Connor Hughes proved that a game of football can change in seconds when he slotted home the winner despite a red card to James Bolton, as Town beat Altrincham 1-0.
Bolton was sent off for a last man foul just before the hour mark, leaving Halifax with a potentially troublesome half an hour ahead. They almost went behind when Jake Hibbs cleared off the line from Josh Ginnelly, before Hughes went straight up the other end and scored 15 seconds later.
Michael Salisbury also refereed Jim Harvey’s first game in charge, a game that Town won 4-1 despite being down to 10 men, though nobody would have predicted that was to be repeted after a drab first 45. Coming into the game off the back of the thrilling FA Trophy game with Nantwich, Town were looking to take a big step towards safety after ensuring they will appear at Wembley for the first time in history.
Jim Harvey made just one change with Sam Walker missing out, Waide Fairhurst replacing him for a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. The visitors had the better of the opening exchanges, Jordan Sinnott having a drive well caught by Sam Johnson whilst Josh Ginnelly struck the bar, though the linesman had rightly raised his flag.
It was a slow start by both sides, neither side giving too much away, though Town were looking dangerous down the left through Josh MacDonald. Harvey was dealt a huge blow midway through the first half with Matty Brown forced off the field, Jake Hibbs replacing him. That meant a formation reshuffle, with James Bolton slotting into the middle and Kevin Roberts to the right.
It took half an hour for the Shaymen to send anything towards Tim Deasy’s goal, with Scott McManus and Nicky Wroe both seeing shots blocked in a rare attacking moment for either side. Town were improving though and had their first effort on goal through Kingsley James, his shot easily saved. McManus won a second corner down the left that was eventually cleared as Town performed far better at the end of the first 45.
Harvey’s men started the second half in the same manner that they finished the first, Hibbs firing a free-kick straight into the wall within a minute of the restart. MacDonald was next to go close. Still looking for his first Town goal, his right footed effort was caught by Deasy. But the game changed soon after as Town were reduced to 10.
Bolton, who was on England C duty in the week, was forced into a foul on Damian Reeves right on the edge of the box, and with nobody else around the referee was forced to show Bolton the red card. Altrincham couldn’t take advantage from the free-kick. Town were next to go close up the other end, breaking at speed before Kingsley James saw a shot from eight yards blocked, with MacDonald unable to provide anything from the subsequent cross.
Johnson was called into action again to deny Ginnelly, with the game livening up following the red card. The introduction of Michael Rankine gave the Robins another dimension going forward, with Town’s makeshift back line put under real pressure against the extra man.
But if you thought the tempo was high then, it went up a notch with 20 to play as Town took the lead after a remarkable 20 second spell. Ginnelly was played through but after passing beyond Johnson, Hibbs somehow got back to clear off the line when a goal looked inevitable. And not even 20 seconds later, his hard work was justified when the 10 men took the lead against all expectations. Connor Hughes was played through by James and slotted underneath Deasy to leave The Shay rocking.
Town didn’t look like they were a man short after the red card, with Altrincham offering very little in terms of attacks. Hughes almost worked his magic again when he worked his way into the box, before losing his footing at the crucial moment. Bencherif at the other end was working his own magic at centre half, patrolling the defence alongside his third central defensive partner of the afternoon.
Jake Moult had a big chance to level from a corner, but fired high into back of the stand after controlling on his chest. Moult and his side were throwing everything forward to desperately try and claim something from the game, Reeves almost levelling from six yards only to see his touch go inches wide. Rankine saw a strike fizz wide too, but in the end Town’s defending saw out the game and the Shaymen took another big win towards safety.
FC Halifax Town: Johnson, Bolton, McManus, James, Bencherif, Burrow, Brown (Hibbs 25’), MacDonald, Roberts, Fairhurst (Hughes 57), Wroe
Subs: Porter, Peniket, McDonald
Red Cards: Bolton (56)
Goals: Hughes (69)
Altrincham: Deasy, Sinnott, Griffin, Leather, Havern, Heathcote (Rankine 60), Ginnelly, Lawrie (Phillips 73), Moult, Richman (O’Keefe 87), Reeves
Subs: Davis, Williams
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Assistants: Matthew Pope, Martin Woods
Fourth Official: Peter Gibbons