Gillingham came back from a half-time deficit to take all three points courtesy of a superb injury time strike from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas against Northampton Town on Saturday.
John-Joe O’Toole gave the visitors the lead, but Max Ehmer equalised with a clinical finish shortly after the restart and Emmanuel-Thomas’s 91st minute strike secured the win for Justin Edinburgh’s team.
The Gills welcomed a number of faces back from injury with Bradley Dack
, Bradley Garmston and Scott Wagstaff all coming back in to the match-day squad. Baily Cargill made his home debut for Gillingham slotting in at centre back in place of Deji Oshilaja, with Ryan Jackson also returning to the starting XI.
Gillingham had the first attempt of the game after three minutes as Billy Knott picked the ball up 30 yards from goal, turned and drove forward before unleashing a left-footed shot over the bar, in an encouraging start for the Gills.
Soon after, a long throw from Jackson caused the Northampton defence all sorts of trouble but the ball ricocheted kindly into the grasp of goalkeeper, Adam Smith.
Emmanuel-Thomas was the next to try from range but his powerful shot from 30 yards flew wide of the goal after nine minutes.
The striker called Smith into action three minutes later, however. The wide-man took down a diagonal from Paul Konchesky, before turning out, away from his man and shooting from outside the box, but the keeper did well to get across and make the save.
With 17 minutes gone, the Gills were inches from taking the lead. Cody McDonald
headed on a long-ball, which Frank Nouble gave chase to, pressurising Brendan Moloney who inadvertently headed past his own keeper, rushing out to collect the ball. Unfortunately for the Gills, the defender recovered just in time to hack the ball off the line and Emmanuel-Thomas’ follow up was blocked behind.
The home side were dictating the game and Knott had the next effort after great play between Jake Hessenthaler
and Emmanuel-Thomas, with the latter crossing into the box. A defensive header only went as far as Knott at the edge of the danger area; however the Gills midfielder dragged his shot wide of the left-hand post halfway through the first period.
The game slowed down after that chance with both sides seeking to get on top in the centre of midfield, with the windy and rainy conditions helping neither team get the ball down to feet.
Northampton took the lead against the run of play after 36 minutes from a corner. The cross floated into the box and Zander Diamond headed the ball back across goal for to O’Toole to nod the ball past Stuart Nelson
Ehmer nearly brought the Gills level instantly. A smart corner between Knott and Emmanuel-Thomas ended with a low ball into the box, which Ehmer blasted towards the goal but just wide of the post.
The game had burst into life and JJ Hooper nearly extended the visitors’ lead as they quickly counter-attacked. The winger shot from 30 yards with the ball arrowing just over the bar with Nelson beaten.
In the very last minute of the half the Cobblers went even closer to a second goal with debutant Cargill managing to deflect Hooper’s goal-bound effort onto the post and blocking the rebound before scrambling the ball away to safety.
The Gills started the half with purpose and were back on level terms just two minutes after the restart. A floated Hessenthaler corner found Emmanuel-Thomas unmarked and the striker’s glanced header landed at the feet of Ehmer at the back-post. The defender made no mistake, clinically slotting post Smith into the Northampton goal to bring the scores level.
Corners were proving difficult for both teams to defend, and Matt Taylor headed wide from a Northampton corner after 49 minutes when he should have hit the target, at least.
Both teams were looking dangerous and Nouble was the next to threaten the goal. Great work down the right left Hessenthaler free to cross the ball into the box. McDonald did brilliantly to win the ball, amidst defensive confusion, and lay it to Nouble, but the former-West Ham man was denied by a last-ditch diving tackle.
Gillingham were looking the livelier of the teams with Emmanuel-Thomas threatening every time he pulled inside from the left-wing, while Konchesky and Nouble were combining well down the flank.
The Cobblers went close to extending their lead after 64 minutes. Sam Hoskins crossed from the right, but substitute Alex Revell failed to direct the ball towards goal from close-range, after Taylor had previously shot wide from a free-kick.
Moment s later Dack nearly scored a superb goal, killing a high ball but shanking the volley wide all on the run. The Gills playmaker got in behind the Northampton backline with ease, and, had the shot gone in, it would have been a goal of the season contender.
Dack was immediately posing a very real threat to the away defence, jinking past a couple of defenders to get to the by-line and pull the back across the area. The cross found Emmanuel-Thomas but his touch was slightly heavy and he couldn’t get the shot away.
The Cobblers went close in the 81st minute as Moloney got goal side of Dack surging into the box, but Nelson was out quickly and made a superb block with his legs to keep the scores level.
Gillingham, however, won the game in the first minute of extra-time with a superb strike from Emmanuel-Thomas. The Gills top scorer cut in from the right-flank to curl a low shot past the keeper and send the Rainham End in to ecstatic celebration.
F/T: 2 – 1
The Gills take on Brackley Town next, in their first round replay of the Emirates FA Cup on Wednesday evening. The game will be televised on BT Sport, with Gillingham looking to book their place in the second round with a trip to Blackpool awaiting the winners.
Gillingham: Nelson; Jackson, Ehmer, Cargill, Konchesky; Wright, Hessenthaler, Knott; Nouble (Dack, 64), Emmanuel-Thomas, McDonald
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), Garmston, Oshilaja, Wagstaff, Osadebe, Donnelly
Northampton Town: Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; O’Toole, Anderson, Hoskins, Taylor, Hooper (Gorre, 78); Richard (Revell, 58)
Unused Subs: Cornell (GK), Byrom, Potter, Beautyman, Hanley
Attendance: 5,790 (637 away)
Referee: Lee Probert