Gillingham came from behind to beat Watford in the second round of the EFL Cup at Vicarage Road on Tuesday night thanks to goals from Mark Byrne and Bradley Dack.
Odion Ighalo opened the scoring for the Hornets, but Gillingham found an extra level to their performance and made sure they came back to win the game, capping a memorable night.
Justin Edinburgh made one change to the team that suffered defeat at Scunthorpe, with Cody McDonald partnering Jay Emmanuel-Thomas up front in place of Rory Donnelly. Gillingham lined up with a three man central defence and Emmanuel Osadebe and Paul Konchesky providing the width.
Watford were first to test the opposition goal but Stuart Nelson was equal to the effort. Watford broke and Troy Deeney forcefully side-footed the ball towards the goal, however Nelson was alert to push the ball to safety with 6 minutes gone.
Nelson made a brilliant save with 12 minutes gone as Matej Vydra slipped a neat ball back into the path of Ikechi Anya. The striker seemed to have time and space but the Gills stopper was quick off his line and smothered Anya’s shot, with the away defence side scrambling the ball clear.
Watford were well on top, looking particularly lively through Anya down the left hand side but Gillingham applied themselves to keep the Premier League opposition at bay.
The Gills had their first effort after 17 minutes off the second offensive wave of a corner-kick. Josh Wright headed the ball back into the box after the initial cross was cleared, but McDonald’s looping header cleared Costel Pantilimon’s bar.
Anya brought another fine save from Nelson after 31 minutes, playing a one-two with Deeney down the left hand side before cutting in and shooting. Nelson parried the ball to the edge of the area but Absoulaye Doucoure couldn’t control his shot which flew well wide of the goal.
Soon after Nelson again had to be at his best to deny Vydra an opener for Watford. Deeney looped a header over the Gills defence but Nelson came rushing out to take ball, attacker and Josh Pask and deny the home side.
A couple of corners had the Gills faithful in top voice but both were defended, before Adlene Guedioura fizzed a low shot wide of Nelson’s goal as Gillingham continued to keep the Hornets at arms length.
Allan Nyom got behind the back of the Gills defence as half-time approached, fizzing a low ball across the face of the goal but nobody could provide the necessary goal-scoring touch, as Watford attacked the full-backs with speed.
The away side though did carry a bite up front with Emmanuel-Thomas linking up play well. He had a couple of sighters blocked after 42 minutes, but eventually shot wide of Pantilimon’s goal, and the Gills saw the rest of the half out comfortably.
H/T: 0 - 0
Watford came out of the traps quickest in the second half, and Ben Watson blazed high and wide from Vydra’s lay off after 48 minutes, before Gills were lucky to survive a goalmouth scramble. However, yet again no Watford player could force the ball into the net, as Anya whipped a dangerous ball into the 6-yard box.
The game was playing out nicely as Gillingham looked to get forward at any opportunity, Emmanuel-Thomas shooting wide after Konchesky crossed dangerously into the home penalty area.
Watford took the lead after 58 minutes through their new substitute Odion Ighalo. Deeney played a great ball over the defence into the path of Ighalo who took the ball down before being tackled by a combination of goalkeeper and defender, however the ball broke loose to the frontman who passed into a an empty net.
Watford nearly extended their lead after 65 minutes as Ighalo was slipped in down the right hand side by Vydra. Ighalo had time and space but Deji Oshilaja got back to make an outstanding block. From the corner Tommie Hoban powered a header which was outstandingly kept out by Nelson, and Max Ehmer hacked off the line into the bar and away.
Gillingham won a penalty after 70 mins as two new substitutes combined down the left; Bradley Dack played Elliot List down the left hand side of the box and Elliot List showed fantastic pace to nip onto the ball and was fouled by Nyom. Dack took the penalty but blazed the ball over the bar with Pantilimon well beaten.
The Gills seemed to be buoyed by that and were looking lively on the counter with pace, however Nelson had to pull off yet another brilliant save to keep Deeney out after 75 mins.
Gillingham were beginning to look dangerous, frustrating the home side, and Mark Byrne had a shot well blocked behind from 25 yards and the corner was cleared on 78 minutes.
Cody McDonald went close again, turning Hoban inside out but the centre back recovered well to make the block as the Gills looked to get back on level terms.
Mark Byrne scored the equaliser that the Gills deserved with a blinding left-foot shot. Gillingham’s number 33 got off the mark for the club in superb fashion, taking a ball down before cutting inside his man and curling past the Watford goalkeeper with 83 minutes on the clock.
Byrne continued to threaten the Watford goal, breaking through a few tackles but shooting over; Gillingham looked like they had their Premier League counterparts rattled. Osadebe was next to test Pantilimon driving in a right-footed shot when left with too much space down the right hand flank.
Gillingham were defending valiantly with every single player putting in a shift, still closing down the Hornets inside their own half and looking to counter, and kept the home side at bay to take the tie into extra time, despite a last-gasp (albeit offside) attempt from Deeney.
F/T: 1 – 1
Watford started the second half of extra time well, with Oshilaja struggling with a leg injury and Ighalo immediately shot just wide of Nelson’s post.
Substitute Camilo Zuniga was next to go close for the Hornets but he also dragged his shot wide of the goal, after cutting from the left flank after 99 minutes.
Gillingham went ahead through Bradley Dack after 102 minutes after a great team move from the away side. Darren Oldaker played in Osadebe in down the right, who did fantastically to hold off his man, before playing a low ball into the box which Dack just finished off, via the upright.
The Gills midfielder took a whack from the post for his troubles and the referee had to consult his watch before eventually gave the goal and sent the away end into raptures.
Gills saw out the remainder of the half, with Vicarage Road booing the team off at the interval.
ET H/T: 1 – 2
Watford again threatened instantly from the break as Zuniga hung a teasing ball into the box but Ighalo could only head over the bar, as Gillingham stood firm.
Gillingham were, for the first time, looking tired and Watford were camped in their half but the Gills were defending were heroically as first Oldaker then Ehmer made crucial blocks to preserve the lead.
Nelson, as ever throughout the game, did fantastically well to punch off Watson’s head to clear the danger as the ball rocketed around the Gills box after 111 minutes following a dangerous Watford corner.
The home side were throwing the kitchen sink at Gills, but the defence withstood the long balls targeting Deeney.
Byrne took a yellow for the team to break up play as the Gills players used every ounce of available energy to halt the efforts of Watford. McDonald up the other end held the ball up and drew the foul right in front of the Gills fans to their delight.
One final lung-bursting run from Byrne saw the referee blow up for a famous win for Gillingham, who enter the draw for the third round.
ET F/T: 1 – 2
The Gills travel to Shrewsbury on Saturday looking to get back to winning ways in Sky Bet League One.
Watford: Pantilimon; Nyom, Hoban, Kabasele; Paredes, Guedioura (Ighalo, 56), Watson, Doucoure, Anya (Zuniga, 94); Deeney (c), Vydra (Capoue, 66)
Unused subs: Gomes, Kaboul, Sinclair, Holebas
Gillingham: Nelson; Oshilaja, Ehmer, Pask, Konchesky (List, 66); Wright (c) (Oldaker, 74), Osadebe, Byrne, Knott; McDonald, Emmanuel-Thomas (Dack, 66)
Unused subs: Hadler, Dickenson, Hessenthaler, Donnelly
Attendance: 7,004 (849)
Referee: James Linington