Town on the up again after another rollercoaster ride

FC Halifax Town celebrate their win at Brackley Town.
FC Halifax Town celebrate their win at Brackley Town.
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So, after five years of demotions, promotions and a rollercoaster of emotions, FC Halifax Town are back where they belong.

And it was an appropriately unconventional season which sealed their return to the fifth tier and Neil Aspin’s third promotion in four years.

After an impressive first half to the league campaign, with 13 wins and four defeats, the remaining 21 games were played in a hectic 57 days before the play-offs loomed again.

But the crushing disappointment of Gainsborough 12 months ago was forgotten on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Brackley.

Not that many Town fans would have expected their season to climax there back in August when they made a similarly lengthy journey to Bishop’s Stortford.

Town made that trip without Dan Gardner, who picked up a knee injury in pre-season which would keep him out for five months.

The Shaymen’s opening day victory was one of six wins from their first nine league games, including notching five against Workington and Gloucester.

That was bettered when they hit Abbey Hay for six in the FA Cup before knocking out Chester after a replay and bowing out to Lincoln after another 180 minutes.

Town’s FA Trophy campaign began with victory at Cammell Laird and a thumping 5-2 win over Altrincham, featuring a three-minute hat-trick by Gareth Seddon, the fastest in the competition’s history.

But Dale Johnson’s goal against the Robins was to be his last of the season as he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in the 1-0 win at Worcester in December.

The double header with Gainsborough which saw in the New Year featured a 3-1 win at the Shay to help banish memories of their previous meeting, but a disappointing 3-0 reverse meant it was one step forward, one step back.

Jason Jarrett made a surprise departure from the club at the start of 2013, and would be followed through the exit door by Paul Marshall at the end of February.

But Neil Aspin’s midfield options were bolstered by Sean Williams’ arrival, who quickly established himself in the heart of the Town side, and Matt Pearson, on loan from Rochdale.

Pearson’s combative style quickly won him plenty of admirers on the terraces, as would striker Alex Johnson, very much in the same mould.

Town made further progress in the FA Trophy at the start of the year, reaching the quarter-finals and taking Conference Premier side Dartford to a closely-fought replay.

Back in the league, frustrating home draws with Solihull and Histon were preceded by six wins from their next seven league fixtures, including a 6-0 thrashing of Droylsden and a 13-0 aggregate score against Worcester and Hinckley, of which Lee Gregory got a magnificent seven.

Gardner’s triumphant return from injury saw him named player of the month for February after a series of performances littered with flicks, tricks and the sort of effervescence last witnessed at the Shay when Jamie Vardy was in full flow.

Four wins in six league games from February, one of which was the bizarre sight of Town playing a ‘home’ fixture at Rochdale due to the Shay pitch being out of action, also saw Neil Aspin crowned manager of the month.

But home form remained a source of frustration as Town dropped three points to Harrogate and two to Brackley.

Results on the road seemed easier to come by with wins at Solihull, Colwyn and Workington.

There were further home defeats to Park Avenue and Altrincham before a win at Boston created a new club record of nine away games unbeaten, eventually extended to 11.

Town’s play-off place was secured with a 1-1 home draw with Guiseley, the same outcome from the semi-final, first-leg in front of a bumper Shay crowd of 2,367.

Nethermoor was besieged by Town fans for the second-leg as the visitors produced an outstanding second-half display, capped by goals from Alex Johnson and Lee Gregory.

And it was Gregory who would fire Town back into the fifth tier after five extraordinary years out of it.

A picturesque town in Northamptonshire was the setting for a game of few chances but no shortage of stomach-churning tension as Gregory at one end and Matt Glennon with a magnificent save at the other produced the match-defining moments in Town’s season-defining match.

Another bottle of trophy polish was then required as Town clinched the West Riding County Cup against Guiseley, as the two sides were finally separated at the fifth attempt.

But it’s those celebrations on that rainy Sunday afternoon in Brackley which will live long in the memory, and which signified the return of football in Halifax to the national stage.

The emotions could hardly have been more polarised from a year ago after another season on the rollercoaster.

All aboard for next year’s ride.