FC Halifax Town: 2017 review

Football - FC Halifax Town v Chorley.
Football - FC Halifax Town v Chorley.
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Twelve months is a long time in football. Just ask Billy Heath.

The Town boss started 2017 amid a slump in form that reached its nadir with a depressing 1-0 defeat at minnows Stalybridge on January 7.

Second half actions from FC Halifax Town v Salford City, at The Shay

Second half actions from FC Halifax Town v Salford City, at The Shay

If Heath had been told after that game that a year on, he would be in charge of a Town side sitting 14th in the National League and 11 points above the relegation zone, he’d have been forgiven for a sceptical response.

The game that put Town on their upward trajectory to the fifth tier was a 2-1 win over Chorley - not for the last time that season - only three days after that Stalybridge defeat.

A change of personnel and formation produced a much-needed win, immediately after which, Tamworth and Salford were swept aside in swashbuckling style 6-2 and 4-2.

Other wins were ground-out, such as a 1-0 win at Altrincham with a deflected Liam King effort and a scrappy 2-1 win at Worcester, proving the renaissance was still a work in progress.

Actions from FC Halifax Town v Alfreton, at the MBI Shay Stadium

Actions from FC Halifax Town v Alfreton, at the MBI Shay Stadium

There was still the odd stumble, such as a 1-0 home defeat by Gloucester and a 1-0 away defeat at Alfreton, but Halifax generally looked much more like their old selves with wins at Bradford Park Avenue, FC United and, most impressively of all, Kidderminster.

Town went into the play-offs with four wins from their last five games, and only conceding once.

Both league games with Salford had been dramatic clashes, and the two play-off games didn’t disappoint either. Richard Peniket found the net in both legs, with Halifax taking the lead in both games before being pegged back.

But if there was little to choose between the sides in normal time, then there was a chasm between them from the spot, with Town easing to a 3-0 win on penalties in front of 3,655 fans at The Shay.

Action from FC Halifax Town v Salford play-off semi-final second leg, at the MBI Shay Stadium

Action from FC Halifax Town v Salford play-off semi-final second leg, at the MBI Shay Stadium

That figure more than doubled to 7,920 for the final, which saw Town host Chorley rather than travel to Kidderminster after a surprising result in the other semi-final.

Chorley played their part in a nerve-jangling afternoon that again saw Town pegged back after Kevin Roberts’ opener, but player-of-the-season Scott Garner was the appropriate match-winner with a superb header in extra-time.

There was no summer upheaval as in previous years, with only captain Roberts, forward Peniket and play-maker Jordan Sinnott of the promotion-winning squad being cherry-picked by full-time clubs.

Town’s marquee signing, if there was one, was the permanent addition of goalkeeper Johnson; defenders Michael Duckworth and Martin Riley would see little action before succumbing to long-term injuries.

FC Halifax Town beat Salford City in the semi-finals of the play-offs, at the MBI Shay Stadium

FC Halifax Town beat Salford City in the semi-finals of the play-offs, at the MBI Shay Stadium

Ah injuries. There have been so many that The Shay has been more like a casualty ward than a football ground.

Riley’s troubles started at Barrow in the second game of the season, while Duckworth didn’t last much longer, limping out of the 2-0 win over Guiseley on August 26.

After a sluggish start, Town finally found the net against Dover in the fourth game of the season and a win at Solihull Moors in their fifth.

A good goalless draw against former boss Neil Aspin at Gateshead preceded three wins on the spin, culminating in a barely-believable 3-0 crushing of Leyton Orient on their own patch, with Matty Kosylo in mesmeric form.

But his and the team’s engine started to splutter soon afterwards, with their win over Bromley on September 23 their last for the next two-and-a-half months.

The longer the run went on, the worse it seemed to get, and more players seemed to be watching from the stands. There were still positives in draws against Wrexham and Boreham Wood before performances and spirits started to sink to Stalybridge levels after uninspiring displays against Torquay, Maidenhead and, worst of all, Hartlepool.

13 May 2017.......    Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax. 'Towns Scott Garner flicks his header to score the winner in extra time. Picture Tony Johnson.

13 May 2017....... Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax. 'Towns Scott Garner flicks his header to score the winner in extra time. Picture Tony Johnson.

There were good signs against Eastleigh and Barrow, but still no win as the “Heath out” chants were resurrected nearly a year on from their last meaningful outing at Stalybridge.

But with the pressure rising, Town turned down the volume by not speaking to the media before the Aldershot game and instead, let their football do the talking with an outstanding 1-0 win, followed by a 4-0 pasting of Chester and a commendable display in defeat at league leaders Macclesfield on Boxing Day.

Stalybridge, meanwhile, sit 23rd in the Evo-Stik Premier Division. It didn’t get much better for them in 2017 after January 7. But for Halifax, that was just the start.

13 May 2017.......    Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax. 'Halifax celebrate promotion after winning 2-1 after extra time. Picture Tony Johnson.

13 May 2017....... Halifax Town v Choley National Conference North Play-off Final at the MSI stadium Halifax. 'Halifax celebrate promotion after winning 2-1 after extra time. Picture Tony Johnson.

Delighted FC Halifax Town manager Billy Heath celebrates their weekend play-off final victory over Chorley at their MSI Stadium, formerly known as The Shay.

Delighted FC Halifax Town manager Billy Heath celebrates their weekend play-off final victory over Chorley at their MSI Stadium, formerly known as The Shay.