HAVING just bid farewell to one of the most cherished years in the club’s history, York City kicked off 2013 with a highly-promising 3-0 victory over Burton Albion.
Not since 1983, when Renee and Renato were topping the charts with “Save Your Love”, have the Minstermen enjoyed a bigger margin of victory at Bootham Crescent on New Year’s Day.
Darlington were despatched 5-2 back then as Denis Smith began to sow the seeds for a record-breaking tilt at the old Fourth Division title.
Gary Mills’ Wembley double last year, bringing with it an end to eight years in the non-League wilderness, might be considered just as momentous but the current City chief is determined 2012 will not prove the pinnacle of his period in charge of the Minstermen.
The difference between victory and defeat yesterday was vast against a Burton team that occupied the final play-off position prior to kick-off.
A home loss would have seen City slip 11 points behind the Brewers but the win moved them within five points of Gary Rowett’s men with a game in hand.
Following on from the encouraging 0-0 draw at fellow promotion hopefuls Fleetwood, it is clear the Minstermen still have plenty to play for during the New Year.
Many of the ingredients that contributed to City’s unprecedented success in 2012 were in evidence against the Brewers, namely Matty Blair’s indefatigable energy, Jason Walker’s exemplary technique, Scott Kerr’s midfield cajoling, Dan Parslow’s reliable consistency, Chris Smith’s commanding presence and Michael Ingham’s confidence between the sticks.
Perhaps just as significant, though, was the display of a player who only managed to feature in the first and final matches of last year.
David McGurk’s return after almost a full 12 months on the sidelines has led to back-to-back clean sheets, following on from an uncertain period of ten matches without a shut-out.
The long-serving City centre-back has hardly put a foot wrong, or indeed missed a header, since his belated recall to the team and, while Fleetwood packed little punch at the weekend, Burton’s front two of Billy Kee and Calvin Zola are a real handful.
Along with Smith rediscovering his early-season form, McGurk’s displays in the last two matches, along with those of full-backs Parslow and Jamal Fyfield, have heralded a defensive assuredness that bodes well for the second half of the campaign.
If yesterday’s marksmen Walker, Paddy McLaughlin and Blair can continue providing the attacking ammunition, with on-loan Aldershot attacker Alex Rodman improving, Jamie Reed still contributing from the bench and top scorer Ashley Chambers, Oli Johnson and John McReady all due to return at some stage, then the team’s potential further up the pitch looks promising too.
Following on from the 4-1 triumph over Bristol Rovers in their last outing, the Minstermen were positive from the first whistle against a dangerous and powerful Burton team.
On six minutes, McLaughlin saw a six-yard shot cleared off the line by Marcus Holness after Blair had headed down Walker’s corner to the far post.
At the other end, Kee called Igham into action at his near post before City forged ahead in the 13th minute.
A purposeful run by Rodman carried him into the penalty box where his progress was halted by an inadvisable tackle from behind by Anthony O’Connor.
The Brewers right-back did get a touch on the ball, as later confirmed by Rodman, but he gave referee Scott Duncan a decision to make and it fell in favour of the home team.
Walker then did the rest, blasting his spot-kick straight into the roof of the net as visiting ’keeper Dean Lyness dived to his right.
Moments later, Ingham pushed a low Jack Dyer drive from the edge of the box around his right-hand upright but it was City who doubled their advantage on 36 minutes.
Walker’s wickedly-delivered corner from the left could only be clawed out from under his own crossbar by Lyness, who was helpless as McLaughlin pounced to force the ball over the line from three yards.
On 40 minutes, Parslow thumped a 25-yard drive wide while, in first-half stoppage time, Ingham tipped over Kee’s header and Michael Potts blocked an Aaron Webster back-heeled effort on the goal-line.
At the start of the second period, Kerr saw a 20-yard attempt take two deflections before finishing wide of Lyness’ goal and Potts fired narrowly over from a similar distance following good work by Blair and Reed.
For Burton, substitute Cleveland Taylor and Kee both missed the target with headers while Fyfield was fortunate to escape an early shower on 66 minutes for the second of two apparently intentional trips after Kerr played him into trouble – the first had earlier resulted in a caution.
Skipper Smith then came to his side’s rescue, kicking away Kee’s volley off the line before getting his head to Holness’ follow-up effort from the same position.
Blair, though, continued to cause problems for the Burton back-four on the counter-attack and he fired across the face of goal from a narrow angle after bursting on to Potts’ pass through the right channel.
On 81 minutes, another explosive turn of pace saw the City winger put the outcome beyond doubt when he charged at the visitors’ goal from inside his own half after exchanging passes with Rodman.
Having carried the ball 50 yards, Blair then beat Lyness – perhaps a little too easily – with a low edge-of-the-box drive inside the former Kidderminster ’keeper’s left-hand post.
York City 3 (Walker pen 13, McLaughlin 36, Blair 81), Burton Albion 0
Michael Ingham 8
Handled well and, while rarely stretched fully, he made several saves.
Dan Parslow 8
Solid and yet another left-winger in Maghoma was substituted after failing to get the better of the Welshman.
Chris Smith 9
STAR MAN – Led by example with a strong captain’s display, encapsulated by two excellent goal-line clearances.
David McGurk 9
Won the majority of his battles in the air and on the deck against troublesome pair Zola and Kee.
Jamal Fyfield 8
Rarely troubled down his flank although lucky not to see red after two deliberate trips, the first of which did result in a caution.
Scott Kerr 8
Rallied the team from the middle of the park and picked up endless stray balls thanks to his positional nous.
Michael Potts 8
Eager, effective and unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a thumping edge-of-box effort.
Paddy McLaughlin 8
Showed great desire to force the ball over the line for City’s second goal and competed well.
Matty Blair 9
Uncatchable and indefatigable as demonstrated by his lung-busting run for a terrific third goal.
Jason Walker 8
Replaced at half-time because he was feeling weak but his performance before the break was anything but.
Alex Rodman 8
Elusive when he ran at the Burton defence and his positive charge into the penalty box set the ball rolling.
Subs: Jamie Reed 8 confident (for Walker, 46). Lee Bullock (for Kerr, 86), Lanre Oyebanjo (for Potts, 88).
Not used: Paul Musselwhite, Tom Platt, Jon Challinor, Tom Allan.
Dean Lyness, Anthony O'Connor (Cleveland Taylor, 53), Marcus Holness, Aaron Webster, Damien McCrory, Jack Dyer, Robbie Weir (John McGrath, 85), Lee Bell, Jacques Maghoma (Jimmy Phillips, 85), Calvin Zola, Billy Kee.
Subs not used: Ross Atkins, Chris Palmer, Matt Paterson.
Star man: Kee – tricky customer who required close attention.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Newcastle).
Rating: 6/10 – Burton might feel aggrieved by penalty decision and failure to book Fyfield twice.
Booked: O’Connor 13, Fyfield 51, Maghoma 65, Bell 67, Webster 82.
Attendance: 3,863 (251 from Burton).
Shots on target: City 6, Burton 8.
Shots off target: City 7, Burton 4.
Corners: City 5, Burton 8.
Fouls conceded: City 12, Burton 12.
Offsides: City 1, Burton 5.