SEASON PREVIEW: Town fans back in the stands as Shaymen aim to mix it with the National League’s big spenders

Welcome back Town supporters, it wasn’t the same without you.

By Tom Scargill
Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 11:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 11:37 am
Pete Wild and Chris Millington.
Guiseley AFC v FC Halifax Town.  Pre season friendly.  Nethermoor Park.
3rd August 2021.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Pete Wild and Chris Millington. Guiseley AFC v FC Halifax Town. Pre season friendly. Nethermoor Park. 3rd August 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Nearly a whole season went by without Halifax fans watching their team in person, with only a brief reunion for the final game against Chesterfield.

But after a campaign of live streams and empty stands, normality resumes on Saturday.

Aside from cries of ‘gerrit forrard’, ‘gerrit on’t deck’ or ‘how much are they paying you ref?’, what can Town fans expect when the campaign begins?

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Pete Wild says he has deliberately assembled a younger, more athletic squad this summer.

Town will be hoping what they lack in spending power can be offset by sprinting power, a dearth of resources replaced by resourcefulness.

The close season hasn’t been ideal, with friendlies and new faces in short supply, and key men Jeff King, Jack Earing, Neill Byrne and Jake Hyde all tempted by better offers, leaving sizeable gaps to plug.

King was Town’s player of the year last season, and Hyde the club’s top scorer. Irritatingly, they have both strengthened potential promotion rivals in Chesterfield and Wrexham respectively. Money talks.

The losses of Earing and Byrne are easier to bear, given they have stepped up to League Two with Walsall and Hartlepool, but both were among the top performers last term.

Vital experience and know-how has also been lost in the departures of Nathan Clarke and Danny Williams, whose influence and leadership in the dressing room were arguably as vital as their contributions on-the-pitch.

It is therefore incumbent on the likes of Martin Woods and Luke Summerfield, as the older heads in the group, to play even more of a leading role in helping guide a younger squad through the rigours of a season.

Promising trio Kian Spence, Dom Tear and Jay Benn could feature more regularly than they did last term, with Spence perhaps in pole position of the three for a breakthrough year.

He showed glimpses towards the end of last season that he has the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to mix it in the fifth tier. One to watch.

Death, taxes and Sam Johnson between the sticks remain three of the certainties in life, with the Town keeper, happily for all concerned, extending his stay at the club again this summer, while Niall Maher should thrive with the added responsibility of the captain’s armband.

It’s at the other end that perhaps lies Halifax’s biggest challenge this season, not in creating chances, but converting them, despite The Shaymen being joint-fifth highest scorers in the division last time out.

The loss of Hyde, a proven goalscorer at this level, is hardly conducive to remedying the problem, but in Pete Wild’s recruitment, there is perhaps a move away from backing a main goal-getter to sharing the load.

Hyde’s season was severely disrupted by injury, as was intended strike partner Matty Stenson’s, whereas this time round, the net appears to have been cast wider in order to find it more often; at the time of writing, Jordan Slew, Matty Warburton and Billy Waters are all good options in forward areas, with others possibly to follow.

Ah yes, while we’re at it, injuries. Wild simply has to have better luck with them this season.

It’s hard enough competing against big-spenders like Wrexham, Chesterfield and Stockport with a fully-fit squad, never mind being deprived of key components like Hyde, Earing, Clarke, Stenson and Luke Summerfield, as was the case last season at different points.

Among some Town fans, the word budget has become tainted, seen as negative, irrelevant or wearisome.

But there is no getting away from the fact that some clubs in the fifth tier do their shopping in Waitrose, while the have-nots like Halifax are turned away at the door and directed towards the nearest budget supermarket.

More money equals better players, equals a better chance of winning matches.

What money doesn’t do is offer any guarantees, which is where The Shaymen hope they can utilise other ingredients in their recipe for success.

Wild and Chris Millington are passionate advocates of helping players improve, investing time and effort into their development, providing a platform to perform, and not standing in their way when a better offer comes along.

And with the return of diamond unearther Gareth McClelland as head of recruitment, there seems to be a clear model in place where unpolished gems can be signed up, shined up, then sold on before the whole process starts anew.

Harvey Gilmour is the latest in that process, an attacking midfielder who did well in the EFL at Tranmere before losing his way a little over the last couple of seasons.

There’ll be good times, bad times, boring times and brilliant times.

Will Town win the league? Stranger things have happened, but I doubt it.

Will Town make the play-offs? More realistic, definitely possible, but still a tough ask, and a hugely successful season if so.

A higher-placed finish than last term’s 10th is certainly desirable and achievable. Anything lower than that would be disappointing.

Whatever happens, at least Town fans will be there to see it.