FC Halifax Town look set for a play-off semi-final with Guiseley after they drew with champions Chester in their penultimate home game of the season at the Shay.
Alex Johnson’s equaliser cancelled out Marc Williams’ early opener in a game played in a competitive spirit which belied the fact that both clubs already know their end-of-season fate.
It remains to be seen whether Chester will be back at the Shay next season, but Town were given a good work-out by the runaway winners of the league.
There was little to choose between the two teams, which bodes well for Town ahead of a probable double-header with their West Yorkshire rivals next week.
Neil Aspin reverted to a much stronger Town side than the one which started at Altrincham, with James Bolton, Scott McManus and Danny Lowe returning in defence and Chris Worsley, Matt Pearson and Sean Williams coming back in midfield.
Town were made to wait for their penultimate home appearance of the season when the Chester coach was caught up in traffic on the motorway.
The delay to kick-off accurately represented the difference between the two teams, with Chester’s romp to the title meaning Town are having to wait for their own possible promotion.
The Shaymen gave a guard of honour to the champions as they came on to the pitch, which was surely tinged with a hint of regret over what might have been had the groundstaff and physio room at the Shay not been quite so busy this season.
But Chester gave an example of exactly why they’ve stormed to the Conference Premier as they edged ahead after six minutes when Nathan Jarman’s delightful cross from the right was turned in by Marc Williams.
Chester were already looking like Blue Square Premier material as they retained possession while patiently waiting for a chance to appear, with Marc and his namesake Danny Williams displaying some clever flicks around the Town box.
The hosts were made to work hard from the off, with Danny Glover firing their first chance over the bar on the half-turn inside the box.
Neil Aspin isn’t alone in his admiration of Antoni Sarcevic, the midfield maestro who pulls most of Chester’s strings, after describing him as one of the best players in the league earlier this season.
He’d already shown glimpses of his ability as he kept the visitors ticking over in the middle third but he went from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of ten seconds after spraying a glorious pass out to Danny Williams, only to horribly mis-kick the cross back to him ten yards from goal.
From potentially being two-down, Town levelled the game a few minutes before the break when a long free-kick into the box was flicked on by the head of Alex Johnson past the outstretched arm of John Danby for his fourth league goal of the season.
The striker might not play a major part in Town’s play-off campaign, but there could hardly have been a more popular scorer after his tireless displays in recent games.
Both sides continued to offer a threat after the interval when Seddon’s low cross was milimetres away from Johnson’s connection two yards out before George Horan somehow headed over the bar from the same distance after Tony Gray’s nod across goal found him unmarked.
Gray himself then saw a shot flash just wide from 25 yards out but the chances began to dry up the longer the game went on.
Again Town worked their way into offering the greater threat as Chester’s second wind started to fade and substitute Jason St Juste suddenly found himself completely free at the back post as he sprinted on to Seddon’s cross-shot, but his hesitation allowed Danby to collect the ball at his feet.
Chester then came close three times in an amazing end to the game when first, the impressive Gray saw a dipping shot fizzle just over the bar before Marc Williams’ low shot from eight yards out was well saved by Glennon.
The Town keeper then reacted even more sharply to superbly save Jarman’s shot as he stretched every sinue to tip it round the post to ensure the hosts held on for the draw.
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton (Toulson 46), McManus (Jackson 46), Hogan, Pearson, Lowe, Worsley, Williams, Glover (St Juste 71), A Johnson, Seddon. Subs not used: Senior, Messer.
Scorers: A Johnson (38)
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 4
Chester: Danby, Baynes (Hankin 77), McGinn, Horan, Collins, Ashley Williams (Howard 63), Marc Williams, Antoni Sarcevic, Jarman, Gray, Danny Williams. Subs not used: Peers, Miller, Fearon.
Scorers: Marc Williams (6)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 8
Man of the match: Alex Johnson