Guiseley 0, FC Halifax Town 2
Guiseley’s season is over but FC Halifax Town are looking forward to the Blue Square Bet North play-off final after beating their neighbours in the second leg of the semi-finals at a packed Nethermoor.
Once again it was a bitter pill to swallow for the Lions after last season’s disappointment at the same hurdle but the Shaymen deserved their victory and now take on Brackley next Sunday.
Lions boss Steve Kittrick’s post-match press briefing was both painful and illuminating. He was visibly hurting because of the disappointment but far from lost for words.
Kittrick said: “I can only apologise to the fans after that. They have been tremendous for us but they have not got what they deserved.
“I thought it was a close game, a good game, but they have had two clear attempts and scored two goals. When Wally (James Walshaw) misses one near the end, then you know that it isn’t your day.
“If that goes in and the later free-kick brings a goal, it could have been the equaliser with a minute plus stoppage time to go.
“You can’t take anything away from Halifax Town though. We were 16 points better than them in the league but they came here with a will to win.”
After two consecutive runners-up finishes in the league, followed only by heartbreak and no play-off final, Kittrick’s future appears to be shrouded in uncertainty.
He said: “I have no contract, so I can’t start planning for next season. I don’t know what I’m doing and no-one from the club has said anything to me about it, so it could be all change.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing and the board don’t seem to know what they’re doing. They might think after five and a half years that it’s time for a new face and if they do then fine. That is football and we all know that’s how it works.”
The Lions had bagged runners-up spot and earned a huge points advantage over Halifax in the regular season but the visitors were not about to respect that yesterday.
There was a superb atmosphere and both teams looked lively, the players appearing relieved to be finally on the pitch after a nervous four-day wait following Tuesday’s 1-1 first-leg stalemate at the Shay.
Guiseley began on the front foot and a testing cross from Gavin Rothery was claimed by assured Town keeper Matt Glennon.
There was an early penalty shout when Rothery went down while challenging for a cross and another good run from the same player ended with the home side’s first corner.
The Shaymen came into their own after the opening quarter-hour and Lions holding midfielder Andy Pearson picked up a yellow card. A good spell followed for the Shaymen as they forced a glut of corners but home keeper Steve Drench was never worked.
Referee Richard Wigglesworth, who had a good game, was forced to make a big call seven minutes before the break. Josh Wilson had broken through the Shaymen’s back line and was charging towards goal when Liam Hogan pulled him down, the official brandishing only a yellow card as the Guiseley fans bayed for a red.
It was contentious but the distance from goal may have been a factor in the official’s thought process. Halifax’s defensive wall was right on the edge of the area as James Walshaw took the free-kick, which was low and lacked power but caused the visitors’ defence some tense moments because Guiseley were able to keep the attack alive.
Glennon made a good save minutes later to deny Rothery and Town’s Matty Pearson hit a half-volley over the target at the other end.
In the two minutes of first-half stoppage time, both sides had long-range free-kicks but the game remained goalless going into the break.
Halifax came out for the second half with manager Neil Aspin’s words of encouragement ringing in their ears and broke the deadlock just six minutes later.
Alex Johnson poked the ball in from close range after Danny Ellis could only deflect a low centre that had cut out Drench.
The Shaymen celebrated wildly in front of their travelling fans and the home supporters, who matched them in numbers but not volume, began to get twitchy.
Guiseley had another penalty shout as they came forward from the restart but Halifax had their tails up and were soon putting the home defence under pressure once more.
Former Lion Ryan Toulson’s long throw-ins were causing problems, while former Shayman Walshaw was the pantomime villain in the eyes of the visiting fans.
The Lions tried to get back into the game but were up against a determined and skilful side who worked tirelessly.
The home supporters were up in arms again when Dan Gardner was only shown a yellow card for a very late challenge on Rothery.
Halifax were looking comfortable though and a second goal was on the cards. It came courtesy of a good strike from Gregory after he had claimed a ball that Guiseley’s Andy Pearson was favourite to win. Quick feet saw the Shaymen forward also leave Matt Wilson floundering and his curling drive crashed in off the underside of Drench’s crossbar.
In the next minute Walshaw was guilty of a glaring miss when he side-footed wide of an unguarded goal after Aaron Hardy had put the chance on a plate for him with a weighted pass.
Had that gone in the later free-kick from Guiseley skipper Andy Holdsworth, which caused chaos in Town’s area – leading to a Glennon save and another goalbound effort being desperately blocked – may have been relevant.
As it was the four minutes of stoppage time was just an interlude that delayed the pitch invasion from jubilant Halifax fans as Guiseley players sat all around disconsolately.