Hockey: First-team coach confident York can avoid premier drop

York Press: City of York men’s I will be able to call on Rich Jenkin, pictured right, more regularly in the  second half of the North League  premier division season City of York men’s I will be able to call on Rich Jenkin, pictured right, more regularly in the second half of the North League premier division season

CITY of York men’s I coach Mike Couttie believes the team can stave off the threat of relegation in the New Year despite currently propping up the North Hockey League premier division table.

Without a win from any of their opening 12 fixtures, York are six points adrift of their nearest rivals Gateshead with the season just past its midway point.

But, with the Heed travelling to York for the first fixture of 2014 on January 11, Couttie reckons a win in that match can provide the confidence boost needed to secure top-flight regional hockey in York for a fourth successive campaign.

Couttie argues that the regular availability of forwards Tom Feasby and Richie Jenkin will make the team a stronger prospect during the second half of the season and he also feels that the work of coach David Lancaster will begin to bear fruit.

Giving his half-term assessment, Couttie said: “I suppose it has been a bit of a struggle so far. But, at the start of the season, we lost three key players in full-back Mike Gamble, midfielder Stuart Smyth and forward Lee Cuffe. We’ve also had a number of injuries and players unavailable for other reasons.

“We were excited at the start of the season that we would see some early benefits from David Lancaster’s work having brought him in after he took Durham Ladies to the National Premier League but we’ve been struggling to put a squad together. David has definitely made a tactical difference to the team though.

“We are playing in a different way and we believe we will reap the rewards of that during the second half of the season. The new forwards coming in will also help.

“Tom Feasby has just graduated from Sheffield University, where he was part of the squad promoted to the National Premier League. He’s coming back from a cruciate ligament injury so we are getting him fully fit but hopefully, during the New Year, he will help us score more goals.

“We will also have Richie Jenkin, who has been training to become a pilot and missed games, but is now hoping to play for the majority of the rest of the season.”

Gateshead are one of two teams York have managed to share the spoils with this season.

The sides fought out a 4-4 draw in the North East and Couttie is certain the team can get that elusive first victory on the board during the return fixture.

He added: “It’s a very important game and it could be a real turning point in our season because it would do us the world of good, going into the second half of the season, if we can pick up maximum points at home. They caught us out with two quick goals at their place in the first 15 minutes.

“We then settled ourselves and got back into it and were a bit unlucky not to get three points. Their ’keeper pulled off a few good saves to keep them in the game so we are confident we can get a result.”

Despite the current standings suggesting otherwise, the York coach also insists that performances have not been too bad in 2013.

“Being bottom of the table really does not reflect the team’s ability,” he reasoned. “We just need a win to get confidence into the players and, once we do that, we will pick up enough points to survive.

“We played very well against Doncaster who are top and haven’t lost a game. At 1-1, we missed a couple of chances to go ahead before losing 6-2 in the end but we gave them a real shock.

“Talking to them afterwards, they were very surprised by where we are in the league.”

There have been strong individual contributions too amid the travails with Couttie saying: “A couple of stalwarts from last season have been performing well.

“Ben Bull, who is normally a centre-half, has slotted into midfield well and Alex Cockram has done a good job up front. We have had a couple of 15-year-olds come through too, including Max Keller, from Pocklington School, who has done very well.”

York have finished ninth and tenth since winning promotion to the 12-team division and, on the importance of climbing out of those bottom two places in coming months, Couttie explained: “As a club, we are always striving to improve and to attract the best players, as well as provide a pathway for youngsters to play a good standard of hockey.

“It is important that the club can offer that with the first team playing in the Northern Premier and we have ambitions to get into the National League too.”

One possible step towards strengthening the ranks is joining forces with the University of York and discussions between the two clubs on that are at a preliminary stage.

“There have been initial talks with the University of York about an amalgamation,” Couttie revealed. “They are looking to get promoted from the Yorkshire League’s premier division this season and I think it would be a good step forward for both clubs. We could have a good development ground for our first team and any students who want to play at a higher level of hockey could do so as well.”

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