Ten-man FC Halifax Town recorded only their third league win of the season with a stunning 4-1 victory at Gateshead.
In an action-packed first-half, goalkeeper Russell Griffiths was sent-off with Town in-front thanks to Shaun Tuton’s opener.
Ryan Bowman equalised after Griffiths’ dismissal before Halifax raced into a precious half-time lead through Kingsley James and another from Tuton.
Incredibly, Tuton then scored his fifth in two games and Town’s fourth of the afternoon to leave both sets of supporters fairly stunned.
Town’s long wait for a league clean sheet now stretches to 29 games, while they have equalled their goals against tally in the league for the whole of last season to boot, but that paled into insignificance compared to the crucial three points and an unexpectedly upbeat end to another tumultuous week at The Shay.
Jim Harvey took charge of the Shaymen, their fourth manager, temporary and permanent, in three months after the latest twist in the Halifax soap opera saw Darren Kelly become the latest manager to exit stage left.
But Halifax clearly hadn’t read this week’s script and somehow, from somewhere, conjured up a much-needed win against an equally beleaguered Gateshead and scored four goals for the first time since beating Alfreton 5-3 in the FA Trophy back in January.
Harvey made four changes from last week’s humbling by Braintree, one of which saw Matt Glennon drop out of the match-day squad altogether, while Hamza Bencherif and Matty Brown both made their first starts for over a month.
It said much about Halifax’s perilous position and fragile confidence that they adopted a 5-4-1 system against a side with just one win in their last eight games.
And the hosts carved out the better of the early chances, with the lively George Honeyman heading wide and Danny Johnson’s scuffed shot fired straight at Griffiths.
Both defences looked vulnerable though, with Brown heading just over from a corner; set-pieces seemed to offer Town’s best route to goal given their height advantage.
And so it proved as Nicky Wroe’s corner ended up trickling over the line thanks to Tuton’s touch on the goal-line after debutant Martin Smith’s inadvertent header back towards goal.
That’s all it took for the natives to start getting restless, with the hosts sloppy in possession and disorganised in defence.
Jordan Burrow and Tuton linked up well in the Gateshead half, with another debutant, Liam Gibson, struggling to contain Town’s top-scorer.
It was like looking in a mirror for The Shaymen as the hosts exuded nerves at the back and provoked a wave of groans from the crowd every time they gave the ball away, which was frequently.
It looked like Town had let them off the hook and hit the self-destruct button though when Griffiths was sent-off after he wiped out Bowman, who beat him to a through ball by Ben Clark.
Cue a league debut for Jordan Porter, who was unable to stop Bowman’s levelling from the spot.
But two goals in four astonishing minutes meant the hosts were booed off at half-time as the 10-men seized control of the game.
First, James blasted in a rasping shot from 25 yards after Wroe’s free-kick wasn’t properly cleared.
Then, Tuton took advantage of more slack defending as Town launched a rapid counter-attack, with Scott McManus’ cross finding James, before Jordan Cranston’s tackle directed the ball perfectly into Tuton’s path.
It was the first time The Shaymen had scored three first-half goals away from home since their 4-0 win at Barnet in April last year; can they play Gateshead every week?
The fact Town were down to 10-men only increased the home supporters’ frustrations at their team’s lack of incisiveness after half-time.
The visitors were content to sit back and soak up pressure, and did so commendably, a prospect which seemed fanciful after last week’s defensive horror show.
If anything, it was Halifax who offered the greater threat, with Tuton testing Sam Russell at the start of the second-half and Burrow spurning a great chance by heading over at the near post after an hour.
Too many times the home side tried to walk the ball into the Town box, and were met by a resolute defence, who were holding on to their two-goal cushion fairly comfortably; Gateshead had a man advantage but weren’t showing it.
Quite the opposite in fact, with Halifax’s long-threatened fourth finally arriving when a defensive slip allowed Tuton to latch on to Burrow’s flick-on before he rounded Russell and roll the ball into the empty net to complete his hat-trick.
What a difference a week makes.
Gateshead: Russell, Ramsden, Clark, Gibson (Shaw 63), Cranston (Buddle 50), Honeyman, Smith, Pattison, Phillips (Wrightson 56), Johnson, Bowman. Subs not used: Baxter, MacDonald.
Scorer: Bowman (36)
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 8
Halifax: Griffiths (Porter 36), Roberts, Bolton, M Brown, O’Brien, McManus, Wroe, Bencherif, James, Tuton (Macdonald 87), Burrow (Sadlier 87). Subs not used: Hattersley, Walker.
Scorers: James (40), Tuton (21, 44, 80)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 7
Town man of the match: Shaun Tuton