Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill expressed his relief after his team safely negotiated their passage through an FA Cup tie he described as “blood and thunder”.
Villa were forced to contend with a highly-motivated Gillingham team on a bumpy Priestfield Stadium pitch to emerge with a 2-1 victory from yesterday’s third round match.
The reward for a hard-fought win over Mark Stimson’s League Two underdogs is an away trip to Cheltenham or Doncaster, whose tie was postponed on Saturday.
It is the first time O’Neill has led Villa into the fourth round of the FA Cup after third round defeats to Manchester United during his previous two years in charge.
“It was a really difficult cup-tie,” said Villa’s highly-decorated manager, who is a staunch supporter of the FA Cup despite having never won the competition.
“I thought it was going to be tough before kick-off and so it proved.
“I’ve been involved in these games as a player and they’re very difficult. It was blood and thunder and I’m just delighted we got through.
“If the players hadn’t thought they were going to be in a real cup-tie, they knew they were after 10 minutes.
“It was just an exceptionally difficult game and I am delighted to get through to the next round.
“James (Milner) opened the scoring for us and I thought that goal was fantastic. It gave us a lift and kept us going but then they equalised and it was all hands to the pump after that.
“Gillingham threw everything at us and the home crowd got right behind their team. They were spirited - so all credit to them.
“We got the winner but we certainly never felt comfortable.
“I am happy to have won and I am pleased for our travelling fans because it was cold out there. I hope the result heated them up as they travelled home.”
O’Neill selected a strong line up for the trip to Gillingham and confirmed the absences of Gareth Barry, Luke Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor were because of injury and illness.
Milner gave Villa a first-half lead but they were pegged back by Simeon Jackson’s equaliser around the hour mark.
It took a controversial late penalty to decide the tie after Adam Miller was adjudged to have fouled Ashley Young, with Milner converting the spot-kick.
Gillingham’s players were adamant that no offence had occurred, but O’Neill insists he did not have a good enough view of the incident to comment.