What should have been an evenly matched home fixture for Halifax against good friends from Kidderminster fell victim to an outbreak of apathy towards 6th tier football in the Kidderminster ranks, meaning a nice home game was swiftly changed to a tough looking away match against Preston. In one of the curious quirks of IFA football Preston, like Bury, have their traditionally strongest side named the B team. It's more unusual for Preston this season as they have now disbanded their A side.
Following an 8-1 humbling at home to league favourites Rochdale the previous week, AFC knew they'd be facing another tough game against one of the strongest and most consistent sides in the league.
Before the team even left Halifax there were a number of factors working against them: Manager John Barker had decided to miss the match, opting instead to go on a corporate prawn sarnie soirÃƒÂ©e wearing a pair of loafers so red that the faintest hint of the heels clicking would have sent him on a one way trip to Kansas. Stand in manager for the day was Ash Addy, but he found himself as unable to set off on time due to an urgent appointment with the barber, meaning the 4 tallest players were forced to squeeze into the smallest car for the journey across. Meanwhile, midfielder Simon Noble was struggling for fitness after over zealously cutting his toe nails the night before.
With regular goalkeeper Dave Sutton still a few weeks away from fitness following his fractured eye lash, striker turned defender Adam Probets once again donned the goalkeeper gloves, while defender turned striker Adam Ramsden turned back into a defender again, (had he turned that often when playing up front he might have kept his spot there). As it was, the pace of Marcus Stapley was chosen to lead the attack in a fairly defensive minded 4-5-1.
As expected Preston saw plenty of the ball early on, but they were met by some strong resistance with centre backs Higgins and Ramsden able to deal with most of the aerial threat down the centre, while full backs Peacock and Heaton tucked in to provide additional cover and prevent Preston getting in down the flanks. Wingers Wright and Ashton were having to drop back and assist too as Preston's pressure began to tell, when Peacock blocked a cross behind for a corner after 15 minutes it lead to 5 more corners in succession as the Halifax defence were tested to their limit. It was a test they were passing though, and as the game wore on so did the influence of the midfield trio of Addy, Noble and Luders. Halifax were creating chances of their own, but struggling to beat the offside trap or hit the target from distance.
Preston had the game's clearest chance on 25 minutes, a neat passing move got through the centre of the Halifax defence leaving Preston's attacker 6 yards out with only Probets to beat. Just as he was about to send the ball goal-wards Peacock appeared from nowhere to make a last ditch tackle and avert the danger. Only a couple of minutes later it was Halifax who finally opened up the Preston defence with some nice footwork from Luders, but the linesman's flag was raised as he rolled the ball into the net.
It was a let off for Preston and one they quickly made the most of. As Preston's right winger delivered a cross from deep the ball flicked off Heaton's head as he tried to block the delivery, as the ball looped into the area the Halifax defence were left watching as Probets came off his line to punch clear, but a moments hesitation (unconfirmed rumours suggested he was rehearsing lines for his upcoming starring panto role) left only fresh air to make contact with as Preston's striker managed to nip in first and make sure the ball really was behind him.
If falling behind was a test of character then it was another test that Halifax passed with flying colours. Almost immediately a long throw from Ramsden caused a scramble in the Preston area, Heaton turned and was denied by a last ditch challenge 8 yards from goal. A couple of minutes later they were level, Addy - with his freshly streamlined hair - drove through from midfield and played the ball wide to Ashton on the right, he cut into the box and passed low to Stapley, who fooled the defence by being onside for once before slotting home from 12 yards.
It proved to be as good as it got for Halifax. Legs began to tire as half time approached and Preston forced yet another corner. The cross came in at the second time of asking and Halifax missed two chances to clear as the ball was allowed to bounce around 8 yards from goal before being smashed home by a grateful Preston player in the last meaningful action of the half.
There were no changes for Halifax at half time, and no real changes in the game either. Preston continued to enjoy more possession but their chances were limited and when they did get beyond the Halifax defence Probets dealt with all the shots that came his way. Oh no he didn't, but the one time he was beaten from a corner Wright was in the right spot to head the ball off the line.
With as the half wore on Addy decided to mix things up, Wright made way for Jackson, while Heaton and Peacock were replaced, by Barrett and debutant Callum Hannan.
Ramsden was sent back upfront in a bid to try and find an equaliser, a tactic that did cause a few moments of concern for the Preston defence, but genuine terror for a few local squirrels after a Stapley 'shot' became firmly wedged at the top of their tree.
For all the added attacking intent from Halifax, it was a disappointing goal that put the game truly beyond them. With the defence back to defend a free kick 30 yards out, the ball was floated to the back post where an unmarked attacker was able to knock it down to his equally unmarked team mate who left Probets with no chance from 8 yards.
Moments later the full time whistle blew, Preston had won but Halifax could be rightly proud of their performance. Ash Addy got the man of the match award, but the whole squad had worked very hard to push Preston to the end.