STOKE CITY overcame an early scare to secure their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup . . . and make it a triumphant return to former club Gillingham for manager Tony Pulis with a 3-1 victory at the Priestfield Stadium.
The Potters, looking to enjoy another glorious run in the competition after reaching their first-ever FA Cup Final last season, were indebted to goals from two of their Wembley heroes Jon Walters and Robert Huth for the win.
It was Walters who cancelled out an early strike from Danny Kedwell for the Gills, while Huth's firm header early in the second half gave City a comfortable two-goal cushion against their League Two opponents in Kent.
In between those two well-taken goals, Cameron Jerome was on hand to score for the second week running as he lifted his close range shot into the roof of the net after a Ryan Shawcross header glanced against the bar.
The victory which put the Potters into tomorrow evening's fourth round draw was a sweet occasion for Pulis who was given a great reception by the home crowd despite the comments of chairman Paul Scally before the game.
Pulis had made a number of changes to the side that kicked of 2012 with a victory at Blackburn Rovers on Monday and it meant that there were only five survivors in the starting line-up from the side that lined up at Wembley back in May.
The fact that Thomas Sorensen, Marc Wilson, Matthew Etherington and Peter Crouch were all rested meant that there were places in the Potters starting line-up for Asmir Begovic, MatthewUpson, Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones.
It was City who made the brighter start and Gillingham were forced to defend two long throw-ins from the right sent in by Delap.
The first of them caused particular problems as Jones rose to meet it with a close range header but it deflected off a Gillingham defender for a corner.
The Potters were then forced to soak up some Gillingham pressure which lifted the home crowd, but they hit back with their first attempt at goal when Delap's short throw-in found Woodgate whose cross-cum-shot landed in the arms of Flitney.
Although City had little difficulty in dealing with any threat from Gillingham in the first quarter of an hour, they were given a shock in the 16th minute.
Weston swung the ball in from the left hand side and when it deflected off Whelpdale, it ran into the path of Kedwell for him to slide his shot past Begovic.
There were more concerns as Kedwell flashed a shot into the sidenetting, although a linesman's flag ruled him offside, and then Lawrence burst from his own half to find Weston who shrugged off Shawcross to fire a shot over the bar.
City should, however, have drawn level in the 27th minute when Palacios swung over a corner from the right and Huth planted his header over the bar when he really should have hit the target from eight yards out after rising above his marker.
But they did equalise five minutes later and it was Huth who started the move with a long ball forward in the direction of Walters.
The Republic of Ireland international then an astute return pass from Jerome into his path and he slide his shot under the diving Flitney.
Encouraged by getting back on level terms, City enjoyed a period of dominance in which they carved out a number of half chances.
But they should have gone in front when Shawcross played a ball to the edge of the box and when Walters hooked it over to the far post, Jones seemed destined to score, but he planted his firm header over the bar from close range.
It was only a short reprieve for Gillingham as City finally made their threat from long throw-ins count a minute before the break.
Shawcross flicked on Delap's throw-in with his head and it glanced off the bar, but Jerome was on hand at the far post to lift it into the roof of the net.
The Potters gained themselves the comfort of a two-goal cushion straight after the break and this time Huth was bang on target with his header.
Palacios floated a corner in from the left hand side and it was most inviting for the big German international to power his header past Flitney.
The tie could have been put well and truly to bed in City's next attack when Jerome slipped into Walters bursting forward, but the ball appeared to bobble on the bumpy pitch and his shot flew harmlessly wide from a good position.
The third goal had certainly taken the wind out of Gillingham's sails and despite seeing plenty of the ball, they rarely threatened a comeback.
Instead, the Potters looked menacing on the break and had their final pass been better on a number of occasions, a fourth goal might have been the outcome, but they did almost stretch their lead from a set-piece which led to a mad scramble in the box.
Jerome eventually tried a shot at goal which cannoned off a defender and looped over Flitney, but Whelpdale was covering and headed off the line.
Pulis made a couple of changes as the half wore on with Whelan coming on in place of the injured Shotton while Whitehead replaced Palacios.
A third substitution followed when Fuller came on for Jones and the Jamaican produced two trademark runs into the box as City pressed for a fourth goal and it took some desperate defending to block him in his tracks on both occasions.
The best opportunity fell, however, to Jerome who burst clear onto a Fuller pass, but as he shaped to shoot, the uneven surface again played a part in his eventual effort flying harmlessly wide of the target from the edge of the box.
Right at the death, Fuller had an opportunity of his own to grab his side a fourth, though his stinging half-volley eight-yards out drifted harmlessly wide of the post after he was well picked out in the penalty area.