FC Halifax Town: 2017-18 Season Review

Actions from the first half, Halifax Town v Ebbsfleet, at the Shay
Actions from the first half, Halifax Town v Ebbsfleet, at the Shay

If you’d offered a 15th place finish to most Town fans back in August, they’d probably have reacted with a mixture of surprise and delight.

A season of struggle was expected by the majority of Halifax supporters, so comfortably staying up with two games to spare must be seen as a successful campaign.

The club that ends the campaign is different to the one that started it; a different manager and a squad with plenty of different faces.

Halifax now appear a club in transition when at the start of the season, there was a real sense of continuity.

Billy Heath made minimal changes to his squad last summer, and there were mixed results from those that did arrive: Bohan Dixon was gone by September and Martin Riley sustained a long-term injury in August, although Ben Tomlinson, Connor Oliver and Michael Duckworth all contributed to varying degrees.

So it was largely the side that earned promotion - barring Kevin Roberts, Richard Peniket and Jordan Sinnott - that was tasked with survival.

There was just one goal in their first four games, including an opening-day defeat at home to Aldershot and a dramatic 2-1 loss to Dover, with Tom Denton’s equaliser and Tobi Sho-Silva’s winner both in added time.

But once Halifax got up and running, with Adam Morgan’s winner at Solihull on August 19, there was no stopping them, as Guiseley, Fylde and Maidenhead were all beaten, with Matty Kosylo in exhilarating form.

Then came the high-point of Town’s campaign as they crushed recently-relegated Leyton Orient 3-0 on a memorable Tuesday night in London. It was as good as it got all season.

The Shaymen were sent crashing back to earth in the capital four days later with a 3-1 defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge, and after winning 2-1 against Bromley on September 23, would not win again until December 9; talk about a bleak mid-winter.

Calls for Heath to go grew louder the longer Town went without a win.

There were still positives in draws against Wrexham and Boreham Wood before performances and spirits started to sink after uninspiring displays against Torquay, Maidenhead and, worst of all, in a dispiriting 4-0 trouncing on a forgettable Tuesday night in Hartlepool.

With the pressure increasing after a 1-0 home defeat to Barrow, Town turned down the volume by not speaking to the media before their trip to Aldershot, and instead, let their football do the talking with an outstanding and unexpected 1-0 win.

That was followed by a terrific 4-0 pasting of Chester and a commendable display in defeat at league leaders Macclesfield on Boxing Day.

Macclesfield were beaten in the FA Trophy on January 9, but that was Heath’s last win at the helm, with his stay of execution only lasting until a 2-1 home defeat against, ironically, Leyton Orient on January 30.

Head of scouting Neil Young took temporary charge, and gained a creditable four points from three games.

Enter, from left field, Jamie Fullarton. Of all the names touted among Town supporters, his was surely never among them.

Fears about another Darren Kelly were fueled by Fullarton’s only previous management job lasting 70 days at Notts County two years previously, in which he’d mustered only three wins from 12 games.

But the doubters were soon silenced as Town followed up a 0-0 draw at Eastleigh with a 3-1 victory at Woking and a 2-1 home win against Dagenham and Redbridge.

Fullarton’s first defeat didn’t arrive until an underwhelming 2-0 loss at Fylde on March 30, but boy did he get a response, with excellent back-to-back home wins over Boreham Wood and Sutton, who were third and second respectively before kick-off.

By the time Town slumped to 1-0 defeat at Torquay, their safety was assured, rendering their final two matches meaningless. It’s not often a Halifax campaign ends like that.

Heath’s penultimate signing, Michael Collins, arguably proved his shrewdest of all, bringing outstanding technical ability, superb awareness, natural leadership and a calming influence.

Sam Johnson, who arrived permanently in the summer, is another contender for Heath’s top signing, producing some gasp-inducing saves during an impressive season.

Captain Matty Brown deservedly won the club’s player of the year award after a superb campaign in which he repeatedly put his body on the line, made crucial tackles and cajoled those around him, on and off the pitch.

Fullarton’s signings prove he has good contacts in the game - something Heath’s critics accused him of lacking - but some have fared better than others.

The Scot’s sparing use of Heath regulars Denton, Scott Garner and Danny Clarke pointed to the different direction he intends to take the club in, but the results he achieved with a squad largely inherited from his predecessor are undoubtedly impressive and bode well.

How much Town’s survival is down to Heath or Fullarton is open to debate. Fullarton has proved a canny appointment and boasts a fierce intensity and will to win, but Heath and his assistant manager Mark Carroll’s part in Town getting over the line shouldn’t be forgotten: they built a squad full of attitude and application - Fullarton’s perpetual mantra - on a limited budget, and laid the foundations for survival.

Whether The Shaymen would have survived under Heath is up for debate, but the fact they did survive is job done.