HARRIERS missed a huge chance to move out of the National League relegation zone as spurned chances cost them in a 2-1 defeat at FC Halifax.

Assistant boss Jimmy O’Connor took charge in the dugout at The Shay with boss Russ Penn not travelling the long journey due to family matters.

Penn had nonetheless opted to make three changes to his starting eleven. Krystian Pearce and Bailey Hobson both came back into the side having been unavailable for the FA Cup win over Ashton United.

Zak Brown was also handed a start, while Kieran Phillips was among those to drop to the bench.

Harriers only frustration at the break would likely have been that they were on level terms rather than comfortably in front.

In the first seven minutes, the visitors had three good chances to find a breakthrough but fell short. Inside a minute, Zak Brown struck wide on the angle after being teed up by Alex Penny, before Amari Morgan-Smith crossed for Bailey Hobson who saw his header held by goalkeeper Sam Johnson.

Ashley Hemmings then instinctively stuck out a boot as Hobson’s blocked effort fell into his path, the shot going wide of the target.

Penny was next to go close with 24 minutes on the clock, but Johnson was equal to his effort and tipped it over the bar – all of that momentum punctured with a sucker punch at the other end four minutes later when the hosts scored.

The ball into the Harriers area was a good one, but Millenic Alli was given too much room to power his header beyond Christian Dibble.

The reds responded well, though, and were behind for just five minutes. A corner into the area was struck on to the bar, Morgan-Smith reacting quickly to slam home the follow-up.

Harriers conceded poorly again at the start of the second half; just seven minutes played when a cheaply conceded free kick was crossed too easily into the area for Alli to double his tally.

Whereas the men from Aggborough won almost all the midfield battles in the first half, that steel waned in the second period as the game became a scrappier affair.

It was far from one-way traffic in favour of the hosts in terms of chances, but Johnson stood firm to deny Harriers best efforts in the half – an angled effort from Brown and a powerful drive from Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Added time afforded Harriers no comfort. Hobson’s drive was tipped around for a corner before sub Phillips had an effort blocked. Penny, with one of the last moments of the whole game, saw his header well held.

Harriers face a testing week ahead in the National League. On Tuesday night they travel to Altrincham, before returning to Aggborough on Saturday to host league leaders Chesterfield with what’s expected to be a bumper crowd.