"You're Eddie the Eagle... just fly!"
Gillingham arrived at The Den with a spring in their step and with an aura of confidence that they could snatch a victory. Winning their last two league fixtures after being predicted to struggle in the English Third Tier, the Gills had one eye on progression to the second round of the Carabao Cup, but first they had to get past Neil Harris' Millwall side.
Reminiscent of classic underdog stories, it was the League One club who started brighter and were taking it to the home side. By the 7th minute two crunching tackles flew into Shane Ferguson and Tom Elliott and any expectation that this would be an easy victory for the Lions soon disappeared. The first real chance of the game fell to the impressive Tom Eaves, who like the brave Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards in the 1988 Winter Olympics, found himself in a position he had no right to be in. From close range, Eaves was first to Bradley Garmston's cross and his half-chance flashed over Ben Amos' bar in the same vein as Edwards flying off the 90m ski jump - impressive, but no real threat to the event favourites.
Sensing the game had early signs for a bloody nose for the Lions, it was Ben Thompson who stepped up from the midfield and tried to take the game by the scruff of it's neck. Picking up the ball from a Tom Elliott header in the 16th minute, the young midfielder's effort from outside the box was on target, but easily held by Tomas Holy between the Gillingham posts.
Gillingham continued to press the Lions, and if it wasn't for a late challenge from Conor McLaughlin in the 17th minute then the low drive of Charles-Cook would've rustled the back of the Millwall net. Just as when Susan Boyle took to the stage in Britain's Got Talent, the fans in the Barry Kitchener stand were stunned by the fight in our lower league opposition and knew this would be a long night.
Aside from Thompson's earlier effort, Millwall were struggling to get a foot hold in the game, but it was Fred Onyedinma who had arguably the best chance of the first half in the 21st minute. A lovely pass down the wing from Conor McLaughlin found Tom Elliott, whose cross found the young number ten in space in the Gills penalty area. Fred pulled his foot back and although his effort looked destined to put the Lions 1-0 up, Tomas Holy managed a great block and the ball ricocheted away from danger.
Ten minutes later, it was Onyedinma who again looked lively for Millwall. After twisting and turning his way into the Gillingham box in the 30th minute, Fred's double-effort was double-blocked by some desperate defending from the Gills and the Lions were finally starting to show glimmers of their supposed superiority. Only five minutes later it was Onyedinma again who burst into Holy's penalty area and after easily beating the Gillingham defence, unleashed an effort towards Holy's near post. Unfortunately for Onyedinma, Holy was equal to it and managed to palm the Millwall forward's effort away. The half ended 0-0 and like Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III, Gillingham had stood up to Millwall's Andre the Giant and showed they would not be intimidated.
The second half started in a similar way as the first with Gillingham the first out of the traps. The Kent side had a number of chances to take the lead, but the best chance came in the 55th minute. Tom Eaves again found space in the Millwall penalty area, but his effort from 12 yards out was blocked excellently by James Meredith. Our Goliath's in navy were rocked by David's slingshot, but re-grouped well in the 57th minute. A desperate Gills clearance for a corner was the result of a goal line scramble after Shane Ferguson flicked the ball over a helpless Holy. The home fans roared and got back behind the Lions, but the Gills responded in the 66th minute which left everyone with their hearts in their mouths.
Similar to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, Byron Webster had the race to the stray ball under control and there only looked to be one winner. However, Webster was caught sleeping and allowed Hanlan through on goal and racing towards the away end. When it looked like Hanlan was destined to score, the striker did not connect with the ball properly and dragged his shot wide.
Gillingham kept plugging at the Lions goal and again came close in the 82nd minute. Regan Charles-Cook's effort seemingly had Amos beat, but his effort just flashed wide of the keeper's post.
The final whistle sounded and the game went to penalties. Although Jed Wallace missed the Lions' first spot-kick and the Gills were in the driving seat, Ben Amos did not read the underdog script and was instrumental in keeping Gillingham's penalties out. With the score at 3-1 to Millwall, Hanlan stepped up to keep his side in the game, but his effort was saved superbly by the Millwall 'keeper and the South London side progressed to the next round.
Millwall: Amos, McLaughlin, Meredith (O'Brien 74'), Thompson, Onyedinma (Gregory 73'), Ferguson, Webster, Tunnicliffe, Elliott, M. Wallace, Skalak (J. Wallace 83').
Subs not used: Archer, Cooper, Williams, Romeo.
Gillingham: Holy, O'Neill, Garmston (Fuller 74'), Lacey, Ehmer, Hanlan, Eaves (Wilkinson 76'), Charles-Cook, Reilly (Stevenson 63'), Parker, Byrne.
Subs not used: Hadler, Nasseri, Nash, Simpson