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FC Halifax Town striker Billy Waters believes their National League rivals are beginning to sit up and notice the club as genuine contenders this season.
Times are good at The Shay, with the club third in the league and into the FA Cup first round after overcoming the resilient Pontefract Collieries in a replay this week.
The 27-year-old has already racked up eight goals in just 11 games after being released by Torquay United over the summer. His goals have helped the team to impressive victories over preseason promotion favourites Notts County and Stockport County.
Waters has tasted success in this league before, helping Cheltenham Town win the title back in 2016.
“We’ve already beaten some of the big hitters who are tipped to do well this year. I don’t want to get carried away, but we’re playing good football and winning games. Teams are starting to see that we’re a good side and that’s what we want.
“At Cheltenham, we had good management and the players were friends. We had the right mix of experience and young, hungry players. It’s the same here - we have that recipe for success in place. The standard has definitely improved since 2016. With the amount of money coming into the league now, it’s probably the most competitive it’s ever been.
“This is the best start I’ve had to a season, so I’m delighted with how it’s gone so far. At a new club it can take you some time to get going, but I think the team and myself have made a good start,” he said.
Waters played a crucial role in his side’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Notts County earlier this month. The game saw Pete Wild’s side fight back from 2-0 down with ten men and score the winner in the tenth minute of added time.
Jordan Slew started the comeback on 79 minutes, with Waters netting the equaliser with four minutes left on the clock. Matty Warburton’s winner deep into injury time sparked celebrations that had seemed unlikely at best half an hour earlier.
All three only arrived at The Shay over the summer. Waters believes this is proof that the squad have gelled straight away and have fostered a team mentality.
“What a night that was - it was absolutely crazy! It’s probably the best game I’ve been involved in, it had everything. We knew it was a big game against one of the favourites to go up. When you go 2-0 down on a cold Tuesday night, to be honest you’re thinking, ‘get me out of here’. We all kept going though, and once I scored the equaliser, we were all so happy with that because we had got something from the game.
"The bench pushed us on and said we’re going for the win. When we got the third goal, it was incredible. It was a really memorable night at The Shay.
“When you’re 2-0 down you need to have the character to come back. Not every team has that. The fact that we did showed everyone that while we can play nice football, we’re happy to graft and grind out victories. Obviously everyone wants to win, but you find out if you can do it when it really matters,” he said.
It’s clear that Waters is happy with his move, having been away from his family while playing at Torquay. He’s already scored more goals this season than he did all season last year.
After starting his career with Crewe Alexandra, he has spent the majority of his career to date in the Football League, with Cheltenham and Northampton Town.
Last season saw Waters step back down to the National League . He narrowly missed out on a quick return to League Two, with The Gulls falling short against Hartlepool United in the playoff final.
Missing a penalty in a playoff final shootout - as Waters did - would be enough to knock the most resilient of minds. The move to Halifax has reinvigorated his game.
“Being back home with my family and girlfriend has a massive influence on my happiness both on and off the pitch. I’m being allowed to play with freedom. The gaffer trusts me. I’m getting on with the lads, and having good players around you makes a big difference.
“When you’re younger, your aim is to get into the Football League and go as high as you can. I’ve played a fair bit in the League, now it’s more about enjoying my football and that’s what I’m doing.
“When I came out of the League in 2019 and joined Torquay I still had the ability to play in the League, but circumstances can change things. You have to roll with the punches. It was about dropping a level and trying to prove you’re above that standard. I think we have players in our team who could play a lot higher up the pyramid. That’s why we’re doing well - I don’t think our fans can complain too much at the moment!”, he said.