League Two clubs cannot afford to be choosey about an FA Cup draw: any Premier League club at home is good but, if they could select their own opponent, few would choose Stoke City. Despite being the 2011 runners-up, Stoke are not glamorous enough to attract the financial windfall of live TV coverage but nor are they vulnerable to a giant-killing.
Not only do Stoke have some excellent players, they are too physically powerful to be intimidated. At Priestfield on Saturday, the Potters fielded four centre-halves, three centre-forwards, a brace of long-throw exponents and the muscular Wilson Palacios. Two of the three goals by which they overhauled a Gillingham side, which had taken an early lead, came from set-pieces. "They are a strong physical side," Danny Kedwell, Gillingham's scorer, said. "Even Premier League clubs struggle to deal with their throw-ins."
Unlike Swindon in their match against Wigan, Gills could not even take advantage of weakened opposition. The lingering emnity between Gillingham chairman Paul Scally and Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who was Gillingham's manager in the late-Nineties, meant Stoke were always likely to field a strong XI. Not that Pulis – whose reception from the home support must have had Scally fuming – used the feud to motivate his team. "I'm not sure who Paul Scally even is," Cameron Jerome said. "The gaffer never mentioned him."
Maybe that accounted for Stoke's start – Gillingham took an early lead through Kedwell. But Jon Walters punished sloppy defending to level, Jerome turned in a Rory Delap throw-in and Robert Huth converted a corner.
Stoke have now won 14 and lost three of their last 20 Cup ties at home and abroad, losing only to Manchester City in last season's FA Cup final, Liverpool in the Carling Cup this season, and at Besiktas with a reserve team in a dead Europa League rubber at the start of December.
"We are competing on three fronts but I think it's quite manageable," Jerome said. "We had a heavy schedule before Christmas, but we have got through that. We are eighth in the League, which is good, and we are through to the last 32 of the Europa League after no one gave us a prayer. Hopefully we can progress in this competition as well."
Derby County, who have drawn this short straw in the fourth round, have been warned.
Gillingham (4-1-4-1): Flitney; Lawrence (Rooney, 65), Richards, Frampton, Jackman; Montrose (S Payne, 76); Lee, Weston, J Payne, Whelpdale; Kedwell (Oli, 63).
Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Woodgate, Shawcross, Huth, Upson; Shotton (Whelan, 52), Palacios (Whitehead, 61), Delap, Jerome; Walters, Jones (Fuller, 73).
Goals: Kedwell 16, Walters 34, Jerome 43, Huth 49
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