Halifax 26 Widnes 24: Fax’s character shines through

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HALIFAX made certain of their place in the top six of the Co-operative Championship with a brilliant come-from-behind win against Super League-bound Widnes at the Shay.

Damian Ball’s injury-hit side – the caretaker coach revealed afterwards he was down to his last 17 players after Sunday’s brutal contest at Batley – trailed 18-12 at half time and 24-12 going into the final quarter.

At that stage, with persistent rain making conditions difficult and Denis Betts’ Widnes pinning them deep in their own territory through half back James Coyle’s kicking game, a comeback of any sort seemed a long way off.

But a 65th-minute try from veteran loose forward Paul Smith kick started the revival; a second touchdown from teenager Anthony Bowman allowed Danny Jones to level at 24-24; and the stand off then clinched the points with a penalty four minutes from the end of normal time.

The end result was the kind of win that could be worth much more than three league points - however crucial - to Ball and his patched-up squad.

Only time will tell, but successes like this, achieved in adversity, are the kind on which seasons can turn.

Fax had looked up against it from the moment the teamsheet was handed round with props Jim Gannon and Sam Barlow, hooker Sean Penkywicz and centre Jon Goddard all missing through injury.

That brought Frank Watene on to the bench for a rare senior appearance, with utility back Ryan Fieldhouse making a shock return from ankle ligament damage among the substitutes too.

The temperature was high from the off; former Fax loanee Thomas Coyle forcing the ball from the grasp of ex-Widnes prop Michael Ostick inside the first minute and Ostick promptly replying with an equally shuddering tackle on Steve Tyrer.

A couple of brief scuffles ensued, but when the game settled down it was Fax who made an impression on the scoreboard, Danny Jones’ second-minute kick being pounced on by another of the club’s former Vikings, hooker Bob Beswick.

Jones converted for 6-0 and Fax went on to dominate the next 10 minutes, but it was Widnes who scored next when Tyrer raced clear from James Coyle’s pass and picked full back Danny Hulme out of a battery of support players.

Tyrer levelled at 6-6, but Fax were close to going in front again on 17 minutes when Anthony Bowman’s scoring ball to Paul Smith was called forward.

Widnes regained the lead in bizarre circumstances on 24 minutes, back rower Ryan Clayton appearing to fall over in front of Danny Hulme as he returned Beswick’s raking kick and the full back racing clear before sending Joe Mellor under the posts.

Tyrer’s boot made it 12-6 to the visitors, but Fax were level on the half hour, Beswick and Danny Jones working the club’s most famous set play and Greenwood bursting over by the posts.

Jones converted and Fax were the best side for the last 10 minutes of the first half apart from the last 10 seconds.

Their final defensive set had been near perfect, restricting the Vikings to around 30 metres in five tackles.

But when the visitors pushed the ball left, Fax’s right side defence was hopelessly exposed and Paddy Flynn raced away down the sideline before setting up Mellor, the on loan Wigan stand off, for his second score of the night.

Tyrer kicked the conversion and the Vikings had an 18-12 interval lead they hardly merited.

Fax started the second half brightly enough, James Haley forcing an early attacking chance with a chargedown, but they faded quickly as Widnes gained the upper hand.

A shuddering Makali Aizue tackle sparked Fax into life briefly, but they fell further behind on 51 minutes when their former centre turned Widnes prop Richard Varkulis was awarded a close-range try by the video referee.

Tyrer kicked Widnes 24-12 ahead and, even with half an hour remaining, Fax looked like they had the proverbial mountain to climb.

That hill looked a little bit taller when Ostick departed with a dislocated shoulder with 23 minutes to go, although Fax’s best moment of the half quickly followed: the home side desperately unlucky not to have a second set of six on the Widnes line after Stephen Bannister’s pass to Jones was touched in flight.

Their third try, when it finally arrived, was a reward for the sheer persistence of the hugely experienced Smith.

The former Huddersfield player, outstanding at Batley on Sunday, took an improvised pass from Jones and somehow managed to find the whitewash despite the attention of a clutch of defenders.

Jones converted for 24-18 and the comeback which had seemed so distant at one stage was suddenly on.

Fax’s resurgence was encouraged by Widnes’ persistent ill discipline and when a penalty and a Jones-induced drop out gave Fax an attacking foothold they made it tell; Jones lofting the ball to the right and Bowman soaring to claim the try.

Jones stepped up to level at 24-24 with 10 minutes remaining and the body language of the Widnes players seemed to tell its own story, even at that stage.

Fax surged forward in search of the win and when referee Matthew Thomason blew for a ball steal penalty 40 metres out, Jones coolly stepped up to kick the home side ahead.

They might have had another try too when Joe Chandler charged for the line, but the video referee ruled a knock on.

After that, the result only really seemed in doubt once, when Widnes winger Kevin Penny escaped down the left, but Fax covered expertly, Paul White recovering possession as Fax closed the game out.