Teenage defender Harvey Lintott struck a winning spot-kick for Gillingham as Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie at Crawley went to penalties.
Sam Ashford cancelled out Gerald Sithole’s fourth minute opener for Gillingham and there was late drama after Steve Evans was sent from the dugout. Dan Phillips thought he had won it in the 95th minute but Archie Davies struck to send the tie to penalties.
Evans made six changes to his starting line-up and handed first senior starts to teenage professionals Sithole and Lintott along with youth player Bailey Akehurst.
Crawley also made six changes to their XI but retained former Gills midfielders Jack Payne and Jake Hessenthaler as starters.
With no Vadaine Oliver or John Akinde to start, the Gills were all about the pace upfront, with Sithole and Mustapha Carayol playing up top with Olly Lee filling in behind.
It didn’t take Sithole long to mark his first start with a goal, scoring within four minutes. Lee put an up and under in the box, keeper Blondy Nna Noukeu claimed the ball but dropped it as he hit the turf and the young Gills forward was on hand to tap the loose ball home.
The Crawley keeper cried foul but referee Paul Howard was having none of it.
Sithole might have got a second moments later but couldn’t quite get on the end of a Carayol cross. It was also a first start in Gills colours for Carayol and he was lively, showing good close control at times and putting a couple of dangerous crosses into the box.
The best chances for Crawley fell to Tyler Frost but his finishing wasn’t quite there, putting one shot wide and another couple into the side netting. Gills keeper Aaron Chapman made one good save in the opening half, tipping over a header from Tony Craig. The home side had certainly made for a competitive first 45.
Frost was in the thick of it at the start of the second half, firing in a low cross that Lintott did well to get clear as Crawley had several bodies in the box.
Crawley made it one apiece on 55 minutes when Frost sent the ball out to the left of the area, Will Ferry played it back in and Ashford was there to tuck the ball past Chapman.
Ashford came close to a second soon after, racing onto a ball forward and beating Ehmer for pace before Chapman saved the subsequent shot. The goal had given Crawley some extra confidence.
Chapman was being kept busy and saved well from Ferry after Ashley Nadesan had shifted the ball into his path.
Evans was incensed by a sliding challenge from Ludwig Francillette that left Sithole in a heap but referee Howard sent the Gills boss off for his protests after booking the Crawley player. The Gillingham manager had to watch the final 15 minutes of the match from the stands.
Oliver headed a late chance at the keeper from Lintott’s cross and the young full-back also found Sithole with a ball in the box but the striker couldn’t dig out a shot. A late shot from Olly Lee also went wide.
Gillingham’s strong finish was rewarded as Phillips struck from the edge of the box but Crawley replied to make it 2-2 in the seventh minute of stoppage time to take the match to a penalty shootout.
A tense shootout went on and on with Gillingham scoring all 10 of theirs with Lintott scoring the crucial one after Chapman had denied Francillette.
Crawley: Noukeu, Craig, Dallison, Francillette, Francomb, Ferry, Ashford (Davies 80mins), Payne (Powell 88mins), Hessenthaler, Frost (Tilley 69mins), Nadesan. Subs not used: Morris, Gallagher, Al-Hussaini, Khaleel.
Gillingham: Chapman, Lintott, Akehurst (Tutonda 80mins), Maghoma, Ehmer, Bennett (Lloyd 61mins), O’Keefe, Phillips, Lee, Sithole, Carayol (Oliver 70mins). Subs not used: Cumming, Tucker.
Referee: Paul Howard