FC Halifax Town beat League One Sheffield United 2-0 on former Shaymen boss Chris Wilder’s first return to the club as manager since leaving in 2008.
Substitutes Connor Hughes and Richard Peniket netted in the final quarter of the game to seal a win the hosts deserved after a hard-working display that blunted The Blades.
Pre-season often has little significance once the proper stuff starts, but whatever way you look at it, beating a club the size of Sheffield United, friendly or not, is bound to boost confidence.
United’s last game was against a Murcia Regional Representative Squad in La Manga, but it can’t have been any warmer than it was in Halifax.
Town started well, with Tom Denton heavily involved but more often than not with balls into his feet rather than up to the top of his 6ft 7in frame.
From Denton’s incisive pass, Josh Macdonald sprinted down the right flank and crossed to the far post, where Jordan Sinnott sttruck the post from Liam King’s lay-off.
Billy Heath, who received a round of applause moments before Wilder got an even louder ovation prior to kick-off, said Town looked tired after their 1-1 draw at Frickley on Saturday, but there was no evidence of that in the early stages.
The Shaymen flung into tackles with relish, especially the eye-catching duo of Macdonald and Cliff Moyo on the right.
Sheffield United fielded a strong starting 11 but looked pedestrian in comparison to the hosts, whose best moments centered around the unmissable figure of Denton, who wore the number nine shirt with the same build and demeanour of former fans’ favourite James Dean.
But he was far from the archetypal big-man-up-front as he drifted off the United back four effectively to receive the ball in space to feet.
Although Macdonald’s shot was blocked, the difference in approach between the teams was evident when Denton tracked back to nick the ball off Jack O’Connell near the halfway line before releasing the Town winger into space.
Steve Drench wasn’t tested until the 25th minute when Mark Duffy worked half-a-yard of space on the edge of the box but fired straight at the keeper.
By the time the water break arrived after half-an-hour, The Blades were probably more glad of it than Town, although Drench had made a couple more comfortable saves by then as the visitors began to find their feet.
Chris Basham should have done better than skew his volley wide from 10 yards when unmarked, but Paul Coutts was only denied by a fine Drench save from his stinging close-range volley moments later.
United were starting to find more space and time on the ball as half-time approached, but Town’s band of six-footers continued to repel the visitors’ growing number of corners; set-pieces in both boxes look to be a major strength for Halifax this season.
Wilder’s side had improved as the opening half went on, so much so that they struck the post just before the interval when Matty Done struck at goal after cutting in on his left foot.
Chances were few and far between after the restart but the game retained its competitive edge.
The numerous substitutions did nothing to help the lack of chances as both teams struggled to impose themselves on the other.
Of Town’s alterations, Nathan Hotte caught the eye with a brave block to keep out Billy Sharp’s goal-bound effort, with Hughes and Matty Kosylo not making the same impact Sinnott and Macdonald had in the same positions.
The longer the game went on, the more it felt like a conventional pre-season friendly as the tempo started to drop.
But Hughes, who had a quiet half up to now, produced a fine sweeping finish with his right foot from a left-wing cross into the far corner.
Peniket hadn’t made much of an impact either until he found himself perfectly placed to tap the ball in after a corner was flicked on to the far post, and the striker bagged his fourth goal in pre-season; what goal drought?
Heath was anticipating a dominant display by Wilder’s side, but it was nothing of the sort.
Two more home wins and performances like this in Town’s remaining Shay friendlies will leave the Halifax boss needing to rein in expectations ahead of the season proper.
Halifax: Drench (Nicholson 70), Moyo (Harrison 90), Wilde (Baldwin 74), King (Roberts 69), Hone (Garner 65), Garner (Hotte 46), Macdonald (Kosylo 58), Hibbs (Khan 76), Denton (Burrow 65), Burrow (Peniket 46), Sinnott (Hughes 46). Subs not used: Jackson.
Scorers: Hughes (77), Peniket (84)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 4
Sheffield United: Ramsgate, Brayford, Hussey, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Sharp, Done, Coutts, Wilson, Duffy. Subs: Long, McNulty, Scougall, Wright, Calvert-Lewin, Wallace, Freeman, Reed, Whiteman, Walters, Brooks.
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 6
Town man of the match: Cliff Moyo
Referee: Jane Simms (West Yorkshire)