FC Halifax Town will take a two-goal advantage back to The MBi Shay Stadium, after claiming a hard-fought 4-2 win over Nantwich Town in the FA Trophy semi-final first leg.
Both Scott McManus and Waide Fairhurst’s first goals since April 25th 2015 handed Town an early 2-0 lead, before Sean Cooke pulled one back for the home side just before half-time.
Jordan Burrow’s 15th and 16th goals of the season – the second coming from the penalty spot – provided The Shaymen with a three-goal cushion, but Matty Kosylo smashed home from close range to make it 4-2, giving The Dabbers encouragement going into the second leg.
Town headed into their first ever semi-final appearance in The FA Trophy on the back of just one loss in eight away matches, as well as boasting one of the best defensive records in this season’s competition, having kept four clean sheets out of a possible five.
Nantwich are the second highest scores in the Evo-Stick Premier, two tiers lower than The Shaymen, and had already beaten the likes of Stockport County, Bradford Park Avenue and Dover on their route to the semi-finals.
With just three defeats in 22 home games at the Weaver Stadium this season and four wins from their last five home ties, Nantwich were always expected to prove tricky opponents.
Jim Harvey made two changes from the side that fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Bromley in midweek. Sam Walker returned to the starting eleven in place of Jake Hibbs, while Waide Fairhurst received a first start in Town colours and his first start in almost a year, replacing Southport hero Shaquille McDonald, who dropped to the bench.
Town looked to get forward early on with Burrow and Kevin Roberts linking up well but Terry Smith was there to gather the ball. But just moments later The Shaymen opened the scoring when McManus lashed home his first goal of the season.
Burrow played the ball out wide to the left-back, who cut inside and sent a fierce strike into the bottom corner, leaving Smith with no chance.
Matt Bell threatened on a couple of occasions for the hosts, drawing a pair of early saves from Johnson, while at the other end Smith was forced into an excellent save following Roberts’ cross-come-shot, with Burrow looking to pounce on any rebound.
The Dabbers boasted plenty of possession, but were made to pay for failing to create any real cut chances, as Town doubled their lead just past the 20 minute mark.
From Sam Walker’s corner, James Bolton headed on for Fairhurst, who turned in his first goal for The Shaymen. Smith then had to be at his best to stop Burrow making it 3-0, after Kingsley James had skipped a challenge and played Town’s top scorer through on goal.
Nantwich looked to threaten again but Joshua Hancock blazed over following a promising run, while Cooke saw his deflected shot comfortably gathered by Johnson.
Walker was brought down as he charged towards the box, but saw his resulting free-kick dealt with by Smith. The home side countered immediately down the other end and pulled one back as Cooke fired home from the edge of the area.
Kosylo laid off to Cooke, whose shot left Johnson flat-footed as it nestled into the corner. The strike gave The Dabbers a new lease of life, and the hosts could have made the score line level heading into the break, only for Johnson to deny Bell with a wonderful save.
The Shaymen restored their two goal advantage within 30 seconds of the second-half, as Walker’s looping cross from the left was knocked down by Roberts into the path of Burrow, who slotted home his 15th of the campaign.
Town looked in a confident mood to add more goals as James charged forward and released Bolton, whose cross almost found a lurking Walker at the far post. Meanwhile Nantwich’s top-scorer Elliot Osborne could only fire well over Johnson's bar.
Roberts shot from 25 yards was always rising and sailed harmlessly over, before Cooke tried his luck straight from a free-kick, but his effort flew inches wide of Johnson’s far post.
Josh Macdonald replaced Fairhurst on the hour mark and immediately got in on the action as he burst into the area following a lovely interchange of play, before being bundled over, leaving referee Graham Salisbury no option but to point to the spot.
Burrow stepped up and coolly dispatched the penalty into the corner for his second of the game and 16th of the season, handing Town a handsome 4-1 lead.
With just 20 minutes left Cooke thought he had grabbed his second goal of the afternoon, but was left incensed when play was pulled back for a Nantwich free-kick, which Hancock failed to place on target.
The home side reduced the deficit back down to two goals when the impressive Kosylo rifled home from eight yards after Cooke's cross was not dealt with by Town’s defence, allowing The Dabbers back into the game once more.
Hancock flicked Cooke’s corner just wide as Nantwich looked to add a third, but The Shaymen saw out the final moments to take a two-goal lead into the second leg.