FC Halifax Town stumbled in the race for the play-offs as they were beaten 1-0 at home to Gloucester.
A second-half penalty by Joe Hanks, who appeared to deliberately handle the ball on the line in the first-half, sealed a huge three points for the away side, and condemned Halifax to their second defeat in three games.
The Shaymen should have been in front after a dominant first-half but were left to rue their profligacy in front of goal as an underwhelming second-half was capped by Gloucester’s winner.
Halifax continue to blow hot and cold; incisive and productive one half, ponderous and error-strewn the next. The play-offs don’t tend to accommodate teams like that, with Town now slipping out of the top-five.
New signing Dion Charles, signed on loan from Fleetwood, was thrust straight into the starting line-up in place of out-of-form Adam Morgan.
Charles scored 18 goals for Fylde last season in the National League North but made his first start of the season here, and his first appearance of any kind since November.
The 21-year-old, finally plugging the problematic left-wing gap in Billy Heath’s team, got on the ball almost immediately, producing a couple of elaborate step-overs before his dinked cross from the left came to nothing.
Gloucester’s Luke Thomas embarked on a superb run through the heart of the Town defence soon after before his low shot was well saved by the legs of Sam Johnson.
Charles then should have at least hit the target with a free header from Matty Kosylo’s cross, but nodded over the bar at the far post.
Tom Denton then headed straight at Jasbir Singh from Kevin Roberts’ dinked ball from the right.
Denton was reunited with his partner-in-crime from North Ferriby, Danny Clarke, who was shifted to a central striker role, and the pair did combine well. So too did Jordan Sinnott and Kosylo, with Sinnott showing some neat footwork in a crowded midfield to release the winger, while also spraying a delightful pass into space with the outside of his foot for Kosylo, who then ran the ball out of play.
Kosylo and Sinnott had started well, while Denton looked back to something like his best; winning flick-ons, holding up play, and nearly scoring but for what looked like a handball by Hanks on the line that most people seemed to spot apart from the referee.
Gloucester hadn’t had a sniff since Thomas’ early effort, but he again brought Johnson into action after half-an-hour with a low shot.
Town remained in the ascendancy though as Denton headed way off target when well-placed before Singh blocked Clarke’s driven shot from just inside the box as Halifax’s chances really started to rack up, with Heath’s side arguably playing their best football since beating Nuneaton a month ago.
Charles had flitted in and out of the game, at least providing a more natural balance on the left and a willingness to run with the ball, but too often he just had too many Gloucester defenders ahead of him to make an impact.
But the message from the Town boss will surely have been ‘more of the same’, with Halifax just missing a goal from a first-half they controlled almost exclusively.
So it would have been quite a kick in the teeth had top scorer Luke Hopper’s looping header not been brilliantly tipped over by Johnson just after the restart.
Town weren’t the same team after the interval though; Charles misplaced a simple pass to Moyo, Denton was flicking the ball on to no-one and Kosylo let the ball roll under his feet out of play.
The Shaymen were now taking two touches rather than one, passing backwards instead of forwards and playing with less urgency in the latest example of Town’s infuriating inability to match one half of good football with the other.
Charles’ final contribution was to fire off target after a neat one-two with Denton before he was replaced by Morgan, with Town in need of a pick-me-up.
But creating that chance out of nothing at least seemed to fire up the hosts, who then saw Sinnott intercept Singh’s clearance before he fired straight at the keeper, who reacted superbly to tip away Sinnott’s dipping free kick, before Denton’s header was cleared off the line, legally this time; that was more like it.
Gloucester continued their habit of threatening against the run of play, with Hopper taking advantage of a mix up between Cliff Moyo and Scott Garner before charging into the box and firing wide.
That was a warning Town didn’t heed though as substitute Zack Kotwica latched on to Matty Brown’s sloppy back-pass and was brought down by Johnson inside the box; Hanks did the rest with a superbly-taken penalty.
Town’s hopes of a fightback against an energised Gloucester side were dented when Brown was forced off injured after Heath had used all three substitutions, and the visitors nearly took advantage on the break but for Johnson’s fine save from Thomas.
Halifax: Johnson, Roberts, Garner, Brown, Wilde (Moyo 49), Kosylo, Sinnott, Lynch (King 80), Clarke, Denton, Charles (Morgan 64). Subs not used: Drench, Hotte.
Shots on target: 8
Shots off target: 7
Gloucester: Singh, Thomas, Avery, Finnie, Hall, Hanks, Deamen, Williams, Thomas (Moseley 90), Parker (Kotwica 73), Hopper. Subs not used: King, Knowles, Hamilton.
Scorer: Hanks (75)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 2
Town man of the match: Jordan Sinnott
Referee: G Hart