James Armson completed a fairytale hat-trick as Brackley Town knocked Gillingham out of the Emirates FA Cup for the second time.
Saints saw off the League One outfit 4-3 after extra-time on a memorable night for Kevin Wilkin’s side who now face a trip to Blackpool in the second round.
Just as they did at the Priestfield Stadium, Saints raced into, and threw away, a two-goal first half advantage, given to them by Armson’s brace. Jake Hessenthaler reduced the arrears before the break and, after Saints missed several good chances after the restart, substitute Scott Wagstaff levelled matters.
That’s how it stayed until extra-time when Shane Byrne’s corner was helped into his own net by keeper Stuart Nelson before Armson completed his hat-trick in the first period. Cody McDonald reduced the arrears but there was no way back for Gillingham this time at St James Park.
Gillingham started the replay brightly but didn’t really threaten and Lee Ndlovu tested Nelson with a low drive. It took a smart save from Laurie Walker to deny Hessenthaler at his near post following neat approach play from Billy Knott.
Armson gave the Vanarama National League North outfit a dream start in the 17th minute with his tenth goal of the season. Alex Gudger headed Byrne’s free-kick back into the box, Ndlovu let the ball run and Armson turned to fire past Nelson from 15 yards.
Ndlovo went close when he was picked out at the far post by Glenn Walker but he could only fire wide from a tight angle.
Armson doubled Saints’ lead in the 26th minute, starting and finishing the move. Armson put Steve Diggin away on the right and he put in a great cross for the arriving midfielder to sweep the ball home.
Winning by the same margin and at the same stage as in the original tie, could Saints hold on and finish the job this time? Wilkin’s boys looked well in control but goals change games.
Gillingham needed one before the break and they got it in the 37th minute when Bradley Garmston’s cross found Dack. His shot was only parried by Laurie Walker and Hessenthaler knocked home the rebound.
Saints twice went close to restoring their two-goal advantage just before the break when Armson’s cross was missed by Ndlovou and Diggin’s follow-up was blocked by a defender. On the stroke of halftime, Diggin raced clear but, with just Nelson to beat, he took too long and the chance was gone.
Gillingham began well after the restart and had a strong penalty appeal waved away when Luke Graham upended Dack. But Saints soon got back into the tie and went close several times as they began to enjoy more possession.
Dean headed over, Armson curled one wide and Ndlovu was just off target from 25 yards before having a close range effort blocked. The chances continued to come and Armson missed a great chance to complete his hat-trick when he fired over from a good position.
Missed chances cost Saints dearly in the original tie, would they live to regret them for a second time? The answer came in the 67th minute when Rory Donnelly’s cross was only parried by Laurie Walker and Wagstaff swept home the rebound with his first touch after coming on.
McDonald fired over as Gillingham sensed the winner in normal time and Saints began to tire after their earlier efforts. Byrne’s free-kick was comfortably saved by Nelson as Saints had a late chance to win it but Gillingham finished strongly and the non-league side were hanging on.
But hang on they did and Saints looked refreshed for extra-time. They regained the lead seven minutes into the first period when Byrne’s inswinging corner found it’s way past the unsighted Nelson who got the final touch as he struggled to keep the ball out.
Boosted by the goal, Saints looked for another and substitute David Moyo tested Nelson with a low drive. But Laurie Walker denied Hessenthaler as Saints worked hard to keep their lead intact.
And Armson gave them breathing space when he deservedly completed his hat-trick in the final minute, picking his spot before curling the ball over Nelson and into the top corner.
After the restart, Moyo tested Nelson and it was Saints who looked the fitter of the two sides. But Gillingham were given a lifeline with six minutes remaining when McDonald pounced on a short back pass and rounded Laurie Walker before slipping the ball into an empty net.
Moyo missed a glorious chance to seal it when he dragged his shot wide but it mattered not. Saints were through.