FC Halifax Town will play at Wembley for the first time in their history after edging past Nantwich in their FA Trophy semi-final.
A comfortable, relaxed passage into the final would have been nice, but hardly Halifax’s style, so after a poor performance, Halifax just about salvaged a draw on the day thanks to an Andy White own goal in the 90th minute.
The Shaymen appeared to be cruising to the final when Jordan Burrow gave them a fourth-minute lead, but Nantwich were in front on the day by half-time, and deservedly so, thanks to goals from Liam Shotton and Matt Bailey.
The Shaymen did it the hard way, but quite frankly, no-one who ran onto the pitch in barely-restrained joy at full-time really cared.
One of the most historic days in the club’s history now lies ahead when they meet Grimsby on May 22, one that would have been a fanciful notion when they lost to The Mariners 7-0 earlier this season.
The atmosphere had a sense of celebration about it even before kick-off, but who could blame the Town fans, being so close to an unprecedented Wembley final?
The clappers in the crowd were being thrashed to within an inch of their lives by the time the teams came out; all that was left was for the players to finish the job.
And, just like the first-leg, they didn’t hang about as Josh Macdonald flew down the left touchline past an oddly lethargic Nantwich defence and found Burrow in the middle, who was free to finish high into the net.
Nantwich already looked a beaten team as Town players glided past their opposite numbers, who could hardly have started much worse.
But, Halifax being Halifax, the easy way wasn’t an option and the visitors duly equalised a few minutes later with their first attack when Shotton beat Hamza Bencherif for pace to a through ball from Sean Cooke and swept the ball past the on-rushing Sam Johnson.
As you were, then. For now.
Nantwich took some confidence from that goal and seemed to play with more purpose than The Shaymen, who looked caught between pressing for another goal and protecting their lead.
They did neither.
Elliot Osbourne launched the ball just over the bar from 20 yards before a Town goal was chalked off for a foul in the penalty box following a corner.
The warning signs kept coming as Osbourne then wasted a glorious chance when Josh Hancock’s shot was parried straight to him, but he side-footed the ball wide with the goal gaping.
Andy White then hit the post for The Dabbers moments later following a superb move that sliced through the hosts’ defence before Hancock’s excellent shot was met by an equally excellent Johnson save.
From the resulting corner, Bailey headed in at the near post and The Shay watched on in stunned silence; this wasn’t in the script.
But long before Bailey’s goal, Jim Harvey had been prowling the touchline, perhaps knowing what was coming, as The Shaymen were consigned to second best status.
Instead of singing about Wembley, the Town fans were now murmuring about Nantwich.
Johnson produced a crucial save to deny Shotton just before half-time, which Town looked like they desperately needed.
Kingsley James’ scuffed shot was then saved by Terry Smith, who then went one better and kept out Burrow’s penalty following a foul on Sam Walker in the box.
Town weren’t exactly taking the M1 route to Wembley; there were encountering a problematic diversion through Nantwich on the way.
Harvey had warned the tie wasn’t over until the fat lady sings; she hadn’t even warmed up her vocal chords yet.
The Town boss didn’t even wait 10 minutes after the restart before bringing on Shaquille McDonald, but Town were still caught between sticking or twisting, but now their margin of error was down to one goal.
The South Stand still believed and sang incessantly, despite being given little to inspire such support, with Town playing ponderously and lacking in ideas.
Rather than charging over the line, Halifax were stumbling into the final.
The Shay then held its breath when substitute Josh Gordon chipped the stranded Johnson, only for the ball to land just wide after an agonising descent.
Halifax had at least stopped the sheer flow of Nantwich chances from the first-half, but their sloppiness in possession and lack of creativity meant they created none of their own.
From a Town free-kick, Nantwich broke forward and Matty Kosylo’s low shot was saved by Johnson.
But Halifax could have settled the nerves when Nicky Wroe’s cross found Burrow, only for Smith to divert his low shot behind.
Nantwich’s fate was cruelly sealed eventually though when the superb Andy White sent Burrow’s cross into his own net.
FC Halifax: Johnson, Bolton, Brown, Bencherif, McManus, Roberts, Wroe, MacDonald, Burrow, Walker, James. Subs: Porter, Hibbs, Peniket, Fairhurst, McDonald.
Nantwich Town: Smith, White, Short, Harrison, Bailey, Elliott Osborne, Matty Kosylo, Hall, Shotton, Cooke, Hancock. Subs: Bell, Burzynski, Moran, Bourne, Gordon.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)
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