Bradford Park Avenue 1 FC Halifax Town 3
TOWN extended their lead at the top of the Premier Division with victory on a filthy night at the Horsfall Stadium.
The wind played a major part in a contest that was never pleasant on the eye and ended with both sides down to 10 men.
Jamie Vardy scored early and Lee Gregory added a second just before the break.
But Avenue pulled one back in controversial circumstances two minutes after the interval and it took a Tom Baker penalty to give the Shaymen breathing space.
Scott Phelan was the first of the players to be sent off when he was shown a straight red for a challenge on home skipper James Knowles.
And Avenue substitute Mark Hume followed him, five minutes after being sent on, after a lunging tackle on James Riley.
The Shaymen, playing with a strong wind at their backs, could not have made a better start, taking the lead in only the second minute.
A free kick was floated into the box from halfway and headed back across goal from the right by Gregory.
It appeared to be intended for James Dean, but ended up being perfect for Vardy to lash home from 10 yards.
Avenue wasted a corner before Town almost created a second opening after six minutes when Simon Garner’s corner was punched into the air by John Lamb.
Gregory mis-hit an acrobatic overhead effort but the ball fell to Dean who blazed over.
The home side were industrious without creating too much in the way of chances.
But the Shaymen, when they could get the ball down and play, looked sharp and should have been two up after 15 minutes following a fine run down the middle from Phelan.
He played it through for Gregory who did well to keep his feet under pressure on the left and he pulled it back for Dean, who was unable to capitalise.
Avenue keeper Lamb might have been fortunate to get away with just a booking midway through the first half after he came a long way out of his area and tried to let the ball roll out for a throw in.
Gregory applied the pressure, got his foot to it and was then pulled back by Lamb, who knew his goal was under threat.
Defenders racing back to cover almost certainly saved him.
Such was Town’s dominance, it took the home side until the 32nd minute to have a shot, Jonathan Hedge dealing with an Adam Clayton effort after he had latched onto a curling Martin Drury through ball.
A minute later, as the Shaymen struggled to clear, Baker had to be brave to block another Clayton effort just inside the area.
Town were unable to make the most of the wind with both Garner and Baker over-hitting free kicks.
But they did double their advantage nine minutes before the break when Gregory pounced on a defensive slip.
He raced into the area and got good power on his shot which looped high into the air off the keeper and, with Dean looking to get a touch on it to make sure, bounced up into the net.
Avenue had a chance to pull one back from the second of two Drury corners on the left, but centre back Brett Renshaw headed down and wide at the far post.
Renshaw then conceded a corner at the other end when he sliced an Aaron Hardy cross behind, but Garner’s delivery went straight into the side netting.
Former Shay defender Matt Plummer almost gifted Town the perfect start to the second half when he gave the ball to Gregory who fed Phelan, but his low shot was saved by Lamb.
And within 60 seconds Avenue were level in bizarre circumstances following a corner on the right.
Aiden Savory rose to head down and the ball struck Hardy before Dean headed clear.
The linesman signalled goal, the referee pointed to the spot.
It was the man with the flag who held sway and Hardy, who might have been sent off if it had been a penalty, escaped with a caution.
Town were struggling into the teeth of the gale and survived a goalmouth scramble soon after.
But they restored their two-goal advantage after 57 minutes when Vardy raced onto a through ball down the left and was tugged back by Knowles.
The referee pointed to the spot and Baker kept his head to send the keeper the wrong way.
Three minutes later Avenue were back on the attack and Steve Burton spurned a glorious chance when he fired over from a Matty James pass.
Baker’s vicious shot from 25 yards midway through the second half dipped at the last second and almost deceived Lamb who just got his left hand to it.
But it was very difficult for Town to get forward and there were good clearances under pressure from Mark Bower and Hedge.
Town’s cause was not helped when they were reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes remaining, Phelan seeing red after jumping into a challenge on Knowles.
The midfielder had just been fouled himself, although the referee chose to play on and the red mist descended.
Avenue threw on Hume to form a four man attack, but the substitute lasted just five minutes before he also saw red for violent conduct following a lunging challenge on Riley
At that stage, the evening was in real danger of boiling over completely and a couple of ‘rucks’ formed as players from both sides went into challenges with legs swinging.