1 Simon Heslop has the fortitude not to be defeated by his detractors

Gary Mills suggested Simon Heslop is his own worst critic following his successful recall to the City starting XI, but that is hard to believe following the social media derision that greeted the news that the former captain would reclaim his place in the team after serving a one-match ban. Sarcastic chanting of his name during the 4-2 midweek win against Spennymoor was hardly a ringing endorsement either of Heslop’s standing among certain sections of the City fan base.

Both manager and player will have been aware of such sentiments, but Mills steered clear of pandering to the crowd, as he remained focussed on what he felt would represent the best chance of his team following up the victory at Brewery Field with another three points and opted to replace defensive rookie Jassem Sukar with Heslop which, in turn, facilitated a switch back to 4-3-3. Stockport boss Jim Gannon later admitted he was furious with himself for adhering to the old cliche of never changing a winning team against all his instincts after fielding the same side that had thumped Southport 6-0 four days earlier, reasoning that every game was different and that he was subsequently forced to change his approach within 25 minutes of the match, as Dan Cowan replaced a clearly peeved Sam Minihan.

Mills has been accused of favouritism in terms of his relationship with Heslop and, whilst it is clear the City chief likes to surround himself with a small group of players he feels he can trust, his description of the “ridiculous challenge” that led to his 30-year-old midfielder’s suspension hardly corresponds with any allegation of preferential treatment. But, if Mills was taking a risk in restoring the man who has become certain supporters’ latest popular scapegoat and fall guy – and all clubs normally have one – Heslop had heaps of pressure on his shoulders to deliver a big performance.

His response should now be recognised, however begrudgingly, by Heslop’s severest of denigrators. After scoring one goal and teeing up the other in the 2-0 win against Stockport, following on from his double-volley showing in the 4-3 victory over Nuneaton, the York-born former Huntington School pupil has played a major role in two of his side’s five wins this term.

Nobody is suggesting he has been the star performer in 2017/18 or that he should be immune from reproval, but perhaps there can be a little more proportion between the highlighting of his faults and acknowledgement of positive contributions going forward.

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2 Second halves are getting better, but still no match for first-half displays

The contrast between Saturday’s first and second-half performances against Stockport wasn’t as stark as in other contests this season, but the display after the break did still fall short of the standards set prior to the interval.

Perhaps the crucial difference against the Hatters was that Mills’ men managed this encounter better than the closing 45 minutes of previous fixtures, with the visitors never allowed to build up any attacking momentum, while City could not dominate either. Nevertheless, the Mills will be looking for his side to maintain a level of performance right the way through matches where possible.

Heslop and Amari Morgan-Smith’s first-half goals mean 13 out of the Minstermen’s 18 this term have been scored during the opening period, with the remaining five also including an own goal and a penalty. Eight of City’s 11 goals conceded, meanwhile, have been shipped following half-time.

The trait has not been too costly so far. If games had ended after 45 minutes Mills’ team would only be one point better off courtesy of a draw against FC United of Manchester rather than the 2-0 defeat, which demonstrates the strength of those first-half displays because, on second-period performances alone, City would be down in the bottom six on nine points.

It is obviously better, in general, to finish games as the stronger team and, tellingly, Mills’ double Wembley-winning side of 2012 scored 29 of their last 34 goals in second halves, as they built up a real head of steam during the closing stages of the campaign. The City boss will not be making too big an issue of the trend to avoid psychological consequences, but will be keen, no doubt, to find a remedy and look for a quick improvement in coming weeks

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3 Amari Morgan-Smith should rack up the best goal return of his career this season

The 28-year-old striker’s excellent curling finish belied the record of an attacker who has not hit double figures in league goals during any of his last seven campaigns. Morgan-Smith managed nine for Kidderminster in 2013/14 and Luton two seasons earlier but, otherwise, he has netted five times on three occasions, four for City last term and just twice three campaigns ago.

The quality of Saturday’s goal, along with the manner he beat Bradford Park Avenue’s goalkeeper in another one-on-one situation, now needs to be replicated on a more regular basis, as Morgan-Smith’s desire and pace, along with Jon Parkin’s reliable eye for a through ball, will continue to see him sprinting clear through the left channel. There is an argument that the Wolverhampton-born forward’s chances of becoming a more regular marksmen might be enhanced if he was employed in a more orthodox central striking role, but Matty Blair grabbed 20 goals joining in from the flanks as City gained promotion back to the Football League using the same formation and Morgan-Smith can realistically target a similar tally.

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4 Stockport supporters warrant a prize for their loyalty

Whilst everything is relative, of course, Stockport supporters must allow themselves a wry smile when they listen to the legions of Arsenal supporters bemoaning life under Arsene Wenger after just missing out on a 20th season of Champions League football, before spending £46.5million on French star Alexandre Lacazette. Following back-to-back relegations that have seen City plunge from the Football League to the English game’s regional realms, there are not many groups of fans who can claim to have endured darker days in recent times, but Saturday’s visitors probably qualify for that dubious honour.

League Cup semi-finalists 20 years ago and still a Championship outfit in 2002, the part-time Hatters have failed to even make the play-offs during four seasons in National League North and that looked a possibility again on Saturday’s evidence. The turnout of 770 away fans, therefore, fully deserved the customary round of applause from the directors’ box when announced over the tannoy.

York Press: David Longhurst

5 The Minstermen faithful will never forget David Longhurst

City supporters, meanwhile, also merit acclaim for the manner in which the 27th anniversary of David Longhurst’s death was commemorated. After chanting the name of the player who devastatingly passed away on the Bootham Crescent pitch, a spontaneous bout of hand-clapping broke out during a break in play.

It was a touching tribute from fans who will always remember witnessing one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives, as well as those of a growing generation who were born long after the 1990 tragedy, but appreciate the importance of marking the saddest episodes in the history of the club, who also made an excellent decision in asking the players to wear black armbands.