AS the UK Snooker Championship got under way at the Barbican, York City belatedly got the breaks they required to end a run of seven games without a win.
City chief Gary Mills has bemoaned his team’s failure to take chances in recent times but, during Saturday’s 3-2 victory at Rochdale, he saw recalled midfielder Michael Potts open the scoring after the ball initially struck him in the face.
Jason Walker then ended his own seven-match sequence without a goal when, by his own admission, he attempted to control Scott Kerr’s header only to see the ball fly off his boot into Rochdale ’keeper Josh Lillis’ bottom right-hand corner.
Another Potts goal saw City storm into a 3-0 lead after only 36 minutes and, while the Minstermen might have enjoyed some overdue fortune for the first two finishes, there was nothing lucky about the third effort or the margin of the visitors’ advantage at that stage of the match.
Playing with a fluency and tempo that typifies Mills’ teams at their best, City’s first-half mastery in possession in all areas of the pitch gave an exhibition flavour to proceedings, without suggesting such dominance ever comes easily.
Potts was instrumental in that respect. The former Blackburn Rovers academy player must have felt he needed snookers to break into Mills’ team this term, having watched the likes of fellow midfielders Lee Bullock, Jonathan Smith and John McReady join the club in the summer prior to being placed on the transfer list in pre-season.
Danny Kearns’ subsequent loan arrival pushed Potts further down the pecking order but the former Republic of Ireland under-21 international’s unexpected return to parent club Peterborough last week, coupled with the earlier farming out of Bullock, Smith and Tom Platt, suddenly handed the 2011 summer signing a surprise chance to resurrect a career that has seen him make only three senior league starts for the Minstermen.
And, only 25 miles from his old Ewood Park stamping ground, Potts grabbed it. Positive from the first whistle, he was busy and enthusiastic and, as well as always being willing to receive possession, the likeable 21-year-old never wasted a pass.
He might have later given away a penalty that led to Rochdale’s second goal but that blemish should not detract from his overall display.
Potts’ two goals were certainly a fitting reward for his patience – a commodity so rare in the modern game as Chelsea fans would no doubt testify.
Even Mills’ position has come under scrutiny in some quarters following a winless November due to the insatiable demand for results but, if any reminder was needed of the manager’s fine footballing philosophies and the devastating potential of his team, it was provided by the first 45 minutes at Spotland.
Every game in League Two seems to pitch the Minstermen against two towering centre-backs and a hulking target man.
Rochdale were no exception with 37-year-old veteran Dele Adebola leading the line at one end of the pitch before his half-time withdrawal, while Ryan Edwards and Rhys Bennett, even allowing for his out-of-character goal, looked equally cumbersome defensive partners.
Mills deserves credit, not criticism, for refusing to give in to the temptation to adopt this supposed blueprint for League Two success and, while his team always seem transformed on their travels, the key to reversing a poor home record could be keeping the ball in the same exemplary manner they showcased at Spotland, while playing at an identical tempo.
City were less incisive after the break – how often is that frustratingly the case when any side races into a three-goal first-half lead? – but their dominance prior to the interval ultimately ensured they pocketed maximum points.
Jamal Fyfield’s flying raids down the left were a regular feature as City imposed their superiority early in the match and led to the opening goal on eight minutes.
Potts started and finished a flowing move that also saw Scott Kerr, Matty Blair and Paddy McLaughlin involved before Fyfield hared forward on the overlap and delivered a dangerous cross to the far post.
After Blair and Walker got touches, it was converted by Potts, who found the roof of Lillis’ net from eight yards.
Potts could, indeed, have claimed a first-half hat-trick, having drilled a left-footed effort wide on the quarter-hour mark when Walker met another Fyfield centre with his head.
Four minutes later, after Jason Kennedy had called Michael Ingham into a fine fingertip save, the Minstermen had doubled their lead when Kerr won a header just outside the penalty box and Walker’s inadvertent 12-yard shot on the turn left Lillis helpless.
Andrew Tutte fired wide from 20 yards for Dale soon afterwards but City added a third on 36 minutes when a subtle touch by Blair sent Chambers sprinting down the left.
Cutting back on to his right foot, Chambers picked out another Potts charge into the penalty box and, after sidestepping a home challenge, the delighted midfielder found Lillis’ bottom right-hand corner from ten yards.
Dale offered a brief riposte before the break when Terry Gornell’s thundering 25-yard strike thumped back off a post with Ingham beaten.
City’s second-half threats were then limited to a weak effort on target from Blair and Potts’ 20-yard drive that comfortably cleared the crossbar.
The hosts, meanwhile, gained a little encouragement when, just past the hour, a shirt tug on Potts went undetected by the officials and Bennett was allowed to advance far too easily from the halfway line into Ingham’s penalty box, evading challenges from Walker, Kerr, Smith and Chris Doig before surprisingly finding himself with the opportunity to find the City ’keeper’s bottom right-hand corner from ten yards.
On 82 minutes, Ingham reacted smartly to prevent Bobby Grant’s edge-of-the-box volley from finding his top corner but he was beaten moments later when Potts nudged into George Donnelly during an aerial contest for the ball.
Grant drilled the subsequent spot kick into Ingham’s bottom left-hand corner as the City ’keeper dived in the opposite direction and Dale dared to believe they could snatch an unlikely and undeserved point.
Ex-Scunthorpe striker Grant went on to drive wide from 30 yards and Ingham caught a curling Ashley Grimes free-kick but, in the sixth and final minute of stoppage time, vital penalty-box headers by Doig and Dan Parslow, whose face was already bloodied from an earlier challenge, ultimately safeguarded victory.
Rochdale 2 (Bennett 61; Grant 83 pen), York City 3 (Potts 8, 36; Walker 19)
Michael Ingham 8
Made two impressive saves when called upon and unlucky to concede two goals.
Dan Parslow 8
Reliable defensively and also got forward to deliver some quality second-half crosses.
Chris Smith 8
Composed on the ball and won the majority of his battles in the air and on the deck.
Chris Doig 8
Never flustered, rarely out of position and distributed sensibly out of defence.
Jamal Fyfield 9
Foraged forward relentlessly during a rampant first half and never troubled by Rochdale attacks down his flank.
Scott Kerr 8
Gave youngsters Potts and McLaughlin great encouragement and direction on their recalls to the team.
Michael Potts 9
STAR MAN – looked like a man determined to prove his worth as a professional footballer and was positive throughout.
Paddy McLaughlin 8
Kept City driving forward and was always looking for the right pass to maintain an attacking move’s momentum.
Matty Blair 8
Non-stop running and effort following his return to the right wing.
Jason Walker 8
Justified his recall to the team by finding the net for the first time since October and worked hard for the cause.
Ashley Chambers 8
Offered Fyfield great defensive support and still managed to provide the forward burst for City’s third goal.
Subs: Jon Challinor (for Potts, 85), Lanre Oyebanjo (for McLaughin, 85), Jamie Reed (for Walker, 90).
Not used: Musselwhite, McGurk, Blanchett, Kelly.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Phil Edwards, Ryan Edwards, Rhys Bennett, Kevin McIntyre, Andrew Tutte, Peter Cavanagh, Jason Kennedy (Ashley Grimes, 79), Terry Gornell, Dele Adebola (George Donnelly, 46), Bobby Grant. Subs not used: Joe Rafferty, Brian Barry-Murphy, Matt Pearson, Ian Craney, Ben Smith.
Star man: Grant – looked Rochdale’s biggest attacking threat.
Referee: Oliver Langford (Darlaston).
Rating: 7/10 – much better than home manager John Coleman’s constant berating suggested.
Booked: McIntyre 43, Smith 81, Donnelly 90.
Sent off: None.
Shots on target: Rochdale 7, City 4.
Shots off target: Rochdale 3, City 3.
Corners: Rochdale 4, City 6.
Fouls conceded: Rochdale 13, City 14.
Offsides: Rochdale 2, City 1.