Halifax Town 2 Rushden & Diamonds 0
THERE was a satisfying symmetry in that it was Jamie Paterson, the one player to experience the darkest day in their history, who emerged as the architect of a victory that virtually guaranteed Halifax's return to the Football League after five years in the wilderness.
Paterson was there when defeat by Hereford saw Town take what was popularly presumed to be a one-way trip to obscurity. At the end of last season, when they were within one result of dropping out of the Vauxhall Conference, all the pessimism seemed justified.
Both Paterson and his chairman, John Stockwell, trace the revival to the return of that Grand Old Man of football, George Mulhall. Previously in charge in the mid-1970s and now into his 60s, Mulhall has turned around a club that was not merely going nowhere, but was going there via Bamber Bridge and Colwyn Bay.
Mulhall was a big factor in Paterson's decision to return, after sampling the glamour of Falkirk and Scunthorpe, and his nimble contribution from midfield has in turn been a big factor in Halifax's invigorating gallop back towards League status.
He was a torment all afternoon to a strangely insipid Rushden - who started it as the most likely candidates to somehow snatch the title - setting up the first goal with his free-kick and running through joyously to claim the second.
Mulhall still speaks in the oft-parodied jargon of old-style Scottish managers and, if Paterson is the Wee Man, then Brian Kilcline is easily identified as the Big Man. The former Coventry and Newcastle warhorse is as identifiable and dominating a figure as ever. The problem of how to replace Peter Jackson, headhunted by neighbouring Huddersfield, was solved when a local plumber told Halifax that he had been doing some work for Kilcline. The necessary connections were made and potential leaks in defence averted.
Then there is the Expensive Man - Geoff Horsfield, all of pounds 8,000 from Winsford United and now worth far, far more after his 30 goals so far this season.
"You hear all sorts of stories - that Notts Forest have paid us pounds 400,000 for him and are just letting him stay til the end of the season," says Stockwell. "But he is the key that has unlocked the Conference for us. Why would we even think of letting him go?"
The other star of the show was The Shay, full to its present capacity as building work goes on to make it capable of staging Super League rugby as well as League football. A bubbling atmosphere belied a recent history that saw gates down to a ruinous 500.
"After last season, I'd have been happy to finish in the top half," said Mulhall. "Hopefully, we now get into the League and stay there."
Halifax Town (3-5-2): Morgan; Kilcline, Murphy, Stoneman; Thackeray, O'Regan, Brown, Paterson, M Bradshaw; Hulme, Horsfield. Substitutes not used: Kiwomya, Lyons, Horner.
Rushden & Diamonds (4-4-2): Smith; Wooding, D Bradshaw, Whyte, Cramman; Hamsher, Mison (Capone, 72), Butterworth, Underwood; West (Mehew, 48; Rawle, 75), Foster.
Referee: M Hall (Whitley Bay) replaced by P Kelly (Billingham), 28.
Bookings: Halifax Kilcline.
Man of the match: Paterson.