FA Cup: Byrne pops up to earn Saints a second bite

Aaron Williams celebrates after scoring Brackley Town's opener against Billericay Town at St James Park
Aaron Williams celebrates after scoring Brackley Town's opener against Billericay Town at St James Park

Shane Byrne’s last-gasp equaliser means Brackley Town will still be in the hat for Monday’s first round draw in the Emirates FA Cup.

But Saints had to twice come from behind to draw 3-3 with Billericay Town in Saturday’s fourth qualifying round tie at St James Park where Kevin Wilkin’s side had to play all the second half with only ten after Alex Gudger’s red card.

That was the turning point in a game which, up to Gudger’s dismissal, lacked the real drama of a cup tie at this stage of the competition. But that all changed in the second half which produced five goals and a thrilling finish.

Saints made the perfect start when Aaron Williams gave them a third minute lead. Byrne played the ball forward, the Town defence switched off looking for an offside flag which never came and Williams strode through to beat the advancing Alan Julian.

Boosted by the early breakthrough, Saints almost scored again moments later but Lee Ndlovu’s downward header failed to seriously trouble Julian when he should have done better from six yards.

Town’s first chance fell to Billy Bricknell but his 25 yard shot was comfortably gathered by Danny Lewis who then saw a header from Adam Cunnington sail over his bar before Danny Waldren tested the Saints keeper with a free-kick.

But Saints still looked as though they could carve out chances with more ease, especially on the counter-attack. Ellis Myles turned Kevin Foley inside out but his low cross lacked the accuracy when it mattered while Williams was just inches away from connecting with Glenn Walker’s deep cross.

Overall the first half lacked the intensity of a cup tie, especially one with so much at stake for both sides. Despite trailing, Town failed to seriously trouble Lewis while Saints seemed content to hold on to what they had instead of looking for the crucial second goal.

That almost arrived just before the break when an audacious 30 yard chip from Ndlovu looked to have caught out Julian but the former Northern Ireland under-21 keeper recovered and superbly tipped the ball over the bar.

But on the stroke of halftime Saints were reduced to ten men when Gudger got a straight red card for a challenge on Cunnington near the Town corner flag.

And it was Cunnington who put the Isthmian League outfit back on level terms straight after the restart when he got on the end of a deep cross from substitute Sam Deering to squeeze home his header at the far post.

The equaliser produced Town’s spell of the tie and rocked Saints who had looked so comfortable up to that point. Deering’s introduction gave Town another option on the left flank as the visitors finally began to look dangerous.

Saints’ first chance of the second half fell to Byrne but he could only blaze over after Town had failed to fully deal with Glenn Walker’s initial cross. Ndlovu’s bustling run came to a disappointing end and another Saints’ attack fizzled out with Adam Walker’s weak effort which drifted well wide.

Town offered much more in the second period and Deering tested Julian with a low drive before they went ahead in the 73rd minute when two more substitutes combined. Louie Theophanous latched on to a pass from Jake Robinson in the box before beating the advancing Lewis from 15 yards.

But the lead barely lasted four minutes. Saints broke quickly, Byrne was held up on the edge of the box but the ball ran kindly for Adam Walker who drilled it past Julian and into the bottom corner of the net.

Town regained the advantage in the 80th minute when Deering produced another inviting cross for Cunnington to again head home at the far post. The tiring ten-men went close when Ndlovu got the better of Rob Swaine in the final minute of normal time, his shot beat Julian only for the ball to hit the upright.

But in stoppage-time Glenn Walker whipped in a great cross which caused confusion and the ball fell for Byrne who blasted it high into the roof of the net.