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Match report: Aldershot 0, York City 2
ON a weekend when many of the nation's sports fans were absorbed by the Ryder Cup, York City’s supporters were just pleased to see Matty Blair back in the swing of things.
Last season’s 20-goal leading marksman has been a victim of circumstance in 2012/13.
Picking up an injury on the eve of the new campaign, he has been largely restricted to cameo substitute outings, as front three Michael Coulson, Jason Walker and Ashley Chambers have all presented strong cases for their continued inclusion in the starting XI.
But Blair’s speed, indefatigable energy and infectious spirit are very difficult to ignore.
Prior to Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Aldershot, Mills’ previous attempt to accommodate all four players in his side did not really convince with Blair looking uncomfortable in a midfield role during last month’s 2-2 home draw against Chesterfield.
Mills still clearly trusted his instinct that Blair could perform in that position, however, as he weighed up his options for the Hampshire clash.
It paid off with Blair breaking from the middle of the park to score a decisive first goal for City on 48 minutes.
He did, admittedly, then look just as dangerous when he was restored to his more familiar station on City’s right flank following Jon Challinor’s introduction against his old club just past the hour.
But, whether running from deep or from a wide berth, Blair's lung-busting charges will terrorise any team at League Two level, as Aldershot centre-backs Ollie Lancashire and Sonny Bradley, along with left-back Anthony Tonkin, will surely no doubt testify.
Bradley, in particular, had a torrid afternoon, giving the ball away and then the penalty that saw Walker blast City’s second goal into the roof of the net on 52 minutes.
City’s lone central striker also gave the kind of confident and audacious performance – even trying his luck with a shot from his own half at one point – that suggests something very special might just be around the corner from the former Luton and Barrow forward.
At the other end of the pitch, meanwhile, the Minstermen kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this season.
Goalkeeper Michael Ingham was, however, called into action just 28 seconds into the game, throwing out his left arm to push Danny Hylton’s 20-yard strike around a post.
At the other end, Jamie Young looked less assured when he was lured off his line by Chris Smith ’s long punt forward, only to have second thoughts and, as he backpedalled, the Shots shot-stopper was relieved to see Walker’s header loop on to the roof of his net.
Chances continued to be created at both ends with Ingham collecting a firmly-struck edge-of-the-box Scott Donnelly effort and Young saving well down to his right from an overlapping Coulson after Lancashire had surrendered possession to Walker.
City, though, were relieved to still be on level terms when Ingham saved another powerful Hylton shot on the turn but could not grab hold of the subsequent loose ball.
Following up, Craig Reid looked certain to score but somehow contrived to hit a post from two yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Young, however, twice came to his side’s rescue before the break, making a flying stop from Chris Smith’s diving far-post header after Blair had helped on Coulson’s corner.
After Coulson then headed over from a dangerous Jamal Fyfield cross, the Aldershot ’keeper then reacted just as impressively to keep out Blair’s rising first-time 15-yard drive at the end of a move that had involved Dan Parslow, Chambers and Walker.
Within three minutes of the restart, though, Young was beaten after Blair left the home defence trailing in his wake, charging on to a return pass from Walker through the left channel.
With plenty of time to think about what to do next, Blair deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Australian from ten yards and wheeled away in celebration as it bounced into his bottom left-hand corner.
Sloppy defensive play by a hapless Bradley then gave City the opportunity to double their advantage.
The on-loan Hull City defender, finding himself in the left-back position in his own penalty box, clattered a first clearance against Coulson and, then, when he was fortunate to find the ball back at his feet, proceeded to give it away again to Walker.
Completing a horrendous hat-trick of errors, Bradley then thrust out an arm to impede Walker as he set off for the home goal.
The City striker tumbled to the floor and referee Carl Berry pointed to the spot.
Walker, who has tried out a variety of spot-kicks during his City career with contrasting degrees of success, opted for power with his latest effort and drove into the roof of the net to Young’s right.
The second goal had an uplifting effect on the visitors, with Blair and Chambers now looking threatening every time they got on the ball.
On 71 minutes, Chambers darted in from the left flank but his low shot was saved by Young.
Ex-Shot Challinor, on as a second-half substitute, also had a late effort harshly disallowed for supposedly deliberate handball on the assistant referee’s advice, after Young had charged 40 yards off his goal to help out Bradley, following more hesitant defending from the 21-year-old.
Fyfield, meanwhile, was unlucky not to earn his team a second penalty when he appeared to be tripped by Josh Payne.
The final whistle was then greeted by a chorus of boos from the home fans, along with chants of “Deano, sort it out”.
It was certainly a different experience for home chief Dean Holdsworth than the one he had enjoyed in his last meeting with the Minstemen almost two years ago.
As Newport County boss back then, his team were 4-0 winners in a South Wales fixture that saw youth-team coach Steve Torpey take charge of a City side reeling from the twin departures of former manager Martin Foyle and caretaker chief Andy Porter.
Mills was brought to the Bootham Crescent helm for the next match and the progress that has been made at the club since would not have been lost on an under-fire Holdsworth at the end of this latest contest.
Aldershot 0, York City 2 (Blair 48, Walker pen 51)
Michael Ingham 8
Pulled off a couple more decent saves and deserved the little bit of luck when Reid hit a post.
Lanre Oyebanjo 7
A couple of untidy moments but not troubled greatly by Aldershot’s left-wing threats.
Chris Smith 8
Solid at the back and continues to attack the far post at set-pieces with intent.
Chris Doig 8
Looked comfortable on his return to a former club and decision making was sound.
Jamal Fyfield 8
Seems to have grown in confidence since Mills placed his trust in him, strong aerially and also an attacking threat.
Dan Parslow 8
Got on with his job in typically unfussy and disciplined fashion, never shirking a challenge.
Matty Blair 9
STAR MAN – His pace devastated Aldershot on more than one occasion and ran harder the longer the game went on.
Paddy McLaughlin 7
Reliable on the ball and sat a little deeper to allow Blair the freedom to charge forward for the first hour.
Michael Coulson 7
Quieter than in previous games but, as ever, got himself into a scoring position to force a fine save.
Jason Walker 9
Looks back to his mischievous best and played the perfect reverse pass for Blair's goal before getting on the scoresheet.
Ashley Chambers 8
Frightened Aldershot when he ran at them and worked tirelessly up and down the left flank.
Aldershot: Jamie Young, Ben Herd, Troy Brown (Josh Payne, 59), Ollie Lancashire, Anthony Tonkin, Adam Mekki (Alex Rodman, 59), Aaron Morris, Sonny Bradley, Scott Donnelly (Michael Rankine, 86), Danny Hylton, Craig Reid. Subs not used: Guy Branston, Myles Anderson, Kwesi Appiah, Glenn Morris.
Star man: Scott Donnelly – provided a cultured presence in the home midfield.
Referee: Carl Berry (Surrey); Rating: 5/10 Made erratic decisions on penalties, disallowed goals and the advantage rule.
Booked: Brown 24, Donnelly 31.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 2,176 (357 from City).
Shots on target: Shots 5, City 8.
Shots off target: Shots 5, City 6.
Corners: Shots 8, City 3.
Fouls conceded: Shots 15, City 17.
Offsides: Shots 4, City 2.