FC Halifax Town missed their chance to go second in the National League North as they drew 0-0 at Brackley.
Nearly four years after sealing promotion to the top tier of non-league football at Brackley, Town were back again hoping a win would propel them in the same direction.
It wasn’t pretty, and perhaps a third win from three tricky away games on the trot was just a little too much to ask, but the draw puts Town four clear of sixth place with five games to go; not quite there yet but a play-off place is surely looking likely, although this is Halifax Town.
Both sides had clear opportunities to score in a game that was unspectacular for long periods, but a draw was about the right result.
Brackley were reminiscent of FC United in their attractive style of play, producing some short, snappy passing in the final third, with 21-goal midfielder James Armson - who has been watched by Championship clubs this season - highly influential with some darting runs and neat touches, while right-back James Clifton was a constant marauding presence.
Centre-back Luke Graham should have put the hosts ahead in the 12th minute but nodded against the bar when unmarked four yards out, before Adam Walker fired over from 20 yards as Brackley made the more proactive start.
It wasn’t quite domination of Kidderminster standards in the opening 30 minutes, but Jordan Sinnott’s free-kick over the bar from 25-yards was Town’s only effort in the first half; Tom Denton was struggling to hold the ball up and his flick-ons weren’t finding his team-mates, while the likes of Dion Charles and Sinnott didn’t get on the ball enough inside the Brackley half.
The extenuating circumstances of Town’s part-time status and a tough battle at Kidderminster only three days previously should be taken into account, but while Richard Peniket was Halifax’s only change for the injured Danny Clarke from Saturday, Brackley made four alterations, and looked the fresher side for it.
Sam Johnson produced an outstanding reaction save with his legs to keep out a low shot from six yards as the hosts nearly turned their superiority into a goal.
Town were defending doggedly, with Kevin Roberts producing some particularly crucial tackles, but they seemed to lack the urgency or energy to press Brackley into the same action at the other end.
The biggest positive for The Shaymen at half-time was that, while they’d hardly clung on by their fingertips, they’d survived it without conceding.
Danny Hone replaced Charles at the interval - possibly due to injury - but Town had been second-best enough, and Clifton had won the battle with Charles on that flank clearly enough, for the decision to have been tactical, with Billy Heath switching to three at the back.
That did stop the flow, with Peniket also providing more of a presence in attack alongside Denton, and nearly heading Town in front from Liam King’s cross, but he sent the ball across goal and wide from close range with half the goal gaping.
Town’s switch at half-time had not only diminished Brackley’s threat, but increased their own, with Josh Wilde pushing up effectively from left-back and Peniket getting on the ball further upfield.
Steve Diggin twice fired off target in the second-half for the hosts, but the game became increasingly scrappy, with both teams losing the ball cheaply and neither attack looking remotely like creating a clear chance; both sides had too many bodies at the back and lacked the requisite quality to break them down.
Scott Garner spurned another great chance when he prodded Wilde’s low cross over from inside the six yard box, with no shots on target from The Shaymen a telling statistic.
Brackley: L Walker, Clifton, Gudger, Byrne, Graham (Lowe 80), Dean, G Walker, Armson, Ndlovu (Hempenstall 82), Diggin (Moyo 82), A Walker. Subs not used: Myles, Gough.
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 4
Halifax: Johnson, Roberts, Garner, Hotte, Wilde, Peniket, King, Lynch (Moyo 60), Sinnott, Charles (Hone 46), Denton. Subs not used: Drench, Logan, Morgan.
Shots on target: 0
Shots off target: 4
Town man of the match: Kevin Roberts
Referee: Alan Dale