Gillingham’s Wembley dream was ended on Thursday night but they went down fighting.
A draw on the night was well deserved but unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the Gills in the Johnstone’s Paint area final second leg.
Gillingham’s nemesis Matt Smith broke the deadlock at Ashton Gate but Jermaine McGlashan levelled things up before the break.
Both sides had second half chances but the score remained 1-1, 5-3 on aggregate.
The Gills needed to wipe out a 4-2 deficit from the first leg, a match where Smith had scored all four.
Gillingham were without cup-tied striker John Marquis for the tie and they set up for the match in 4-3-3 formation.
Jermaine McGlashan was handed a start, after two thrilling sub appearances, to play on the right of Cody McDonald in attack. Bradley Dack operated down the left.
The Gills won a trio of early corners but their good start ended abruptly as Smith headed home the game’s opening goal, after his first effort from Luke Freeman’s corner rattled the bar.
Fulham loanee Smith had scored all four in the first-leg and also struck twice against the Gills in the league victory before that.
City’s superior height advantage was certainly in evidence.
But despite conceding, the Gills kept at it. With 32 minutes gone they were level from a great flowing move. McDonald’s back-heel found Dack and his super throughball to McGlashan was converted past keeper Fielding.
Gillingham kept up the pressure for the rest of the half and only a fantastic save from Fielding denied Loft, who side-footed Joe Martin’s pull-back goalwards.
The Gills started the second half as they began the first, needing a two goal advantage to level the tie and a third to win it.
City could have been down to 10 men at the end of the half, after a rash challenge from Freeman on Gavin Hoyte, but referee Graham Scott handed out only a caution.
Fielding made another good save early in the second half, turning McGlashan’s curling effort away from goal, after McDonald had played the winger in.
Josh Pritchard bent a long-range effort wide for the Gills but despite dominating the early second half exchanges, it needed a good tackle from Joe Martin to deny Smith a near-post finish.
Big striker Smith, who recovered from a collision with the post, nodded another header wide from James Tavernier’s cross as he continued to dominate the aerial battle.
Greg Cunningham was denied moments later with a finger-tip save from Nelson. Late in the half, with Gills pushing, Emmanuel-Thomas struck the outside of the frame with a vicious effort and hit another effort just wide.
Gillingham: Nelson, Martin (Dickenson 75mins), Hoyte, Egan, Ehmer, Loft (Garmston 87mins), Hessenthaler, Pritchard, Dack, McGlashan (Norris 83mins), McDonald. Subs not used: G Morris, Legge.
Bristol City: Fielding, Tavernier (Elliott 68mins), Williams, Flint, K Smith, Cunningham, Pack, Ayling, Freeman (Wagstaff 90mins), M Smith (Agard 85mins), Emmanuel-Thomas. Subs not used: Richards, Bryan.
Attendance: 8,469 (169 away)