ONLY once in York City’s 92-year history have the club racked up more goalless home draws in a single season.
The Minstermen’s fifth 0-0 stalemate of 2013/14 at Bootham Crescent – against an uncompromising and forceful Cheltenham team – moved them to within two of the club record tally, set 41 years ago.
And, with Nigel Worthington’s men still to play eight matches on their own soil before the end of the campaign, the prospect of joining or replacing their 1972/73 predecessors in the history books remains a real one.
That side finished seventh-bottom in the old third division but, with its defensive resilience, provided the platform for the club to secure promotion to the second tier of the English game for the only time during the following season.
There have been many reminders this term that the margins between success and failure in the lower leagues are still slim – the struggle of last season’s beaten play-off finalists Northampton at the foot of this term’s standings providing the starkest example.
Cheltenham have also been underwhelming during the first two-thirds of the Sky Bet League Two campaign following successive top-seven finishes, while City would be just one point adrift of those play-off positions had they managed to find the net at least once during each of the five 0-0 home fixtures they have shared the spoils in this season.
Even if Worthington’s team had only won the three of those games their dominance merited – this Cheltenham match certainly fell into that category along with others against Bristol Rovers and Rochdale (in the meeting with Hartlepool neither side deserved three points and Oxford were probably superior to their hosts in December) – they would still be sitting eighth and 13 points clear of the relegation zone.
On Saturday, not only did Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown make fine saves to deny City trio Michael Coulson, John McCombe and Josh Carson, he also mustered the visitors’ only on-target goal attempt, of sorts, with a wind-assisted fourth-minute punt out of his hands.
But, as the game wore on, the final outcome became more of an inevitability with the hosts clearly missing the option of introducing an injured Ryan Jarvis from the bench as an alternative to hard-working strikers Wes Fletcher and Ryan Bowman.
The 22-year-old pair, still relative rookies during their first season as Football League regulars, have started the last seven games together but would benefit again from the assistance of experienced, nine-goal team-mate Jarvis with Worthington seemingly unconvinced that teenage forwards Chris Dickinson and Shaq McDonald are ready for their senior debuts.
Dickinson has now been an unused substitute ten times this term, with transfer window signing McDonald failing to make the bench at the weekend. At the other end of the pitch, meanwhile, City are benefiting from a wily central-defensive partnership between seasoned duo McCombe and Keith Lowe.
McCombe has settled into City’s back four seamlessly to compensate for the loss of long-time talisman David McGurk to injury.
The towering Yorkshireman looks the latest in a recent line of defenders, following on from the likes of Luke Graham and Chris Smith, strangely deemed surplus to requirements at Mansfield before becoming significant additions to the Bootham Crescent playing staff.
He was certainly influential in snuffing out the threat presented by master goal poacher Jamie Cureton, who was barely afforded a kick prior to being replaced just past the hour mark.
Cheltenham, though, were equally resolute with shaven-headed pair Jason Taylor and Matt Richards patrolling the visitors’ diamond-shaped midfield boasting all the aggression and appearance of Eastenders’ Mitchell brothers while skipper Steve Elliott provided a hefty no thrills approach to defending. City started the match brightly with Coulson creating a great seventh-minute chance for Fletcher.
The former Scarborough winger’s pin-point through ball sent Fletcher sprinting clear on goal after Adam Reed had retrieved possession from the left-back position.
But a moment’s hesitation from City’s leading marksman allowed Elliott to catch him and block his eventual goalbound effort.
The Minstermen then survived a 26th-minute scare when Nick Pope misjudged Richards’ inswinging free-kick from the right but Elliott headed wide of his vacated net.
Concerted pressure either side of half-time led to several chances for the hosts, however, with Brown diving low to his left to keep out Coulson’s free-kick after Ben Davies’ positive charge to the edge of the penalty box had been crudely curtailed by Taylor.
The Robins’ net-minder then recovered to smother McCombe’s follow-up effort.
Coulson also displayed nimble footwork inside the opposition’s 18-yard box to fashion another opportunity on the stroke of half-time but drove over the bar.
After the break, Josh Carson scuffed a 15-yard shot wide following Bowman’s lay-off and then unleashed a powerful free-kick that Brown pushed away.
At the other end, Pope raced off his line to save bravely at the feet of Jermaine McGlashan and Cureton after they had burst into his penalty box and a 63rd-minute double substitution by Mark Yates then seemed to lift the visitors.
Moments later, McGlashan flashed a shot across the face of goal after Byron Harrison had ridden a Davies challenge and replacement Terry Gornell also headed over from a Craig Braham-Barrett cross.
McGlashan drove another attempt wide from 25 yards before City regained their composure.
On 69 minutes, Fletcher might have done better when he fired over from 12 yards after Davies had won a tackle on the edge of the penalty box.
Lanre Oyebanjo also missed the target with a speculative 30-yard attempt before Russell Penn’s wayward drive spun narrowly wide after ricocheting off team-mate Bowman’s hip.
With that chance, though, went the home side’s final hope of ending a ten-game run without a victory against their opponents stretching back to April 2000 when Mark Sertori secured a 1-0 win at Whaddon Road.
York City 0, Cheltenham 0
Nick Pope 7
Showed great alertness to charge off his line and snuff out the danger twice in the second half after his earlier misjudgement.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Kept cool when he found himself the last line of defence on a couple of occasions and surged forward with intent.
Keith Lowe 7
Allowed Cureton to escape his attentions once but gave little else away against his former team-mates.
John McCombe 8
STAR MAN – won his headers and never put a foot wrong during another solid outing.
Ben Davies 7
Competed well and had the confidence to join in attacks when appropriate.
Josh Carson 7
Whole-hearted throughout and his free-kick was the fiercest shot Brown had to deal with all afternoon.
Russell Penn 7
Left trailing in the wake of his rapid old pal McGlashan at times but never gave a quarter in the City midfield.
Adam Reed 7
Given a bit of a physical examination by Cheltenham’s bruisers but demonstrated his ability to get City passing the ball.
Michael Coulson 8
Showed intelligence to make the conditions work to his advantage better than any other player on the pitch.
Ryan Bowman 7
Tireless in his selfless work but never really threatened a goal during the 90 minutes.
Wes Fletcher 7
A little wasteful with his chances on goal but did not give the opposition a moment’s respite with his willing runs.
Subs: Will Hayhurst (for Carson, 72). Not used: Sander Puri, Chris Dickinson, Tom Platt, Tom Allan, Lewis Montrose, Michael Ingham.
Scott Brown; Michael Ihiekwe, Troy Brown, Steve Elliott, Craig Braham-Barrett; Jason Taylor, Lee Lucas (Terry Gornell, 63), Jermaine McGlashan, Matt Richards; Byron Harrison (Zack Kotwica, 83), Jamie Cureton (Sam Deering, 63). Subs not used: Connor Roberts, Joe Hanks, Sido Jombati, Mitch Brundle.
Star man: McGlashan – could not be caught when he sprinted at City.
Referee: Darren Handley (Bolton).
Rating: 7/10 – competent and clamped down on bad challenges.
Booked: Penn 10, Lucas 33, Taylor 43, McCombe 50, McGlashan 55, Ihiekwe 82.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 3,148 (172 from Cheltenham).
Shots on target: City 5, Cheltenham 1.
Shots off target: City 7, Cheltenham 5.
Corners: City 10, Cheltenham 0.
Fouls conceded: City 9, Cheltenham 16.
Offsides: City 1, Cheltenham 2.