Fantastic display by Gillingham not enough as Bristol City narrowly hold out to make the Johnstone's Paint Trophy FinalGillingham’s hopes of a Wembley appearance were finally broken on Thursday evening when Bristol City survived a scare to secure a 1-1 draw to advance to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy National Final.
The visitors put in a terrific battling display, with goalkeeper Frank Fielding having to pull off two first class saves to keep his side level.
Matt Smith opened the scoring on 17 minutes when his header was accurately guided beyond Stuart Nelson, with Aden Flint’s effort having coming back off the crossbar.
However Gills rallied and deservedly equalized on 32 minutes when Jermaine McGlashan finished a great team move with Dack finding the winger’s run on the right hand side.
The visitors threw everything they had in the second half to try and force a tense finish, but in the end City hung on and advance to play Walsall in the Final.
Gillingham burst out of the blocks with their 4-3-3 formation seeing them immediately on the attack, but it was Bristol City who very nearly took full control of the tie on just three minutes.
Smith found space at the far post for a header, he latched on to the delivery but Nelson clawed the ball away at his near post before punching clear the resulting corner kick.
James Tavernier was thwarted by Nelson before Gavin Hoyte did well to block an effort from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
However on 17 minutes the hosts finally broke the deadlock to further stamp their authority on the tie, a corner by Freeman swung into the danger zone. Aden Flint struck the bar with a first header before Smith pounced to convert the second.
It was the forward’s fifth goal in the tie having scored all four goals at Priestfield earlier in the month.
Gills persisted with their attacking philosophy but City took advantage of this on the counter – Freeman firing a shot well wide on the half hour mark before the visitors found an equalizer.
McDonald produced a clever back heel to find the run of Dack, he waited for McGlashan on the overlap and the pass was weighted beautifully for the winger who beat the oncoming Fielding.
The scores were therefore level once again with the Gills needing two goals to force a penalty shootout, and the hosts began to play slightly nervously as the half came to a close.
Gillingham came agonisingly close to a second goal on 41 minutes. Dack fed Martin with a clever short pass on the left wing; he pulled it back for Loft whose shot was brilliantly saved by the keeper.
Gills started the second half as they finished the first, in the ascendency. McDonald played in McGlashan on the left hand side, he opened up his body and attempted to guide the ball into the top corner but Fielding read his body angle and palmed the ball to safety.
Five minutes later and the visitors created yet another chance – Hessenthaler shaped up for a free kick but confused the City defence by squaring the ball to Pritchard and his curling effort was narrowly wide of the right hand post.
Martin did well to deny Smith a goal at the near post following a low cross from the right before City’s number nine guided a header just past the far post with Tavernier floating a ball into the danger zone.
Cunningham, Flint and Dack all saw efforts go wide before Martin was forced off through injury and was replaced by Brennan Dickenson.
Emmanuel-Thomas had two chances within a minute of each other soon after, his first was launched over the bar before a second struck the outside of the post with Nelson well placed to make a save.
Gills final chance fell to Dack whose effort following an Hessenthaler free kick was deflected for a corner which the hosts cleared. Emmanuel-Thomas had a left foot shot right at the death which Nelson saved well.
Bristol City: Fielding, Williams, Flint, K Smith, M Smith (Agard 85), Emmanuel-Thomas, Freeman (Wagstaff 89), Cunningham, Pack, Ayling, Tavernier (Elliott 68).
Unused subs: Richards, Bryan.
Gills: Nelson, Hoyte, Ehmer, Egan, Martin (Dickenson 75), Hessenthaler, Loft (Garmston 87), Pritchard, Dack, McGlashan (Norris 83), McDonald.
Unused subs: G Morris, Legge.
Attendance: 8469 (169 Gills)
Referee: Mr S Graham