The post Neil Aspin era at FC Halifax Town began with a 2-2 draw at home to 10-man Southport.
For the first time since a 0-0 draw at Chorley in April 2009, Halifax took to the field without Neil Aspin in charge, which was, of course, pretty much the only topic of conversation at The Shay prior to kick-off.
Whether The Shaymen would have recorded a win with Aspin in charge is up for debate, but a change of management didn’t really result in a change of fortune for Town, who again looked good in spells but also look like a team short of confidence and in need of a shot in the arm from somewhere.
After a turbulent week, the doom and gloom at The Shay was palpable when the visitors went 2-0 up when Cole Stockton added to Matty Brown’s own goal after the restart.
But Town rescued a desperately-needed point thanks to a brace from Jordan Burrow; in the circumstances, a home draw with Southport might not seem much, but Gareth McClelland would surely have taken it after Stockton’s goal.
McClelland made two changes from the Aspin’s final starting 11 at Guiseley, with Sean Tuton, returning from his ankle injury, and Connor Hughes replacing Kevin Roberts and David Brooks, who was carrying a knock.
Unsurprisingly, it was CJ Hamilton who again stood out from the off with a couple of superb early runs forward, the second of which set-up a shot by Connor Hughes, whose shot was tipped behind by Andy Coughlin.
For a side with only one win from their first 10 games, Town started confidently, with Julian Banton a strong and dominant presence at the back and Tuton and Hamilton providing good balance on the flanks.
The industrious Hughes had also started well, playing in behind Jordan Burrow, and broke forward through the middle before playing in Tuton, but his cross or shot, it was difficult to tell which, flew way over.
Mike Phenix had been to Southport what Hamilton was for Town early on, and twice got the beating of Scott McManus before crossing for debutant Stockton, who scuffed his shot wide.
But moments later, Phenix was shown a straight red card for an awful tackle on Hughes.
Referee Simon Bennett had history with Halifax, having controversially sent-off Marc Roberts in last season’s 2-2 home draw with Wrexham and provoking the ire of the Town fans for his performance in charge of the 2-2 draw with Macclesfield in April.
But he had little alternative but to send the Southport winger off here.
The visitors had already received more red cards, four, than any other side, but clearly still hadn’t learnt their lesson.
Town now had three quarters of the game with a man advantage; Neil Aspin could arguably have done with a bit of luck like that.
Southport manager Paul Carden must have been somewhere between exasperated and furious, as his side had been enjoying a good spell just before the dismissal.
But Southport had responded better to the red card than Halifax, and after Almond easily slipped past McManus, his cross was inadvertently turned in by the stretching Matty Brown for only the visitors’ second away goal this season.
Talk about a week to forget for the former Chester captain, who conceded the penalty that gave Guiseley the win on Tuesday.
Burrow’s flick header from Hibbs’ cross brought a fine save from Coughlin diving to his left, but Town struggled to build up any momentum with some sloppy passes and rather hesitant build-up play at times.
Town’s final effort before the break, a left-foot shot way over the bar from James Bolton, suggested there was plenty of work ahead for Gareth McClelland at the interval.
The only solace for the Town fans during the break was that Kidderminster were losing at home to Lincoln, so at least they’d stay bottom.
Like Aspin did many times, the caretaker boss didn’t hesitate in making a change at half-time, with Tuton, whether it was injury-related or not was unclear, replaced by David Brooks.
Even during the poor start to this season, Aspin had inspired some much-improved second-half performances from Halifax.
But the early indications weren’t promising, with a Burrow pass going astray, a Bolton pass going straight out for a throw and McManus failing to control a cross-field pass by Brown.
After nearly 15 minutes since the interval, McClelland had seen enough and Josh MacDonald was brought on, with Town still struggling to make any real inroads.
Even Hamilton was miscuing his crosses by now, with Town unable to build any momentum; it was a vicious circle of hesitant build-up play leading to more groans of discontent leading to more hesitant build-up play.
But just when Town thought it couldn’t get any worse, Stockton beat Banton to a long ball forward before confidently stroking the ball past Matt Glennon.
For a side with just one point away from home this season and a man disadvantage, Southport couldn’t have believed their luck.
Just when things seemed at their worst, Town were awarded a lifeline for a foul on Banton by Liam Nolan, with Burrow burying the penalty.
Southport’s predictable time-wasting methods were met with frustrated cries of ‘get on with it’ from the home supporters, with a series of free-kicks helping the visitors run down the clock.
But out of nothing, Burrow salvaged a point from close-range following a corner, a goal which was greeted with relief as much as delight from the supporters.
Even then, substitute Jamie Allen was only denied one final twist when his low shot was saved by Glennon.
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, Brown, Banton, McManus, Tuton (Brooks 46), Hibbs (Bencherif 72), James, Hughes (Macdonald 59), Burrow, Hamilton. Subs not used: Porter, Bencherif, Roberts.
Scorer: Burrow (74, 90)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 3
Southport: Coughlin, Challoner, Thompson, Nolan, Davies, Phenix, G Jones, Rutherford (A Jones 56), Wright, Almond, Stockton (Allen 86) Subs not used: Cameron, Viscosi, Joyce.
Scorer: Brown (og 35), Stockton (66)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 1
Man of the match: CJ Hamilton