FC Halifax Town 0 Forest Green 2: Harvey suffers first defeat

Jim Harvey suffered his first defeat as FC Halifax Town manager after they lost 2-0 to Forest Green Rovers at The Shay.

FC Halifax Town

First-half goals from Jon Parkin and Elliott Frear put Rovers in control, a position they rarely looked like surrendering after they established a two-goal cushion.

The run under Jim Harvey had to end sometime, and there’s certainly no shame in losing to a side with a budget as big or a team as talented as Forest Green.

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But there will be a sense of injustice at the manner of the defeat, with referee Ian Hussin making himself public enemy number one, just ahead of Parkin, with the award of a dubious penalty from which Town never recovered.

If you’d said after the horror show against Braintree that it would be another three months before The Shaymen next tasted defeat, most Town supporters’ reactions would have been a combination of hilarity and disbelief.

But Town will need to be sharper against Grimsby next Saturday, and a different referee might help as well.

Josh Macdonald deservedly kept his place in the side after a sparkling contribution against Chester in midweek, with Jim Harvey eschewing two men up front in favour of a five-man midfield in a nod of respect to his high-flying opponents.

Town certainly weren’t overawed by the title-challengers, with the combative duel between Hamza Bencherif and Parkin reflecting the feisty nature of the contest as whole.

This fixture ended in controversy last season with a mass brawl at full-time; this time round the big talking point came round much quicker.

It didn’t take long for referee Hussin to become centre of attention after he awarded Rovers a contentious penalty, the reason for which seemed lost on most observers inside the ground.

There was no great appeal from the visitors, but one almighty protest from the home players and supporters.

Sam Johnson saved the initial shot from Parkin, already playing the role of pantomime villain by putting his weight about in some physical challenges, but the striker converted the rebound.

Hussin’s every decision, or lack of, was under heavy scrutiny now, particularly the inevitable jousts between Parkin and the Town centre-backs, most of which the home supporters felt should have seen the striker penalised.

Indeed, it was difficult to tell whether Parkin or Hussin had provoked the supporters’ ire more.

Town’s record when refereed by Hussin this season was already poor - defeats against Guiseley, Grimsby and Torquay and a draw with Lincoln - and didn’t look like it was about to get any better.

Burrow nearly produced an instant reply but headed narrowly wide from James Bolton’s cross.

Town then had two penalty appeals waved away within 30 seconds, one for an alleged push on Burrow and another for an apparent kick on Sam Walker; as if the Town fans didn’t dislike him enough.

But there could be no such grumbles about Rovers’ second as a rapid break led by Rob Sinclair was capped off by Frear’s deft finish after the impressive Keanu Marsh-Brown’s superb low cross through the box.

Harvey thought his unbeaten record would be severely tested by Rovers, and he was right.

The Town boss reshuffled to a 3-5-2, moving Josh Macdonald to attack alongside Burrow, but it already looked a big ask to rescue something from the game, although Town had arguably been the better side, enjoying more possession but not quite doing enough with it.

Another lightning-quick break from Rovers exemplified their quality in attack, with Marsh-Brown again playing in Frear before Johnson raced off his line to block.

There was just time for Parkin to squeeze in one more foul before the interval as he brought down Bencherif from behind right in front of the home dugout; predictably, Hussin’s decision to award a free-kick but no booking prompted another furious outcry, one that was repeated at full volume as he walked off the pitch at half-time moments later.

Hussin even objected to Town’s second-half restart, making them do it twice.

Parkin’s hysterical reaction to not getting a free-kick brought a similarly excited response from the home fans, with the sub-plots of the Rovers striker and the referee almost overshadowing the game itself.

Another Parkin niggle at Bencherif then finally saw the forward booked, much to the delight of the Town fans; the striker would ironically applaud the South Stand when he was substituted with 20 minutes to go, sealing his status as Mr Popular at The Shay.

Richard Peniket had come on at half-time, but Town made hard-work of launching a comeback, with a Peniket header over the bar from six yards the only chance they created by the midway point of the second-half for all their possession.

Had Sinclair judged an audacious chip over Johnson a bit better, Rovers could have sealed the win with a quarter of the match remaining.

Marsh-Brown should have capped his display with a goal in added time but was thwarted by a fine Johnson save.

The game then ended in similar scenes to last season as nearly all players from both teams converged to quell a heated exchange between Dale Bennett and substitute Connor Hughes after the former had accused the latter of diving, with the match climaxing in unsavoury scenes for the second successive year.