FC Halifax Town are yet to reach the Third Round of the FA Cup since reforming in 2008, and they have a big task ahead of them if they are to break that run this season.

A trip to Ronnie Moore’s Eastleigh lies in wait this weekend, although the tie holds no fear for Shaymen manager Billy Heath.

The former North Ferriby United manager has led the club to within touching distance of the Third Round after wins at Ashton Athletic, Harrogate Town and Dagenham and Redbridge.

Now they head into yet another away tie against the Daggers’ Vanarama National League counterparts Eastleigh, with Heath bullish about his side’s chances of pulling off an upset.

He said “It has been a running theme of the FA Cup run because we have been drawn away every round.  In the cup you always want to be drawn at home, no matter who you are playing but we have always had to do it the hard way.

“It will be a tough game against a very good National League club but we did very well against Dagenham and Redbridge in both games and we can repeat that”

The tie sees Heath come up against on the most experienced managers in the non-league game.

Back in 2000 Heath was beginning his managerial career with Bridlington Town in the Northern Counties East League.

At the same time current Spitfires boss Ronnie Moore was leading Rotherham United to successive promotions from the Football League Third Division to within one promotion of the Premier League.

Since then he has gone on to manage the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Hartlepool United, performing a great escape to keep the latter in the Football League two seasons ago.

And ahead of the tie Heath admitted that he was looking forward to testing himself against Moore.

He said “Ronnie is unbelievably experienced in league football so it will be good to go up against him but I am looking forward to it, I ronnie moore eastleighreally am looking forward to it.

“It will be tough but I am looking forward to every aspect of this tie, not just taking on Ronnie but testing ourselves against his side.

“We know it is a big test but I have confidence in the players”

It’s been quite the turnaround for Heath and the Shaymen.

He led North Ferriby United into the top tier of the non-league pyramid last season with a National League North play-off final win against AFC Fylde.

One week later, just days after FC Halifax Town’s FA Trophy Final win over Grimsby Town, Heath was appointed as Shaymen boss, replacing Jim Harvey in the hotseat.

Following their relegation from the National League, Heath was tasked with getting the club back into the National League and he set about putting together a new squad.

In order to do so he went back to his former club and signed a number of Villagers players, including the likes of striker Tom Denton, midfielder Liam King and goalkeeper Tom Nicholson.

The recruitment drive also saw former Guiseley keeper Steven Drench and Nantwich Town’s exciting winger Matty Kosylo join the club.

As he reflected on the season so far Heath admitted that he was pleased with how things were going, with the club sat just outside of the National League North’s play-off spots.

“I think they have settled well at Halifax.  It’s a totally different enviornment for them but they have adapted” said Heath.

“At North Ferriby they were in a tight stadium, where there were three or four hundred there.  But now they are playing in a huge stadium, where we get around two thousand.

“The lads have made the transition really well, and not just them, but other players that have come in have done the same.

“The expectation is different too.  A lot of lads that have come with us, or come from other clubs, haven’t experienced this expectation at their other clubs.

“Now they are in an environment where you are expected to win every game, sometimes that is not reality but we have done ever so well to do that.  We would all like to be where Fylde are but I think where we are at the moment, I am pleased with that because we have a virtually new team”

billy heath trophyDealing with a change in expectations isn’t exclusive to Heath’s players.

In their time at North Ferriby United Heath and his trusted assistant Mark Carroll led the club from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League to the National League within five years.

Success came in cup competitions too with their Doodson Sports Cup Final wins in 2012 and 2013, as well as the historic FA Trophy Final win over Wrexham in 2015.

That monumental period of success was played out with little pressure from the club’s supporters and owners.

The move to the Shay has seen Heath and Carroll having to deal with the tough task of getting the club back up into the National League at the first time of asking, in what is arguably the most competitive league in non-league football.

However Heath insisted that the pressure that both he and Carroll put on themselves is enough to drive them on.

“I have said all along I don’t feel any different to how I did at North Ferriby” admitted Heath.

“You cope with the expectation you put on yourself and yes, we didn’t have that expectation from the supporters or even the chairman at North Ferriby and they never put any pressure on us.

“To be fair David Bosomworth here hasn’t done that either.

“He said it’s a two year plan to get back up.  The chairman is desperate to get back up, we all are but there isn’t a pressure.

“At Ferriby, we put pressure on ourselves to win the game, no matter who it was we faced.  It is the same here, we are used to winning matches and we want to carry that on.

“Sometimes we may have put too much pressure on ourselves but we can cope with it”

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: www.actionimages.com

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