There was no giant-killing act at The Shay as FC Halifax Town’s FA Cup run came to an abrupt end against League Two side Wycombe Wanderers.
The Shaymen were looking for a place in the Second Round after recent First Round proper defeats at the hands of Charlton, MK Dons and Bradford City, but clinical finishes from Garry Thompson, Sido Jombati, Max Kretzchmar and Aaron Amadi-Holloway ensured the Chairboys avoided a cup shock and recorded a resounding win.
Darren Kelly made two changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Eastleigh last Saturday, including bringing 19 year old Everton youth academy product Russell Griffiths straight into the starting eleven to replace the ever-present Matt Glennon in goal. Kevin Roberts, fully recovered from a groin injury, started on the right as Kieran Sadlier was only given permission to play by his parent club Peterborough United very late in the week in the build-up to the game.
Going into the game there was a contrasting tale of two defences. Wycombe have only conceded 3 goals on their travels in League Two this season, keeping five clean sheets in the process, as well as boasting the meanest away defence in the top five leagues in English football. Only Maidstone United in the National League South have conceded less goals away from home so far this season.
Town, on the other hand, have the worst defensive record of any team in the top six tiers, especially at home having let in 21 goals at The Shay in their stuttering Vanarama National League campaign. Their comfortable 2-0 triumph at Farsley Celtic in the West Riding County Cup in midweek aside, the Shaymen have not kept a clean sheet in 29 attempts.
But there was an attacking eagerness about both sides in the early stages, after a poignant minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday; from the Shaymen as they tried to replicate the cup heroics of Salford City, Altrincham, Forest Green Rovers and Eastleigh already during this exciting FA Cup weekend. And Wycombe were simply eager not to be a defeated Giant, like fellow Football League sides Notts County, Barnsley, AFC Wimbledon and Crewe.
And Town didn’t start like a side who were bottom of their league as they looked solid at the back and showed good passing movements further forward. James Bolton, the hero of the last round after his 30-yard blast at Guiseley, provided the best moment, getting into an advanced position before an untimely slipped ensured he could not produce a cross with numerous blue shirts waiting in the box.
At the other end, Griffiths had very little to do until he had to pick the ball out of his net on 17 minutes. Thompson had previously sent a long-range effort over the bar in Wycombe’s only effort on goal. But Thompson, who played under Town Assistant Manager Jim Harvey at Morecombe, latched onto Sam Wood’s flick-on at the far post to fire past Griffiths via a deflection.
The goal set some momentary panic in Town’s defence, with Thompson flashing a low shot wide after Nicky Wroe, whose loan was extended in the build-up to the tie, conceded possession.
But whilst Town could not muster a chance from open play despite their intricate passing, Sam Walker’s set piece deliveries were causing a concern for Wanderers’ goalkeeper Matthew Ingram and his defence.
A corner was flapped at by Ingram underneath his own crossbar before he expertly sprawled to his right to deny a Walker free kick which nearly snuck into the far corner.
Wycombe inserted some late pressure at the end of the first half but Town did well to keep the deficit at only one goal.
Kelly, evidently, stirred his troops at the break, as the Shaymen won an early free kick after a marauding run from McManus, but Ingram easily saved the resulting effort.
At the other end, Griffiths was doing a good job of keeping Town in the tie. Firstly he dived smartly to his right to prevent Thompson doubling his own, as well as his side’s, advantage, before Wood majestically jinxed his way into the Town box only to be thwarted by the dramatic smothering actions of Griffiths.
Griffiths was beaten by Thompson soon after but his vicious effort cannoned back off the post. Wycombe, however, didn’t have to wait too long for their deserved second, as Jombati scored a screamer with the outside of his right boot from the edge of the box. Not bad for a player without a goal in nearly two years.
By this point Kelly had introduced Shaun Tuton and the former Buxton man nearly produced a moment of magic himself, dazzling his way into the box only to be denied by a stunning reflex save from Ingram.
It could have been a game-changer.
Fellow substitute Sadlier then curled inches wide as the Shaymen strived to get a foothold back into the contest.
But it was two Wycombe substitutes who were to have the final say, as the visitors, with a habit of scoring late goals after netting five league goals in the last 15 minutes of games this season, eased into the next round. Both Kretzchmar and Amadi-Holloway produced two composed finishes after eye-catching team moves to seal the Chairboys’ place in the Second Round.
The FA Cup has been a pleasant distraction for the Shaymen in recent weeks but at least the Vanarama National League – and survival – can now be a primary focus for Kelly and his men.