As FC Halifax Town confirmed their place in the Skrill Conference Premier play-offs on Easter Monday, barring a nine goal swing going in favour of Braintree Town on Saturday, The Shaymen go into their final fixture of the regular season against Kidderminster Harriers at The Shay with one eye on the two-legged contest that awaits.
Despite suffering a first loss in 11 matches against Southport on Monday, Barnet’s draw against Braintree all but cemented Halifax’s spot in the top five. Simon Ainge admits that perhaps the match at the Merseyrail Community Stadium was one game too far in the incredible run of results his team had amassed: “I think it was a great goal that won it but it was just one of those because we’d played a lot of games and there was a lot of hype around us and I think it just took its toll. It was a bit of a tired performance really.”
Keanu Marsh-Browns stunning strike for Barnet in the late BT Sport kick-off however denied The Iron a chance of overtaking Town, and the squad were watching on keenly on the team coach when travelling back to West Yorkshire. When the final whistle was blown, scenes of celebration followed between Ainge and his team-mates: “We all had a good feeling that it would take something massive for us not to get in the play-offs after the run we’ve been on, if we’d have messed it up we’d have really had to make some big mistakes so we sort of expected to be in the play-offs but obviously when it was confirmed everyone was really happy. Now we move onto the next few games and hopefully progress further.”
Ainge had stated at the start of the season that he hoped The Shaymen would finish as the highest semi-professional outfit in the division, something that he is delighted the team have achieved: “When I first came here it was something I wanted to achieve. I thought if we we’re the highest part-time team come the end of the season we’d be top half, maybe even pushing for the play-offs. The run that we’ve been on has been unbelievable, Southport was the first time we’ve lost since the Chester game. The away form has picked up and it makes you think that if our away form had been anywhere near as good as it is at the minute then from the start of the season we’d actually be pushing to win the league. I’m really happy with how the season has gone and hopefully it can get better.”
The 26-year-old alludes to incredible run of from The Shaymen had been on which has fired them to the top of the league, he however does believe that the squad always knew the play-offs were possible, even after the heart-breaking defeat at Chester just over two months ago: “I think we would have believed it because I think throughout the season we’ve had some really good performances against good teams at home, and even the away games which we lost early on we played well. I think up until the last couple of months we’d been inconsistent and it was just a case of us getting to know this league, forming the partnerships and getting that continuity in the team. Now we’ve got all of that it has showed in the last couple of months and you can tell in the midfield they have formed some great partnerships, obviously Gregory is getting supply from the wide men, the defence have kept a lot of clean sheets and Matty Glennon is playing really well so it has all gone hand in hand and got us where we are.”
This not the first time the former Bradford City man has been involved the Conference play-offs as The Bantams loaned Ainge out to Cambridge United in 2009, and he sat on the bench during their 2-0 defeat to Torquay United at Wembley: “When I was 19 I went on loan to Cambridge United and we got to the play-off final and lost to Torquay, but I was on the bench and I was there more as cover. Then I’ve been in the Conference North play-offs with Guiseley but not I’ve not played in the play-offs at this level. I’m not sure how much the experience of being in the play-offs even helps you when you get to this level though. If you look at Luton I think they had been in the play-offs for the previous three years before last season, and they had players who played in every game and it didn’t help them get promoted. With our team having the inexperience of this situation I think it could possibly help us because we’ll be going in with no fear and we’ll be the underdogs whoever we face. I think we’ve got nothing to fear.”
Should The Shaymen better Grimsby Town’s result against Braintree then they will finish the campaign in third place, which means the return play-off leg being decided in front of a home crowd at The Shay. However it’s not something the squad are thinking about as like every other match so far this season, Neil Aspin will set his team up to go and win the game regardless: “If I’m honest it’s not something we’ve really talked about. Every game we look to go out and win it but Saturday will probably be a bit of strange one because obviously we’ve pretty much confirmed ourselves in the play-offs and you wouldn’t want any injuries to key players so I don’t know what the gaffer is going to do but whatever team goes out will be going out to win it. I don’t think it really matters, it’d be nice coming back to The Shay for the second leg as we’ve got such a good record there but I think if we started at home we could get ourselves a good lead. The play-offs are a completely different ball game, it’s like two cup finals and you see so often that the team everyone expects to win doesn’t, so I think we’re in a good position.”
As for Saturday’s opponents Kidderminster, the squad will want to take revenge on the Worcestershire outfit who inflicted a defeat on them in September in what Ainge admits was one of their worst performances of the campaign: “We did ourselves an injustice when we played Kidderminster, without wanting to make excuses we’ve got a part-time team and the lads had been at work all day when we went down there and I think that was one of the occasions this season when it showed. It was a midweek game but we have been lucky because we haven’t had many midweek away games but it did show down there. They were a strong team and they battered us down there and I think it’s probably the only game this year which I think we were never really in to be honest. On that respect we probably owe them one on Saturday but we obviously need to keep one eye on the play-offs as well, we need to keep everyone fit but we’re looking for the three points.”
FC Halifax Town against Kidderminster Harriers kicks off at 17:30 on Saturday 26th April as The Shaymen look to finish their regular season in style.
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