FC Halifax Town will be in the hat for the third round of the FA Cup after an incredible 3-3 draw at Eastleigh.
After 270 minutes of fairly unrelentingly awful football in Town’s previous three outings, this was anything but.
The two teams now meet again at The Shay on December 13 - if it’s anything like this game, it’ll be a belter.
Striker Mikael Mandron put Eastleigh ahead after 18 minutes, but that didn’t open the floodgates for the hosts, who struggled to shake off a determined Town side.
Halifax equalised when the back-to-form Jordan Sinnott struck from just inside the box shortly after the hour mark, and five minutes later, Scott Garner headed a joyous visiting side ahead.
That lead was extended by Richard Peniket, and then almost as suddenly, the hosts got one back through Scott Wilson.
And a potential trip to Old Trafford or Anfield was snatched away, for now at least, right at the death by Mandron’s second of a crazy afternoon’s football.
After shuffling his pack over the last couple of weeks, Billy Heath reverted to his previously tried and tested 11, minus Kevin Roberts, who failed a late fitness test.
With Town facing an Eastleigh team still recovering from a change of manager and back-to-back defeats, they surely won’t have had too many better chances of reaching the third round since last achieving that feat back in 1989.
And they made a decent start, playing more like the Town of before their three-game losing run, pressing forward and getting bodies up in support of Tom Denton.
The work-rate was higher too from Billy Heath’s side, who had more energy about them from the comparatively lethargic outings against Matlock, twice, and Curzon Ashton.
But Eastleigh’s answer to Denton in the shape of six foot, two inch Frenchman Mandron gave the hosts the lead moments after his low shot from 12 yards had forced the returning Steve Drench into an outstanding save diving to his left.
From the resulting corner, Jason Taylor’s effort was blocked, and the loose ball was tucked away by Mandron in a crowded six-yard box; it’s now five games without a clean sheet for The Shaymen.
There at least looked to be a bit more thought going into Town’s attacks rather than aimless high balls, as evidenced when Denton’s nod down found Sinnott, whose volley was tipped behind by Ryan Huddart.
Denton was then required at the other end to block Jai Reason’s goal-bound shot.
Reason then instigated a lovely Eastleigh move that saw David Pipe’s cross find James Constable in the box, but Drench saved his near post shot.
Eastleigh were getting better as the opening half went on, with Town’s wide men Josh Macdonald and Alex Simmons not seeing enough of the ball and Eastleigh starting to win the midfield battle.
Denton got a clear sight of goal after Macdonald won a free-kick out wide, but the Town striker headed the ball over on the stretch from four yards out after Garner nodded it back across goal.
The Shaymen had done enough in the opening half to suggest the tie was far from over, while there was certainly nothing for Halifax to fear from their National League opponents, as there hadn’t been against Dagenham.
Town struggled to get going after the restart though, and narrowly avoided conceding a second in embarrassing circumstances when Drench’s clearance after rushing out of his goal went straight back to Eastleigh, before Alefe Santos’ eventual shot on goal was blocked.
Halifax hadn’t kicked on since half-time, but out of nothing, hauled themselves level when Sinnott worked half a yard of space on the edge of the box with a one-two with Denton before rolling the ball into the far bottom corner.
The turnaround was then completed when Denton flicked on Sinnott’s cross and Garner nodded it in from close range.
Talk about the magic of the cup.
Sinnott’s close range shot was brilliantly saved by Huddart before it was then three goals in a barely-believable 10 minutes when substitute Peniket took advantage of some slack defending to burst onto a loose ball before firing low under the on-rushing keeper.
Fellow substitute Scott Wilson quickly got one back for Eastleigh when he charged through the Town defence before firing powerfully past Drench to hand the hosts a lifeline.
The game then settled into Eastleigh attack versus Town defence, with Wilson and Mike Green both forcing Drench into good saves as Town indulged in some nervy defending; it’s never straightforward with Halifax is it?
Drench produced his best save of the lot with a terrific stop at point blank range from Wilson, but Easteligh’s relentless pressure finally told when Mandron scrambled the ball in from a corner from three yards out.
Denton then almost won it with a header from Sinnott’s in-swinging free-kick, but Huddart kept it out with a fantastic save at full stretch.
Clearly there’d been enough twists for one afternoon.
Eastleigh: Huddart, Partington, Essam, Pipe, Green, Coulson, Reason, Taylor (Santos 46, Bird 75), Johnson, Mandron, Constable (Wilson 66). Subs not used: Whittington, Dugdale, Obileye.
Scorers: Mandron (18, 90), Wilson (75)
Shots on target: 11
Shots off target: 6
Halifax: Drench, Moyo, Garner, Hotte, Wilde, Macdonald (Hibbs 71), Lynch, King, Sinnott, Simmons (Peniket 52), Denton. Subs not used: Barrows, Nicholson, Kosylo, Hone, Khan.
Scorers: Sinnott (63), Garner (68), Peniket (72)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 6
Town man of the match: Jordan Sinnott
Referee: Brendan Malone