FC Halifax Town 1 Grimsby Town 0: Scott McManus ensures Shaymen's plan is executed perfectly
Following on from North Ferriby United’s triumph in the 2015 final, the Shaymen prevailed yesterday thanks to a quite stunning finish from Scott McManus.
It was a goal worthy of winning the FA Cup final, never mind non-League football’s showpiece occasion and ensured a happy end to what has been a tough season at The Shay.
Relegated from the National League in heart-breaking fashion three weeks earlier, Halifax started the rehabilitation process by claiming the club’s first major piece of silverware on the grandest stage of all.
There were many heroes for Halifax, not least manager Jim Harvey who got his tactics spot on.
The Northern Irishman’s future may be in doubt following relegation. He revealed in the wake of beating Grimsby that an announcement is due from chairman David Bosomworth today.
But, if Wembley is to be his swansong, then he bade farewell in style. His game plan worked perfectly, as the attacking threat of a Grimsby side who had netted 82 goals in the regular season – a tally that included nine against Halifax in just two games – was nullified brilliantly.
Padraig Amond, with 37 goals to his name this season, can rarely have had as quiet an afternoon all season, while the Mariners midfield struggled against their tenacious part-time counterparts from Yorkshire.
Halifax’s challenge now, of course, is to build on this success and follow Ferriby’s lead in winning promotion from the National League just a year after lifting the Trophy.
The jubilant scenes at the final whistle, as the players celebrated in front of their 10,000-strong army of fans, suggested that the healing process is well under way.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of yesterday’s triumph was that it was well deserved. Against a team who will be back in the Football League next season, Halifax were superb.
Tigerish in the tackle and intelligent on the ball, Harvey’s men made a mockery of the opposite directions in which these two clubs are heading this summer.
Grimsby’s clinching of promotion a week earlier in the play-off final meant a relaxed air could be detected among their supporters walking down Wembley Way ahead of kick-off.
The first half was a similarly calm affair, the slow pace of proceedings being interspersed with the odd burst of rushed activity before quickly retreating back to testimonial speed.
Both teams had one decent chance apiece during those rather flat opening 45 minutes. For Halifax, Jordan Burrow was the man who went close with a shot from an acute angle that found the side-netting after latching on to a wayward back header.
That came after just eight minutes and it was not until beyond the half-hour mark that Grimsby replied with an effort worthy of the name.
A corner by Jon Nolan was met by Andy Monkhouse, a target for the Shaymen last summer, and his header looped towards goal only for loanee goalkeeper Sam Johnson to claw the ball to safety at full stretch.
Johnson’s only other vaguely worrying moment of that tepid first half came when Padraig Amond met Richard Tait’s cross, but could only head straight at him.
It was a let-off for the Shaymen and one they capitalised on in quite stunning fashion three minutes into the second half.
A slide rule pass released Richard Peniket down the left wing. His cross was blocked by James McKeown but, when Richard Tait tried to complete the clearance, the full-back could only find McManus.
After taking a touch, the left-back – who just last week committed his future to Halifax by signing a new two-year deal – struck a quite sublime shot that flew over the by-now stranded McKeown and into the net.
Cue pandemonium among the Halifax fans housed at one end of the stadium. Once the excitement had subsided, the big question was could Halifax hang on.
Grimsby had won promotion for a reason and surely falling behind would trigger some form of response.
Sure enough, Paul Hurst brought Nathan Arnold off the bench and switched to a three-man attack. The Mariners also found a sense of urgency as Arnold fired wide and then saw his shot saved smartly by Johnson.
Jon-Paul Pittman then had a drive bravely blocked by Hamza Bencherif before Gregor Robertson headed straight at Johnson from an Arnold corner.
Grimsby pouring forward left gaps for Halifax to exploit and Connor Hughes was twice denied a shot on goal, first by McKeown’s quick feet and then a wonderful sliding tackle from Aristote Nsiala.
As the game moved deep into stoppage time, Grimsby launched one final assault that even involved goalkeeper McKeown joining the attack.
The Mariners could muster just one late chance, however, and Johnson was equal to the shot that followed a forceful run from Arnold.
Moments later, referee Lee Mason blew the final whistle to spark a party that is likely to continue for most of the week in Calderdale.
The only blot on a wonderful day, in fact, was a potentially serious injury suffered by Halifax’s goalscoring hero.
“Scott is loved by the supporters,” said Harvey.
“For him to score with his right foot, which he stands on usually, was wonderful.
“That will live long in the memory of supporters. I just hope the injury is not too bad. I am not quite sure exactly the extent, but the physio thinks it could be a cruciate ligament injury.”