Gills book third round tie at Maidstone after penalty shootout win.
Jack Conway scored the winning penalty in a dramatic shootout to book Gills a place in the third round of the Kent Senior Cup on Tuesday night.
Gills were leading 2-1 with just a minute left to play in normal time but were pegged back when sub Kweku Ansah converted from close range.
Jesse Starkey handed Gills the lead with an excellent left footed strike from 20 yards, but on the stroke of half-time Ben Allen surprised everybody when his long distance free-kick deceived keeper Steve Arnold and flew into the top corner.
Gills battled away in the second half, looking for a potential winner, and they finally got it on 80 minutes when Oldaker found the bottom corner with a precise drilled shot which beat Steve Phillips.
It appeared the visitors had done enough but Ansah took advantage of a mix up between Arnold and Jack Tucker, and slotted home to force penalties. After 19 spot kicks each, Conway finally got the winner.
Steve Lovell was the man at the helm for this one and he named a team which contained a nice blend of youth and experience. Jack Tucker and Ryan Huckle partnered each other at centre-back with Darren Oldaker in central midfield alongside Ben Chapman.
Liam Nash started up front with Scott Wagstaff and Bradley Garmston making their respective returns from injury.
Gills created the first chance of the game within 40 seconds. A long diagonal ball from Oldaker found Wagstaff in an advanced position on the right wing, his cross was headed away as far as Chapman whose shot missed the upright by a matter of inches.
Thankfully for the visitors it didn’t matter too much with Gills taking the lead on seven minutes. The ball was brought forward and the visitors retained possession well, patiently waiting for an opening and when the ball was guided left towards Starkey he took on his marker and from an ever decreasing angle he found the opposite corner from 20 yards with a brilliant strike.
And within six minutes he nearly turned provider for a second. From just inside the halfway line he sprinted at the Phoenix defence, running past three players before his pass back to Nash inside the box was well intercepted.
Gillingham were dealt a blow on 21 minutes when Aaron Simpson hobbled off following a heavy challenge inside the penalty area. Stefan Wright was able to continue for the hosts but Henry Arnold was required to replace Simpson who was helped back to the dressing room.
Arnold was called upon to save a powerful 30-yard effort from Ben Allen before the same player delivered a tricky free-kick from wide on the left which the keeper did well to claim with both hands with Phoenix players looking to pounce.
With half-time moments away Phoenix were awarded a free-kick 30 yards from goal and Allen stepped up to take it. Arnold was off his line and the forward impressively managed to place it in the top corner to surprise the Gills fans with the whistle sounding shortly after.
Garmston and Wagstaff were rested for the second half with Conway and Theo White both introduced for Gills.
The half was slow to get going with few opportunities to speak of early on but just after the hour mark Gills had a couple of half chances. Oldaker’s cross to the back post was met by Tucker who slid in well to play the ball across the face of goal but no-one was on hand to convert from close range before Nash headed narrowly wide following an excellent left footed delivery.
Allen’s long range effort for the hosts went well wide before Cundle was denied by an excellent last ditch block.
With the match looking like it could go to penalties Gills did finally get their deserved second goal on 80 minutes. Starkey had time and space to burst forward; he cut inside and spotted Oldaker unmarked. He picked his spot and drilled home from 20 yards.
The midfielder struck the post shortly after with a follow up effort going over the bar, but the thought of spot-kicks was brought back into the equation with two minutes to play.
A long ball forward saw Arnold come out to try and clear; he was unable to do so and clattered into Tucker in the process. The defender, along with Huckle, tried to recover but sub Kweku Ansah was in the right place at the right time to find an empty net from 12 yards.
The match was therefore decided on penalties. Phoenix missed their tenth spot-kick meaning Gills would win if Conway converted, and he did just that to give the travelling supporters something to cheer about with the prospect of a game at Maidstone coming soon.
F/T: 2-2 (Gillingham win 6-5 on penalties)
Phoenix: Phillips, Fitchett, Muckle, Bryon, Young, Mingle (Dythe 51), Wright, Hopkins, Allen, Sawyer, Aldridge (Ansah 88).
Unused subs: Ogboe, Seixas, Kemp.
Gills: S Arnold, Simpson (H Arnold 21), Tucker, Huckle, Garmston (Conway 46), Oldaker, Starkey, Wagstaff (White 46), Chapman, Nash, Cundle.
Unused subs: Gildea
Referee: Mr S Rudd