FC Halifax Town: Review of the year

Neil Aspin watches on during Town's 1-0 home defeat to Chester in their first game of the 2015-16 season at The Shay.
Neil Aspin watches on during Town's 1-0 home defeat to Chester in their first game of the 2015-16 season at The Shay.

Even in the short history of FC Halifax Town, 2015 will go down as a year to forget.

The Shaymen’s annus horribilis began with them on the verge of the National League play-offs but they end it in the relegation zone.

Three managers, an unsuccessful summer overhaul and an awful run of form that bridged last season and this campaign were the main themes in a fairly unremittingly depressing story of the year.

Plenty of characters came and went over the previous 12 months, some stayed longer than others - Sean McGinty anyone? - but it was the changing of the guard in the hot-seat that 2015 will probably be best remembered for at The Shay.

The board’s decision to sack Neil Aspin took into account a prolonged dip in form not just at the start of this season, but one that started on the home straight of last season.

However, at the turn of the year, the problems ahead were barely a dot on the horizon as Town went five games unbeaten, including three games against Dartford, one of which was played at Droylsden due to the Shay pitch being deemed unplayable.

Halifax’s first defeat of the year, a 1-0 loss in the FA Trophy quarter-finals at home to Wrexham, is regarded by some regular Town watchers as the start of the rot.

But there was no immediate hangover, as it was followed by back-to-back wins over Dover and Braintree, between which the club grieved the loss of director Debbie Charlton in a car accident.

Debbie was a vibrant and vivacious presence at the club, and it was fitting the team somehow found a last-ditch winner in the first game since her death.

But that win would be their last for eight matches, and there would only be one more victory before the end of the season.

There was just one win in their last 15 outings of the campaign - quite a slump considering they’d won 10 of their previous 15 games before then.

In among that rotten end to the season, little did Town know their clean sheet at Altrincham on March 21 would be their last in the league until Lincoln on Boxing Day 33 matches later.

There were some decent results before the campaign ended, including draws with Barnet, Bristol Rovers and Macclesfield, against whom the post-match melee capped an entertaining afternoon in jaw-dropping fashion.

But what started as a promising 2014-15 season petered out into a miserable end to the campaign, with no goals in dour defeats to Barnet, Eastleigh and Torquay.

It was back to the drawing board in the summer for Neil Aspin, who lost influential trio Marc Roberts, Lois Maynard and Matt Pearson to better offers, while the likes of Paul Marshall, Jamie Jackson, Danny Schofield, Scott Boden and Adam Smith failed to survive the cull.

In came a wave of new faces, leaving few familiar names from the last campaign, although Andy Bishop, Elliott Whitehouse, Dan Maguire and Danny Racchi would all end up paying only fleeting visits to The Shay, with Maguire returning to Blyth Spartans without even making a single appearance.

Town’s turmoil off the pitch was reflected on it as they lost five of their first six games of the 2015-16 season.

A win over Barrow at the end of August proved a false dawn, with Aspin sacked following a 2-1 defeat at Guiseley on Tuesday, September 15, ending a hugely-successful spell of more than six years in charge.

The final whistle was greeted with cries of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from the home fans; they were only wrong by 24 hours as, by Thursday, he’d gone.

The loss against Guiseley meant Aspin had managed just two wins from his final 25 matches at the helm.

The ill-fated reign of his successor Darren Kelly, who beat more than 150 applicants to the hot-seat, turned out to be signposted right from the start with a 7-1 humiliation at home to Cheltenham, Town’s heaviest defeat since losing 7-1 at Hereford in November 2003.

Kelly’s first win three days later, at Altrincham, was another false dawn as they conceded three without reply against Woking before hitting rock-bottom with a 7-0 mauling at Grimsby; the record books were duly dusted off for the second time in two weeks to reveal it was now Town’s heaviest defeat since being thrashed 7-0 at Macclesfield in March 1996.

Guiseley were beaten in the FA Cup after a replay, but it continued to be one step forward and at least two steps back as they were knocked out by Wycombe, 4-0, in the next round.

A defensive horror show against Braintree proved the last straw as Kelly, sacked after just nine games at Oldham, lasted only one match longer at The Shay and left a record of two wins, a draw, seven defeats and 35 goals conceded.

But Jim Harvey ensured there was some Christmas cheer at The Shay with a remarkable reversal of fortunes, guiding the team to wins against Gateshead, Dover and Tamworth. while the year ended with excellent back-to-back wins over Lincoln and Wrexham.

His appointment on a permanent basis offers hope of better things to come with Town facing a scrap for survival in the second-half of the season.

Who’d have thought that would be the case 12 months ago?

Town’s record in 2015:

P 53 W 15 D 17 L 21 F 77 A 96

Biggest win: 5-0 v Tamworth, December 15

Biggest defeat: 7-0 v Grimsby, October 13

Top scorers: Jordan Burrow 13, Shaun Tuton 9, Kingsley James 8, Richard Peniket 6, Lois Maynard 4