FC Halifax v Gateshead: Returning Neil Aspin stands in Shaymen’s way on road to Wembley

FC Halifax Town's Kevin Roberts.
FC Halifax Town's Kevin Roberts.
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NEIL ASPIN’S place in FC Halifax Town folklore is assured.

Three promotions in four years at a club taking its first tentative steps following the collapse of the old Town in 2008 has seen to that. And that is without Aspin then taking the part-time Shaymen to within touching distance of a Football League return by overcoming the odds to reach the Conference play-offs.

Today, however, the 50-year-old is very much in the enemy camp as Halifax look to take a step towards Wembley when Gateshead head to West Yorkshire for an eagerly-anticipated FA Trophy quarter-final. Kevin Roberts will miss the last-eight tie following his red card in the midweek 2-0 defeat at Braintree.

But the Liverpudlian, one of many brought to The Shay by Aspin during his five-and-a-half year reign, is expecting his former manager to be afforded a warm welcome back.

“Neil Aspin is someone I have a lot of respect for,” said the 26-year-old former Chester and Cambridge United defender.

“He signed me and then re-signed me again. I played plenty of games under him so I was gutted when he left.

“It happens in football. I am sure he will be happy to be back at Halifax and hoping to get through.

“I think it will give the tie a real extra edge just because of what he did at the club. The FA Trophy will bring a few fans in, as I expect will Neil coming back because it is a chance to show respect for what he did.

“He did a great job here. It is a game we are looking forward to, as I am sure he is.”

Aspin left The Shay in mid-September after a 2-1 defeat at Guiseley left Halifax second bottom of the National League.

His successor, Darren Kelly, proved woefully out of his depth and it has taken Jim Harvey’s arrival to turn round the club’s season. Survival remains the priority but Wembley is a tantalising prospect, as Roberts admits.

“The league has to be the priority,” said the defender, who was an unused substitute at Wembley in 2014 when Cambridge lifted the Trophy by beating Gosport 4-0.

“Everyone knows that. But the cup can go side by side with that, though it can be difficult. I have experienced it before and it can be difficult to try and keep winning games on both fronts.

“A long run means league games get moved and there are more fixtures. Teams can win in the cup and sometimes it affects the league results.

“But, with the confidence we have got right now, we can do it,” he said.

Halifax’s survival hopes suffered a blow with that loss to Braintree but Roberts, who must serve a one-game ban, remains confident.

“The season has not so much been a rollercoaster, more a massive down followed by a massive up,” he said.

“But, even when things weren’t going too well, we knew there was a good squad of players here.

“Luckily enough, Jim (Harvey) came in with Tommy (Smith) and we have gone upwards. We have given ourselves a real chance of staying up.”