Second-half goals from Jordan Sinnott and Jake Hibbs earned FC Halifax Town a place in the FA Cup first round with a 2-0 win at Harrogate.
Sinnott’s deflected goal put Town ahead before Hibbs sealed the win with a spectacular effort from the halfway line over the stranded Harrogate keeper.
Town boss Billy Heath, who has now reached the first round for the first time as a manager, had said his team were a different entity to the one that lost to Harrogate back in August, and they proved it.
Harrogate lost at home for the first time this season, and the Shaymen have now won five consecutive games for the first time since August 2014.
It was only the third time in 18 matches Harrogate have failed to score, but a fine Halifax victory was built on a superb defensive display; it’s now four clean sheets in Town’s last five games - who’d have thought that after Gainsborough?
Tom Denton dropped to the bench for the first time this season, replaced by Richard Peniket, while Matty Brown, on the bench with Denton, was involved in a match-day squad for the first time since the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
Kick off was delayed by 10 minutes due to the amount of fans trying to get into the ground at 3pm, and it was a further 10 minutes before either team came close to scoring.
Halifax hit the post when keeper Peter Crook’s clearance hit Liam King and looped up against the woodwork with the Harrogate stopper desperately scrambling back to his goal.
A minute later, a superb run and cross by Joe Leesley was met at the far post by Andy Gascoigne, but he prodded the ball wide on the stretch.
Halifax were in the faces of their hosts, closing them down quickly and pressing high up the pitch, in contrast to how they started at Gloucester a week earlier; the contest had cup tie written all over it.
David Lynch was as effective at that as anyone, and curled a shot over the angle of post and bar from 20 yards out after Josh Macdonald had the first effort on target of the game easily saved following a jinking run.
Halifax had settled quicker than their hosts, and seemed likelier to score.
Some excellent defending from the Town back-four was preventing Harrogate getting any clear sights of goal, with Hotte again slotting in next to Scott Garner seamlessly as he had a week ago.
There was further encouragement for the visitors when Harrogate’s top-scorer Jon-Paul Pittman was forced off injured after half-an-hour, not that he’d done much up to that point.
Joe Colbeck wasted a good chance by blazing over after an almighty scramble in the box from a Harrogate free-kick.
Halifax replied with a flowing move that saw Macdonald carry the ball from right to left before his cross was headed over by Peniket.
Towards the end of the opening half, Simon Ainge whacked the ball out of play under no pressure inside his own half, and then Macdonald was given as much time and space as he pleased before crossing from the right flank; both moments exemplifying how Harrogate had been rattled by The Shaymen, with the interval coming at a good time for Simon Weaver’s team.
Weaver had described the game as the biggest of their season, but he didn’t appear to have told his players.
Good reactions from the previously redundant Steve Drench kept out Scott Garner’s back header from six yards just after the restart, moments before Peniket spurned a great chance when he fired wide from Macdonald’s cross 10 yards out.
Neither team were particularly composed on the ball as the game became more frantic, although Crook was forced into a good save from King’s low shot across goal after an hour.
That chance was one of very few after the restart though, with the quality of the game deteriorating dramatically as it went on; it now had 0-0 written all over it.
But Halifax got a touch of good fortune their performance deserved when Sinnott’s speculative shot from 20 yards took a hefty deflection and flew past Crook.
Gone now was the high-pressing of the first-half as Halifax were happy to sit behind the ball and frustrate the hosts, which largely worked well, although substitute Reece Webb-Foster looked to be fouled in the box, but referee Billy Khatib ignored the claim.
To rub salt in the wound, the referee then sent-off Ainge for a second booking before dismissing claims for a hand-ball by Hotte in added time.
With Harrogate throwing players forward, Crooks’ poor clearance on the halfway line surrendered possession to substitute Hibbs, who skillfully lobbed the ball into the empty net from just inside his own half.
The final whistle was then greeted with scenes that echoed those against Forest Green and Macclesfield at The Shay in the Conference Premier as both teams were involved in an unsavoury mass scuffle where pushes, and possibly punches, appeared to be dished out.
Harrogate: Crook, Turner, Parker (Webb-Foster 69), Thanoj, Thirlwell, Ainge, Colbeck, Burrell, Pittman (Emmett 32), Gascoigne (Platt 56), Leesley. Subs not used: Chilaka, Day, Stewart, Purkiss.
Shots on target: 1
Shots off target: 5
Halifax: Drench, Roberts, Garner, Hotte, Wilde, Macdonald, King, Lynch, Sinnott (Hibbs 77), Simmons (Denton 61), Peniket (Moyo 85). Subs not used: Nicholson, Hughes, Brown, Burrow.
Scorers: Sinnott (69), Hibbs (90)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 8
Town man of the match: Kevin Roberts
Referee: Billy Khatib