Yeovil Town 3 Halifax Town 0 – Saturday 21st September 2002

In 2002/03, Yeovil found themselves having to play their first five games at the Avenue Dorchester, as a result of the newly re-laid Huish Park pitch not quite being ready. The season got off to a difficult start, with the Glovers needing an injury-time equaliser on the first day to rescue a point after going 2-0 down at home to new boys Gravesend, but also losing Adam Stansfield for the rest of the season with a broken leg. They then lost their second game 2-1 at Barnet.

Attendances in Dorchester were good – almost 3,000 attended the first match which kicked off late due to the August traffic, and crowds did not drop below 2,000 despite being held 25 miles away. While Yeovil were ultimately unbeaten at the Avenue, it was not the smoothest start to the season – losing Stansfield was a huge blow, and in addition Demba was having some trouble adjusting to the rigours of the English game and the other strikers Alford and Grant were more often than not substituted for fitness reasons. The defence was not quite settled, as the Glovers scored plenty but also conceded plenty, perhaps due to the uncertainty in personnel and formation.

There was also the issue of where to accommodate Gavin Williams – while obviously a talented player, he had been employed mostly as a striker in his formative years at Hereford. Gary Johnson did try this but didn’t seem to favour it, even after the injury to Stansfield. He started 02/03 with the 4-4-2 that he had ended the previous season with, but fitting Williams into a midfield four would be difficult as Johnson, Way, Crittenden and McIndoe were already there. This dilemma was possibly what drove the manager to try the 3-4-1-2 that would serve Yeovil so well for much of the season, with Williams in a free role. The formation change did create a problem for Anthony Tonkin – as a specialist left back, he did not thrive at all on the left of a back three, a position more suited to Colin Pluck. And in a wing back formation, McIndoe would be the obvious occupant on the left. Tonkin was an excellent player, and probably one of the best left backs we’ve had in the modern era – but only as left back.

After the first couple of games as a 4-4-2, Yeovil switched to three at the back with Tonkin where he did not look comfortable, but was the only option as Pluck was absent through injury. When Pluck returned, Gary Johnson’s selection headache would end up getting resolved by the unusual figure of former England midfielder Carlton Palmer. Palmer was manager at Stockport, who seemed to have become aware that a clause in Tonkin’s contract stated that any offer over £50,000 would have to be put directly to the player, and put in an offer for exactly that amount.

When Halifax came to town for the final game at the Avenue, it was actually the first game since Tonkin’s departure from the club. He would not officially leave for another week, but by that point was refusing to report for training or answer the phone on advice of his agent.

Halifax had just been relegated, and been forced to rebuild their team over the summer from a difficult financial position. They put together a decent team under new manager Chris Wilder, who was early in his managerial career at the time but specialised in producing teams who were physical and hard to beat on limited budgets. He would later prove his credentials by taking Sheffield United from the bottom of League One to the Premier League in just three years. He was also in charge of Oxford when, as a Conference team they knocked League One Yeovil out of the FA Cup in 2009.

Yeovil took the lead in the first half, with Crittenden scoring from the spot after a foul on Demba. A minute later, Gavin Williams gave the Glovers a 2-0 lead in spectacular fashion, picking up the ball following a throw, and curling in with his left foot from 25 yards. Leading 2-0 at half time, controversy erupted in the second half – latching onto a through ball from Williams, Demba was clearly upended by keeper Lee Butler for an obvious penalty. With no defenders covering, the referee had no choice but to also send Butler off. The keeper was infuriated, throwing his shirt to the ground in disgust and physically attacking Demba on his way off the pitch, presumably as he thought the player had dived. This signalled multiple players from both sides to engage in a brawl. As he finally left the pitch, Skiverton called something to him that was probably not very complimentary, and another period of fighting broke out. A Halifax player clearly grabbed Skiverton by the throat – an image which appeared on the front page of following day’s Non-League Paper – and should have been sent off but wasn’t. After consulting his assistant, the referee sent off Demba for no clear reason. It is not even evident from the video what the referee could think Demba had done. He just stood there passively while Butler assaulted him. The report said ‘foul and abusive language’, probably because it can’t be disproven by video and is often used when the referee knows he has made a mistake. The fact that Demba had not long arrived from Belgium and his first language is French, suggests that the charge was probably not correct.

Skiverton was then called over and rightly sent off as although he was grabbed by the throat, he also swung some punches in retaliation. What the ref got wrong was not sending off at least one Halifax player. In time the Demba red card would be overturned, but Skiverton was out for three matches. At that time there was a delay between the offence and the suspension to allow time for appeals, so Skiverton was able to play in two more games – Woking at home and Leigh away – scoring in both, taking him to six for the season and making him top scorer at the end of September.

Despite all of the chaos and red cards, the good news was that Yeovil were 2-0 up with a penalty to come. Crittenden hammered home the resultant penalty about ten minutes after it had actually been awarded and with the Glovers 3-0 up, the points were secured. Halifax did fight on (not literally this time) and got themselves a few chances, but could not affect the result.

Going into the game Yeovil were third in the table and the win took them up into second, overtaking Doncaster but behind Chester, who were unbeaten did not even concede a goal away from home until the end of October. After an uneven start, the Glovers were in a good position. Unbeaten at Dorchester in front of decent crowds, the anticipation was building in the town for a return to Huish Park, live on TV against Woking – a return that would see a glorious 4-0 win in front of over 4,000 fans, more than any league game the previous season. Now unbeaten in nine with three clean sheets in a row, a set formation and the goals beginning to flow, there was a sense that Gary Johnson’s team were finding top gear and it would take a lot to stop them.

Despite their financial limitations Halifax would become a good Conference team under Chris Wilder, reaching the play-off final in 2006. They would also provide one of the toughest examinations of Gary Johnson’s men in their championship season. Even though Yeovil were fresh off the back of six consecutive wins and brushing aside Hereford 4-0, the Shaymen took a 2-0 lead and threatened to bully the Glovers right out of the game. Brian Quailey and in particular Simon Parke gave Lockwood, Skiverton and Pluck the most difficult time I saw them have that season, and Yeovil were lucky not to have at least one man sent off. The second half was end to end, with both teams having chances to take the lead and Weale having to make some top class saves, before the part-time team tired in the final quarter and Gall stole the win well into injury time. It was an epic night which for many people, saw the champagne finally be put on ice.

Team that day: Jon Sheffield, Adam Lockwood, Terry Skiverton (sent off 71), Colin Pluck, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Nick Crittenden, Michael McIndoe, Gavin Williams, Abdoulai Demba (sent off 70), Howard Forinton (sub. Roy O’Brien, 79). Subs not used: Luke Buckingham, Stephen Reed, Andy Lindegaard, Carl Alford



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