FC Halifax Town 1-0 Grimsby Town: Warburton's penalty puts Shaymen four points clear
Matty Warburton's second-half penalty sent FC Halifax Town four points clear at the top of the National League as they beat Grimsby 1-0.
This was a tough test for The Shaymen, who were made to work hard for the win, but like most tests this season, Halifax passed it, and now have that four point cushion at the summit of the division as their reward.
Any doubters that Pete Wild's men can mix it with the best teams in this league must surely now have been proved wrong.
This is some Wild ride for Town. Who knows where it will lead.
Jordan Maguire-Drew, who scored late on in the reverse fixture, brought a save from Sam Johnson within the first three minutes: it already looked like Town would be provided with a much more stern test than Eastleigh had given them.
The Mariners were more comfortable on the ball than Eastleigh had been, and played higher up the pitch, making it a much more even contest.
Jay Benn was proving one of Halifax's best outlets, pushing high up the right when Town were in possession like he had at the start of the season, and after his storming run forward, Warburton had a shot blocked inside the box.
Kieran Green then nearly took the roof off The Shay when his piledriver from 25 yards whizzed just wide of the post with the keeper beaten.
It was a much better atmosphere than Saturday too, helped by a strong support from Grimsby.
Benn and Warburton both had efforts, the first off target, the second on, as The Shaymen began to gain superiority, winning more second balls and trying to force the visitors back.
But it was tight and cagey; both teams were too good off the ball and not quite good enough on it for the other be in control for too long.
Luke Waterfall should have hit the target with a header from a corner shortly before the break, with Grimsby offering little evidence as to why they'd lost their last six on the road.
Defensively, the visitors had been solid and resolute, taking the ball off the toes of Warburton inside their box seconds before half-time, and generally staying in shape and staying disciplined.
Going forward, they'd got into some good areas, as had Halifax, but like The Shaymen, hadn't shown enough sharpness in the final third, with both sides often losing momentum as they reached the penalty area.
Warburton, continuing his string of impressive performances, had looked the best of Town's front four, finding space on the ball, but needed more from those around him.
It was better in the final third from Town after the break, there was more movement, more urgency and more linking up. But they were up against a better defence than they'd faced at the weekend, with Waterfall and Shaun Pearson excellent at centre-back.
While Halifax's start to the second-half had led to them overpowering Eastleigh, Grimsby were too strong for that, and matched Town stride-for-stride.
Key man John McAtee, who returned for Grimsby for his first appearance since December 4, was given far too much time to take aim from outside the box, with Johnson parrying his shot and the rebound scrambled behind.
Waters, looking really sharp, swapped roles with Jamie Allen, who had started up-front in place of the rested Matty Stenson - his first start since the 0-0 draw at Bromley at the end of October, but he'd struggled to get into the game.
However, his last act before being taken off was to win Town a penalty when he was dragged down, moments after Green had brought a fine save from Max Crocombe.
Warburton got the goal he deserved with a superb penalty into the bottom left corner, his fifth in six games.
In response, the air literally turned blue when a flare was let off into the night sky from the East Stand, which was now in full voice.
Halifax were galvanised by the goal, while Grimsby were gazumped, struggling to muster a fightback.
Kian Spence could have added a late second but for an excellent save at point-blank range, but Town already had the goal they needed.
Halifax: Johnson, Benn (Senior 82), Maher, Bradbury, Warren, Green, Spence, Waters, Warburton, Slew, Allen (Summerfield 70). Subs not used: Swaby-Neavin, Woods, Debrah.
Scorer: Warburton (70)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 4
Grimsby: Crocombe, Efete (Longe-King 33), Waterfall, Pearson, Crookes, Fox, Clifton, Maguire-Drew (Wright 72), McAtee, Taylor, Sousa (Grant 82). Subs not used: Revan, Coke.
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 8
Referee: Scott Tallis
Town man of the match: Matty Warburton for me, just ahead of Jay Benn, not only for his match-winning penalty but his deftness of touch, movement, link-up play and hard work off the ball. In a great run of form.