FC Halifax Town have the chance to make history over the next fortnight, as they embark playing in the play-offs for the third time in as many seasons. The chance to move back into the Football League is at stake, but Cambridge United stand in The Shaymen’s way on the route to Wembley.
The next two games would complete a turnaround for the club, in more ways than one. Halifax started life in the Conference at the hands of a defeat away at the Abbey Stadium, yet it could be the very same place that launches Neil Aspin’s side into the final.
The 5-1 score-line and having two men sent off raised alarm bells heading into this season, yet although misery for many Shayman fans alike, it could be described as the game that changed Halifax’s fortunes.
On that day, Simon Ainge was named on the bench, as Danny Lowe and Marc Roberts were selected to pair in the centre of defence. Little did everyone know how much that game was going to change things, but one thing that blossomed was Ainge and Roberts’ partnership. The pair were named for many of Town’s games, including the unbeaten streak before the former was given his tenth yellow card of the campaign.
For Ainge, although the defeat was deflating at the time, in hindsight, it actually helped to better Halifax’s season: “ If someone would have told us at the start of the season when we got beat 5-1 down there, that we would be playing them in the play-offs, we would have thought that they were mad. I think that game was, in some ways, the best thing that ever happened to us.
“It gave everyone a reality check and I think that it has brought us all closer together. We bounced back straight away from it. I do think that it is written for us to beat them; to go from losing on the first game of the season to playing in the play-offs and beat them. It could be a fairy-tale ending.”
The 1-1 draw against Kidderminster Harriers on Saturday left Halifax fifth in the table, sitting comfortably in the last play-off position. Although the players had an inkling that they were going to make the top five, Ainge revealed that the players are ecstatic for the next two games against The U’s.
He said: “We have thought over the last couple of weeks now that we had a good chance of getting in there. It is nice to have commented it against Kidderminster, confirming that we are in there.
“I think that we put in a solid performance, Kidderminster are a very good team and we played a lot better than we did at their place! We also kept our home record that stands with only one defeat all season, which is absolutely brilliant record for anyone, in any league.”
Halifax have slightly slowed down since they captured nine points from their three defining away games, but could afford to do so once realising that the play-off place was all but confirmed.
Meanwhile, Cambridge have lost their last four consecutive games, but they had their position confirmed a good few games ago. Although a good time to play Richard Money’s men, Ainge believes that Cambridge’s fortunes will eventually turn around.
He said: “Everyone is buzzing and we can’t wait for the game on Wednesday. We will go into it with high confidence, and they have had a few bad results lately, but they are a good team. They are not going to lose forever.
“Don’t get deluded, they are a really good team. They finished second in the league because they are one of the best teams in the league. They have obviously been on a bad run of form, but like I said, they are going to come out of that bad run of form at some point, but hopefully it will just be next season now. We will do what we need to do to get to Wembley.”
Looking back on that day, Ainge feels as if Halifax were not given the credit that they deserved. The spoils went to Cambridge, with the next game between the two game drawn one a piece at The Shay, but the defender insists that The Shaymen deserve to be where they are, and what they could be on the verge of achieving.
“There was maybe a bit of smugness about them from that opening day of the season and they were playing against nine men. It is up to us to go out there and prove that we deserve to be in this league, and to do what we have done all season – prove to everyone of what a good team we are.
“We are in this position because of the good team that we are. Everyone is looking forward to it. Hopefully there will be loads of fans here to create an atmosphere and hopefully get a few goals to take down there on Sunday.”
This season was always going to be difficult for Halifax, moving into the Conference Premier following the promotion from the Conference North. As said by Aspin, every point is difficult to pick up in this league, and as shown by Chester, anything is possible.
However, hard work and a great team ethic has put Halifax in the driving seat, but Ainge admits he did not expect to be playing in the play-offs as the team prepared for the start of this season.
“I honestly knew that we would do okay; I knew that we would stay up. We have some really good players here. Personally, I wanted to finish the top part-time team. I thought that if we did that, we would have been in and around the play-offs.
“The top half, pushing for the play-offs, but to be honest, we have probably done better than what I had expected. After the first couple of months it came clear to me that some of the players here should be playing higher, or will be playing higher. And that is why we are where we are,” he said.
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