FC Halifax Town: We can handle the pressure in semi-final, says Heath

Billy Heath
Billy Heath

Billy Heath believes his FC Halifax Town side can handle the pressure in their National League North play-off semi-final against Salford.

Town travel to Salford for the first-leg on Wednesday night on the back of three straight wins and three clean sheets in a row, the latest of which was their 2-0 win at Chorley on Saturday.

Salford go into the game on the back of a 5-1 thrashing of Darlington, and have only lost once at home in the league all season.

Heath guided North Ferriby to play-off success in the Conference North last season, and feels he has the players capable of repeating that feat.

“I think we’ve got a lot of players that have been there and done it, and that does stand you in good stead,” Heath said.

“It doesn’t guarantee you anything but we have got a lot of players who have played big games, been in play-off semi finals and finals, players who have played at Wembley. You can’t get any bigger than playing at Wembley. So we’ve got characters that hopefully can handle that pressure, and I think we have.

“You sometimes look at players and think ‘are we going to cope because this is all new to us, are we going to freeze?’ but I don’t see us freezing. Who knows, anything can happen, but I think we’re embracing the big games.

“We’ve had the pressure on us for a long time now. We had a block of games where we knew that we had to win four out of five games and we came through that really well.

“I’m looking forward to it. You have to embrace this. You can’t be worrying about it. Embrace it, and I think the players will.”

Asked whether defender Scott Garner will be fit for Wednesday’s game, Heath said: “I don’t know. Hopefully he will train on Monday but he will have to come through the full session.

“When you get to a play-off semi-final we won’t take gambles on anybody. You can’t go into a semi-final if you’re not fully fit.”

On the fitness of Liam King, Heath said: “Liam trained on Thursday after not training at all since Harrogate.

“He wanted to start but he came on the pitch and got kicked straight away on the point where he’s had the trouble.

“We’ll see how he is but he’s a tough cookie and he knows what these semi-finals are all about.

“But we’ve got a good, strong squad so if people aren’t 100 per cent fit we won’t take chances with them.”

Speaking after the Chorley game on Saturday, Heath said he knew what team he will select for the match.

Asked if he was expecting an open game, Heath replied: “I hope not. I think we’re in a better place that when we played them both times in the league, especially the first game. We’re a far better side than we were in the first game because the team was still coming together.

“That was only the ninth game of the season and these things take time. You can’t come into a football club and have four players and two long-term injuries and have it come together straight away.

“But now we’re seeing it come to fruition. It was always going to take time but we’re in a good place.

“We had a good result against Salford at The Shay and we were strong that day, but it will be a good game.

“I like Salford and the way they play. They’re tough, strong, mobile. It will be very tough. They had a good result on Saturday.

“We’ll have a light training session on Monday because we’re part-time and the players have to work.”

Heath insists whoever progresses to the play-off final will be the side that rises to the occasion.

He added: “You’ve got to be at it every game you play but it’s who handles the occasions the best, who handles the pressure the best and the key moments.

“You’ve got to be tough and have the mental strength as well as the physical strength. Without stating the obvious, you need as many of your players to play really well as possible. Not be bogged down by the pressure of the occasion.

“If you’re going to get through a two-legged semi and go on to the final, you’ve got to have a lot of your players in good form and playing well on the day.

“Regardless of form, the players have to go out and play.

“The play-offs are about who handles the occasion better. You need strong people. You usually get good games in the semi-finals, but I will guarantee the final will not be a good game, no matter who gets there. There’s a lot of tension about and it’s about who has the strongest will to win, and who can do the ugly stuff, not the good stuff, better than the other team.