Part Three – If you’re good enough, you’re old enough
By Neil Winsor
Photographs supplied by Lee Myers
GOING into the final month of the season Hall Road Rangers had thirteen games to squeeze in following a winter dogged with postponements and controversy.
With a twelve point deduction plunging them into the relegation zone, Rangers were not only fighting to stay in the division, but would also face fatigue as they would have to squeeze these games into a ridiculous 23 days.
With just two wins since the end of November, they weren’t exactly in red-hot form.
After they went 2-0 down at Worksop Town inside 55 minutes it looked a lost cause.
However when Fraser Hansen (above) reduced the deficit just after the hour, a dramatic 30 minutes would follow.
Josh Batty would equalise for Hall Road with nineteen minutes remaining.
Batty would again net on 84 minutes to hand Rangers the lead, before Mitch Husband levelled two minutes later.
Rangers, and Batty, were not to be denied though, as the talismanic striker completed his hat-trick to complete a remarkable turnaround, and win the game 4-3 in stoppage time.
With talk of a great escape gathering pace and with Harrogate Railway losing at Pontefract Collieries, Rangers gave themselves a great chance.
Another three points followed at home to Rainworth MW who had announced their end of season resignation from the league just a matter of weeks earlier.
A brace from Fraser Hansen, and Chris Spinks (right) 50th goal for Hall Road Rangers, giving them a comprehensive 3-0 win, to move them out of the bottom three on goal difference.
As Hall Road’s season then went to Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, common sense finally prevailed as the NCEL extended the season by a week to allow clubs the opportunity to get their remaining games played, with Liversedge also heavily hit.
Rangers did admittedly stutter over the next two games.
They were beaten at home to Bottesford, before a disappointing draw at bottom club Clipstone derailed their challenge slightly.
With the two previous performances showing signs of fatigue, Rangers boss Bill Gill introduced a number of promising players from the Under 19’s and Reserves set-up.
It was a bold move not just by the dugout, but by the club.
Alex Stock who had featured on a regular basis throughout the season, was joined by Jordan Clark, a left back who had broken into the team in the win against Rainworth MW, and James Tullett a young midfielder, alongside a talented, but untried Reggi Waud (pictured) to bolster numbers.
Gill had promised after his appointment in September that youth would be given an opportunity, and alongside the established first-team players, had his faith re-paid by his young fledglings.
The game at Athersley was a nervy encounter in the sunshine, following two poor results.
It was lit up though by a moment of brilliance ten minutes into the second half.
Reggi Waud, highly rated by coaches at the club, announced himself on the first team scene, rifling an unstoppable overhead kick into the top far corner, converting from a free kick to reinvigorate Rangers.
Another varying challenge presented itself in the final two weeks of the season as Rangers schedule would now see them play Saturday-Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.
The momentum created though from improved results and sheer determination to carry themselves over the safety line worked to their favour
Led by seasoned pro’s none other then captain Danny Norton and striker Chris Spinks who at this point, as well as others such as Gareth Owen, were feeling the effects.
Their final away game of the season at Liversedge was ended prematurely with the score at 3-3.
A deflected Spinks free-kick and then penalty, as well as two quality saves by James Hitchcock had given them a 2-0 half-time lead,
Liversedge though got one back on 49 minutes as Rangers fell asleep following the break.
Fraser Hansen capitilised on indecision amongst the Sedge rearguard to nip in and restore Rangers two goal advantage at 3-1 before Josh Greenhalgh again scored, and then completed his hat-trick to level matters on 60, and 68 minutes respectively.
Rangers were also hampered by the news Fraser Hansen would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury after he limped out of the game.
The game will sadly be remembered though for the abandonment of the match following the collapse of Liversedge player Craig Billington with twelve minutes left on the clock.
Billington was rushed to hospital, but thankfully would go on to make a full recovery, much through the assistance of Rangers defender and stand-in physio James Whittingham.
The result was allowed to stand, provided it would not determine the fate of relegation.
Over the next four days though Rangers would make sure this would not be an issue.
They despatched Parkgate, 24 hours later, with Reggi Waud, Jack Binns, Danny Norton and an unwell Josh Batty hitting the onion bag, and therefore virtually relegate Parkgate.
Results also went Rangers way elsewhere as Harrogate would lose to both Handsworth Parramore and Hemsworth MW during the same week.
Another four goal show from Rangers two days later at home to Handsworth Parramore almost completed the survival job.
Danny Norton and Dane Mortimer would put Rangers two goals clear, before the Reggi Waud show began on 83 minutes, a thunderous long range drive, before Waud would net again two minutes later to round off a superb team performance.
Going into Hall Road’s next game with Thackley, Rangers knew a point would virtually guarantee survival regardless of results elsewhere due to their far superior goal difference.
James Tullett, another youngster who had featured on the substitutes bench in earlier weeks made his first senior start and Hall Road were largely comfortable.
Reggi Waud would again find the net on 5 minutes to give Rangers the perfect start, but they had to wait until ten minutes from time to double their advantage as Waud grabbed his sixth goal in a week.
James Rothel grabbed a consolation with seven minutes to go, but with news filtering through of Harrogate Railway’s failure to beat Garforth Town, the great escape was complete with four games to spare, credit to the whole club, led by Bill Gill and Andrew Watts (above).
So even with a 12-point deduction, playing games four days a week sometimes on back to back nights, aches and pains, mounting injuries, blisters, opposition players collapsing and everybody writing the club off, not only had Rangers survived, they had achieved their revised target with relative ease.
The final extended week of the season threatened to roll over into an anti-climax, although noises from manager Bill Gill and assistant Andrew Watts were positive, and that they wanted to garner as many points as possible.
The tired legs though would be Rangers undoing, as a home defeat to Garforth Town (4-5) saw Benn Lewis grab his first goal since re-signing for the club, and Dane Mortimer dismissed on an eventful night at Haworth Park.
Rangers would again lose 24 hours later at home to Albion Sports, before normal service was resumed a further 48 hours later.
With numbers dwindling due to injuries and fatigue, Hall Road would provide one more memorable performance as they hammered sixth placed Hemsworth MW at Haworth Park.
Rangers dominated throughout the evening and despite Hitchcock having to tip over a swerving drive in the first period he was relatively untested.
Josh Batty’s bullet header started the rout on 27 minutes, before a Danny Norton free-kick on 58 would put Rangers in control.
Batty would go on to complete his hat-trick, a sublime lob on the half volley from out on the right, gave Rangers their third, before a superb finish when beating the offside trap would not only complete his hat-trick but would see him overtake James McGarry as the sixth leading goalscorer since 2005.
Many deemed the crushing victory as Hall Road’s best performance of the season.
The curtain would come down on the season with a promotion party, albeit for the opposition.
Pickering Town, needing to beat Hall Road on the final day saw the attendance swell to 238 and they were treated to a tense final day.
Joe Piercy, deputising in goal would make three excellent saves in the first half before he was beaten by Joe Danby’s precision finish on 56 minutes.
Dane Mortimer (left) levelled the scores up to potentially send AFC Mansfield into the Evostik on 73 minutes, but the result would have been harsh on Pickering who deservedly regained the lead with nine minutes remaining.
Pickering would hold on to achieve the second promotion spot behind Pontefract Collieries, whilst the margin of error for Hall Road Rangers and their successful battle to beat the drop, would ironically be twelve points, a number synonymous with their season.