FC Halifax Town’s five-game unbeaten run was brought to an abrupt end with a 2-0 defeat at Tamworth.
The carrot of fourth place was hanging tantalisingly in front of the Shaymen if they’d won, but Town never really looked like doing so as they were left holding on to fifth by the skin of their teeth.
But Tamworth’s lowly position in the Skrill Premier will probably frustrate Halifax the most as they reflect on a chance wasted to cement their play-off place.
It’s not often Town are out-fought or out-thought, but the hosts arguably did both as a busy Christmas schedule perhaps began to catch up on Neil Aspin’s side, as their recent improvement on the road was forgotten.
Reece Gray replaced Dan Gardner in Town’s only change from the side that started against Gateshead on New Year’s Day, but the game could hardly have been more different.
The slick passing and incisive attacks of both sides in midweek was replaced by a scrappy affair as the two teams struggled to impose themselves on the contest.
Tamworth belied their poor form of one win from their last 10 games by shading the opening 45 minutes, with former Everton striker Nick Chadwick wasting a clear chance early on as he slipped with the ball at his feet six yards out.
Only Chadwick had scored at home in the league for Tamworth since mid-October, and the fact he was their joint-top scorer with four goals going into the game said much about their predicament.
The hosts could only dream of having the firepower of Lee Gregory leading their line, but even he was left feeding on scraps as the hosts worked hard to snuff out any threat from Halifax.
They’d also done their homework on Adam Smith, often doubling up on the right-winger and in the process cutting off a crucial supply line to Town’s top scorer.
Smith almost saw his long-range effort sneak under goalkeeper Cameron Belford after the ball slipped through his grasp but he clutched it at the second attempt, as he did with Josh Wilson’s speculative shot from 30 yards soon afterwards.
Matt Pearson brought the best out of Belford though when his shot across goal was tipped behind by a flying save.
But they were the highlights of a mostly forgettable half from Town, who could have done with the individual flair of Dan Gardner at his best, although even his dancing feet might have struggled on the bobbly surface.
Given Tamworth’s unenviable record as the division’s third lowest scorers, it was hardly surprising their opener had more than a touch of good fortune about it as Lloyd Kerry’s cross from the left curled out of reach of everyone in the box and nestled into the bottom corner.
But it was hard to begrudge that slice of luck for the industrious hosts, with Kerry having forced a save out of Glennon earlier in the half from the edge of the box.
Chadwick headed over when well placed at the start of the second-half after a good run and cross by Jack Evans, but their second wasn’t long in coming.
Tony Capaldi’s free-kick was nodded down by the impressive Wayne Thomas before Andy Todd smashed the ball past Matt Glennon on the volley.
That made it an uphill task for Town, literally, as they faced the rest of the half up the Lamb Ground’s slope staring their ninth away league defeat of the season in the face.
Wilson’s header was tipped behind by another superb save from Belford, but Town were restricted to set plays for their best hope of finding the net, with some timely interceptions from the experienced duo of Thomas and Gavin Mahon ensuring the Shaymen couldn’t build any real momentum in open play.
Chadwick should have put the result beyond doubt moments before he was taken off but blazed over from six yards after Town had failed to clear the danger.
Belford produced another excellent save to tip over Scott McManus’ rising drive before Town’s off-day was emphasised when Gregory atempted an overhead kick inside the six-yard box but missed the ball completely.
Tamworth: Belford, Evans, Thomas, Todd, Capaldi, Kerry, Baker, Mahon, Keane, Chadwick (Haworth 76), Peniket. Subs not used: Gudger, Byfield, Jones, Morgan.
Scorer: Kerry (45), Todd (60)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 4
Halifax: Glennon, Maynard, Roberts, Ainge, McManus, Smith, Pearson, Marshall (Worthington 46), Wilson, Gray (Holsgrove 67), Gregory. Subs not used: Senior, Anderson, Ironside.
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 9
Town man of the match: Matt Pearson