Brackley Town’s grip on the Buildbase FA Trophy is over but only after a tremendous effort against Vanarama National League high-fliers Leyton Orient.
Saints lost 2-1 against Orient in Saturday’s quarter-final tie in front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 1,600 at St James Park.
Top scorer Lee Ndlovu gave the holders the first half advantage with his 18th goal of the season and Saints had chances to double their advantage. But, after Danny Lewis had superbly saved top scorer Macauley Bonne’s second half penalty, substitute Matt Harold equalised and Dan Happe headed the late winner.
Ndlovu passed referee Richard Hulme’s pre-match inspection on his damaged finger, which was heavily bound following surgery on Monday. And how Saints needed him against an Orient side yet to concede a goal in the competition before Saturday’s tie.
With Carl Baker cup-tied, ironically playing for Nuneaton Borough against Saints earlier in the season, Jimmy Armson came straight back into the starting line-up.
Orient dominated possession in the opening stages but Ellis Myles almost produced something out of nothing when he got on the end of a long clearance by Danny Lewis only to be thwarted by Dean Brill at the second attempt as he tried take advantage of the keeper’s indecision on the edge of his box.
Brill was quickly down to save from Matt Lowe after he was neatly set-up by Armson who then created a great opportunity for himself from an Orient corner.
The corner was cleared and Armson raced away from the halfway line but, with just Brill to beat, he allowed the keeper to block his effort. Ndlovu was fouled as he pounced on the loose ball and Glenn Walker’s ensuing free-kick was palmed away by Brill.
Macauley Bonne had Orient’s first chance, firing over on the turn after Myles misdirected his clearance from Jobi McAnuff’s corner.
But it was Saints who broke the deadlock in the 24th minute. Lowe’s persistence paid off when he robbed Sam Long and his low cross was turned in by Ndlovu.
Boosted by the breakthrough, Saints began to ask more questions of the visitors who were clearly rocked. Lowe began to cause more problems on the right flank with his pace as Saints stepped up a gear.
Ndlovu almost turned provider moments later when his cross found Armson whose close range effort was blocked for a corner. And from Shane Byrne’s ensuing corner captain Gaz Dean’s point-blank rocket header was somehow kept out by Brill.
Saints almost doubled their advantage in first half stoppage-time when Glenn Walker robbed McAnuff and found Armson on the edge of the box who twisted and turned before testing Brill with a low drive which the keeper gathered at the second attempt.
After the restart Bonne’s looping header from MaAnuff’s cross sailed over the bar and Dale Gorman fired over from long range before referee Hulme made an absolute howler by noit playing a simple advantage. He blew up far too early after Ndlovu had been fouled on the edge of the box as the powerful striker got free and broke through with just Brill to beat.
From the ensuing free-kick, Byrne’s effort was blocked by the wall before his deft chip picked out Armson in the box but he fired wide with just Brill to beat.
Orient had a glorious chance to equalise in the 68th minute when substitute Jordan Maguire-Drew went down under a combined challenge from Byrne and Glenn Walker. But Lewis superbly palmed away Bonne’s spot-kick to preserve his side’s slender advantage.
But Orient equalised in the 74th when James Brophy’s low cross was turned in by Harrold from close range. Orient had a second penalty appeal away when Craig Clay was challenged in the box by Myles.
Orient sensed a late winner and Jay Simpson volleyed over from 15 yards before they got it in the 83rd minute when Maguire-Drew’s corner eluded Lewis and Happe headed home at the far post.
Orient should have made it safe in stoppage-time when Maguire-Drew raced clear, went around Lewis but Lowe got back to deny him. And Saints nearly forced an equaliser when Fairlamb’s shot was blocked and Adam Walker fired over from the rebound.