CHINA have declared that 2014 will be The Year of the Horse and York City could not have been quicker out of the stalls since January 1.
Six points from a possible six have provided a welcome boost for a side that ended the last calendar year without a win in 11 matches.
Saturday’s 3-1 triumph over Dagenham & Redbridge, meanwhile, saw the Minstermen enjoy back-to-back home wins in the same season for only a second time during the last 50 fixtures at Bootham Crescent.
Two-goal Wes Fletcher and Ryan Bowman also offered a reminder that City do possess the firepower to pull further away from League Two’s lower reaches in coming weeks.
Fletcher, enjoying his first taste of regular senior football in 2013/14, has already hit double figures, while Bowman has a healthy ratio of five goals from only six league starts as a Minsterman.
Add to that mix the poaching instinct of nine-goal Ryan Jarvis, missing on Saturday with a hamstring strain, then even without throwing unknown quantity Shaq McDonald into the equation, Nigel Worthington’s squad is not short on potency.
Despite Dagenham’s 80th-minute consolation, confidently finished by Rhys Murphy after a Ben Davies mistake, the Minstermen have tightened up at the back too, with just five goals conceded in the last eight games, compared to 16 during the previous eight.
Worthington’s post-match announcement that midfielder Adam Reed has rejoined the club, in tandem with the continued pursuit of Cheltenham captain Russell Penn, should add to the new year cheer as well.
The Minstermen have been missing some attacking thrust from the middle of the park for considerable periods of the campaign and Reed’s performances for the club at the end of last season suggest he can help address that problem.
Plenty of reason for optimism then but, equally, Worthington’s warning that nothing has been achieved yet must be heeded.
Bottom-of-the-table Northampton’s coupon-busting win at promotion hopefuls Newport offered another illustration that no team is likely to surrender their Football League status without an almighty scrap during the second half of the season.
It also remains fresh in the memory that City briefly hit the heights in autumn with impressive triumphs against Scunthorpe (4-1), Portsmouth (4-2) and Torquay (3-0) before standards slipped prior to the last strains of Auld Lang Syne.
Being brave and seeking convincing victories, in the manner City set about Saturday’s second half, can now prove a new benchmark for Worthington’s team.
The first 45 minutes, however, will not be offered as a blueprint for future progress.
City’s cautious approach to that opening period was most starkly highlighted when Dagenham’s makeshift midfielder Luke Wilkinson, normally a centre-back, was visibly surprised to receive possession in his own half and see 30 yards of clear space in front of him.
Both managers also agreed later that the visitors were unfortunate not to be in front at the interval.
The game was less than three minutes old when, after Tom Platt had lost the ball on the edge of his own penalty box, visiting skipper Abu Ogogo headed over the bar from a Femi Ilesanmi cross.
Michael Ingham then saved a curling Zavon Hines free-kick but the City ’keeper’s blushes were spared on 14 minutes when he miscued his punch from Medy Elito’s corner and Lanre Oyebanjo headed off the line.
An Elito free-kick from the left went on to pick out Ogogo, who escaped Bowman’s attentions, for another free header that he could not keep on target from seven yards.
Further chances saw decent edge-of-the-box efforts from Elito and Murphy deflected off target – the latter by a team-mate.
At the other end, City only threatened briefly with a couple of hopeful Michael Coulson attempts from distance and a tamely struck Josh Carson free-kick.
Carson and Coulson, though, would both combine to tee up Bowman for the game’s deadlock breaker.
A poor kick by Daggers ’keeper Chris Lewington fell to Carson on the right wing.
His diagonal cross was then cushioned into Bowman’s path with one clever touch by Coulson and the former Hereford striker quickly nudged the ball into a favourable shooting position before beating a red-faced Lewington from ten yards.
After Murphy had ghosted in between Keith Lowe and Oyebanjo to steer a shot wide from Gavin Hoyte’s cross, Lewington was embarrassed again on 64 minutes.
The 25-year-old shot-stopper could only watch Fletcher’s left-wing cross sail over his head and into the visitors’ net after the City striker had displayed typical tenacity to bustle past Hoyte after collecting Davies’ pass down the flank.
A couple of penalty appeals for Murphy and Carson fell on deaf ears shortly afterwards with the Dagenham striker booked after being accused of diving.
But Fletcher went on to claim his second of the game, sidestepping a Scott Doe challenge before beating Lewington from eight yards with a low shot after Coulson had sent in a cross following another right-wing interception.
Lewington kept out further Bowman and Fletcher shots as City threatened to run riot before Murphy found Ingham’s bottom right-hand corner from ten yards after Davies sent him clear on goal trying to intercept a through ball.
It was the hosts, though, who came closest to adding to the scoreline during the closing stages.
Coulson was denied by Lewington’s legs and Fletcher fired across the face of goal after David McGurk strode majestically out of defence and sent the hat-trick seeking striker clear through the left channel with an exquisite through ball.
York City 3 (Bowman 52; Fletcher 65, 71), Dagenham 1
Michael Ingham 7
Given a couple of tricky moments, but largely untroubled and kicking did not appear to be affected by recent injury.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Made a strong and confident return to right-back, but kept his attacking contributions conservative.
Keith Lowe 7
Refused to be beaten even if a striker initially got the better of him, attaches himself to opponents like a limpet.
David McGurk 8
Immaculate throughout and current run of games is giving everybody hope he can become a permanent fixture again.
Ben Davies 7
Competed well and picked his passes sensibly before being caught out for Dagenham’s consolation.
Josh Carson 7
Kept plugging away down the right flank and worked hard for the team prior to his second-half withdrawal.
Lewis Montrose 7
Quiet in periods but disciplined and never looked in danger of the tenth caution that would lead to a two-game ban.
Tom Platt 7
Found it hard to get to grips with the game during the first half, but busier and more effective after the interval.
Michael Coulson 8
Made important contributions for his team’s first and third goals and always willing to get a shot away.
Ryan Bowman 7
Once more displayed important striker’s knack of always being a goal threat even when not at the top of his game.
Wes Fletcher 9
STAR MAN – constantly dragged defenders into uncomfortable positions and deserved a touch of fortune for his first goal.
Subs: Sander Puri (for Carson, 77), Ashley Chambers (for Coulson, 84).
Not used: Jamal Fyfield, Ryan Brobbel, Elliott Whitehouse, Shaquille McDonald, Tom Allan.
Chris Lewington, Gavin Hoyte, Scott Doe, Brian Saah, Femi Ilesanmi, Abu Ogogo, Luke Wilkinson (Anthony Edgar, 62), Luke Howell, Medy Elito (Afolabi Obafemi, 76), Rhys Murphy, Zavon Hines. Subs not used: Josh Scott, Chris Dickson, Sean Shields, Jack Connors, Lloyd Anderson.
Star man: Murphy – took his goal well during a poor second half for visitors.
Referee: Gary Sutton (Gainsborough).
Rating: 6/10 – decided not to award two penalties but probably should have given both.
Booked: Murphy 66, Oyebanjo 73, Hines 89.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 3,207 (105 from Dagenham).
Shots on target: City 10, Dagenham 2.
Shots off target: City 2, Dagenham 7.
Corners: City 6, Dagenham 7.
Fouls conceded: City 9, Dagenham 14.
Offsides: City 1, Dagenham 1.