The Darren Kelly-era at FC Halifax Town got off to the worst possible start as they were thrashed 7-1 at home by Cheltenham.
The Shaymen have seen some miserable days over the last few months, but none as bad as this.
There was room for a little cautious optimism after a superb performance against Gateshead and a good display in defeat at Welling.
But all that was brushed aside as Town’s season, and arguably their whole history since reforming, hit a new nadir.
Again, Town’s only positive was a defeat for Kidderminster meaning at least they weren’t bottom of the table.
The scoreline possessed an almost cruel similarity for Kelly, who lost his final game in charge of Oldham 5-1 at home.
But the scale of the task ahead for the Northern Irishman was laid bare here as Halifax capitulated before his eyes.
Cheltenham were good, very good, at times, but Halifax were awful; it says much that Cheltenham weren’t flattered too much by the scoreline.
Steve Nichol, who selected the side in the absence of Gareth McClelland and due to the recency of Kelly’s appointment, made three changes from Welling.
Kelly’s message to his players was an unequivocal ‘show me what you can do’, and Town at least seemed determined to do just that early on, with Josh Macdonald and James Bolton particularly catching the eye down the right flank with some bursts forward.
A good run by Connor Hughes saw him weave into the box before he went down under a challenge, with referee Ryan Johnson waving away his penalty claim.
But some things never change and, despite that promising first 10 minutes, Town’s wait for a clean sheet was extended to 22 games as Jack Munns latched on to a superb through ball by Danny Wright and coolly lifted the ball over the onrushing Matt Glennon.
Kelly had been given a great ovation from the Town fans before kick-off, and that atmosphere carried on into the match, but was punctured by Munns’ goal.
Town seemed to fall flat on the pitch after that goal too, with the early bite and snap in their play dissipating as Cheltenham exerted pressure on that vulnerable defence.
Wright’s header across goal was cleared by the lunging Matt Brown, who was also perhaps fortunate his tussle with Amari Morgan-Smith as he ran through on goal went unpunished.
Cheltenham should have added to their lead as the created a host of chances just before the half-hour mark, with Danny Parslow and Aaron Downes headed wide from corners before Jack Barthram’s shot was saved by Glennon from an angle.
But from another Cheltenham corner, Macdonald broke up-field after tenaciously winning the ball, and after referee Johnson waved play on with the linesman flagging for a foul, James finished neatly from his low cross for his first Halifax goal.
The side with the second-worst shots on target tally had equalised against the joint-best defence in the division; maybe some things do change.
But Cheltenham weren’t third in the table for nothing, and went close as Downes again headed just wide from another corner, with Halifax continuing to look worryingly vulnerable from set-pieces.
The impressive Munns then led a counter-attack, with the equally impressive Wright playing in Kyle Storer, but his finish was wayward.
That was a warning of what was to come though as Rob Dickie drove at the Town defence unchallenged before slipping in Morgan-Smith, who lofted the ball over Glennon from eight yards.
No wonder Cheltenham had only failed to score twice this season.
But there was also plenty of evidence why only Torquay had conceded more goals than Town in the National League; changing that must surely be very high on Kelly’s to-do list.
Wright should have added a third just before the break but dragged his shot wide after the Halifax defence had again been bypassed.
Kelly presumably called for a defensive improvement in the second-half, but the back-line was bypassed again for Cheltenham’s third just after the interval as Munns’ cross from the left evaded a touch and went straight in, with the Town fans aggrieved the offside flag wasn’t raised with Wright in close proximity of the cross as it went in.
It left the hosts, not for the first time this season, with an even bigger rescue mission on their hands.
Julian Banton was forced into a superb last-ditch tackle to prevent a possible fourth Cheltenham goal before Glennon spilled the resulting corner, but thankfully wasn’t punished.
The way Cheltenham were now dominating proceedings, it was only a matter of time before a fourth arrived, and after a flowing move, partly due to some excellent football but also the result of statuesque Town defending, Harry Pell ran through on goal and side-footed past Glennon.
By now, defensive improvement must have pushed its way to the top of Kelly’s to-do list in large block capitals.
His last game in charge of Oldham was a 5-1 home defeat, and that was getting perilously close here.
A triple substitution then brought a moment of, almost, light relief as due to general confusion about who was coming off; Macdonald, Danny Racchi and Hamza Bencherif were the lucky ones to be given the hook and not have to endure the last 20 minutes.
Understandably, Town were a dispirited team and were soon subjected to greater punishment as substitute Billy Waters smashed the ball past Glennon from Morgan-Smith’s deft pass.
A lone cry of ‘I want my money back’ from the South Stand minutes before the end seemed to sum things up pretty well.
There was still time for Munns to seal his hat-trick as he beat a couple of Town challenges before curling his shot beyond Glennon.
Then, the final humiliation saw Munns grab his fourth from the spot after he was fouled by Bolton shortly before the final whistle was greeted with a mixture of boos and stunned disbelief.
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