VIDEO: FC Halifax Town 2016 review

Ask most Town fans to sum up 2016 in one word and the most common reply would surely be Wembley.

The more miserly Halifax supporters might choose relegation, but that would be to devalue the sheer elation that day in May provided for players, staff and fans of the club.

The FA Trophy Final.
FC Halifax v Grimsby Town.
Halifax players celebrate.
22nd May 2016.
Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

The FA Trophy Final. FC Halifax v Grimsby Town. Halifax players celebrate. 22nd May 2016. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

The day the majority of Shaymen supporters thought would never arrive was not only made all the more special because Town beat Grimsby, but also because it came three weeks after the club was relegated from the Conference Premier.

The fact that Town emerged from such a tumultuous season to win the FA Trophy was credit to manager Jim Harvey, who so nearly guided Halifax to safety on a nerve-shredding final day of the league campaign at home to Macclesfield.

Harvey had just been handed the job on a permanent basis at the turn of the year, and initiated a remarkable transformation in form, although things could hardly have gotten any worse under Darren Kelly.

The first defeat under Harvey didn’t come until the middle of February, by which time their run in the FA Trophy was gathering momentum.

Neil Aspin’s Gateshead battered The Shaymen for most of their quarter-final replay but a resilient Town, helped by some good fortune and bad Gateshead finishing, clung on and somehow, from somewhere, produced a stoppage time equaliser from Connor Hughes to force extra-time, in which 2-2 became 3-3, before Matty Brown’s decisive spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out.

Town looked to be spinning the two plates of league and Trophy well enough as they beat Nantwich in the cup semi-final and registered crucial wins over Altrincham and Boreham Wood in the league.

But unforgivable defeats against Kidderminster and Aldershot meant four points from their last two games weren’t enough to save them.

However, Town dusted themselves down to defy the odds and beat already-promoted Grimsby in-front of 10,000 Halifax fans at Wembley.

Scott McManus’ wonder-strike was the stand-out moment in a tight contest as he produced a miraculous right-footed shot from 25 yards that arrowed into the corner of Grimsby’s net; a moment that will go down in Town folklore and one that probably means McManus hasn’t had to buy a pint in Halifax since.

The fact he then sustained a cruciate ligament injury that would keep him sidelined for the rest of the year summed up the team’s contrasting fortunes quite well.

Just two days later, it was confirmed Harvey’s contract would not be renewed and North Ferriby boss Billy Heath was announced as his successor.

David Bosomworth had made no secret of his admiration for the job Heath had done in getting Ferriby promoted from the National League North, and the manager wasted no time in bringing the spine of that team with him to The Shay.

Heath was keen to avoid the kind of upheaval that dogged Aspin’s rebuilding job last summer, and concluded most of his business before the start of pre-season.

One of his signings, Tom Denton, became the first player to score a hat-trick on his debut in the club’s history with three at Nuneaton on the opening day of the campaign.

The capture of goalkeeper Steve Drench from Guiseley was something of a coup, while centre-back Scott Garner has arguably been the most consistent performer over the second-half of the year.

A fairly faultless August was marred at the end of the month by back-to-back defeats against Fylde and Harrogate, with performances deteriorating alarmingly in September as form was fleeting.

Some scintillating football saw them reach a magnificent seven wins in a row after defeating FC United 3-1 at the Shay on October 25.

The start of that run was Town’s FA Cup win at Ashton Athletic, the beginning of the club’s best run in the competition since 2004, which was finally ended by Eastleigh in round two after a replay.

Town fell at the first hurdle to Matlock in defence of the FA Trophy, but end the year with the play-offs a realistic possibility; surely only a Devon Loch-style collapse stands in the way of Fylde claiming first place.

Maybe promotion will be the word to sum up 2017.