YORK City defender Hamza Bencherif believes the superior quality of his team-mates at Bootham Crescent will spare him a second successive relegation.
Bencherif was a member of the Halifax squad that went down last term after a 1-1 final-day home draw with Macclesfield sealed their fate due to Anthony Dudley’s 73rd-minute winner for Guiseley in a 4-3 thriller against Torquay.
The 29-year-old defender watched on helplessly that afternoon, having picked up an injury in the previous match – a 1-0 triumph at Forest Green.
He went on to recover in time to play in the Shaymen’s 1-0 FA Trophy final victory over Grimsby but, with his current team having also booked their place at this season’s Wembley showpiece, Bencherif is confident lightning won’t strike twice.
City hover above the relegation zone on goal difference ahead of their penultimate league fixture at relegation rivals Woking, but the positive Parisian reasoned: “It feels really different here compared to the situation at Halifax last season.
“We had a young team there, whereas we’ve got quality players here who other clubs would envy. We know there’s enough in our team to beat sides 2-0 or 3-0, so really it’s in our own hands.
“We’ve grown used to winning now and want to win every game.”
Bencherif accepts, meanwhile, that the Minstermen’s situation is more critical than that he faced at Halifax, where the team’s off-field problems and troublesome recent past meant Trophy success served as a more palatable consolation than it will should his current club drop to National League North level for the first time in their history.
“The stakes are a lot higher here,” the former Algerian under-20 international admitted. “Halifax had come back up from the lower divisions and, even though we only went down in the last 20 minutes of the season, there was lots of stuff going on.
“We were part-time and had no training facilities. Sometimes, we had to train in Manchester, but York have come down from League Two and have a fantastic training ground.
“Everything is in place for the club to be at the top of the league or higher, so it’s unthinkable that York could go out of this division.”
The 6ft 3in centre back went on to stress that he believes, if the unthinkable is avoided, the club can occupy the division’s upper reaches next term – a challenge he would like to be around for himself, adding: “It’s a great club and we have a good group of players and staff.
“We’ve been through a lot this season and, if we can get things right in pre-season and work on our patterns of play, we know we could be a force next season, but that’s looking ahead and seems far away. First, we’ve got to do everything we can to stay up because it’s the club’s and players’ futures at stake.”
Three points at Woking would represent a massive stride towards survival and Bencherif pointed out that the team must strike the right balance between embracing the significance of the fixture and avoiding amplifying the tension surrounding it.
“There’s no reason for us to panic because you don’t want to put yourself under unnecessary pressure, but everybody is up for it,” he declared. “After every game – win or lose – we get together and speak about things and, following our few defeats, we’ve bounced back.
“Now, we’ve got to do that again by just doing our jobs because every football game comes down to keeping your focus minute by minute.”
After being barred from playing against his parent club Wrexham during Easter Monday’s 3-1 home defeat, Bencherif is also relieved to be back in contention for the Surrey clash, with boss Gary Mills already confirming he will be recalled to the starting line-up.
On the disappointment of missing out against the Welsh team, the former Macclesfield and Notts County defender explained: “Wrexham put that in place when I first came to York and, even though the gaffer tried everything to allow me to play, it didn’t happen.
“It was quite painful not being able to help and it would have been easier for me if we had got the win. We had started to get a good flow in the team with everybody knowing what they’re doing and changing things can always go either way, but we’ve all just got to focus on the next game now.”
By not playing, Bencherif might have avoided the abuse fellow former Robins Mills and Sean Newton received at the hands of visiting fans during the bank-holiday contest – a response that he hadn’t foreseen.
“I was surprised by the Wrexham supporters’ reaction because, when you look at it, both of them did well there,” Bencherif pointed out. “But, in football, like relationships, you never really get a good break-up.
“I don’t think either of them paid much attention to it though, as we’ve got such a big job ahead of us here to focus on.”