Ten-man Stalybridge ensured FC Halifax Town head into the play-offs on the back of a defeat as the Shaymen lost 1-0 at Bower Fold.
The game lacked real quality in the final third but there was no shortage of commitment from either side, as evidenced by Callum Warburton’s crunching tackle on Osebi Abadaki that earned him a straight red card 20 minutes in.
The hosts held on to the lead they snatched soon afterwards courtesy of Mitchell Austin against a Town side who struggled to break down a resolute Cletic team during the rest of the game, which resembled an attack versus defence practice session.
But Town won’t concern themselves too much with the result just three days ahead of when it really matters against Guiseley in the first-leg of their play-off semi-final at the Shay.
Only Gareth Seddon, Danny Glover, Sean Williams and Liam Hogan kept their places from the team that started against Chester less than 48 hours ago, with Phil Senior making his first league appearance of the season in goal.
He and opposite number Jordan Barrow, a defensive midfielder by tade but forced between the sticks due to injuries to both Stalybridge stoppers, were given little to do early on as both sides battled for possession but struggled to create anything tangible with it.
Indeed it was defender Kristian Platt who came closest in the opening stages as his low, driven free-kick flashed just wide of Senior’s post before he saw a header drop wide shortly afterwards.
But a fairly pedestrian first 20 minutes was suddenly forgotten as Warburton lunged into Abadaki near the touchline, leading an infuriated Neil Aspin to charge from the dugout in response.
However, it was Stalybridge who edged ahead after that after half-an-hour from a free-kick that was drifted towards Mitchell Austin, who supplied a composed finish past Senior.
The stand-in keeper had to be alert soon afterwards to thwart Adam Pepper as he broke into the box from the left.
The visitors dominated the rest of the half from then on though, and racked up nine corners before the break, with Aspin understandably urging the set-pieces to be directed towards Barrow and test his goalkeeping abilities.
From the seventh corner, a Worthington shot was cleared off the line by Chris Hall before Liam Hogan’s dipping shot from 40 yards whistled over the bar.
Sean Williams, dictating much of Town’s play in front of the back four, slipped a lovely through ball to Gareth Seddon down the right of the penalty area, but his shot was well saved by Barrow.
The Stalybridge stopper then started putting his goalkeeping colleagues to shame with a superb save to tip away Williams’ shot from 25 yards as the hosts held firm, mainly thanks to the commanding presence of captain Kristian Platt, who mopped up most of what the Shaymen threw at them.
Town’s corner count had reached 15 by the mid-way point of the second-half but Stalybridge proved a tough nut to crack.
Substitute Chris Worsley got a sight of goal from a Town counter-attack before his shot was deflected behind, and from the corner, Adam Jackson’s shot rose over the bar from six yards.
Worsley then raced on to Williams’ superb cross to the far post but nodded the ball wide.
Stalybridge: Barrow, Bleau, Lees, Platt, Bembo-Leta, Pepper (Gregory 80), Buckley, Wilkinson, Austin (Lindsay 76), Warburton, Hall (O’Connor 83). Subs not used: Laird, Mudimu.
Scorers: Austin (30)
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 3
Halifax: Senior, Toulson, St Juste, Hogan (Pearson 67), Jackson, Needham, Abadaki (Worsley 46), Worthington, Glover, Williams, Seddon (A Johnson 64). Subs not used: Glennon.
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 5
Man of the match: Jon Worthington