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Match report: Mansfield Town 0, York City 1
FROM Field Mill to the Field of Dreams – Matty Blair’s extra-time goal at Mansfield means York City have earned the right to complete a historic season with two Wembley cup finals.
The Minstermen once more displayed great resolve, endurance and perseverance to overcome an uncompromising Mansfield side yesterday, just as the Blue Square Bet Premier semi-final second leg appeared to be heading for a goalless stalemate and penalties.
Blair’s 111th-minute header was a virtual carbon copy of the one he scored at Luton to clinch an equally dramatic two-legged triumph at Kenilworth Road in the FA Trophy semi-final.
Stags left-back Ritchie Sutton was sent off seconds afterwards for a trip on Blair – his second bookable offence – but Walker then wasted two great chances to settle City’s nerves during an anxious ending to a tense afternoon.
Walker might also have followed Sutton down the players’ tunnel when he clattered recklessly into home ’keeper Alan Marriott during stoppage time.
Fortunately for City’s 18-goal joint-top scorer, who would have missed this Saturday’s FA Trophy final and the play-off final against his old team Luton eight days later had he seen red, he escaped with a caution.
All that was soon forgotten at the final whistle, however, as City players celebrated in front of a jubilant away end.
The police on duty also deserve praise for the manner in which they handled the ensuing pitch invasion by dismayed home supporters, lining up across the half-way line to allow the Minstermen’s players, management staff and supporters to enjoy their moment in a way that was denied the club two years ago at Luton.
It is the Hatters, of course, who now stand between City and regaining the Football League status they lost eight years ago.
The Minstermen’s recent record against the 1988 Littlewoods Cup winners – six wins and just one defeat from ten meetings in non-League football – should inspire confidence.
Yesterday’s win can also add Mansfield to a list of hostile arenas, including the likes of Luton, Wrexham and Grimsby, from which City have returned with victories this season.
The big occasion, it seems, suits this team. Nothing, certainly, appears to daunt them.
Mansfield fans whipped up a partisan atmosphere at a ground where they had not seen their side lose for six months during a 13-match unbeaten run.
But, buoyed by an equally passionate away following, City held their own as the predictable aerial onslaught began with Exodus Geohaghon hurling in his first long throw after just four minutes.
But City’s back line and goalkeeper Michael Ingham, who was subjected to “cheat” chants by Stags supporters blaming him for the first-leg dismissal of top scorer Matt Green, literally dealt with everything thrown at them.
A tentative first period saw Paddy McLaughlin miss the target with City’s only chances of the half – two long-range efforts that finished high and wide.
For Mansfield, Dan Parslow’s vital block diverted Adam Murray’s shot over the crossbar from a Lindon Meikle cross after Ingham had decided to head back for his goal-line instead of looking to collect Jon Challinor’s attempted, headed back pass. Meikle, the Stags’ liveliest outlet, also forced Ingham into a routine near-post save with the only on-target shot of the opening 45 minutes.
City, as has become their tendency, began the second half in more positive fashion with Walker’s shot blocked by Gary Roberts after Marr-iott dropped a Chris Smith header.
Blair also cut in from the right to force a low save but might have run at a retreating Mansfield defence moments later when his ambitious 30-yard attempt did not unduly trouble Marriott.
Mansfield, though, began to build up a head of steam as the half wore on. On 59 minutes, Louis Briscoe unleashed a low 15-yard drive that stung Ingham’s fingers and City substitute Adriano Moké had to kick an inswinging Luke O’Neill corner off the line, although referee Andy Davis had spotted a Stags infringement in the penalty box.
Meikle also fired into the side- netting from the edge of the box before City might have forged ahead from a 76th-minute counter attack.
Midfielder Michael Potts released Blair down the right and, when his low cross was left by Walker, Moké lifted an excellent chance into the away end from 15 yards.
Mansfield, though, still looked the most likely winners in normal time with Briscoe volleying across the face of goal from an impossible angle and Murray firing over from 20 yards after James Meredith had headed away a Geohaghon long throw.
Burly substitute Matt Rhead also saw a 90th-minute goalbound shot headed away by Smith.
City regrouped for extra-time, however, with the team’s fitness levels impressing against a Mansfield side that began to look jaded.
Seven minutes into extra-time, Potts weaved his way into the home box before dragging a 15-yard opportunity wide and, while Ingham pushed over a rising Meikle shot at the other end, Moké also drove into Marriott’s chest after good work from Ashley Chambers.
In the second period of extra-time, substitute Lee Stevenson wasted a promising position for the hosts when his early-taken shot lacked the power to beat Ingham.
Moments later, City had broken the deadlock when Fyfield released Walker for a run through the left channel. He teased a back-pedalling Murray before chipping an inviting cross into the six-yard box, where Blair showed great determination to rise highest and head into the roof of Marriott’s net.
Sutton departed soon afterwards although Ingham still needed to be alert to keep out Ross Dyer’s header after Geohaghon had summoned all his strength to throw possibly his speediest missile of the match.
As gaps opened up at the back in stoppage time, Walker should have added his name to the scoresheet but his deft chip over an advancing Marriott was not hit firmly enough to stop O’Neill clearing off the line.
After an electrifying burst by Moké down the left flank, Walker also delayed his shot in front of goal sufficiently for Marriott to smother his eventual effort before his follow-up attempt was blocked as well.
Profligate, yes, but nobody cared at the final whistle as City minds turned to their dates of destiny in North London.
Mansfield Town 0, York City 1 (Blair 111)
(York City win 2-1 on aggregate, aet)
York City: Michael Ingham 8, Jon Challinor 8, Chris Smith 9, Chris Doig 9, James Meredith 9, Daniel Parslow 9, Lanre Oyebanjo 7, Paddy McLaughlin 7, Matty Blair 7, Jason Walker 7, Ashley Chambers 7
Subs: Adriano Moké 7 (for Challinor, 61), Michael Potts 7 (for McLaughlin, 72), Jamal Fyfield 7 (for Doig, 87). Not used: Musselwhite, Reed.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Star man: Meredith – never stopped running for his team’s cause, making timely interceptions and driving team forward when moved into midfield.
Mansfield: Alan Marriott, Luke O’Neill, Martin Riley, Exodus Geohaghon, Ritchie Sutton, Gary Roberts, Adam Murray, Anthony Howell (Matt Rhead, 64), Louis Briscoe (Lee Stevenson, 104), Ross Dyer, Lindon Meikle. Subs: Shane Redmond, John Thompson, Danny Andrew.
Booked: Riley 35, McLaughlin 40, Doig 81, Oyebanjo 90, Sutton 104, Murray 108, Walker 120.
Sent off: Sutton 112.
Referee: Andy Davies (Southampton).
Rating: big improvement on Richard Clark. Refereed match not occasion.
Attendance: 7,295 (1,490 from City).
Block of the match: Parslow throwing his body in the way of Murray’s first-half shot.
Cross of the match: Walker’s left-wing centre for Blair to head in another vital goal.