The FA Trophy has brought out the best in FC Halifax Town this season in a campaign with few other moments to remember.
By the time the competition appeared on Halifax’s radar in mid-December, the Shaymen had just started to find some form after a miserable start to the season; the timing couldn’t have been better.
Conference North outfit Tamworth were swept aside 5-0 thanks to two goals from Kingsley James and one each for Shaquille McDonald, Nicky Wroe and substitute Connor Hughes as Halifax registered their first clean sheet in 35 games.
Shaun Tuton had been at his rambunctious best in that game, and would play a crucial role in the next round before a move to Barnsley in January.
His fourth goal in four games saw off Barrow in round two as Town stretched their unbeaten run under Jim Harvey to 10 games.
Both teams knew a home tie against 16th placed Chester awaited the winner, but neither seemed particularly motivated by that in a drab affair, enlivened by Tuton’s smart finish from Kevin Roberts’ deft through ball after 69 minutes.
Town were still unbeaten under Harvey by the time Chester visited The Shay in round three, when again they knew what awaited them if they progressed.
Neil Aspin was in the stands watching on as Jordan Burrow’s first goal in 10 games just before half-time meant he would face his old club in the quarter-finals.
But his first return to The Shay proved rather anti-climactic as the two teams played out a dreary 0-0 draw; the antithesis of an extraordinary replay four days later.
On the kind of night that suggested a historic first Wembley appearance for Halifax was just meant to be, The Shaymen scrapped and scraped their way to the semi-finals in dramatic fashion.
Town conceded their first goal in this season’s competition when Josh Gillies put Gateshead in front before Kingsley James levelled.
Ryan Bowman put the hosts back in the lead at the start of a second-half which they preceded to dominate, spurning chance after gilt-edged chance.
So to say Connor Hughes pulled a rabbit out of the hat with an equaliser in added time is quite an understatement.
A remarkable turnaround was completed when Shaquille McDonald gave Town the lead three minutes into extra-time only for Gillies to level the game again.
McDonald missed a chance to win it in the dying moments, and also missed what would have been the winner in the shoot-out, before Matty Brown’s penalty finally sent them through.
On paper, Nantwich didn’t seem to offer much of an obstacle in the last four, and a 4-2 away win in the first-leg put one foot into the final with goals from Scott McManus, Waide Fairhurst and two from Jordan Burrow.
But after Burrow scored again in the second-leg, Nantwich stormed back to lead 2-1 on the day until a late own goal settled the nerves and sent The Shaymen through.