Wembley is again on the mind of Halifax match-winner Chris Smith.
The 32-year-old central defender could never have envisaged playing again at the national stadium when an ankle injury laid him low for three months and put him out of the reckoning at York City.
Having led the Minstermen to two Wembley triumphs in 2012, he knew it was time to move on, re-establish his credentials and put himself in the shop window for a contract elsewhere.
So at the end of February, Smith, captain for the FA Trophy final triumph over Newport and then the Conference play-off final against this season’s champions Luton Town, signed for FC Halifax until the end of the campaign and is now on the cusp of a Wembley return.
With two games of the regular season to play, starting with today at lowly Southport, the Shaymen are third and on the verge of the play-off semi-finals, victory in which will land them a place at Wembley and a possible return to the Football League, following liquidation as Halifax Town AFC in 2008.
Should that be achieved, then Neil Aspin will be right up among those manager of the season contenders such as Brendan Rodgers, Jose Mourinho, Steve Bruce, Tony Pulis and Sean Dyche.
For Halifax operate on a shoestring budget and are purely a part-time club operating in an increasingly professional Conference.
They simply should have no right to be in the play-off mix yet they are there and Smith is in no doubt as to why.
He detects many similarities to those of the York glory boys and said: “There is a bit of an arrogance around the players – not a cocky arrogance, it’s arrogance in a belief that you can win if you put your mind to it. It feels like we have spirit home and away. There are no cliques or big-time Charlies. The banter is good and we are all in it together and I think that shows on the pitch.
“The manager has got the lads in he wanted and has got the right character in the dressing room and a good blend in young and old. That togetherness is just what you want.
“It is us against everyone else with us being a part-time club. You have got to realise that what the lads have done already is an amazing achievement but we are not going to sit on that. The gaffer wants that final reward and we all know what that is.”
Smith is determined to focus on Halifax’s next two games, saying: “Is Wembley on my mind again? Yeah, but I’m not going to get carried away although it’s always there because that’s the reward but it’s on to the next game on Monday now.
“I have not spoken to the lads about Wembley yet – it’s a bit premature. Those eight days in May will never be topped because of what we achieved, although to come to a part-time club and get back to Wembley would be right up there.
“If/when we get there, it will be a time to use my experience if they need it. Sometimes it is good just to go out there and play like it is just another game even though the rewards are a lot bigger and the pressure is on.
“The key to winning the semi-final is to take it as one game, take the first game as it is and don’t lose. The lads believe they can go to any team and beat them, not just draw away. You just worry about the semi, don’t think about Wembley or plan anything like that. Get the first game, first leg out of the way and then worry about the second leg.”
Sage advice from Smith, who followed up his match-winner at Nuneaton, by volleying home Halifax’s second in the 22nd minute after Simon Ainge, in for Macclesfield loanee James Bolton, had done well to head back Paul Marshall’s deep free-kick.
The goal came just four minutes after Smith’s header across goal had allowed fellow centre-back Marc Roberts to volley home the opener.
Slack play by the defenders, however, allowed Scott Boden a simple instep finish from close range in the 45th minute.
That was as good as it got for Macclesfield, who had wasted a couple of free headers and who rarely threatened after the break as the Shaymen overcame a nervous 20 minutes to remain solid until the end on a difficult pitch which left Smith fearing the worst as he damaged the same ankle which put him out of action at York by getting his studs caught in a divot.
“Luckily enough, I had a bit of ice at half-time and it will be fine,” said Smith, although several other Halifax players are doubts, including 29-goal top scorer Lee Gregory, who struck a post early on and flicked a return pass from Scott McManus narrowly wide as he was tightly marked by the visitors.
Although the Halifax players admitted to being somewhat ‘leggy’ after their exertions at Grimsby in midweek, the goal Boden scored was the first the Shaymen had conceded in 709 minutes, ending a club record run of seven clean sheets.
The more telling statistic is that Halifax have won nine and drawn one of their last 10 games and, as Aspin reflected, there must be more to his side than rivals claiming to have had bad days against them.
FC Halifax Town: Glennon, Ainge, Roberts, C Smith, Lowe; A Smith (Spencer 46), Maynard, Marshall (Jackson 77), Pearson, McManus; Gregory (Wilson 89). Unused substitutes: Senior, Crowther.
Macclesfield: Taylor, Pilkington, Williams, Connor, Andrew; Rowe (Makreth 70), Turnbull, Kay (Lewis 83), Whitaker, Winn; Boden. Unused substitutes: Halls, Branagan.
Referee: R Joyce (Newcastle).