FC Halifax Town produced their best performance of pre-season to beat Barnsley 3-0 at the Shay.
Two goals from Lee Gregory and one from substitute Dan Gardner sealed a superb victory for Town, who outplayed the Tykes for long periods in a display peppered with impressive performances.
Perhaps most encouraging of all for the Shaymen was the Barnsley side they were playing against, with more than half the side featuring first-team players who were made to look anything but by the full-time whistle.
Barnsley are two leagues higher than Town’s loftiest pre-season opposition so far, and it showed early on as they sprayed the ball around the plush Shay surface with confidence, forcing four corners in the first two minutes.
Former Bayern Munich winger Dale Jennings was gifted a chance from Marc Roberts’ sloppy square ball but Matt Glennon got down well to tip the shot behind.
However, Town quickly created some chances of their own though as Gregory latched on to Adam Smith’s flick on but Ben Alnwick produced a smart save before doing so again to deny Kevin Holsgrove moments later.
Town continued to stand toe-to-toe with the Championship side as an intricate one-two with Holsgrove saw Ryan Toulson enter nose-bleed territory inside the box but his hesitation allowed a Barnsley defender to nick the ball away.
Holsgrove then saw a looping header drop just the wrong side of the post from Smith’s cross as the Shaymen now had Barnsley pegged back in their own half.
Matt Pearson’s burgeoning reputation was enhanced again with another outstanding performance featuring as many full-blooded blocks as delicate passes forward.
Holsgrove also caught the eye on the left wing with some strong bursts of pace and dangerous crosses that begged for a finish.
All that would have been enough of a source for encouragement from an excellent first-half, but the icing on the cake was provided when Scott McManus’ left-wing cross was prodded in by Gregory at the near post, although Alnwick could have done more to keep it out.
But Town’s work-rate and endeavour had earned them their lead, and made their opening 45 minutes at Bradford Park Avenue a week before seem like night compared to day.
Barnsley asserted their authority after the restart and became as easy on the eye as Town had been before the break as they strung together some incisive attacks.
Glennon was forced into a fine save to keep out substitute Erico Sousa’s fierce drive while Reuben Noble-Lazarus’ free-kick whistled inches over the bar.
But Town doubled their lead, by now against the run of play, when Gardner got the ball back to him after trying to play in Gregory and put an out-of-sorts pre-season behind him with a powerful low drive from 20 yards out.
It then got even better for the Shaymen when Gardner slipped it wide to Wilson, whose precise low cross was stroked home by Gregory in a move almost as swift as the blink of an eye.
Any neutral observers might have been rubbing theirs in surprise as the Conference Premier side crafted goals in a manner befitting their higher league opponents.
Town should have been basking in the last of the evening sunlight by now, but the Shay was beseiged by a downpour to greet Town’s third goal.
Halifax: Glennon, Toulson, McManus, Pearson, Roberts, Ainge, Smith (Gardner 46), Maynard, Holsgrove (Johnson 70), Wilson (Williams 74), Gregory. Subs not used: Marshall, Briggs.
Scorers: Gregory (42, 74), Gardner (67)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 4
Barnsley: Alnwick (Dibble 46), Patterson, Hassell, McNulty, Jones, O’Brien, Cywka (Joyce 71), Jennings (Sousa 46), Oates, Noble-Lazarus. Subs not used: Abbott, Shillito, Thomas, Barton, Boland, Knight, Scott.
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 7
Man of the match: Matt Pearson