Tom Denton scored a hat-trick on his debut as FC Halifax Town beat Nuneaton 3-2 on the opening day of the season.
Denton netted 21 goals for North Ferriby last season - he’s already bagged one-seventh of that tally after just 90 minutes of this campaign.
Even without the help of Nuneaton keeper Dean Snedker for Denton’s second, Halifax surely would have won the game thanks to an impressive performance at Liberty Way.
The Town display played to their strengths, featuring the height and power of Denton, the pace and directness of Josh Macdonald and a well-drilled and hard-working defence.
As far as omens for the season go, taking a third minute lead through Tom Denton wasn’t a bad one, but they were pegged back two minutes later by Aaron Williams in a frenetic start.
Denton struck again shortly after the interval to deservedly hand the lead back to Halifax, and this time, it wasn’t relinquished, with Denton completing his hat-trick soon afterwards, although Kelvin Langmead did get a goal back for Nuneaton.
The pre-season clues for team selection were there in hindsight, with Josh Wilde returning to the first-choice back five, and as he had against Accrington, Richard Peniket starting on the left-wing with Jordan Burrow and Denton in attack.
Seventy-six days after Town’s triumph at Wembley, only seven of the 16 that day featured here, and one of those was Shaquille McDonald, now playing for Nuneaton.
Town’s recent opening-day record is mixed at best - a win at Dover tempered by defeats at Cambridge and Boreham Wood in the Conference Premier - but what little can be gleaned from the first day of a new season will be overwhelmingly positive.
Most fans had just taken their seats when Macdonald embarked on a lung-busting run down the right flank, earning Town’s first corner, and from it, Denton nodded in at the near post.
But Halifax barely had time to catch breath before ex-Town loanee Shaq McDonald’s lofted free-kick was headed in by Aaron Williams.
Williams scored 16 goals in 32 games for Nuneaton before joining Peterborough last January, but returned on loan earlier this week.
He scored twice against Heath’s Ferriby at Liberty Way last season, so the Town boss must presumably have earmarked him as their danger man, to no avail.
The height of Denton was, understandably, utilised frequently given he’s such an effective route up-field, but it was with mixed results; he was well marked by centre-backs Kelvin Langmead and Jordan Keane, although he did nod Kevin Roberts’ cross through a crowded six-yard box, but with no bright orange Town shirt there for a tap-in.
Macdonald again looked Town’s best outlet and easily outmaneuvered the already harried Nuneaton left-back Jordan Nicholson before producing a whipped-in cross that keeper Dean Snedker flapped at unconvincingly.
Billy Heath, already unhappy at the perceived unfairness of the officiating in Nuneaton’s favour by ignoring the visitors’ claims for fouls, was given more reason to protest when an alleged foul on Macdonald inside the box went unpunished - perhaps that was the only way the hosts could stop the winger inflicting further damage.
That incident was minutes after Denton had seen a shot blocked by Snedker and another skewed way over the bar.
Nuneaton’s repeated insistence of playing high balls forward for the diminutive Shaq McDonald to challenge Scott Garner and Danny Hone in the air for meant Town began to dominate possession as the opening-half went on.
Denton and Richard Peniket both went close as the half-hour mark passed by, with Josh Macdonald remaining the best player on the pitch.
Shaq McDonald should have done better when he got sight of goal just after the restart but fired straight at Steve Drench, who held the ball firmly.
Fellow debutant stopper Snedker showed no such composure minutes later though as his howler let Town retake the lead in embarrassing circumstances.
A weak effort by Denton at the far post should have been collected comfortably, but Snedker let the ball slip through his grasp and between his legs before it rolled apologetically over the line.
There was nothing Snedker could do about Denton’s and Town’s third though as he met Kevin Roberts’ curling free-kick with a bullet header back across goal.Shaq McDonald looked the only Nuneaton player who still believed the hosts could get something from the game as he tested Drench with some long-range shots.
But then, out of nothing, a cross was flicked on by substitute Luke Shorthouse and captain Langmead got his team back in the game with a diving header at the far post.
Heath had been a fairly placid spectator for most of the second-half, but he turned away in disgust as his side’s lead was halved.
Now the home supporters had found their voice and were appealing for any fifty-fifty decisions, and the visitors were caught between sticking with 3-2 or twisting for a fourth.
The substitution of Jake Hibbs for Burrow answered that question at least as The Shaymen successfully saw the game out.
Nuneaton: Snedker, Clifton, Nicholson, Morgan, Langmead, Keane, Tempest, Scott, McDonald, Williams, Moli (Shorthouse 71). Subs not used: Wheatley, Daniels, Demkiv, Ironside
Scorer: Williams (5), Langmead (75)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 0
Halifax: Drench, Moyo, Garner, Hone, Wilde, Macdonald (Hughes 62), Roberts, Hotte, Peniket, Burrow (Hibbs 80), Denton. Subs not used: Nicholson, Kosylo, Sinnott.
Scorer: Denton (3, 53, 60)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 11
Town man of the match: Tom Denton
Referee: Ricky Wootton