For the first time in nearly twenty years, I ventured to The Shay to watch FC Halifax Town in action, and boy, how things have changed in this corner of West Yorkshire!
That last visit was way back in December 1994 for an FA Cup match against Mansfield Town (thank you Soccerbase!), and things couldn’t be much different nowadays. For a start, there are now stands on all four sides of the ground, although two are yet to be finished, and the feeling I got is that this is a club that won’t be in the non-league system for long.
From the outset, the hosts were clearly the far superior side, and it took all of twenty seven seconds for them to open the scoring. Jason St Juste crossed low from the left, Lee Gregory dummied, and Jon Worthington finished well, side footing the ball into the bottom corner to get the ball rolling. Worthington picked up a booking straight from the restart for a foul on Matt Coupe.
It didn’t take long for Neil Aspin’s men to double the lead. Dale Johnson played in his strike partner Gregory, who waited for the ball to bounce before lifting it over the hesitant Gloucester keeper Mike Green after eight minutes. The referee has to take some credit too, as he played an excellent advantage in the buildup to the goal.
Halifax continued to dominate possession without creating too much in the way of goalscoring chances, and in fact it was the visitors who had the ball in the net just before the half hour. However, Will Morford saw his effort ruled out for offside.
Gregory then turned provider as he found Johnson, but his shot was saved well by Green, and the ball was cleared for a corner. The respite was shortlived, though, as Gregory scored from the resulting corner. St Juste took the corner short to Paul Marshall, and his cross evaded everyone as it found it’s way to Gregory at the back post. He held off his marker before swivelling and hooking a lovely volley from a narrow angle across the keeper into the opposite corner. It was a superb finish, and a fair reflection of the Shaymen’s dominance. 3-0 after forty minutes.
Gregory was determined to secure his hattrick before the break, and curled an effort straight into Green’s hands, but he wasn’t to be denied for long. On the stroke of halftime, a Marshall freekick was flicked on by Liam Hogan, and Gregory had time to control the ball before slotting it past Green to make it 4-0 at the break.
The second half was much the same, with Halifax enjoying the lion’s share of the ball, but as you’d expect from a side winning 4-0, they didn’t bust a gut to attack. Jason Jarrett smashed a freekick well over, while Worthington failed to control a pass from Gregory, allowing Green to smother the ball.
They did get a fifth, though, with Gregory racing onto a through ball and rounding Green before coolly slotting the ball into an unguarded net. Matt Glennon was called on a couple of times to save, once from a deflected shot from Mike Green (no not the keeper!),and his best save came in the final minute as he denied Morford, maintaining his clean sheet in the process.
On the whole, it was a fantastic display from The Shaymen, and the victory keeps them in fourth place in the Conference North table.
As for the club themselves, I said earlier in the report that I can’t see them staying at this level for long. With the ground improvements taking place, and the team looking very good on the pitch, I would certainly expect them to go one better than last season and gain promotion back to the Conference National. In fact, I can honestly say that I would not be surprised to see them in the Football League within five years.