York City 'keeper relishes Fleetwood play-off tussle
Updated 1:03pm Wednesday 7th May 2014 in Sport
YORK City keeper Nick Pope has admitted facing Fleetwood in the play-offs will trigger fond memories.
The on-loan Charlton shot-stopper had not finished on a winning side for the Minstermen in five attempts prior to February’s visit to the Lancashire coast.
In his previous outings, the team had drawn two matches 0-0 and lost the other three.
A point also looked like being the best haul City could expect from the Fleetwood trip when gale-force conditions led to Pope misjudging a 71st-minute free kick, allowing Mikael Mandron to level the scores at 1-1.
But, in the first minute of stoppage time, Michael Coulson burst down the left flank and crossed for Wes Fletcher to secure an excellent 2-1 win.
The Minstermen and Pope have not looked back since, racking up a run of 17 matches without a defeat, during which time only five goals have been conceded.
On his happy recollections of his that last Cod Army meeting, Pope said: “It was my first win in a York shirt so I have fond memories of that game and it kicked us on because we have been unbeaten since then.
“I remember Coulo going down the wing and Wes putting in the winner really well. It was a massive result because it came after two defeats against Hartlepool and Chesterfield and Fleetwood were in the top three.”
City host Graham Alexander’s men for the first leg of the semi-finals on Saturday night before travelling across the M62 for the second match a week on Friday.
But, with six wins and two draws from the Minstermen’s last eight league trips, Pope is unfazed by that prospect.
During the run-in to the end of the regular campaign, City have won at play-off hopefuls Oxford and Plymouth, taken maximum points against Portsmouth at a packed Fratton Park and, along with the triumph over Fleetwood, held promoted pair Rochdale and Scunthorpe in front of their own fans.
“Going away in the second leg is supposed to be a disadvantage but I don’t think it makes a massive difference, especially with our away form being superb, so it does not bother us one bit,” Pope insisted.
“We could have faced anybody before Saturday’s games and there was no real preference. We knew it would be a tough ask against whoever we would be playing because they have all been in and around the play-offs all season, if not the top three. We are the ones who have come in late and it’s down to us now.”
Incredibly, Scunthorpe’s goals during Saturday’s 2-2 draw were the first Pope had conceded from open play in 17 games but that has not dented his confidence and a hat-trick of shut-outs is now his new target.
He reasoned: “The second goal at Scunthorpe was deflected and the first one was a good goal. That’s a measure of the team because it takes a good goal to get by us.
“It was disappointing to let in two because we have been on a great run but we will pick ourselves up and go again. Three more clean sheets would go a long way now and that’s what we set out for every game, so that will be the aim.”
Pope admitted, however, that City cannot afford to start as sluggishly as they did at Glanford Park, where the hosts forged 2-0 in front after 38 minutes before Ryan Brobbel pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage time and Calvin Andrew levelled after the break.
“I think we were still on the coach for the first half,” the Soham-born, 22-year-old confessed. “We were a bit slow and not our usual selves.
“Scunthorpe are a good team and took advantage of that but Brobs got us right back in the game with a great strike in the last minute of the half and the second half was superb.”
Pope, who was playing for Aldershot in the Conference in October, is now dreaming of running out at a stadium he has only previously visited as a spectator.
“When you are growing up, Wembley is the pinnacle of football,” he enthused. “That’s where you want to play.
“We are potentially 180 minutes away from making that happen. If we get there, we will be buzzing, but we have got to do that first and then concentrate on Wembley.
“I’ve been there a few times for different finals and other things like American Football, so I have been inside and it’s superb but never on the pitch, so let’s make it a first.”
Pope was also delighted at being one of the four candidates for League Two’s Player of the Month award for April.
Fleetwood midfielder Josh Morris pipped him to the accolade but Pope said: “It was a great honour to be nominated in my fourth month at York even though I didn’t win it. There are a lot of really good players in the division, so I was really pleased and proud to get on the shortlist.”
Pope added, meanwhile, that no decision on his playing plans for next season would be made until the dust has settled on the current campaign.
He is contracted to Charlton until 2016 but returning to Bootham Crescent on a season-long loan next term might be an option.
Commenting on his future, the 6ft 5in keeper said: “Charlton only stayed up last week and we are still going strong so it would be wrong to look at things any sooner than when the season has finished because I am concentrating 100 per cent on the play-offs. That’s how it’s been all the way through, so there’s no need to change that.”
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