’TIS the season to be jolly and all that, but you now have to trawl back four days before Halloween to recall York City’s last clean sheet.
Boxing Day’s 3-0 defeat at Chesterfield means the Minstermen have failed to manage a shut-out in their last ten fixtures.
And, as if to unite the two contrasting annual celebrations, Gary Mills’ men made some terrifying defensive mistakes at the Proact Stadium which led to goals that Santa could not have gift-wrapped better himself.
Not since a 0-0 draw with Southend have City kept an opponent off the scoresheet and, since then, 21 goals have been shipped at an average of more than two a game.
Quite simply, the Minstermen need to make teams work harder for their goals, tighten up on defending dead balls and eliminate the individual errors.
When Michael Ingham was forced into a fine first-half save to keep out Sam Hird’s header from a curling Mark Randall free-kick, visiting vice-captain Scott Kerr was heard imploring his team-mates “to wake up at set-pieces”.
His warning was not heeded, however, with the Spireites taking a scarcely-deserved lead within a minute of the restart when Drew Talbot’s run towards goal went completely unchecked and he stuck out a boot to meet another Randall free-kick.
More unconvincing defending from another right-wing dead-ball delivery saw Danny Whitaker double the hosts’ advantage and, just two minutes later, the same player had intercepted Chris Smith’s sloppy back pass with Tendayi Darikwa going on to put the final outcome beyond doubt.
The eventual margin of victory had seemed highly unlikely during a first half in which City retained possession with style and confidence – at least in two thirds of the pitch.
Frustratingly, on too many occasions the fluency of the visitors’ passing was not as impressive where it mattered most though – when they ventured closer towards home ’keeper Tommy Lee’s goal.
Therefore, goalscoring opportunities were few and far between although, with the onus on the home team to force the pace, it seemed inevitable that exploitable gaps might open up in the second period if the Minstermen could continue to keep the ball and defend with discipline.
Chesterfield had the first two chances of the match when Jay O’Shea’s rising 25-yard drive was gathered at the second attempt by Ingham, who went on to push Hird’s 20th-minute header around an upright by diving quickly to his left.
City began to settle into the match, though, with Chris Smith glancing a header wide from Matty Blair’s cross and Michael Potts forcing Lee into his first save – a routine stop low to his left – on 32 minutes.
Lee also held a firm Blair strike at his near post following Dan Parslow’s right-wing cross and Potts volleyed wide from Alex Rodman’s centre.
At the other end, former Arsenal and West Ham midfielder Luis Boa Morte drove over from 15 yards on the stroke of half-time.
It was the Spireites’ first sight of goal for a full 24 minutes.
That counted for little, however, when Paddy McLaughlin conceded a free-kick seconds after the break and right-back Talbot converted from eight yards to claim his first goal of the season.
Loud penalty shouts were then rejected when Jason Walker appeared to be jostled down close to the byline by Chesterfield defender Liam Cooper.
Just past the hour, a Darikwa lob drifted just wide and, after Blair had dragged his volleyed far-post attempt off target at the other end, Boa Morte sprung the offside trap only to allow Chris Doig the time to make a recovery tackle as he bore down on Ingham’s goal.Chesterfield did forge further in front on 75 minutes when another free-kick caused consternation in City’s defence before Talbot fed Whitaker who, in his first contribution as a substitute, shifted the ball on to his right foot and beat Ingham inside his near post with a low, ten-yard effort.
It was 3-0 just moments later when Whitaker read Smith’s poorly-struck back pass from the left-back position to Ingham, rounded the ’keeper and played the ball back to Boa Morte.
The 35-year-old Portuguese hesitated long enough in front of an inviting goal for Doig to nudge him off the ball, but Darikwa then pounced to sweep a ten-yard effort past Ingham.
City could and should have mustered a consolation with Blair aiming high and wide of an open goal when Ingham’s free-kick fell at his feet in the six-yard box.
Jamal Fyfield also sidefooted wide from the edge of the box, McLaughlin saw a 20-yard volley saved by Lee and Chris Smith’s header was pushed on to the underside of the crossbar by the Spireites’ number one.
Instead, City were left to reflect on their biggest away defeat in 52 matches since going down 4-0 to Southport in January 2011.
Mills must now be looking for consistency from his team as 2012 draws to a close with this month’s promising victories over Rochdale (3-2) and Bristol Rovers (4-1) swiftly followed by disappointing defeats to Plymouth (2-0) and Chesterfield.
What Fleetwood will bring on Saturday remains a mystery.
Chesterfied 3 (Talbot 46; Whitaker 75; Darikwa 77), York City 0
Michael Ingham 7
Made a fine first-half save before being left vulnerable for the three Chesterfield goals.
Dan Parslow 7
STAR MAN – defended with determination and Townsend exited the action having made little impression down the left.
Chris Smith 5
The skipper’s mistake put the outcome of the game beyond complete doubt. Struggling for early- season form.
Chris Doig 6
Recovered at times when players looked like they had escaped his attention, but partnership with Smith lacks pace.
Jamal Fyfield 7
Made a few typical raids forward and given few problems by Chesterfield on his wing.
Scott Kerr 6
Generally kept the ball moving well in the first half, but his performance dipped along with that of the team after the break.
Michael Potts 6
Tidy and reliable in possession with plenty of endeavour, but lacked punch in final third of pitch.
Paddy McLaughlin 7
Forced Tommy Lee into his best save of the game late on and displayed quality on the ball.
Matty Blair 5
Snatched at a couple of finishes and little came off for last season’s 20-goal top scorer.
Jason Walker 5
Struggled to hold the ball up as effectively as he can at his best and standard of passing was below par too.
Alex Rodman 5
Game passed him by somewhat prior to his withdrawal midway through the second period.
Subs: Jamie Reed 5 – shackled (for Rodman, 67), Tom Allan (for Doig, 79), Lanre Oyebanjo (for Potts, 79).
Subs not used: Musselwhite, McGurk, Bullock, J Smith.
Tommy Lee, Drew Talbot, Sam Hird, Liam Cooper, Nathan Smith, Tendayi Darikwa, Sam Togwell, Mark Randall (Craig Clay, 61), Jay O’Shea, Conor Townsend (Danny Whitaker, 75), Luis Boa Morte (Brennan Dickenson, 84). Subs not used: Richard O’Donnell, Scott Boden, Jonathan Wafula, Neal Trotman.
Star man: Jay O’Shea – expressed himself well on the ball.
Referee: Christopher Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Rating: 7/10 – City felt aggrieved by failure to award a penalty, but there were few faults to be picked otherwise.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 7,322 (1,052 from City).
Shots on target: Chesterfield 6, City 4.
Shots off target: Chesterfield 2, City 7.
Corners: Chesterfield 1, City 3.
Fouls conceded: Chesterfield 12, City 9.
Offsides: Chesterfield 2, City 1.