Liam King’s first-half penalty, his first goal for the club, was enough for FC Halifax Town to see off strugglers Stalybridge 1-0 at The Shay.
Billy Heath and Mark Carroll are targeting a prolonged unbeaten run to propel the club higher up the table, and accomplished the latest step along the way by seeing off a limited Stalybridge side.
But their team will need to improve on this showing, even against some of the league’s poorer sides they have coming up.
The visitors’ Daniel Wilkins twice hit the post as Halifax made hard work of dispatching the away side, but just about managed only their third clean sheet of the season in the process.
After a laborious first 15 minutes in which Stalybridge slowed the pace almost to a standstill at times, King suddenly burst clear one-on-one with keeper Tony McMillan, but he raced off his line well to block the shot.
That seemed to at least snap Town out of their reverie as they began to infuse their dominant possession with a bit more urgency after a slow start.
Only a superb last-ditch tackle by Kevin Roberts had prevented Andy Owens from going clean through, but Stalybridge were short of quality, losing the ball under no pressure and hitting some wayward passes.
However, Town were hit and miss on the ball too, exemplified when a superb long ball by Jake Hibbs sent King clear again, but his slide rule pass to the unmarked Josh Macdonald in the box was sloppy and intercepted.
“Wakey wakey” was the cry after half-an-hour when Daniel Wilkins spurned a glorious opportunity to score as he hit the post from three yards out when left unmarked from a delightful left-wing cross; no wonder they were the division’s joint lowest scorers going into the game.
That miss looked even worse six minutes later when Tom Denton was fouled in the midst of a goalmouth scramble following Hibbs’ long throw, and King sent McMillan the wrong way from the spot.
Assistant boss Mark Carroll admitted this week that Town hadn’t reached top gear yet this season, and that was a fair summation of the opening half.
Town had done enough to earn their lead, but were capable of much more.
Tom Denton nearly ended his three-game goal drought with a header into the ground from Cliff Moyo’s cross that bounced just over the bar shortly after the restart.
But that was the only chance of an equally quiet start to the second-half as Halifax struggled to get through, over or around the Stalybridge defence.
The away side continued to offer no threat themselves.
The match had barely been simmering until Richard Peniket was harshly booked for an aerial challenge with Jason Gorton, with preceded some pushing and shoving on the pitch and some shouting and finger-pointing by one of Stalybridge’s joint-managers towards a bewildered-looking Billy Heath.
All of which was a distraction from a desperately poor match in which both teams were struggling to retain possession for more than 10 seconds.
King headed wide from substitute Connor Hughes’ cross when Denton was better placed behind him, and Town were forced to see out the contest in nervy fashion when Stalybridge should have been put out of sight.
There was a major late scare when Steve Drench, redundant for the previous 90 minutes, reacted brilliantly to tip Wilkins’ shot onto the post before Scott Garner blocked the goal-bound follow-up shot from Gorton.
Halifax: Drench, Moyo, Garner, Hone, Wilde, Macdonald (Burrow 75), Hibbs (Sinnott 69(, Roberts, King, Peniket (Hughes 66), Denton. Subs not used: Nicholson, O’Brien.
Scorer: King (36)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 7
Stalybridge: McMillan, Wylie, Kelly, Gorton, Hughes, Ryan, Chalmers (Sherlock 83), Wisdom, Owens (Gillam 67), Wilkins, Chippendale (Tames 56). Subs not used: Pilkington, Mukendi.
Shots on target: 1
Shots off target: 3
Town man of the match: Kevin Roberts
Referee: Declan Bourne