HE may be nicknamed Tiny but goalkeeper Neil Beesley gave a huge performance as Gate progressed to the third round of the FA Carlsberg Vase.
Gate’s other hero was striker Chris Bennett, who sealed victory with a hat-trick in the second period of extra-time, though there was a price to pay as defender Zac Thomas dislocated a shoulder in the celebrations which followed the second goal.
The home side maintained this season’s habit of performing better in the cup than the league as they avenged their premier division defeat by Winsford in the only all North West Counties League tie of the round.
Beesley almost kept the Winsford attack at bay single-handed at times, through a combination of outstanding goalkeeping, good fortune and indifferent finishing.
Gate’s best chances of the 90 minutes came through neat interplay between Louis Mayers and Scott Harries, and it was Mayers who went closest to scoring for Russ McKenna’s side when his six-yard drive deflected wide.
At the other end, Beesley was pulling off saves galore, some improbable and others quite astonishing, particularly from Stuart Westhead, who will wonder why he wasn’t the striker celebrating a hat-trick.
Winsford finally beat Beesley seven minutes into extra-time, when Mattie Ward fired home from close range following a goalmouth scramble.
But in the second period, Bennett stepped up to turn the tie on its head with three goals in 11 minutes.
His first was a stooping header from Harries’ cross, then Bennett raced on to a long ball down the middle to hammer home.
Victory was sealed when the striker forced the ball across the line after a Josh Miller effort was not cleared, leaving the visitors devastated.
Player-boss McKenna could claim an inspired substitution but he admitted it was a pulled calf muscle which forced him off and brought Bennett into the action.
A delighted McKenna said: “We didn’t take our early chances but once we got our first goal we were in the ascendancy. I’m made up for the lads – they have a never-give-up attitude.
“Tiny had a great game and gets better every match. Chris had a bad injury in the summer and was unable to get back until six weeks ago. He has been busy moving house, so the hat-trick will be good for his morale and for the whole team.”
Beesley said: “I have been playing well for the last ten games but that was one of my best performances.
“It was a busy day out there and I got lots of point-blank saves to make. I also made one clearance with a header and got a kick in the head. But the lads never give up battling.”
Bennett summed up Gate’s day when he said: “We know Winsford are a good side and great passers, but we never say die and our youngsters showed great spirit.
“It is one of the best games I’ve ever played in but we will have to calm down with our celebrations,” he added in reference to full-back Thomas, who needed hospital treatment.
Gate: Beesley, Richards, Thomas, Horn, Benfield, Farrow, McKenna, Fishwick, McKendrick, L.Mayers, Harries; subs: Bennett, Miller, Cragg, K.Mayers, Taylor.