FC Halifax Town see what future could be as they are forced to take play-off bid away from The Shay

TWO GAMES, no goals and only one point might not have been the best advert, but Halifax's temporary relocation to Accrington showed what they need to aspire to.

Whilst a point was not what either Halifax or relegation-threatened Ebbsfleet United came for, nudging each closer to their end-of-season ambitions when three would have been a knockout blow to their rivals, the way the "home" side played was much more pleasing to manager Chris Millington.

"Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the play was the team we want to be," he declared after Tuesday’s 0-0 draw. "The big feature lacking was just putting the ball in the back of the net."

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Halifax had their chances, three good ones for Max Wright in the first half and Jamie Cooke stabbing one wide, then forcing a terrific save out of Ebbsfleet goalkeeper Mark Cousins - not that referee Gareth Rhodes appreciated it, ignoring his tip-over to give a goalkick.

Town on tour: Action from the Crown Ground in Accrington on Tuesday night where FC Halifax Town were forced to play a National League 'home' game against Ebbsfleet United. (Picture: Chris Nutton/FC Halifax Town)Town on tour: Action from the Crown Ground in Accrington on Tuesday night where FC Halifax Town were forced to play a National League 'home' game against Ebbsfleet United. (Picture: Chris Nutton/FC Halifax Town)
Town on tour: Action from the Crown Ground in Accrington on Tuesday night where FC Halifax Town were forced to play a National League 'home' game against Ebbsfleet United. (Picture: Chris Nutton/FC Halifax Town)

The Crown Ground was one of the three Halifax will play their final four home games of the regular Conference campaign on, forced to squeeze three matches into the last seven days because of postponements when The Shay pitch was made unplayable by a combination of the rain which has seen the start of the local cricket season pushed back a week, and the rugby league players who share it.

Accrington Stanley's pitch has not always been the best either but they have invested on and off the field as they have grown and the surface which also hosted Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Barnet was in remarkably good nick for any April, let alone this miserable one.

Just under 1,300 Town fans made the 21-mile journey across the Pennines but there was no doubt they were invited guests. The name picked out of the seats in the empty Eric Whalley Stand spelt it out - this is the home of Stanley.

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The sole St George's flag at the busy terraced Clayton End was largely obscured by advertising hoardings for the local electrical shop and taxi firm, a white rose and Halifax badge peeking over them.

Inside 10 minutes the Town fans rolled out that popular theme for away supporters at grounds across the country, "Accrington's a s***hole, I wanna go home" and in the 20th the game was loudly interrupted by a tannoy announcement warning supporters about racial abuse. It met with a ripple of applause from the right-minded.

For the players, though, it was much more comfortable, the unfamiliar green stuff under their feet allowing them to pass the ball crisply from the back.

"Hopefully the benefits of playing on a decent surface have not been lost on the fans today - what a good team we are when we've got a (good) surface to play on," said Millington, who now pretty much knows Halifax have two one-off away games to try to reach Wembley's bowling-green surface if they seal the play-off deal.

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"We controlled possession, had loads of progressive passes, moved the ball really well through the thirds. We've got some fantastic technical players and if we had a surface like that all year round, we'd be a serious contender for the top few places in the division.

"Maybe that's a message to those who can help fix that for us."

Polishing diamonds to sell on is a necessary part of the job for the phoenix club, unable to throw the vast amounts of money at promotion some in the largely financially-unregulated division do, so playing on pitches which develop Football League skills matters.

"We're really driven by development," says Millington. "There's about 12 or 13 lads have moved on in the last two summers to the Football League, which is probably unparalleled in the division."

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It was more than just being able to pass the ball that was important on a night when Millington made four changes, mindful his side play Oldham Athletic - this time at Chesterfield - on Thursday, before finishing at Eastleigh on Saturday.

"If it was available to us we'd have played there because it's our home ground and we want to play in front of all of our fans but it would have been impossible to roll out the smallest squad in the division as many times as we have done in the last few days on such a heavy pitch," admitted Millington, ruefully.

An Aldershot Town win at sixth-placed Gateshead on Wednesday would put Halifax out of the play-off places but so long as they can match what the Shots do against an Oldham team who would have been out of Town's reach if only they had won will see them start the final weekend back in there. The play-off eliminators are on Tuesday or more likely for Halifax, Wednesday.

Despite their heavy schedule, Millington is confident his team can get there, they just need to add composure in front of goal."We are either the youngest or second-youngest starting XI each week," he says. "They have to learn to compose themselves. Oldham have got (former Barnsley striker James) Norwood up front and the reason he's such a prolific striker is he's got that composure that comes with experience.

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"The thing we've got to really focus on is making sure we're as fresh as we can be. Some players are going to have to play again on Thursday, some may have to follow it up on Saturday but if we can maintain that freshness we will no doubt maintain that level of performance."

He has the makings of a quality side. If only they had a pitch to match.