James Ferry’s winner sealed a terrific 1-0 win for FC Halifax Town at National League form-side Eastleigh.
A rather patched-up Town side produced a fantastic display against an Eastleigh team who had won six of their last seven matches.
A point would have been a good result for Halifax, so to take all three ranks as one of their finest results of the campaign as they made it back-to-back wins on the road in their first of five games in 15 days.
And they deserved it too. Town played with real hunger and no little quality.
Eastleigh were awful after the restart after a hit-and-miss first-half, but Halifax attacked with poise and purpose, and defended superbly.
Loanees Manny Duku and Devante Rodney - making his first league start since last April - both started up-front in place of Scott Quigley and Jonathan Edwards, while Ferry replaced the suspended James Berrett, playing on the right of a diamond in midfield.
Rodney’s last goal was in Salford’s 3-0 win at Maidstone on September 29, but he took only 17 seconds to try for goal, his tame effort comfortably held by Luke Southwood.
Matty Kosylo curled a free-kick over the wall a few minutes later after James Hardy was tripped after a lovely turn, but Southwood saved again.
Hardy, looking lively in the number 10 role, then spurned a glorious chance when good tenacity from Duku - whose debut would only last until half-time - won the ball high up the pitch, but his cut-back was blazed over from six yards.
Town had started well, working hard off-the-ball and not giving the hosts a look in going forward.
It took until the 20th minute for Eastleigh to threaten, when Mark Yeates’ clever corner found Josh Hare, whose volley was well saved by Sam Johnson.
Moments later, the Town keeper saved equally well from Yeates’ vicious shot from the angle of the six-yard box.
Ryan Sellers, having fired a free-kick over from the edge of the Eastleigh box, then crucially blocked a goal-bound shot just in-front of the Town goal-line amid a goalmouth scramble before Michael Green finally volleyed over.
Having had two penalty shouts turned down in that goalmouth scramble, Yeates was then booked for diving in the Halifax penalty area.
Eastleigh were building momentum though, as evidenced when Yeates’ dinked cross was headed wastefully onto the bar by Chris Zebroski, and Sellers diverted the rebound by Hare behind.
The hosts had improved as the first-half went on, and looked best when the tricky Yeates was on the ball in advanced areas. Top-scorer Paul McCallum had been kept quiet.
Town’s 4-4-2 diamond had worked well, allowing the likes of Hardy and the two debutants to get on the ball in good positions, while Niall Maher, playing with a broken hand, screened the back four brilliantly, although The Shaymen had looked vulnerable to the forward runs of wing-backs Green and Hare.
Half-time substitute Scott Quigley should have done better after good footwork in creating some space for a shot near the corner of the six-yard box, but Southwood rushed off his line to save.
Time and again The Shaymen broke forward after Eastleigh attacks broke down, and Halifax were a threat on the break, but failed to take advantage of some promising openings, either due to a poor final pass or choosing the wrong option.
When Rodney was played through to the right of the Eastleigh box, he fired straight at Southwood from an angle.
Ferry then played a delightful disguised pass to Quigley near the penalty spot, but Southwood was off his line quickly to smother it.
A sluggish Eastleigh had not come out of the blocks since the restart, but a far superior Town couldn’t produce the goal their performance merited.
Moments after Yeates’ free-kick was sent over the bar, Kosylo burst towards the edge of the hosts’ box before firing just wide of the upright with 15 minutes to go. Hardy’s shot from 20 yards was then palmed away.
Town had been sensing blood since the start of the second-half, and finally the pressure told when Quigley’s low cross was allowed to roll across the six-yard box, and Ferry was left with a tap-in.
Eastleigh seemed resigned to their fate after that, unable to penetrate Town’s rock-solid defence, which has now conceded in only one of their last seven games.
Substitute Ben Williamson’s bicycle kick over the bar from 15 yards was the closest the hosts came.
Eastleigh: Southwood, Hare, Boyce, Wynter, Jones, Green (McKnight 85), Gobern (Miley 73), Hollands, Yeates, Zebroski (Williamson 73), McCallum. Subs not used: Dennett, Bearwish.
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 10
Halifax: Johnson, Duckworth, Clarke, Brown, Sellers, Ferry, Maher, Kosylo, Duku (Quigley 46), Hardy (King 87), Rodney. Subs: Rowley, Preston, Staunton.
Scorer: Ferry (75)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 5
Referee: Peter Gibbons
Town man of the match: Niall Maher