Hatters lose for just the fourth time this season
Roberts 18, Gregory 68
The Hatters lost away from home in the Skrill Premier for the first time since September as they were comfortable beaten by Play-Off chasing Halifax at the Shay.
A first half header from Marc Roberts got the Shaymen on their way before top goalscorer Lee Gregory doubled the hosts’ advantage midway through the second half.
It was a result that enhanced the home side’s chances of a top five finish but one that kept the Hatters, despite just their fourth defeat of the season, top of the league and, with Cambridge drawing with Barnet, remain 13 points clear at the top.
The Town started unchanged following Tuesday night’s win at Grimsby against a Halifax side top of the form table after five wins in six.
And the home side signalled their intent to extend that run from the off when former Hatter Simon Ainge headed straight at Marl Tyler in the second minute.
The home side were putting the Town under pressure in a good opening spell and Roberts first displayed his huge long throw on six minutes that the Hatters dealt with well.
The Hatters pieced together their first chance of the match on 14 minutes when Alex Lawless’ shot from just inside the penalty area was charged down bravely by Ainge.
However, back the hosts and after forcing a succession of corners they scored from one to open the scoring on 18 minutes. The right-wing corner was met by the head of Roberts and despite the best efforts of Pelly Ruddock on the line, the Shaymen celebrated.
Hurt, the Hatters responded. Andre Gray failed to produce a shot when found at the back-post following Lawless’ cross on 21 minutes before Halifax broke once more and Matty Pearson’s drive from 20 yards flew over the crossbar.
In truth neither goalkeeper had been tested, with Tyler again picking out a long throw from Pearson on the half-hour.
Home striker Lee Gregory and joint top league goalscorer with Gray on 26 goals, had been quiet in the opening 30 minutes but he almost made it 2-0 37 minutes. The frontman showed terrific control to weave past Steve McNulty but Fraser Franks’ last-ditch block prevented the shot from travelling goalwards.
Three minutes later, Ruddock lost possession in his own half that eventually led to Ryan Crowther curling a fine effort inches wide of the target with Tyler beaten.
Those near misses sparked the Hatters into action as half-time approached. Paul Benson reacted first to his own throughball being blocked to stride through on goal but he could only poke a shot over the crossbar from 12 yards.
As the Town pushed forward in search of an equaliser, Halifax looked a danger on the break. Adam Smith’s trickery down the right was dealt with by Franks before an identical header to the goal from Roberts this time was clawed away by Tyler.
Gray then fired over for the Hatters on 44 minutes before he almost fashioned a chance for Benson in first half stoppage time only to see his final pass bobble past his strike partner.
The game restarted in the same vein after the break with both sides poured forward. Tyler punched clear with Gregory sniffing for a chance on 50 minutes before the Town broke with pace two minutes later with Gray and Ruddock but the former’s pass couldn’t’ pick out Benson.
All of a sudden the Hatters were looking a real threat going forward and the Town thought they should have had a penalty on 54 minutes when Gray went down in the box under Ainge’s challenge but referee Evans waved the appeal away.
Back came Halifax; Gregory could only find the side-netting on 57 minutes after rounding Tyler and then, three minutes later on the hour, Smith flashed a pass across the face of goal that no home player on hand to convert.
As the Town continued to probe for a leveller, John Still introduced Mark Cullen for Ruddock with a quarter of the game remaining.
However, a minute later, on 68 minutes, the Hatters fell further behind leaving them an almighty uphill task to take a point. It was that man Gregory with the goal, striding through having been played onside and he finished well past Tyler for his 27th goal of the season.
The Hatters almost reduced the deficit on 72 minutes when Gray fired over but that proved to be the Town striker’s final action as he was replaced by Luke Rooney.
Two goals behind the Town continued to look for a way back into the game and Halifax came closer themselves in adding to their tally. Scott Griffiths blocked several times in a goalmouth scramble on 76 minutes before Tyler acrobatically stopped Pearson’s piledriver from distance three minutes later.
As time ticked down, Cullen saw a header three minutes from time deflected behind but that was the best the Hatters could muster and in the end the hosts were left to celebrate victory.
TOWN: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty, Franks; McGeehan, Robinson, Ruddock (sub Cullen 67); Lawless, Gray (sub Rooney 72), Benson. Subs not used: Charles, Shaw, Justham.
ATTENDANCE: 3,586, including a magnificent 1,179 backing the Town