FC Halifax Town suffered a blow to their hopes of a play-off place as they slipped to a surprise 1-0 defeat at strugglers Alfreton.
Town missed a golden opportunity to make up ground on the teams above them on Saturday by drawing with Boston, and did so again here as Craig Westcarr’s 13th league goal of the season secured manager Russ O’Neill’s first win in charge.
Alfreton had the worst defensive record in the league going into the game, but kept out a Halifax team who should have gone in ahead at half-time but regressed as the game went on, ending the contest with a whimper and not looking likely to salvage a point, never mind the win most would have expected before the game.
If Town were half-a-yard slower than Boston on Saturday, it was Alfreton who looked off the pace early on. And if Town lacked quality at the weekend, they were carving out all the chances from the off, with Liam King and Danny Clarke both firing wide before David Lynch’s scuffed effort was saved at the second attempt by Alfreton keeper Fabian Spiess.
After Westcarr’s long range, dipping free-kick was saved by Sam Johnson, Spiess reacted brilliantly to keep out Tom Denton’s bullet header from six yards out after Jordan Sinnott’s cross from the right.
Sinnott and Denton replaced Richard Peniket and Adam Morgan, who were both benched, with Sinnott starting for the first time in nearly three months, and Denton for the first time in two months.
Given Alfreton’s conspicuous lack of height in defence, Denton’s inclusion made sense, and given Halifax’s lack of creativity against Boston, so did Sinnott’s.
King and Josh Wilde had further efforts over the bar, the former after a lovely dinked pass by Clarke, who had started impressively on the left of midfield.
Westcarr drove another free-kick straight into the arms of Johnson before shooting wide from a tight angle after rounding the keeper when put through on goal as the Town flow towards Spiess’ goal began to dry up towards half-time.
It pretty much dried up altogether after the restart, with Alfreton coping much better with the visitors’ threat.
And it proved third time lucky for Westcarr as he steered a low shot beyond Johnson into the far corner across the box after his first shot had been blocked.
No wonder Billy Heath turned to Morgan just after the hour mark; Town needed pepping up after long since going off the ball, with Sam Smith denied a second goal for the hosts by the feet on Johnson.
The fire in Town’s play of the first-half had been extinguished by a dogged Alfreton team, with Halifax’s quality again deserting them on the ball. Denton was no longer winning flick-ons, Clarke wasn’t finding the same space on the ball and Spiess hadn’t been given anything to do since the interval.
Whatever Town tried, it didn’t come off; Sinnott’s short pass forward was intercepted, Morgan’s crossfield ball went to a man in red, Denton’s header on the stretch bobbled harmlessly wide.
Scott Garner saw a header tipped over by Spiess inside the last 10 minutes, but again The Shaymen made hard work of breaking down a team determined to keep them out.
Alfreton: Spiess, Richards, McGowan, Wilson, Kennedy, Monkhouse, Atkinson, Allan (Heaton 49), Shelton, Westcarr, S Smith. Subs not used: A Smith, Marshall, Jordan.
Scorer: Westcarr (61)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 3
Halifax: Johnson, Roberts, Garner, Brown, Wilde, Kosylo, King (Morgan 63), Lynch (Hotte 46), Clarke, Sinnott, Denton (Peniket 81). Subs not used: Drench, Moyo.
Shots on target: 7
Shots off target: 8
Town man of the match: Jordan Sinnott
Referee: Martyn Rawcliffe