FC Halifax Town were left having to wait to confirm their play-off spot after struggling Southport recovered from an early Lee Gregory goal to stage a dramatic second half comeback at Haig Avenue.
The home side caused countless problems throughout but Matt Glennon was in inspired form, as the Shaymen looked to hold onto Gregory’s fifth minute strike. However, two goals in a ten minute second period spell turned the game on its head and lifted the Sandgrounders to Skrill Premier safety.
Neil Aspin, who alluded to a perceived tiredness amongst the side after the Shaymen’s “leggy” and “nervy” 2-1 victory over Macclesfield Town at The Shay on Saturday, made just two changes for the trip to the seaside with James Bolton, back available after being denied to play against his parent-club at the weekend, and Scott Spencer returning to the starting eleven; Simon Ainge and Adam Smith dropped to the bench.
In a frenetic start to the game – where the outcome would prove pivotal at both ends of the table Gregory opened the scoring after only five minutes, but there was still plenty of action at either end before the breakthrough.
Spencer, who justified his first start for Town with two goals on his full debut in the resounding 4-0 triumph at Barnet, looked to vindicate his recall to the starting eleven with another electrifying start. His first involvement, after three minutes, saw a bulldozing run forward end with a fine pass to Matty Pearson on the right touchline, but the former Rochdale man’s cross evaded two white shirts in the box.
The Sandgrounders responded with a blistering attack of their own. Osayamen Osawe, who would go onto torment Town’s defence throughout the entire first half, cut onto his right foot from the left but his low shot was saved by Glennon, albeit nervously at the second attempt.
The pulsating action went straight to the other end, where Town eventually took advantage. A floated Danny Lowe free kick caused havoc in the Southport area and Spencer found time and space to send a delicious back-heel through a static home defence, allowing Gregory to nip in and slot home his 29th league goal of the season.
Osawe had another effort saved by Glennon before the tricky forward released Vinny Mukendi only for the latter’s shot to be expertly blocked by Chris Smith.
As the pace of the action threatened to relent, Osawe burst into life with a curling effort from 20 yards which Glennon safely watched wide of his post.
Town delivered a no-nonsense approach to Osawe’s next rampage forward, as James Bolton brought him down in full-flight down the left-hand touchline. Bolton escaped a yellow card for the foul and John O’Sullivan miscued the resulting free-kick wide as it was sensed it could be Town’s day in the Merseyside sunshine.
Those beliefs were short-lived as the Shaymen thought they should have had a penalty after Spencer was seemingly brought to the turf by a long Luke George leg. The referee, Mr England, however, signalled the away side’s first corner, which, in turn, found Roberts at the far post but the centre-back couldn’t repeat his goal scoring heroics of the weekend.
Gregory then pounced on a short pass-back but Danny Hurst in the Southport goal did well to smother at the top goalscorer’s feet. Hurst then had a rush of blood to the head, needlessly clearing for an attacking Town through – which Lois Maynard headed over – as the visitors sensed a vulnerability in their hosts’ backline.
As the half edged toward a close the Shaymen snuffed out any imminent Southport attacks – unlike they did on the stroke of half-time against Macclesfield – but the Sandgrounders’ very first foray forward of the second should have resulted in the equaliser.
O’Sullivan found himself seeing the whites of Glennon’s eyes but the Town stopper produced a magnificent save. Osawe, however, pounced on the loose ball yet somehow found the side-netting instead of the inviting open net.
Marlon Jackson, who had replaced Spencer at half-time, proved to have an instant impact, firstly producing a teasing cross from the right which was just too far in front of Gregory before seeing a cross deflect wide for a corner which resulted in Roberts heading against the bar.
Osawe’s personal battle with Glennon and Town’s goal continued with a 55th minute drive which Town’s number one expertly kept out with a brilliant save to his left.
Gregory was given a deserved rest after 66 minutes but, four minutes later, Glennon was finally beaten and that man Osawe played a huge part in the equaliser.
A corner from the left was met by the powerful head of Southport’s star player but he was denied by a coMBination of Glennon and bar, although Scott Brown was on hand to lash home from close range.
The turnaround was completed with ten minutes remaining, and in splendid fashion too. David Fitzpatrick progressed forward and unopposed from left-before unleashing a thunderous drive into the far top corner from 30 yards, giving Glennon, who had done his best to thwart and frustrate Southport throughout, no chance.
Aspin threw Josh Wilson on to try and salvage a late and precious point and the former Guiseley man nearly did just that in the first minute of additional time. An eye-catching piece of skill moved him away from the home defence and in-sight of a dramatic point but Hurst spread himself to deny the substitute a magical moment in front of the 931 travelling Shaymen fans.
There was no further drama as Southport clinched a valuable win to confirm their survival, as Town’s tremendous unbeaten run came to a crushing end.
Eyes now turn to The Hive for the Skrill Premier’s evening kick-off, as a win for Barnet against Braintree would see Aspin’s men be assured of a play-off spot before the final game of the season on Saturday.
Goals: Gregory (5), George (70), Fitzpatrick (80)
Referee: D England
Southport: Hurst, Brown Nsiala, Mukendi, Challoner, Rutherford, George, Fitzpatrick, Osawe, O’Sullivan, Dillon
Subs: Joyce, Daly, Henry-Francis, Boothman
FC Halifax Town: Glennon, Bolton, McManus, Pearson, Lowe, Roberts, Smith, Maynard, Marshall, Spencer, Gregory
Subs: Senior, Ainge, A Smith, Crowther, Jackson
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