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Match report: York City 0, Cheltenham 0
GARY Mills has equalled his longest run without a victory as York City manager.
The fact that sequence stretches to just four matches, though, illustrates the standards the former European Cup winner has set during close to two years at the Bootham Crescent helm.
To put it into some form of context, Mills’ former Nottingham Forest team-mate Martin O’Neill has now gone 12 games since his last triumph in charge of Sunderland.
A 0-0 home draw against last season’s League Two play-off finalists Cheltenham Town also represented an improvement for the Minstermen, who had been beaten on all four of their previous meetings with the Robins at their North Yorkshire base.
Nevertheless, for a man who classes himself as a winner, Mills will be disappointed with the current series of results, which also includes draws with Chesterfield and Exeter, prior to last week’s defeat to Burton.
A point apiece, in terms of general play and chances created, was probably the right reward for both teams on Saturday although the hosts were left to reflect on the irony of a first League Two clean sheet being achieved on the same day that they failed to score for only the second time in 27 fixtures.
In fact, the Minstermen looked less threatening in the final third of the pitch than at any other stage this term with Ashley Chambers , in particular, doing the best of his work a long way from the visitors’ goal and penalty box.
Devising a method to break down opponents more effectively at a home ground where just two wins have been managed from the last nine fixtures might just hold the key to Mills’ team fulfilling their manager’s ambitions for this campaign.
Prior to Saturday’s contest, the City boss had called on his team to win more second balls than in the 3-1 midweek defeat at Burton and, as if taking that challenge as a personal affront, combative midfielder Jonathan Smith crashed into an early tackle that might have seen his name taken on another day.
On nine minutes, a patient spell of passing, unmatched at any other point in the game, ended with Jason Walker laying the ball off to Paddy McLaughlin, who released Michael Coulson through the right channel.
But Coulson’s drive from a narrow angle was kept out at his near post by Cheltenham ’keeper Scott Brown.
Moments later, though, Michael Ingham produced a smart reflex save after he had a split second to react when Shaun Harrad’s header changed the flight of Chris Zebrowski’s left-wing shot.
Jamal Fyfield then produced a brilliant block as a following-up Russ Penn looked certain to net.
At the other end, Coulson’s dangerous cross into the six-yard box was only cleared as far as McLaughlin on the edge of the penalty area but he lifted a right-footed effort over Brown’s bar.
Walker then tried his luck twice from distance.
With his first attempt, the City striker turned swiftly after receiving a Chris Doig ball to feet and forced Brown into a strong parry from 20 yards.
Then, from further out, he showed admirable confidence to control Lanre Oyebanjo ’s throw with his thigh before hitting a full volley that Brown gathered.
Chris Smith , though, rescued his team on 38 minutes with a terrific sliding tackle on the edge of the penalty box after Jermaine McGlashan had spun inside Fyfield and set off on a rapid charge towards Ingham’s goal.
In first-half stoppage time, Oyebanjo’s blushes were spared when he headed against the bar in front of an empty goal before play was brought back for an earlier foul.
Alan Bennett then booted an edge-of-the-box attempt out of the ground with the last kick of the half.
City reshuffled at the break with Chris Smith replaced due to a hamstring twinge by Lee Bullock as Dan Parslow moved to centre-back.
McLaughlin drove the hosts forward at the start of the second half but his finishing was uncharacteristically wayward, shooting wide on 53 minutes from 15 yards and then firing over the David Longhurst Stand when, had Coulson picked up his head during a promising break, he might have been better advised to pass to Bullock, who had sprinted unopposed into the visitors’ penalty box.
On the hour, McLaughlin then released Jonathan Smith for a clear run on goal but his heavy touch saw the ball roll to Brown.
Oyebanjo also had a 20-yard drive deflected narrowly wide before providing the right-wing free-kick that saw Bullock stab a close-range shot straight at Brown.
Cheltenham’s best opening followed shortly afterwards when McGlashan burst past Fyfield before delivering a low cross that Kaid Mohammed sidefooted against the crossbar from eight yards out with his first touch after replacing Harrad.
Mohammed also headed over after a free-kick from Marlon Pack, who went on to miss the target twice himself with long-range drives late on.
On 90 minutes, Bullock could not divert a diving header on target from Chambers’ cross and, in stoppage-time, hopeful penalty shouts were rejected after the latter stood on the ball and fell to the ground in the box.
The subsequent final whistle signalled only a second goal-less stalemate for City in 43 fixtures.
Mills’ last four-match run without a win, meanwhile, came when last season’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Wrexham was followed by three successive draws.
Michael Ingham 7
Displayed remarkable reflexes once more to deny Harrad and did what was required of him otherwise.
Lanre Oyebanjo 7
STAR MAN – strong defensively and also chose the right moments to attack when possible.
Chris Smith 7
Aggressive and unflappable at the back prior to the hamstring problem that saw him substituted at the break.
Chris Doig 7
Grew into the match the longer it went on and formed a solid and dependable second-half partnership with Parslow.
Jamal Fyfield 7
Stuck to his task against a difficult adversary in McGlashan and kept his discipline.
Dan Parslow 7
Made a comfortable transition back to centre-half where he helped team earn first clean sheet.
Jonathan Smith 6
Crashed into his early tackles but could not make most of chance created by McLaughlin.
Paddy McLaughlin 7
Always looked to join in attacks and, while shooting was a little rushed at times, he picked out some good passes
Michael Coulson 6
Started well but not as prominent in a second half when City needed attacking inspiration.
Jason Walker 7
Switched play with confidence, shielded ball expertly and won his team countless free-kicks.
Ashley Chambers 6
Grafted hard for the team but his presence was needed further up the pitch to unsettle the visitors' defence.
cott Brown, Sido Jombati, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Billy Jones, Marlon Pack, Darren Carter (Sam Deering, 78), Jermaine McGlashan (Jeff Goulding, 89), Russell Penn, Chris Zebrowski, Shaun Harrad (Kaid Mohammed, 73). Subs not used: Keith Lowe, Harry Hooman, Darryl Duffy, Connor Roberts.
Star man: Alan Bennett – marshalled his back-line well.
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Stockport) Rating: 6/10 A little on the lenient side in the first half.
Booked: Jombati 51, Fyfield 82, McLaughlin 86.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 3,477 (196 away fans).
Shots on target: City 4, Cheltenham 5.
Shots off target: City 6, Cheltenham 7.
Corners: City 5, Cheltenham 1.
Fouls conceded: City 16, Cheltenham 12.
Offsides: City 0, Cheltenham 3.