A sensational performance by Matt Smith saw him score four times as Bristol City claimed a 4-2 win at Gillingham in the First Leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area Final on Tuesday night.
City started strongly at Priestfield Stadium and would have taken the lead had Smith’s close-range effort not been brilliantly kept out by home goalkeeper Stuart Nelson, but they fell behind against the run of play on six minutes when Cody McDonald latched onto a long ball and fired in.
But Smith headed his loan side level on 18 minutes when he connected with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ deflected cross from the right. He then put City in front less than 10 minutes later with a far-post header from another Emmanuel-Thomas delivery.
It was a stunning effort as he was stretching to make contact with the ball, but he managed to adjust his neck to direct it back across goal and beyond Nelson.
And the 25-year-old secured the first hat-trick of his professional career shortly after half-time when he collected the ball with his back to goal before executing a cheeky backheel that beat Nelson.
Another McDonald strike 20 minutes from time brought Gills back into contention, but Smith wasn’t finished yet and grabbed his and City’s fourth on 77 with the best strike of the game.
On the left corner of the penalty area, he crashed in a fine dipping volley to cap a magnificent evening’s work, and give his temporary team a two-goal advantage going into the Second Leg of the Area Final at Ashton Gate at the beginning of February.
The winners will take on Preston North End or Walsall in the Wembley Final the following month.
Speaking to Bristol City Player after the match, Smith said: “It was a special night. I’m really, really happy to get my first hat-trick.