John Motson – to Priestfield for one of the featured FA Cup ties of the weekend.

The Gills didn’t disappoint.

It started badly for the home side, as Gerald Sibon bundled home from close range after some butter-fingered goalkeeping from Vince Bartram.

But the team came roaring back in the second half, with midfield action man Mark Saunders to the fore.

Added to the fray as a makeshift striker just after the hour mark, Saunders struck with 20 minutes to go, when he dropped off the Wednesday centre halves, pulled down a crossfield pass and slammed a low shot past Pavel Srnicek to sent Priestfield into raptures. The Gills were back in it.

And things got even better just two minutes later when a Guy Butters free-kick caused havoc in the Wednesday penalty area. Adrian Pennock (remember him?) headed back across goal and Scottish goal-poacher Andy Thomson dived low to head the Gills in front.

Bedlam.

And 10 minutes later, with the game firmly in the Gills’ grip, the coup de grace was applied, courtesy of Nicky Southall, who chested down a Roland Edge throw-in and unleashed a screamer of a volley that flew past a stunned Srnicek and into the top corner to send Priestfield into meltdown.

It remains one of the best nights ever seen at Priestfield, as the Gills fans serenaded legendary BBC commentator Motson with renditions of “Motty, Motty, what’s the score!”

And it’s an FA Cup match that we’ve never come close to matching in the 18 years since.

Gills XI vs Sheffield Wednesday

Vince Bartram, Nicky Southall, Adrian Pennock, Barry Ashby, Guy Butters, Roland Edge, John Hodge (Nyron Nosworthy, 81), Andy Hessenthaler, Paul Smith, Marcus Browning (Mark Saunders, 61), Andy Thomson

Unused subs: Brian McGlinchey, Charlie Mitten, Matt Bryant