FC Halifax Town were held to a goalless draw by Stalybridge in their rearranged game at Rochdale.
Town, dare I say it, looked at home for most of the contest, but failed to break down a stern Stalybridge side who defended resolutely.
The ‘Rochdale’ emblazoned on the seating in the unoccupied stand opposite the press box was a constant reminder of the change of scenery, but it felt like a home game like any other as Halifax looked the more assured side for long periods, but were left frustrated as their recent scoring run came to an abrupt end.
Neil Aspin kept faith with the same team that had served him so well at Droylsden and Gloucester, and Town certainly started as if they’d been playing at Spotland all season, with Gareth Seddon seeing an early shot saved among an opening to the game largely under The Shaymen’s control.
Ryan Toulson and Scott McManus were operating as wingers at times as Town acclimatised well to their new surroundings, with McManus’ low shot from a corner well blocked before Seddon headed Toulson’s cross narrowly over after 20 minutes.
The same couldn’t be said for Alex Cairns though, whose early miscued clearance led to a Town corner before another one midway through the first half sent the ball to Dan Gardner, but he was unable to take advantage of Cairns’ unguarded net as the keeper raced back to collect his weak effort.
But Cairns was at his best to deny Scott McManus’ header from Gardner’s free kick, producing a full length leap to his left to keep out the full-back’s effort, which looked destined for the corner.
If anyone was the centre of attention in the opening half though, it was the referee Mr G Johnson, who somehow left both teams feeling harshly treated and leaving neither side particularly satisfied.
there were certainly a few hefty challenges peppered throughout the half, which at times disrupted the flow of the game and made it difficult for Halifax to take the game to Stalybridge, which they tried to do unrelentingly.
Stalybridge rarely threatened on the break, with 13-goal top-scorer Jack Laird a subdued presence up front, struggling against the well-drilled defensive duo of Liam Hogan and Danny Lowe.
Cairns’ unpredictable afternoon almost took an extraordinary twist just before the hour mark when Alex Titchiner chased him down when he was hesitant to clear, but his block bounced just wide to spare the keeper’s blushes.
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the afternoon by this time came when Stalybridge captain Kristian Platt was booked for kicking the ball away at a free kick, which preceded maybe the biggest jeer when Platt escaped a second booking after a aerial challenge left Seddon requiring treatment.
But the visitors had come out of their shell since the interval, emphasised by Laird’s thunderous shot from 30 yards out which crashed down off the bar and bounced just in front of the line.
But Gardner fired a Town riposte moments later with a stinging volley that flew narrowly over as town pepped up their attack withthe introduction of Jason St Juste.
Gardner then fired just wide from inside the box as Town pressed for a winner; Neil Aspin’s right arm must have been aching the amount of times he waved his side forward.
Even the Stalybridge bench were kicking the ball away as the game approached full-time while St Juste couldn’t take Town’s mounting number of corners quick enough.
There was still time for an agonising finish as Lowe’s header from a deep cross from the right crawled through the area untouched before dribbling inches wide.
Halifax: Glennon, Toulson, McManus, Hogan, Needham, Lowe, Worthington, Marshall (Gregory 46), Titchiner (St Juste 69), Gardner, Seddon. Subs not used: Senior, Williams, Moke.
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 3
Stalybridge: Cairns, Bleau, Warburton, Platt, Joel Bembo-Leta, Haywood (Lees 64), Hatch, Pepper (Parkhouse 74), Laird, Corey Gregory (Wilkinson 60), Austin. Subs not used: Lindsay, Fabrice Bembo-Leta.
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 4
Man of the match: Dan Gardner