Gills denied victory by Carlisle but enter hat for the third round
The Gills were held to a frustrating one-all draw by League Two Carlisle United at MEMS Priestfield on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the FA Cup. Gillingham will be in the hat for the third round but face a long journey to Cumbria for a tricky replay in ten days’ time.
Luke O’Neill gave the Gills the perfect start to the tie curling home a delightful free-kick from 25 yards after just five minutes, however Carlisle equalised from the spot just ten minutes later. The second half saw the hosts dominate possession but struggle to break down a stubborn defensive line.
Gillingham manager Steve Lovell made two changes to the starting line-up for the visit of Carlisle. Scott Wagstaff started at the tip of a midfield diamond and Max Ehmer returned at centre-back, releasing Sean Clare to revert to his natural position at the heart of the midfield.
Lee Martin and Josh Parker were the players left out after missing training at the start of the week due to the knocks they picked up in the last League game against Oldham Athletic, but were both fit enough for a place on the bench.
After a slow start to the game, the Gills were in front after five minutes with Luke O’Neill curling in a brilliant free-kick. Conor Wilkinson was brought down five yards outside the box and from a similar range from his last minute effort last week which hit the bar, O’Neill this time was able to beat the keeper, bending it over the wall and into the top left corner.
The Cumbrians were knocked by the early got, although Kelvin Etuhu did well to get on the end of Richie Bennett’s knockdown but volleyed wide from 25 yards.
Gary Liddle then drove forward from defence, surprising the Gills with a swift turn of pace, but didn’t get hold of his long range shot which dribbled harmlessly wide of Tomas Holy’s goal.
The home team absorbed that spell of Carlisle pressure and then went close to doubling their lead; Wilkinson and Clare did superbly to win the ball on half way and then the pair combined to allow Wilkinson a shot.
The striker’s effort was blocked but rebounded to him kindly and his volley bounced off the ground and seemed to be looping into the far corner but Jack Bonham was able to get a finger tip on the ball and push it over the bar.
After 17 minutes, Carlisle were given a chance to equalise from the spot with Mark Byrne late on his challenge on Tom Parkes in the box. Danny Grainger stepped up and sent Holy the wrong way to level up the game.
Ex-Gills trialist Reggie Lambe had a chance on 24 minutes to give Carlisle the lead after he was found by a Grainger cross but Ehmer got back to make a crucial block.
The game was a battle with neither side able to get the ball down on the ground with any time or composure.
As the half ticked towards a close, Gillingham enjoyed a good spell of pressure getting the ball down the left flank through Jake Hessenthaler and Connor Ogilvie. Through this combination, the Gills fashioned a shooting opportunity but Wagstaff screwed his shot wide of the goal from the edge of the box.
No other openings were fashioned and both sides went into the break on level terms.
H/T: 0 – 0
Steve Lovell introduced Gills captain Martin at the start of the second half in an attempt to get the Gills on the front foot.
Wagstaff, now shifted to right midfield, had Gillingham’s first effort of the half cutting in from the flank and striking left footed, but the shot lacked pace and was comfortably claimed by Bonham in the Carlisle goal.
After a strong start to the half, a dangerous Gills free-kick what was just kept out by Hill as Ehmer kept the ball alive at the far post, then the referee waved away claims for a penalty as Martin appeared to have been fouled in the box driving in from the wing.
Gillingham were much improved and more impressive hold up play from Wilkinson released Tom Eaves in down the left but as he cut back the defender got a foot in breaking up the attack before he engineered space on the top of the box but curled over.
The visitors were struggling to earn the same level of possession that they had enjoyed in the first half with the Gills winning the ball back quickly on many occasions. On one break forward, though, Bennett wasted the ball by blazing far over Holy’s goal.
A driving Wilkinson run brought the crowd to their feet just after the hour as he took on several Carlisle defenders before his cross-shot flew over Eaves who was waiting to apply the final touch.
Still a threat on the counter, Carlisle reminded the Gills of their threat when James Brown stabbed a snap-shot into the side netting although Holy watched the ball all the way.
Every Gillingham attack was coming through Wilkinson and he delivered a cross into the box for Martin, but the Gills captain had to deal with the ball coming behind him and hoiked his volley over the bar.
Lambe had an effort for Carlisle after 76 minutes but sliced the shot miles wide of goal as the Gills continued to press with the referee forced to wave away another claim for a penalty as Hessenthaler appeared to be pulled back in the box before Byrne shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Despite dominating possession the Gills were struggling to create any concrete chances as the game entered four minutes of injury time.
It was the Cumbrians who had the last chance of the game with a free-kick just in from the corner flag but it was well defended by the Gills to ensure their name will be in the hat for the third round draw despite a frustrating day at the office.
F/T: 1 – 1
Next week, the Gills host Oxford in the second round of the Checkatrade Trophy before travelling to Plymouth to take on bottom-of-the-league Argyle as they look to continue their good form on the road.
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Zakuani, Ehmer, Ogilvie; Byrne, Hessenthaler, Clare (Martin, 46), Wagstaff; Eaves (Parker, 73), Wilkinson
Unused subs: Nelson (GK); Simpson, Nugent, Oldaker, Cundle
Carlisle United: Bonham; Grainger (Miller, 70), Hill, Joyce, Liddle; Parkes, Jones, Brown, Etuhu, Lambe (Hope, 87), Bennett (O’Sullivan, 80)
Unused subs: George (GK), Devitt, Cosgrove, Miller
Referee: Mr Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 3,178 (321)