Saturday 7 January 2017 is a date etched into the memories of all FC Halifax Town fans. And all for the wrong reasons, writes Adam Cheshire.
The Shaymen had travelled to lowly Stalybridge Celtic in the hope of ending an eight-game winless run.
But the Bower Fold side added to Billy Heath’s men’s woes as they slipped to a devastating 1-0 defeat.
Tom Nicholson remembers that day vividly, for it was his league debut for Town as Sam Johnson picked up an injury in the New Year’s Day draw with Darlington 1883.
And although it wasn’t a happy ending for the goalkeeper in Greater Manchester, Nicholson and his team-mates – under immense pressure at The Shay – starred against high-fliers Chorley to embark on an eight-game unbeaten sequence which began to cement their credentials as serious promotion contenders.
We all know the rest.
Fast-forward nearly ten months and Halifax are in an eerily comparable situation. Winless in their previous six games in all competitions, Nicholson - due to Johnson suffering a back spasm - was
thrown in at the deep end again as he made his first appearance of the season on Tuesday night in the 2-0 loss to Maidstone United.
And with Johnson still a major doubt ahead of Town’s visit to Prenton Park on Saturday (versus Tranmere Rovers, kick-off 3pm), Nicholson looks set to wear the gloves again in another pressurised position.
He said: “It’s a similar situation to Stalybridge away and then Chorley at home last season. We were on a really bad run.
“At the Chorley game, the fans, pretty much, were on everyone’s backs and no-one knew what was going to happen.
“But we beat Chorley 2-1 and we all did well. It is very similar to those two games and it is similar to where we are in the league now. The only difference is that Maidstone are a decent side.
“It’s now another big game against Tranmere. I can’t wait for it. When I was growing up, Tranmere were in League One. If I play it’s another thing ticked off my CV. It will be nice to be involved in a big game like that with a good attendance and a big atmosphere. I will relish it.
“But it was great to play at The Shay on Tuesday too. Anytime you step out in front of The Shay, if they’re paying money then I want to make sure that I’m playing 110 per cent for the fans, for the Gaffer and for the boys.
“It was a massive occasion for me, I was chuffed to bits and my family were really happy that I was making my debut at that level. It was only four years ago that I was playing Sunday League football on a park in Hull.
“It’s been amazing but you don’t need to get up for any game once you get to The Shay and see what it looks like. It’s fantastic. It will be the same at Tranmere.”
Although Town’s number two was delighted to be finally given a chance in midweek, Nicholson admitted, when he first realised he’d be playing, that his stress levels rose significantly.
“I don’t suffer from nerves but I do work myself up,” the former North Ferriby United stopper revealed.
“The Gaffer has always been really good to me and lets me know if I’m playing. If I know that I am playing, it takes me a good two to three hours to get over it.
“However, Sam texted me at 8.30am on Tuesday saying, “Listen Tom, I’ve really hurt my back, I’m 30per cent fit.”
“So I texted him back saying, “Come on mate, don’t be daft, take a couple of paracetamol, you’ll be fine.
“He texted me back at 10.30am saying, ‘Listen Tommy, I’m not coming, I can’t travel, my back is that bad’.”
“It was then typical me. I was stressed at work for about two hours. But it got to about 2pm and I just thought, ‘What am I doing? I did really well at Gainsborough last season’,”
“By kick-off I was calm. I was just happy to be involved. It was my first game in the National League and I just wanted to see if I could play at that standard. And I think I can. It was good.”
Nicholson believes that Johnson is too good for the division.
“I get to work closely with Sam, he’s been in pro football and the drills he does in training are great. I’ve come on in the last two years.
“He’s 6’ 9’’ and he’s a beast. I don’t understand why he was released from Port Vale at all. He just needs to be given a chance and a manager who trusts him. His shot-stopping is unreal.”
But despite wishing his team-mate a swift recovery from his current back problem, Nicholson has little sympathy in regards to how the spasm was sustained.
He joked: “He was getting a pint of milk out from the refrigerator. Now if I’m Sam, you’ve got to ask, why is my fridge on the floor and why haven’t I got one of these big American fridges that is up to waist-height so that I don’t have to bend down?”
“If he can’t play on Saturday then I’ll be looking forward to another massive game away to Tranmere.”