An inspired Matt Smith helped Bristol City take an advantage into the second leg of the JPT Area Final following a 4-2 win over Gillingham at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The on loan striker scored two goals either side of half time, the last of which a magnificent left footed effort 25 yards from goal to ensure Steve Cotterill’s side take a two goal cushion for the reverse fixture at Ashton Gate.
bagged two goals for the hosts, his first giving Gills the advantage at 1-0, but the heroics of Smith clinched victory for the Robins.
The Gills management team made just one change to the side that lost at Port Vale on Saturday with Gavin Hoyte replacing the injured Aaron Morris, with Brennan Dickenson continuing up front in support of Cody McDonald
Danny Galbraith was named among the substitutes with Jermaine McGlashan also available.
Bristol City had an early effort brilliantly saved by Stuart Nelson
when Smith, from point blank range, could only strike the legs of the goalkeeper who made himself big to put off the on loan forward.
The visitors would pay for their missed opportunity as the Gills took the lead on six minutes. Michael Doughty played a beautiful ball towards McDonald just inside the box on the right hand side.
He composed himself and drilled a low shot beyond Fielding who was beaten by the power of the strike.
City continued to look threatening and after a couple of half chances they finally did draw level on 17 minutes. A cross from Emmanuel-Thomas on the right wing was on a pin head for Smith who placed the ball between Nelson and the cross bar to tie the game.
Steve Cotterill’s men progressively got better during the half, and after a blocked shot by Dack which hit Marlon Pack, they bagged a second on 27 minutes.
Emmanuel-Thomas again provided the assist, this time from the left. His cross seemed to be going over the head of Smith but somehow the striker adjusted his body and delicately headed the ball across goal which gave Nelson no chance.
The forward was at it again after the half hour mark, however another header was this time off target before the Gills had a couple of fine chances before the whistle.
Michael Doughty had a shot blocked before a second effort was thwarted by Fielding. He then turned provider for the sprinting Gavin Hoyte, the right back drove into the box but again the City goalkeeper was on hand to deny an equaliser.
Emmanuel-Thomas had the first opportunity of the half on 48 minutes when his left foot shot was dragged wide of the far post.
John Egan then did well moments later to get a crucial touch on another teasing cross as City looked to increase their hold on the tie.
They did so on 50 minutes as Smith grabbed his hat-trick. Scott Wagstaff turned provider on this occasion and sent an inviting ball towards the penalty spot.
Smith, with his back to goal, tried his luck with a back heel which did enough to make its way past Nelson to grab his third of the evening.
On 56 minutes Nelson made a magnificent save from the on loan striker when another headed effort, which looked destined for the net, was clawed out by the keeper’s left hand before Egan cleared his lines.
The Gills number one pushed away an effort from Emmanuel-Thomas before Aden Flint missed the target from inside the area.
The hosts soaked up a lot of pressure but then pulled one back on 70 minutes courtesy of a great finish from McDonald.
A long ball forward by Nelson wasn’t dealt with by the City defence, the striker took a brilliant first touch, flicked the ball over a defender with his second and then blasted an effort beyond the out stretched Fielding who could do nothing to keep it out.
Cody went close soon after with a header that whistled beyond the far post – Doug Loft then had a couple of chances in quick succession which were kept out by a retreating Robins defence, but they soon broke free and Smith scored a sensational fourth courtesy of a left foot volley from 25 yards which rocketed past Nelson and into the top corner.
He could have made it five before the full time whistle but missed the target from inside the box. Gills did their best to nick a third right at the death but it wasn’t to be.
Gills: Nelson, Hoyte, Egan, Legge, Martin, Doughty (McGlashan 65), Dack, Hessenthaler, Loft, Dickenson (Norris 59), McDonald.
Unused subs: G Morris, Ehmer, Galbraith.
City: Fielding, Williams, Flint, K Smith, M Smith, Emmanuel-Thomas (Elliott 81), Wagstaff (Little 78), Freeman, Cunningham (Bryan 87), Pack, Ayling.
Unused subs: Richards, Osborne.
Referee: Mr A D’Urso