HE might have been pipped to February’s Sky Bet League Two Manager of the Month award but York City chief Nigel Worthington is unarguably the division’s best boss so far in 2014.
Saturday’s 1-0 win at AFC Wimbledon – a team who had enjoyed four straight triumphs over the Minstermen prior to this latest meeting – means Worthington’s side have now racked up more league victories – seven – than any of their rivals since the last strains of Auld Lang Syne rang out.
A tally of 24 points, meanwhile, represents the most collected in the Football League’s basement tier during the new year – Fleetwood have won 22 – and a record of only seven goals conceded is also the best among City’s equals.
All impressive statistics that have propelled Worthington’s team from a place above the relegation zone on goal difference at the end of 2013 to a position only four points adrift of the play-off spots with 11 games left to play.
Worthington currently prefers to publicly down play the team’s hopes of gatecrashing the end-of-season promotion shoot-out but, with seventh-placed Southend, who have won just two of their 12 fixtures in 2014, still the side the chasing pack are looking to hunt down, that gap suddenly looks far from insurmountable.
If City can continue to defend with the same resilience, determination and focus that was in evidence at Kingsmeadow and has been for most matches since Keith Lowe’s arrival in mid-November, then the prospect of a top-seven tilt certainly should not be discounted.
The efforts of Lowe, ably assisted by fellow back-four members John McCombe, Lanre Oyebanjo and Ben Davies, ensured that on-loan Charlton shot-stopper Nick Pope did not have a single save to make throughout the 90 minutes against a Wombles team that had plundered 12 goals in their last four meetings with the Minstermen.
Combative midfield performances from Russell Penn and Adam Reed also offered no small help in that respect, along with lung-busting shifts up and down both flanks by Josh Carson and Will Hayhurst.
In the final third of the pitch, Ryan Bowman continues to struggle having now gone nine games without a goal after squandering a second-half shoe-in for miss of the season, but Michael Coulson’s renaissance as a centre forward has given City an extra attacking dimension.
For the second successive weekend, Coulson was the team’s match winner, heading in the only goal of the game on 41 minutes and he proved a constant menace for the hosts with his excellent retention of possession and positive play.
Inspired by the lively former Barnsley forward, City started brightly and Bowman glanced an early header narrowly wide from Hayhurst’s left-wing cross.
Wimbledon only managed their first effort of the game on 23 minutes when right-back Barry Fuller’s curling deflected 20-yard attempt bounced wide. Striker Danny Hylton also had two presentable chances, heading wide from a Tom Richards corner and firing across the face of goal with a swift shot on the turn.
But Coulson always looked the game’s most likely marksman.
On 26 minutes, he had called home shot-stopper Ross Worner into action at his near post from a narrow angle following Reed’s quickly-taken corner.
The former Scarborough and Grimsby attacker then drove into the Dons’ penalty box before unleashing a rising strike that Worner did well to push over his crossbar, only for referee Carl Boyeson to baffle everybody by awarding a goal kick.
But Coulson would not be denied when Oyebanjo’s perfectly-arched cross from the right picked him out eight yards from goal and he headed inside Worner’s right-hand upright.
City’s goalscorer continued to be involved in all of the visitors’ most threatening second-half moments, feeding an overlapping Davies on 51 minutes to cross for Carson, who dragged his shot wide.
After Coulson had been thwarted by Worner, Carson’s follow up effort was then deflected wide with loud appeals for handball ignored by Boyeson.
Shortly afterwards, on 67 minutes, came the moment that Bowman would be best advised not to dwell on.
Worner completely missed his kick from a Will Antwi back pass and Coulson pounced, squaring to Bowman, who somehow shot wide of an open goal from six yards.
It would not prove costly, however, with the Wombles only mustering three goal attempts during the second period – Darren Jones and Hylton both heading wide from set-pieces and Aaron Morris firing out of the ground from 30 yards.
Coulson could have also claimed a second of the afternoon when he stumbled in front of goal after Bowman and Hayhurst had combined down the left channel.
It had been a highly promising afternoon for Worthington’s team, however, with a glance at the substitutes’ bench also providing plenty of cause for optimism during the remainder of the season.
Sat alongside this season’s two top scorers (Wes Fletcher and Ryan Jarvis) were two full internationals (Michael Ingham and Sander Puri), a two-time Press Player of the Year (David McGurk) and a two-time League Two promotion winner (Lewis Montrose).
AFC Wimbledon 0, York City 1 (Coulson 41)
Nick Pope 7
Kept his concentration on an afternoon when he was a virtual spectator for long periods.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Delivered a superb cross for the only goal and got in countless blocks for his team.
Keith Lowe 8
Always in the right position to sweep up and clear the danger with another no-nonsense performance.
John McCombe 8
Stood tall in the face of Wimbledon’s aerial onslaught and won his physical contests.
Ben Davies 8
Looked confident during his forward forages and snuffed out most attacks down his flank.
Josh Carson 8
Worked tirelessly up and down the right wing and got in some good goalscoring positions.
Russell Penn 8
Refused to be intimidated and anchored the midfield with discipline and sound positional sense.
Adam Reed 7
Displayed good anticipation and speed on the ground to make several timely interceptions.
Will Hayhurst 7
Showed a willingness to drive the team forward and always positive when he received the ball.
Ryan Bowman 6
Finding the going tough, as highlighted by his horror miss, but did not let frustration get the better of him.
Michael Coulson 9
STAR MAN – lively from first whistle and caused Wimbledon a multitude of problems with his impressive ball control.
Subs: Wes Fletcher (for Hayhurst, 80), Lewis Montrose (for Reed, 85), Tom Platt (for Carson, 90). Not used: David McGurk, Michael Ingham, Sander Puri, Ryan Jarvis.
Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Aaron Morris, Darren Jones, Will Antwi, Tom Richards (Chris Arthur, 61), Michael Collins, Sammy Moore, Luke Moore (Peter Sweeney, 60), Danny Hylton, Charlie Sheringham (Jack Midson, 60). Subs not used: Ashley Bayes, Alan Bennett, George Francomb, Harry Pell.
Star man: Richards – provided a willing outlet on the left.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire).
Rating: 5/10 – made some puzzling oversights.
Booked: Michael Collins 46, Will Antwi 52.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 4,182 (568 from City).
Shots on target: Wimbledon 0, City 5.
Shots off target: Wimbledon 7, City 8.
Corners: Wimbledon 6, City 4.
Fouls conceded: Wimbledon 11, City 9.
Offsides: Wimbledon 1, City 0.