Ten-man FC Halifax Town secured a crucial three points in their battle to beat the drop as they beat Altrincham 1-0 at The Shay.
In a match for which the phrase ‘a game of two halves’ could have been invented, James Bolton’s straight red card for bringing down striker Damian Reeves just outside the box sparked off a frantic second-half after a first 45 minutes almost completely devoid of action.
Seconds after Altrincham had hit the post, substitute Connor Hughes scored only his second league goal for the club and what could be one of the most important goals in Halifax’s season.
The result now puts Town two points above the relegation zone with a game in hand over Altrincham, a position they’d certainly have taken after Bolton’s red card.
But with Bolton now set to serve a suspension and Matty Brown coming off injured, Town may find themselves stretched to the limit defensively for Monday’s trip to Barrow and possibly beyond.
For the first time, but not the last, this season, Town were in front of the BT Sport cameras, but it wasn’t pretty from the off as both sides struggled to contend with a bobbly pitch, a blustery wind and a lack of quality on the ball, one of Jim Harvey’s recent bugbears of his team.
Hardly any players were immune as The Shaymen were repeatedly gave the ball away, more often than not under little or no pressure, although the visitors weren’t doing much better; those watching on BT Sport might have been wondering what else was on.
Wingers Josh Ginnelly and Jordan Sinnott were a lively presence on either flank for Altrincham, and had more joy than Town’s wide-men Kevin Roberts and Josh Macdonald.
Simon Richman was denied a penalty within the opening 15 minutes when he looked to have at least a decent shout, while Sinnott’s shot from 20 yards was comfortably saved by Sam Johnson.
Harvey was unimpressed enough to switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 before the 20 minute mark, matching Altrincham’s formation.
When BT Sport presenter Mark Clemmit interviewed Tommy Miller half-an-hour in, it’s fair to say ‘how is it still 0-0?’ won’t have been one of his questions.
Atrincham, under the temporary charge of former Town duo Neil Tolson and Matt Doughty, appeared happier with the scoreline than Halifax, but The Shaymen seemed unable to do anything about it, with a distinct lack of tempo and penetration from the hosts.
Town hadn’t won at home since beating Grimsby 4-2 on February 20, and the exhilarating, incisive football from that day seemed a long time ago.
With little else to cheer about, the Town fans brought out their Wembley repertoire before referee Michael Salisbury, who had been inconsistent at best until now, inexplicably called play back for a free-kick just as Macdonald was bursting into the box; needless to say, the set-piece was cleared without incident.
The visitors could take precious few positives from the opening-half either though, with only that early Sinnott shot to show for it, and there was a sense they were there for the taking, having only kept one clean sheet away from home all season and being the second-lowest scorers on the road this campaign.
But Halifax hadn’t done enough to earn a lead, with just a weak Kingsley James shot the only thing keeper Tim Deasy had to keep out by half-time.
There was at least a bit more fizz about Town after the restart, with Macdonald winning a free kick from which Jake Hibbs hit the wall before testing Deasy with a 25 yard shot.
But the game suddenly sparked into life when sloppy play saw Reeves break clear after a wayward pass by Nicky Wroe, and when Bolton brought him down just outside the box, Mr Salisbury had no option but to send the Town defender off; the second time he’s done that this season after Russell Griffiths’ red card at Gateshead.
A one-two between James and Macdonald then saw the former burst into the box, but Deasy saved his chipped effort.
A football match was certainly on the cards now as Ginnelly broke free behind the Town defence, but Johnson raced off his line to save his tame shot.
Altrincham took Bolton’s dismissal as an invitation to push more men forward, with James Lawrie next to test Johnson with a curling shot from 20 yards.
The game then cranked up the drama another notch when Ginnelly’s shot rolled agonisingly against the post before HIbbs cleared the ball off the line.
Play then immediately switched to the other end when James charged at the Altrincham defence and the ball broke for Hughes, who slid it under Deasy for his first league goal since the 2-2 draw with Bromley in August.
How’s your luck? Pretty good.
The game became increasingly stretched as Town nearly exploited the pace of Hughes and Shaquille McDonald to get a decisive second goal, and actually looked the likelier to score again, having responded admirably to Bolton’s dismissal.
Reeves had one last chance to salvage a draw but failed to make contact with Jake Moult’s excellent dinked cross in added time.
Halifax: Johnson, Bolton, Brown (Hibbs 26), Bencherif, Roberts, Wroe, James, McManus, Burrow, J Macdonald (S McDonald 67), Fairhurst (Hughes 56). Subs not used: Porter, Peniket.
Scorer: Hughes (68)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 1
Altrincham: Deasy, Sinnott, Griffin, Havern, Leather, Heathcote (Rankine 60), Ginnelly, Lawrie (Phillips 73), Moult, Richman (O’Keefe 86), Reeves. Subs not used: Davis, Williams.
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 3
Town man of the match: Kevin Roberts