New faces freshen things up for Aspin at FC Halifax Town

New signing Hamza Bencherif
New signing Hamza Bencherif
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Manager Neil Aspin is demanding a bright start from his new-look squad as they aim to put a poor run to the end of the last campaign behind them. Richard Sutcliffe reports.

IT has been a summer of change at FC Halifax Town with several familiar faces moving on to pastures new.

Marc Roberts (Barnsley), Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) and Scott Boden (Newport County) all stepped up to the Football League, while newly-relegated Tranmere Rovers snapped up Lois Maynard.

The quartet made 191 appearances between them last term, underlining just how big a hole in the Shaymen’s squad that manager Neil Aspin has had to fill during the close season.

Players moving on is, of course, a fact of life at this level, and especially for a side that has remained part-time since winning promotion from Conference North in 2013.

Aspin, with more than 600 appearances during his playing career, recognises that point as much as anyone and, after the disappointing manner in which 2014-15 fizzled out at The Shay, he has been determined to try and turn the departures into a positive.

“Last season tailed off after we had got ourselves into a promising position,” the 50-year-old told The Yorkshire Post about a campaign that saw Halifax finish ninth.

“As a part-time team, to finish in the top 10 is a decent performance. We had a great season in reaching the play-offs (in 2013-14) so top 10 was probably something I would have taken.

“But, there is no getting away from how things ended on a disappointing note. There were a lot of factors but I couldn’t get away from thinking we needed to change things round and freshen it up.

“I had a look at things and knew a couple would be leaving anyway. They would be going to clubs higher up the chain, making it impossible for us to keep them. I knew it would cause a couple of problems.

“In previous seasons, when I had a 50-50 decision to make as to whether to keep players I would have kept them. To maintain stability.

“But, this year, to freshen us up a bit, I felt we needed some fresh faces and that is what I have done. Time will tell if it has been the right move or not.”

Aspin’s tally of summer signings stretches into double figures, with former York City forward Andy Bishop and Hamza Bencherif, late of Plymouth Argyle and Notts County, perhaps the most experienced.

The challenge for the new faces is to start brightly – and banish any memories of the disappointing run-in that yielded just one win from the last 15 games to end any hopes of a second consecutive appearance in the play-offs.

“How we have done in the last couple of years has helped in terms of recruitment,” said Aspin. “I have spoken to a few players this summer who want to get higher in the game.

“They are encouraged by us having lots of players who have gone from here to the Football League. I am proud of that.

“We want to be successful, of course we do. But we also want to see lads develop and move on. We all have dreams about playing professionally and playing at the highest level possible.

“I would never stop that. We have a couple of younger lads now, who we need to give a bit of time to and who can hopefully push themselves forward. And do well for us and themselves.”

Last season was something of a mixed bag for Halifax, with the dramatic loss of form coming at a time when The Shay’s pitch was causing untold problems.

The surface became so problematic at one stage that a much-delayed FA Trophy tie against Dartford had to be switched to Manchester club Droylsden to ensure the Yorkshire club did not have to forfeit their place in the competition.

In the FA Cup, meanwhile, Halifax landed a plum tie at home to Bradford City that was watched by a bumper 8,000 plus crowd.

The flipside of this welcome windfall was Halifax’s average league attendance dipping by almost eight per cent to 1,472.

Aspin added: “Drawing Bradford helped in terms of keeping the budget at similar levels. For what we gained in the Bradford match last season, we lost in the gates being lower, meaning it was swings and roundabouts.

“The chairman (David Bosomworth) has worked exceptionally hard this close season. He is really, really keen and puts in a hell of a lot of time.

“He is also mindful of the fact that the club has to be sustainable and run properly.

“But he has done all he can and the place does feel fresher. New faces do that, both for supporters and staff. A new impetus is here. But, as ever, it will all be down to how they do on the pitch.”