Magnificent Saints dramatically denied famous win

Brackley players celebrate taking a shock lead at Gillingham. Picture by Barry Goodwin
Brackley players celebrate taking a shock lead at Gillingham. Picture by Barry Goodwin

Bradley Dack’s dramatic 96th minute goal cruelly denied Brackley Town a famous FA Cup victory over Gillingham at Priestfield Stadium.

A Joe Martin own goal midway through the second half had put Brackley on course for a memorable and deserved victory, but Dack fired home 15 seconds from full time to snatch a replay.

It had been a magnificent Saints display, full of commitment and determination, and they would have been well worth the victory but for late drama.

The replay will take place at St James’ Park a week on Tuesday.

Jon Brady chose to play three at the back for the encounter, with Izak Reid and Curtis McDonald as wing-backs and Glenn Walker roaming in midfield behind Gary Mulligan and the hard-working Steve Diggin.

It was his side who, much to the shock of the home fans, made a flying start as they put the League One outfit under pressure from the off, enjoying much of the early possession.

Some high pressing forced the home side into errors and Saints were inches from taking a surprise lead when Diggin’s effort looped over Stuart Nelson and cannoned off the crossbar.

The visitors remained on top, while Gillingham could barely string two passes together, as a succession of free-kicks and corners kept the hosts on the back foot, with Saints again coming close through Ryan Austin, who hit the side-netting from Reid’s free-kick.

Inevitably, Gillingham began to settle into the game and dominated possession, but Brackley, as they have done all season, remained solid and showed signs of ambition themselves.

They then had a glorious opportunity to take the lead when a good passage of play culminated in Curtis McDonald passing into Diggin and his flick put Steve Towers through on goal, but the midfielder’s effort was superbly saved by Nelson.

Despite having all the ball, the hosts failed to have much of an impact on the visiting goal with Billy Turley a virtual spectactor as Saints kept their shape well, making it hard for their higher-ranked opponents to break them down.

Elliot Sandy stuck a 30-yard strike just over as Saints retained an attacking threat, while Gillingham barely tested the Brackley back four and only threatened from set-pieces – Danny Kedwell coming closest when he fired over from 16 yards following a neat corner routine.

Then came the best chance of the match for Gillingham, as Myles Weston powered down the right and squared for Kedwell who, under no pressure, skewed over from eight yards.

The half time whistle shortly followed and Saints went into the break level having more than held their own in a highly entertaining first half.

The second half started as quickly as the first with Turley forced into an early save to deny Kedwell before Walker had Saints’ third clear-cut opportunity when the ball fell kindly to him inside the penalty area but his attempt was well-blocked and deflected over.

Once again, Gillingham had all of the ball but, as in the first period, Brackley kept their shape and remained hard to break down with the home side having to resort to long-range efforts that failed to test Turley.

Then came the dramatic moment as, midway through the half, Brackley took a shock lead when Mulligan’s dangerous cross was touched into his own net by Martin to set Saints on course for a famous win.

As expected, Gillingham came straight back at Brackley and threw everything forward in desperate search of a goal with an almighty goalmouth scramble somehow smothered clear before Cody McDonald headed wide.

Walker then almost sneaked a free-kick beyond Nelson as Brackley threatened a second goal, but the Gillingham onslaught remained with McDonald the next to go close, scooping over from eight yards before Bayo Akinfenwa headed off target and then a superb save from Turley with his legs denied McDonald.

Saints almost sealed it in the final minute when Nat Jarvis’ backheel had to be cleared off the line, which was followed by what looked a clear foul by a Gillingham defender when Jarvis was clean through but, despite the linesman signalling for a foul, the referee waved play on.

Gillingham went straight back up the other end and an equaliser almost felt inevitable and so it arrived when, 15 seconds from full time, Dack popped up inside the penalty area and hammered past a helpless Turley to secure a replay.

It left the travelling fans and players heartbroken after a magnificent Saints display that warranted victory and progression through to the next round, but it wasn’t to be.

Gillingham: Nelson, Martin, Davies (Akinfenwa 65), Whelpdale, Kedwell, McDonald, Weston (Dack 65), Gregory, Lee (Mousinho 65), Harriman, Barrett (c)

Subs not used: German, Carter, Howard, Hessenthaler

Brackley: Turley, Reid, Sharpe, Austin (c), McDonald (Nisevic 45), Sandy, Solkhon, Towers, Walker, Diggin (Jarvis 89), Mulligan (Mills 70).

Subs not used: Story, Odhiambo, Worby, Griffin

Referee: Lee Collins

Assistance referees: Michael Smith and Carl Finch

Star Saint: Steve Diggin - Encapsulated Brackley’s display; running himself into the ground, forcing Gillingham into mistakes, causing constant problems