FC Halifax Town put one foot firmly into the FA Trophy final after a 4-2 win at Nantwich in the first-leg of their semi-final.
Scott McManus and Waide Fairhurst both scored their first goals since April 25 last year as Town raced into a two-goal lead.
Sean Cooke brought Nantwich back into the game before half-time, but Jordan Burrow extended Town’s lead 15 seconds after the interval and got his second from the penalty spot after an hour.
A superb strike from the impressive Matty Kosylo reduced the gap again and perhaps means the Dabbers have an outside chance next Saturday, but given The Shaymen’s recent form, who would have predicted that’s all they’d have?
It was a throwback to the Evo-Stik days when Town would take over an away ground as hundreds of Shaymen supporters crowded into The Weaver Stadium, which saw a record attendance of 2,078.
Of the Town starting 11, only Kingsley James had scored for The Shaymen in their last five games, until McManus blasted them into a stunning early lead with his first goal in nearly a year as his left-footed shot flew into the far corner from 20 yards.
If Town were favourites beforehand, a fourth-minute goal in the away leg meant they were even stronger favourites now.
Matt Bell brought a couple of standard saves from Sam Johnson in response, while Kevin Roberts’ shot tested Terry Smith in a frantic first few minutes.
Nantwich’s shoulders hadn’t slumped since falling behind, and the hosts made a good fist of getting back into the game with some decent possession and the odd blocked shot.
But it looked a long way back for them when Fairhurst, making his first Town start and his first start at all since April last year, was well-placed to turn the ball in after James Bolton’s flick-on from a Sam Walker corner.
Even the most pessimistic Town fan must have been making a note for May 22 in their diary by now.
The more optimistic might have been hoping for another 6-0 scoreline, which Town managed on their last visit to Nantwich five years ago.
What a shame away goals don’t count double in the FA Trophy.
Kosylo got a sight of goal shortly afterwards, forcing Matty Brown into an awkward clearance of his cross six yards out.
But Burrow could have extended Halifax’s lead into a surely insurmountable third when he was sent through, but keeper Smith raced off his line to block his shot.
Jim Harvey, back on the touchline for the first time since Gateshead away, continued to bark out the orders though, despite the away side looking increasingly comfortable.
Halifax again could have scored a third if Sam Walker had not been tugged back on his way into the penalty area - with Ben Harrison arguably lucky not to be sent-off for the foul - while Walker’s subsequent free-kick well held by Smith.
Almost immediately, the ball broke for Cooke at the other end and he launched a superb shot from the edge of the box that nestled into the bottom corner.
Those Town fans should have known it was all going a little too easily.
A remarkable comeback should have been completed in added time when the ball fell to Bell after a goalmouth scramble, but Johnson saved his scuffed shot from six yards out.
There were precious few big match nerves on show from either side; if the Southport and Bromley games lacked entertainment, this certainly made up for them.
The Shaymen looked a different proposition entirely to the team that had barely got going in their last few games, playing with much more purpose and aggression.
If the start to the first-half was good, then Town really flew out of the traps after half-time when Burrow netted his first goal for a month when he slotted the ball in following a touch by Roberts from Walker’s cross.
That didn’t herald the same intensity to the game in the second-half though, with only Cooke coming close to scoring for either side before Burrow’s second.
Substitute Josh Macdonald earned the penalty after a weaving run, with Burrow finding the bottom right corner from the spot to make Wembley begin to look like a mere formality.
It looked a little less so when Kosylo hammered the ball high into the net from a corner with just over 10 minutes left.
The Town defence then creaked its way towards full-time as the hosts found a second wind, perhaps sensing overturning a two-goal deficit at The Shay may be too much to ask.
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