Substitute Alex Simmons’ equaliser handed FC Halifax Town a second chance to get past Matlock Town as they began their defence of the FA Trophy with a 1-1 draw at the Evo-Stik Premier Division side.
The teams will meet again at The Shay on Tuesday, but Town cannot afford to be this poor again, with Matlock perhaps feeling their best chance of causing a cup upset has gone.
Curtis Morrison handed the hosts a half-time lead with a brilliant low strike from 20 yards that gave Tom Nicholson, making his first start in place of bug-victim Steve Drench, no chance in goal.
But Simmons produced a great low strike to rescue a replay when Town’s best chance of staying in the competition was looking like through a postponement due to the heavy fog.
Compared to Halifax’s last game in the FA Trophy, there couldn’t have been more of a contrast from Wembley with Matlock’s quaint ground set among the rolling hills of the Derbyshire countryside.
And a Halifax team unrecognisable from the personnel that beat Grimsby struggled to mount much of a defence of the competition, and are fortunate to get another chance in three days’ time.
Josh Macdonald, the only starter for Town who began the final at Wembley almost six months ago to the day, could have given Halifax the lead less than 10 minutes in but Phil Barnes kept out his bullet of a shot after good work by Tom Denton, who then headed wide from a corner moments later.
Denton and Danny Clarke, making his full Town debut, scored a combined 35 goals for North Ferriby last season, and wasted little time in linking-up well here, although it didn’t last too long before any early promise disappeared.
Clarke did have the ball in the net 10 minutes in but was penalised for jumping into Barnes contesting a long ball into the box.
The lively Ted Cribley then fired low across goal for Matlock after a couple of poor tackles from Nathan Hotte and Clarke in the build-up, for which at least one of them looked fortunate not to at least be booked.
Matlock skipper Adam Yates then headed against the bar from Cribley’s excellent free-kick into the box as Matlock’s combination of pacey forwards and a hard-working midfield saw them give as good as they got, with Halifax’s performance deteriorating as the half went on.
There wasn’t much finesse to either team’s approach play, with both midfield’s often being bypassed in favour of route one.
If the inexplicably unmarked Marcus Dinanga had taken a glorious chance after 37 minutes, Town couldn’t have had too many complaints, but his shot six yards out was straight at Nicholson.
And if Dinanga had connected with that chance as well as he did a superb effort from range that whistled just over moments later, Matlock would have been ahead.
The warning signs were there, but Halifax didn’t heed them.
Denton then saw a scuffed shot inside the area saved by Barnes, but Matlock took a deserved lead just before the break when Morrison was given too much space on the edge of the area and drilled an excellent low shot into the bottom corner.
Liam King and Richard Peniket were both brought on by Billy Heath in an attempt to turn the tide, with The Shaymen not showing enough quality on the ball, and barring a save from Scott Garner’s header, not testing home keeper Phil Barnes.
Credit to Matlock for their work-rate and determination, but the same could not be said of the visitors; Wembley looked a long way off in more ways than one.
If anything, Matlock were likelier to score again, with efforts narrowly off target from Michael Williams and Joe Doyle-Charles.
But, out of nothing, Simmons drilled a low shot through a crowded penalty area after some brave Matlock defending to block some goal-bound shots.
Matlock: Barnes, Marsden, Doyle-Charkes, Yates, Green, Wiley, McManus, Williams, Cribley, Morrison, Dinanga. Subs not used: Newsham, Yates, Pursehouse, Grocott, Degirolamo.
Scorer: Morrison (45)
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 8
Halifax: Nicholson, Moyo, Garner, Hotte, Wilde, Macdonald, Lynch (King 46), Sinnott (Peniket 55), Clarke, Kosylo (Simmons 66), Denton. Subs not used: Hibbs, Barrows.
Scorer: Simmons (82)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 3
Town man of the match: Josh Macdonald
Referee: Paul Marsden