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Gillingham’s FA Cup run: The story so far

Gillingham’s FA Cup run has proved to be a welcome distraction from some patchy form in the league. Here’s a look back at the side’s progress in the competition so far

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How far will Gillingham go on the road to Wembley?

Round 1: Hartlepool United (Home and Away)

It took two bites of the cherry for Gillingham to get their 2018/19 FA Cup campaign off and running against National League side Hartlepool United.

Steve Lovell’s men struggled to make a breakthrough against ‘Pools in the first tie at Priestfield as the game finished in a 0-0 stalemate.

But the hardy Gills fans who made the five-hour slog up the M1 for a Wednesday night replay were rewarded by a seven-goal thriller.

It looked to all be slipping away from the Gills when they went 2-0 down after 32 minutes, but a Max Ehmer strike and a penalty from Tom Eaves in the sixth minute of stoppage time gave the Gills a lifeline as the match went into extra time.

A sublime Luke O’Neill free-kick in the 102nd minute saw the Gills nudge ahead for the first time in the tie, and a lightning breakaway five minutes later saw Elliott List fire low into the far corner to secure the win.

A late Hartlepool strike made the final moments a little twitchy, but Gillingham’s performance proved more than good enough to put them in the hat for the second round.

Round 2: Slough Town (Away)

The second-round draw saw the Gills face a tricky tie against National League South side Slough Town at Arbour Park where a packed crowd filled the non-league ground, hopeful of an FA Cup upset.

Thankfully for Gills fans, the team arrived well prepared and Steve Lovell’s side turned in a professional performance to keep the non-league side at bay.

In the end, it took one moment of magic from midfielder Darren Oldaker to decide the tie, as the Gills number 20 let fly from all of 30 yards to score a spectacular matchwinner after 49 minutes.

Slough huffed and puffed as they tried to battle their way back into the tie, but found Gillingham steadfast in defence as the Kent club secured their passage through to the third round, where bigger tests awaited them.

Round 3: Cardiff City (Home)

In the third round, Gillingham found themselves matched against Premier League opposition in the form of Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City.

Predictably, Warnock – whose priorities lie in the Bluebirds retaining Premier League status for next season – rested a handful of players but nonetheless put out a strong-looking lineup for the game.

The Welsh side dominated possession in the opening 45 minutes, but the longer the half went on the more Gillingham – and the fans in the stands – grew in confidence. With the scoreline blank at the half, there was a real sense that the Bluebirds were there for the taking.

Steve Lovell must have thought similarly, as he sent out his Gills side with renewed vigour in the second half as they upped the tempo, pressured Cardiff further up the field and, eventually, made the crucial breakthrough with nine minutes remaining.

Cardiff had already hit the crossbar through the lively Nathaniel Mendez-Laing before Tom Eaves outmuscled Bluebirds skipper Sean Morrison and picked up the loose ball near the corner flag.

The big striker then drove back towards the penalty area and pulled the ball back towards the edge of the box. Brad Garmston got the call and dummied the ball, leaving Elliott List enough time to take a touch before firing past Alex Smithies to send Priestfield into meltdown.

It proved to be the winning goal for the Gills, as well as List’s second matchwinning strike in consecutive FA Cup ties. And it saw Gillingham take centre stage on Match of the Day in the prestigious opening slot on the legendary roundup programme on the Saturday night.

Round 4: Swansea City (Away)

The fourth-round draw gave Gills manager Steve Lovell exactly what he wanted – a trip back home to the town of his birth to play Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.

The fans were a little less enthusiastic about the draw, with the Gills missing out on a cup tie against one of the Premier League’s true big guns.

But with Swansea’s form so far this season patchy at best, Lovell will be excited at the prospect of not only making the trip down to South Wales, but confident of his team’s chances of victory once again.

Victory would put the Gills into the last 16 of the competition, a feat not achieved since Peter Taylor’s side sensationally made it all the way to the quarter-finals in 2000 after dumping Championship Walsall and Premier League Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday out of the competition.

The latter match remains arguably the best FA Cup performance in Gillingham’s modern-day history, with second-half strikes from Mark Saunders, Andy Thomson and a screamer from Nicky Southall sending the Gills through to the last eight.

Fans will be crossing their fingers that Gillingham can claim their second Welsh scalp in the space of two rounds by defeating Swansea and putting themselves in with a chance of a huge match in the fifth round in mid-February.