Patience pays off for Key

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The Independent Online
Gillingham 1

Sheffield Wednesday 2

The FA Cup has a habit of throwing up heroes between the sticks in the third round. Dickie Guy is one who springs to mind from those far-off days when Wimbledon was the club everyone loved to love. But at a bursting Priestfield Stadium on Saturday it wasnot a case of finders keepers, losers weepers.

Rather it was the guardian of the winners' goal who may be shedding a tear before the next tie comes around. Lance Key has had to be patient in awaiting his chance with Wednesday, but when it came on Saturday, a couple of minutes before half-time when Kevin Pressman was sent off for hauling down Chris Pike, he came off the bench and took it with both hands. A safer pair of hands his manager, Trevor Francis, could not have wished for.

Pitched into a classic Cup encounter between Third Division strugglers and a Premiership side who have finally fulfilled their manager's season-long prediction by coming good, Key began by picking Pike's spot-kick out of the net.

From coasting towards the fourth round, Wednesday found themselves only 2-1 up and down to 10 men. It was the second transformation the game had undergone. Against a would-be David, the 90 minutes can seem like 90 days to a Goliath but 90 seconds passed in what must have seemed the twinkling of an eye as the giants imposed themselves with half an hour played.

Chris Waddle found space on the right to curl the ball in off the far post. Whether or not that was meant as a shot, it was definitely a cross he placed on Mark Bright's head for the second goal a minute and a half later. Suddenly Gillingham seemed to sense a giant-killing was beyond them, but then a Des Walker back-pass prompted Pressman's embarrassment.

The Kent side came out for the second half stoked up and Key became, literally, the key. He went low to stop Pike's drive and twice flung himself to keep out fierce attempts from Adrian Foster. Though they brought gasps of admiration and frustration fromthe crowd, Francis saw those lead-preserving saves as all in a half-day's work for the 26-year-old.

Then again, the manager could not afford to talk Key up too much. He was quickly relaying news that Chris Woods, sidelined this season with a foot injury, had come through his first game back in goal and had two more outings lined up.

It seems he could be ready to return in, say, a couple of weeks' time, when Pressman's suspension is due to start. And that could leave Key precisely where he came in on Saturday - as understudy.

Goals: Waddle (30) 1-0; Bright (32) 2-0; Pike pen (43) 2-1.

Gillingham (4-4-2): Banks; Arnott, Butler, Green, P Watson; Smith, Micklewhite, Carpenter, Reinelt; Pike, Foster. Substitutes not used: Palmer, Ramage, Barrett (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Pearce, Walker, Nolan; Waddle (Petrescu, 87), Sheridan, Hyde, Bart-Williams; Bright, Whittingham (Key, 43). Substitute not used: G Watson.

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe, Cornwall).