YORK City have now failed to beat a team managed by former Bootham Crescent chief John Ward in 13 games but their latest attempt might just have been the unluckiest.
Ward’s Bristol Rovers team relied heavily on the heroics of goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall to ensure his old side did not secure a fourth successive win to mark their 1,500th Football League fixture at Bootham Crescent.
The former Milwall shot-stopper denied Russell Penn, Josh Carson and Keith Lowe with a hat-trick of remarkable reflex saves and the hosts were also unfortunate not to score from any of the 13 corners they forced.
Ward, now 62, was therefore relieved to leave his old stamping ground with his long unbeaten run against the Minstermen intact.
That sequence, spread over almost 20 years and encompassing two spells in charge of the Pirates as well as other stints at Bristol City and Cheltenham, now incorporates ten defeats and three draws.
However, not since Steve Bushell’s solitary away goal against Rovers in April 1994 clinched the Minstermen’s only victory in 15 fixtures against Ward sides, can the North Yorkshire club have more deserved the full reward for their efforts against their ex-boss.
The displays of front-two Wes Fletcher and Ryan Bowman could have certainly warranted a place on the scoresheet for both in a third successive game.
Rovers struggled to contend with the pair’s tenacity, enthusiasm and pace throughout, while Carson and Michael Coulson also provided good support from the flanks.
In Mildenhall, though, City were pitched against a determined last line of defence.
On nine minutes, Bowman made a smart near-post run to meet Coulson’s corner but his header landed on the top of Mildenhall’s netting.
The City striker also ran directly at the Rovers defence through the left channel after collecting Lewis Montrose’s through ball but saw his shot deflected away from goal.
From further flag-kicks, Lowe volleyed narrowly over from the edge of the box and Mildenhall dived low to his left to brilliantly keep out a fierce 12-yard strike by Penn.
The shell-shocked visitors finally found their feet just past the half-hour mark although right-back Michael Smith should have done better when he could only lift a weak shot into the hands of Nick Pope after confusion between the on-loan Charlton ’keeper and Lowe had presented him with the chance.
John-Joe O’Toole also slid in at the far post to put the ball in Pope’s net only to see his effort narrowly ruled out for offside and Matt Harrold headed against an upright in front of an inviting goal after the 21-year-old net-minder had been lured into no-man’s land following Tom Lockyer’s right-wing cross.
City recovered, though, to finish the half strongly with great work from Fletcher leading to a ten-yard chance for Carson that Mildenhall excellently clawed away to safety.
Fletcher’s speed also took him clear of the Pirates’ defence on the stroke of half-time, as he raced on to Lanre Oyebanjo’s pass through the right channel.
But the former Burnley striker snatched at his shot a little and it bounced wide of Mildenhall’s right-hand post.
City continued to threaten the most after the interval with Mildenhall collecting a low 15-yard drive from Carson at the second attempt after the ball had initially bounced off the surface and hit his chest.
But Mildenhall was back to his best to palm over Lowe’s header from a 65th-minute Coulson corner.
Fletcher then saw a deflected shot finish wide of goal when passing to either Bowman or Coulson, who were overlapping either side of him, might have been the better option.
The persistent Carson went on to have the hosts’ final two chances, shooting just over from the edge of the box on 80 minutes and trying his luck with a dipping, 25-yard effort that might have beaten Mildenhall with a little extra lift.
At the other end, Rovers’ second-half opportunities were limited to an O’Toole effort smothered just inside his own 18-yard area by Pope following a spot of unorthodox goalkeeping.
Former Minsterman Chris Beardsley also saw a header sail over the bar from Harding’s cross but he was unable to net against his old club for a third time this term and the hosts shared the spoils in their fifth goal-less draw of the season.
York City 0, Bristol Rovers 0
Nick Pope 6
A little nervous and may need more game time to get accustomed to his new team-mates at Bootham Crescent.
Lanre Oyebanjo 7
Combative throughout and won most of his aerial contests while keeping his forward forages to a minimum.
Keith Lowe 8
Recovered from any mistakes with his determination and keeps threatening to claim a first goal for his new club.
David McGurk 9
Completed a typically, well-timed tackle when last man in the first half and never caught out of position.
Ben Davies 7
Locked down his flank but could have done better with his crosses when in promising attacking positions.
Josh Carson 8
Grew stronger as the game went on and might not be too long before he claims another spectacular goal.
Lewis Montrose 7
Passed the ball sensibly and made himself an option when others were in possession.
Russell Penn 7
Denied superbly by Mildenhall in the first half and fought on valiantly following a first-half injury.
Michael Coulson 7
Busy and willing but the visitors' defence worked hard to stop him in his tracks and block his shots.
Ryan Bowman 8
Looked full of confidence after some smart early runs and always a danger with his head in the penalty box.
Wes Fletcher 8
STAR MAN – constantly outstripped the Rovers centre-backs for pace and deserved a goal for his efforts.
Subs: Adam Reed (for Penn, 81), Ryan Jarvis (for Bowman, 88). Subs not used: Chris Smith, John McCombe, Tom Platt, Michael Ingham, Chris Dickinson.
Steve Mildenhall, Michael Smith, Tom Parkes, Mark McChrystal, Lee Brown, Mitch Harding (Danny Woodards, 81), Tom Locker, Ollie Clarke, John-Joe O’Toole, Elliot Richards, Matt Harrold (Chris Beardsley, 61). Subs not used: David Clarkson, Oliver Norburn, Ellis Harrison, Conor Gough, Pat Keary.
Star man: Mildenhall – his two first-half saves were among the best seen at City this season.
Referee: David Webb (County Durham).
Rating: 7/10 – generally good aside from the odd aberration.
Booked: Lockyer 22, Harrold 42.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 3,514 (221 from Bristol).
Shots on target: City 7, Rovers 5.
Shots off target: City 7, Rovers 2.
Corners: City 13, Rovers 1.
Fouls conceded: City 11, Rovers 11.
Offsides: City 1, Rovers 2.