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Gary Mills – the York City manager's highs and lows
York City boss Gary Mills with the FA Trophy and play-off final cup during the club’s open-top bus tour last May
Gary Mills’ two-and-a-half year reign as York City manager ended on Saturday night. Here York City reporter DAVE FLETT assesses Mills’ tenure.
GARY Mills and his players will forever be remembered for their Wembley heroics during nine historic days last May.
And, should the Minstermen successfully stave off the current threat of relegation back to the frightening abyss of non-League football, Mills’ part in the rejuvenation of this proud 81-year-old football club will not be tarnished.
Since Mills’ dismissal an hour after Saturday night’s 2-0 home defeat to Bradford City, however, the reaction among City supporters seems to have been divided.
Some felt last season’s FA Trophy and Blue Square Bet Premier double winner had grown stubborn in his adherence to the 4-3-3 formation and a loyalty to certain players they argued was misplaced.
But others believed the former Tamworth and Notts County boss should have been given more time to reverse the recent run of sorry results, mainly based on an appreciation of what he achieved in 2011/12.
There is, however, no room for sentiment in football, just ask Roberto Di Matteo or, perhaps more pertinently, Mickey Mellon – the sacked chief of last season’s Blue Square Bet Premier champions Fleetwood.
In fact, Mills’ departure now means none of the teams currently in the bottom half of the League Two standings are managed by the incumbents who were at the helm when the campaign kicked off.
Probably the most accurate of English football’s many well-worn clichés is that you are only as good as your last game and, sadly, Mills’ team have not won any of their last 11.
Couple that with a record of three home wins from 18, one goal from open play in nine matches and a current league position just four points above the drop zone, then it has to be said few football club boards would have left a decision on their manager’s future much longer.
It is true, of course, that Mills’ cause has not been helped by the fact that everybody with a love for York City is still haunted by the spectre of 2004.
The parallels with that first relegation from the Football League are there for all to see, right up to the eerie coincidence that former manager John Ward, now in charge of Bristol Rovers, could still hammer a reluctant nail in City’s coffin during the run-in, just as he did nine years ago as Cheltenham chief.
Other similarities lie in the team’s inability to find the net and the fact that their last win came during their first game of 2013.
An even more terrifying thought than that fear of déjà vu, however, is the certainty that relegation would mean incurring annual losses of £300,000 again for an incalculable number of years.
It is unlikely that anybody, including the club’s current owners JM Packaging, would be prepared to bridge that deficit.
The decision, made by the McGill family in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat to Yorkshire neighbours Bradford, therefore, was taken solely in what they deemed to be the best interests of the football club.
Great managers and players have come and gone over the decades at Bootham Crescent.
Some, in the case of the once revered Barry Swallow, have even sullied their reputation irrevocably.
York City fans, however, can never switch allegiance and will always need a club to support and the board clearly believed the difficult decision to part company with Mills was the best option to ensure that continues to be the case.
There can be no argument that this season has, aside from the euphoria of being one of the top 92 clubs in the country again, developed into a disappointment at best and a potential disaster at worse.
Since promotion from the Conference to the Football League was introduced 26 years ago in 1987, not one of the 31 teams that have made that step up has gone straight back down.
The closest a club has come during that time was Barnet in 2006, who still finished five points clear of danger.
In fact, that safety margin is even larger for a play-off final winning team, with AFC Wimbledon coming the nearest but still managing to put a ten-point cushion between themselves and the bottom two places last term.
History suggests City should not be in their present predicament.
Modest clubs of lesser means are better placed in the table and, on crowd attendances in this era of financial fair play, an average gate of 3,735 suggests the team should be occupying a mid-table berth and pushing for top-ten status.
Sides who currently get almost half the number of fans through the turnstiles that City do at Bootham Crescent, such as Morecambe and Dagenham & Redbridge, are riding higher in the league standings.
City can also rightly consider themselves a bigger club than promotion contenders Burton and Cheltenham.
Yes, the division is certainly strong but, as three draws against top-two Gillingham and Port Vale have proven this term, none of the sides are to be feared.
Mills will take satisfaction and solace from those results as he contemplates life after Bootham Crescent and, even allowing for the unhappy ending to his two-and-a-half year tenure at the weekend, the terrific highs of last spring should stay with him forever and provide a compelling CV for future employers.
While not a man for regret, though, he might reflect on the quality of his signings for the current campaign, which maybe also eroded some of the confidence members of the City board had in his transfer market acumen and potential ability to rebuild the team this summer.
This season’s recruits, with the exception of unfortunate long-term injury casualty Michael Coulson, have simply made nowhere near the same impact as the likes of Matty Blair, Jason Walker, Lanre Oyebanjo, Scott Kerr and Andre Boucaud did in the past.
Strangely, summer signings Jonathan Smith, Oli Johnson, Danny Blanchett and Lee Bullock were all quickly jettisoned without much match time.
John McReady has also failed to feature since recovering from a dislocated shoulder and, if Smith is discounted due to his sale to Luton, the other four players mentioned above, who have made three League starts between them, will have cost the club just under £200,000, at a conservative estimate, in salaries, relocation costs and settlement fees.
Despite insisting he would only bring in players who would strengthen the team, Mills’ transfer activity was also a little puzzling during the January transfer window when Ben Everson, David McDaid and Jameel Ibel were recruited.
Former Icelandic premier division striker Everson has been loaned to Gateshead after just two substitute outings, Salford City recruit Ibel has yet to make a first-team squad and McDaid, who signed for City after being inactive for two-and-a-half months following the end of the League of Ireland season, has not looked up to speed in his brief outings.
Subsequent loan signings Jack O’Connell and John McGrath, meanwhile, have made positive contributions, but Michael Rankine and Curtis Obeng, like others before them, have rapidly fallen out of favour.
Football moves on and the biggest challenge for any new manager is getting the best out of the players he has inherited.
It cannot be denied that Mills has assembled a squad of players designed to play in one way and it will be intriguing to see whether, with ten games left to play, the new boss decides a change in style is deemed possible or even necessary.
How the sacking was announced
York City board statement, issued on Saturday night: “It is with regret that the York City board of directors has terminated the contract of manager Gary Mills with immediate effect.
“The recent playing form, which has resulted in the team achieving only six points out of a possible 33 points, has led the board to this extremely difficult decision.
“The York City board of directors’ absolute priority is to safeguard the club’s Football League status and an improvement in results is essential due to our current League position.
“We would like to thank Gary Mills for his great contribution to York City and for managing last season’s promotion team. We wish Gary the very best for his future career.
“The board hopes to make an announcement regarding the new manager within the next week.”