FC Halifax Town set up a mouth-watering two-legged play-off semi-final tie with Salford City thanks to a 2-0 win at Chorley, who narrowly secured their own top-five spot due to Stockport County’s home draw with Gloucester City.
A goal in each half from Tom Denton and Liam King secured third place in the Vanarama National League North for the Shaymen, as Chorley were made to sweat until after the final whistle to learn of their place in the end-of-season extravaganza.
There were a number of changes for Town in this final game of the regular season with, most notably, Scott McManus, after a couple of recent cameo appearances from the bench against Harrogate Town and Curzon Ashton, starting his first Town game since his Wembley heroics last May. His presence meant Josh Wilde, agonisingly, failed in his quest to start every single league game this campaign.
Matty Brown, who worked tremendously hard to get back into the team after his ankle problems since the end of last season, returned back to the starting eleven for the first time in over a month after leaving the pitch against Gloucester City with a hamstring injury, taking the captain’s armband from the absent Kevin Roberts in the process. Cliff Moyo, Danny Clarke, Danny Hone, Adam Morgan and Denton all came in as well as Billy Heath freshened things up ahead of the first leg with Salford on Wednesday night.
In a very scrappy opening, after Brown and Hone, in a back three along with Nathan Hotte, produced some timely blocks, Clarke found himself clear over the halfway line but the ball got stuck under his feet. He did manage to dig out a pass to find Moyo on the right but his cross missed everyone. Town, however, recycled the ball and Morgan, starting his first game since the victory at West Yorkshire neighbours Bradford Park Avenue, cut smartly onto his left foot but his curling effort drifted safely into the arms of Christian Dibble.
That was the best it got for the Shaymen until Denton’s opener five minutes before the break as Chorley began to dominate – although they didn’t severely test Sam Johnson.
Jason Walker, seemingly, tried to enter a late contender for Goal of the Season, but his aMBitious volley from the edge of the box sailed over Johnson’s bar.
Johnson then misjudged a Jake Cottrell left-wing cross which narrowly missed the far post. The goalkeeper was back to his best, however, moments later when he parried away a cross from the right which brought a succession of corners for the home side but Town, ably assisted by Denton, defended stoutly.
Without looking remotely threatening at the other end, the Shaymen, apparently, struck a decisive blow to Chorley’s play-off dreams in the 40th minute. Clarke forced a corner – Town’s first of the match – and although it was cleared, Jordan Sinnott fired the ball back into the danger zone, where it bounced fortuitously for Denton who stabbed into an empty net for his 19th goal of the season.
Town, however, could only celebrate after the referee, Mr Copeland, consulted with his assistant after the home players argued that Denton was in an offside position.
The second half promised to be a livelier affair as Chorley searched for a way back into the game. But it was the visitors who threatened first as Moyo headed a Sinnott free kick over the bar.
Chorley responded positively with Adam Blakeman’s crisp shot from 25 yards hitting the post; captain Andy Teague could not force in the rebound. Teague then turned neatly on the edge of the area but his low shot was deflected wide.
The permutation at the start of the contest was simple for Matt Jansen’s men – win and their place in the play-offs would be secured. However, still trailing 1-0 with 15 minutes remaining, along with other results going against them, they started to become desperate as black and white shirts poured forward. Their counterparts in all orange, however, remained strong. Hone, in particular, did brilliantly to prevent former Shayman Marcus Carver getting a shot on target from a tight angle after the striker had produced an eye-catching turn.
Blakeman’s 85th minute free kick then curled past everyone before narrowly missing the far corner as Chorley sensed it would not be their day. Gloucester however, unbeknownst to the Chorley players, had equalised at Edgeley Park.
Johnson then produced a marvellous reaction save to keep Halifax in front and it proved crucial as Town bombed forward and won a dramatic injury-time penalty after Wilde, who had come on for McManus, was fouled in the area.
King did the rest from 12 yards, sending Dibble the wrong way with an emphatic connection, to set up an enticing play-off tie with Salford.
Chorley: Dibble, Challoner, Jarvis (McDaid 63), Teague (C), Leather, Charnock (Roscoe 73), Blakeman, Whitham, Carver, Walker, Cottrell
Subs: O’Keefe, Beesley, Azam
Town: Johnson, Moyo, McManus (Wilde 82), Hone, Brown (C), Hotte, Lynch, Clarke, Sinnott (King 63), Denton, Morgan (Peniket 57)
Subs: Drench, Kosylo
Goalscorers: Denton (40), King (90 pen)
Referee: S Copeland
Man of the Match: Tom Denton
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