FC Halifax Town: 2016-17 season review

Once the dust had settled on Town’s unforgettable Wembley triumph last May, it was Billy Heath’s job to pick up the pieces from The Shaymen’s relegation.

The newly-installed boss had guided North Ferriby to promotion success less than two weeks previously when he took charge at The Shay, and set about rebuilding the Halifax squad in his own image.

13 May 2017.......    Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax.
Town celebrate promotion. Picture Tony Johnson.

13 May 2017....... Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax. Town celebrate promotion. Picture Tony Johnson.

If David Bosomworth’s intention was for Heath to replicate his success at Ferriby with Halifax, then Heath appeared to take that literally as he eventually brought seven players with him as well as his backroom team.

Such an influx caused consternation among some Town supporters, but Heath did shop around for new signings, with Matty Kosylo, Jordan Sinnott and Scott Garner all proving to be excellent acquisitions.

Heath made a conscious effort to complete his initial squad-building as early as possible to avoid the continual upheaval that beset Neil Aspin’s final pre-season in charge, and the results were impressive from the off.

Tom Denton became the first player in the club’s history to score a hat-trick on his debut in the 3-2 in at Nuneaton.

Halifax won three of their first five in impressive fashion before back-to-back defeats at the end of August.

A frustrating defeat at Gainsborough was out-of-place in a September that otherwise saw wins over Telford and Bradford Park Avenue and an entertaining draw at Salford.

By October, Heath’s men had made it a magnificent seven wins in a row as they swept aside FC United, with Denton’s double making it 13 goals in 17 starts.

The 6ft 7in striker befuddled and bewildered opposition players and fans during the early months of the campaign, eliciting some startled exclamations from the stands at his sheer awkwardness to play against and effectiveness to play with.

Denton scored seven goals in his first six games, but netted more sporadically after that, and stopped altogether after the superb 2-1 win over Dagenham and Redbridge in the FA Cup on November 15.

After that fine result, it was as if a switch was flicked and the wheels came off the well-oiled machine.

Matlock ended Town’s FA Trophy defence at the first hurdle after a replay before The Shaymen also bowed out of the FA Cup at the second time of asking to Eastleigh, but only after coming within minutes of a place in the third round on the south coast when squandering a 3-1 lead.

In the league, Town became increasingly fragile at the back, conceding four at Curzon and five over back-to-back festive fixtures against Darlington.

The nadir was reached at Stalybridge, who went into the game on January 7 having won just three of their previous 23 league games, but defeated Town 1-0 on a miserable afternoon that saw the travelling supporters calling for Heath to be sacked.

If the season had hit rock-bottom, then the climb back began with an uplifting 2-1 win against Chorley - not for the last time in the season - for which Heath’s tactical gamble of changing to a back three paid off handsomely; the switch had been flicked back on.

Tamworth were demolished 6-2 before Salford, 2-0 up at half-time, were beaten 4-2 as The Shaymen got their groove back.

There was another trio of uglier wins, this time over Altrincham, Nuneaton and Worcester, in February as Halifax continued the process of rehabilitation, helped by the capture of talented forward Adam Morgan, who scored seven in his first six games before netting just twice in the remainder of the campaign.

There were still some peaks and troughs - for every Kidderminster away win there was a Boston draw at home - but Town’s place in the play-offs was secured with a game to spare, by which time Wembley hero Scott McManus had made his long-awaited return from injury.

The two-legged semi-final with Salford saw Richard Peniket hand Town the lead in both games of an engrossing, uncompromising 210-minute slog between two evenly-matched sides - until it went to penalties, which Halifax won 3-0.

The final was another game not overflowing with quality but high on drama as it edged into extra-time.

Fittingly, Heath’s captain Kevin Roberts and his player of the season Garner scored the goals in front of nearly 8,000 people at The Shay.

With the dust now settled on that, Heath’s rebuilding job to compete in the National League is already underway.