FC Halifax Town returned to winning ways thanks to a convincing victory at Yorkshire rivals Harrogate Town to strengthen their grip on a play-off place, in a game which saw the long-awaited return of cult-hero Scott McManus.
The excellent Matty Kosylo scored twice, adding to the equally impressive Dion Charles’ early opener as Town remained in third.
The Shaymen’s faint hopes of capturing the league title were dashed on Good Friday after the champions-elect, AFC Fylde, inflicted an undeserved loss on Billy Heath’s men courtesy of a record-breaking goal from Danny Rowe.
And the Town boss made three changes from that side with Charles, Kosylo and Liam King, who had recovered from a heel injury, replacing Cliff Moyo, Josh Macdonald and Tom Denton, in the hope of getting their top-five bid back on track.
And it was his replacements who were the shining lights at Wetherby Road with Charles opening the scoring on ten minutes before the on-loan Fleetwood star set up the second for Kosylo.
Heath had told his players, “Don’t be down,” ahead of this Yorkshire derby, but it was the home side who started the brightest with Joe Leesley’s early free kick headed over by Luke Shiels. Leesley then volleyed way over before the Shaymen, with their first real attacking threat, broke the deadlock.
The source was a lightning-quick counter-attack after some ping-pong in Town’s defensive box. But they broke with speed, creativity and vigour and, after Kosylo’s shot was blocked, Charles found himself in space on the edge of the box and fired into sumptuously into the bottom corner.
Town got fortunate when another Leesley free kick was headed onto the bar by Jon Paul Pittman before a spell of Town pressure culminated with them doubling their advantage.
A quick Jordan Sinnott throw released Kosylo who darted into the penalty area and fizzed a delightful ball across the six yard box but it could not be converted.
Liam King was then taken callously out by Shiels, who received a yellow card for his troubles, as the home side struggled to match the visitors’ excellent tempo.
And that was evident when Charles, somehow, magically created some space on the left in the 28th minute before cutting the ball back to Kosylo who, under pressure, found the bottom.
Barely a minute later, Kosylo had another chance. Timing his run on the right to perfection he arrived onto a left-wing cross but he could not keep his volley down.
By this stage, it was a case of when and not if the Shaymen would extend their lead even further. And they had the ideal opportunity on the stroke of half-time. Josh Wilde, the only player to start every single league game for Town this season, slipped in Richard Peniket and his pull-back was put on a plate for Charles who, disbelievingly, fired wide from eight yards.
It could have been costly heading into the second half but Town were given a boost when the seemingly-bloodied Simon Ainge, with 18 goals in his last 13 appearances, had to be substituted just six minutes after the restart.
And they nearly took full advantage when Sinnott’s free kick was tipped over the bar by Crook.
Crook’s opposite number, Sam Johnson, was barely troubled in the first half but he was in the right place at the right time to deny a Shiels header. Ainge’s replacement, Marcus Day, then hit the inside of the post as the home side threatened to get back into the game.
But Town, and their hundreds of travelling supporters, were rejuvenated when McManus made his long-awaited return from his cruciate-knee-ligament damage nightmare – his first appearance in a Town shirt since he struck the winning goal in the FA Trophy final at Wembley last May.
Town get their deserved third with twelve minutes remaining – and Charles and Kosylo were the orchestrators yet again. The Fleetwood winger tormented down the left and instead of shooting, squared the ball for the former Nantwich star who could not miss.
Charles failed to square the ball to Sinnott in injury-time which would have made it 4-0 but it was still an invigorating performance from Town – and much needed considering all of their play-off rivals all recorded victories as well.
We’re at that time of year where we all love a good permutation. It is simple for Town in their last two games with Curzon Ashton and Chorley: win both, and their place in the National League North play-offs will be secured.
Harrogate Town:Crook, Colbeck, Parker, Platt, Shiels, Ellis (C), Emmett, Burrell, Ainge (Day 51), Pittman, Lesley
Subs not used: Lees, Porritt, King, Elliott
Shots on: 3
Shots off: 5
Fouls conceded: 10
Yellows: Shiels (24), Burrell (52), Colbeck (57)
FC Halifax Town: Johnson, Roberts (C), Wilde, Garner, Hotte, Lynch (McManus 73), King (Clarke 56), Sinnott, Kosylo (Denton 83), Charles, Peniket
Subs not used: Drench, Morgan
Shots On: 10
Shots off: 4
Fouls conceded: 10
Goalscorers: Charles (10), Kosylo (28, 78)
Man of the Match: Matty Kosylo