YORK City turned Fleetwood Town’s Highbury into a library for long periods of the latest meeting between last season’s two promoted Blue Square Bet Premier teams.
The Minstermen silenced supporters of the Cod Army after dominating for all but the last 15 minutes of Saturday’s festive contest, making a mockery of the 20 points that separated the two sides at the end of the 2011/12 campaign.
But, for all their superiority, Gary Mills’ men were kept off the scoresheet for a fourth consecutive meeting with last term’s non-League champions Fleetwood.
So often the level of liquid hospitality enjoyed by matchday sponsors is thought to cloud the judgement when it comes to selecting a man of the match from the comfort of the executive boxes.
Indeed, some choices can leave fellow spectators wondering whether, in a state of panic, a hastily-arranged game of stick the tie-pin in the team-sheet has been used to determine the destination of the post-match bottle of bubbly.
Few at Fleetwood, however, were surprised when home ’keeper Scott Davies was announced as the recipient of the award for his performance against the Minstermen.
Davies pulled off two fine first-half double saves to deny Alex Rodman, Jason Walker, Paddy McLaughlin and Matty Blair while, at the other end of the pitch, the hosts did not manage a single attempt on Michael Ingham’s goal until the 40th minute when, with City temporarily down to ten men due to Scott Kerr’s bloodied nose, David Ball headed over the bar from eight yards.
In fact, Ingham was not required to make a save until the 81st minute when he reacted smartly to keep out Steven Gillespie’s low shot with his feet.
And, while Davies was not troubled after the break, Mills’ team delivered the 90-minute performance the manager has been craving following recent second-half disappointments.
Jason Walker missed the visitors’ best chance of the game early in the second period before Michael Potts, Lanre Oyebanjo and McLaughlin also had opportunities to win the contest.
Perhaps most encouraging, however, was the team’s first clean sheet in 11 matches, which coincided with David McGurk’s return to the side after almost a year watching on from the sidelines and, more latterly, from the bench.
It is difficult to imagine a professional outfield player’s frustration levels following 14 consecutive games as an unused substitute. But McGurk’s response on his first outing since New Year’s Day 2012 galvanised a defence that has conceded an average of more than two goals a game over the last ten fixtures.
The former Darlington defender did not miss a header all afternoon and compensated for any lack of match fitness by reading the game in a manner City fans have grown accustomed to from a man making his 298th appearance for the club on the Lancashire coast.
Aside from McGurk, fellow long servant Dan Parslow was equally uncompromising in his subduing of Fleetwood dangerman Junior Brown.
Captain Chris Smith and Jamal Fyfield also contributed to a resilient back-four performance and, on the one occasion the quartet was breached, Ingham came to their rescue by denying Gillespie. Earlier, City’s ’keeper had been little more than a distant spectator as his team-mates bossed the opening exchanges.
On 12 minutes, Davies pushed Rodman’s powerful rising drive from 25 yards into the air and then dived high to his right to keep out Walker’s fiercely-struck, angled follow-up effort. Shortly afterwards, a clever shimmy down the right flank saw Potts brush past Cod Army full-back Dean Howell before delivering a dangerous cross.
McLaughlin’s scuffed shot at the far post was then parried by Davies, who recovered well to smother as Blair pounced on the loose ball.
From the edge of the box, Potts also fired narrowly wide before Ball missed the target following Shaun Beeley’s raid down the right as Kerr received three minutes of treatment after seemingly being felled by a stray elbow in the middle of the pitch.
Within four minutes of the restart, Kerr was releasing Blair down the right and his low cross picked out an unmarked Walker 15 yards from goal, only for the former Barrow striker to flash a first-time shot wide.
Potts also fired off target from the edge of the box before Alex Titchiner headed poorly wide for Fleetwood.
Chances, thereafter, were created at both ends of the pitch.
On 73 minutes, stretching City substitute Oyebanjo stabbed a 15-yard shot wide after Potts’ through ball, while Brown curled wide of Ingham’s near post from a free-kick conceded by Smith, who escaped the fifth caution that would have seen him miss tomorrow’s home match with Burton through suspension.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, fired wide after Fyfield sent Blair haring down the left flank.
But, moments later, Ingham saved Gillespie’s low 15-yard strike after the ball had fallen to his feet following Smith’s last-ditch tackle on Titchiner.
Gillespie also shot over on the turn and called Ingham into action for only the second time during the afternoon with a weak 89th-minute header.
It was City, though, who might have claimed maximum points in stoppage time when Smith climbed high to meet Oyebanjo’s corner but Blair had the ball nicked off his toes as he prepared to shoot.
Victory would not have flattered the visitors and, while the Cod Army can no longer be described as the big fish in a small pond, Mills’ team should take encouragement from their display against big-spending opponents that started the afternoon in a League Two play-off position.
Michael Ingham 8
Untested for the majority of the afternoon, but did not let his team down when called upon in the 81st minute.
Dan Parslow 8
Did not give Fleetwood winger Brown an inch and threw himself into headers and tackles throughout.
Chris Smith 8
Aggressive in the tackle and adapted well after being asked to play the left-sided central- defensive role.
David McGurk 9
STAR MAN – imperious in the air on his return to the first team, rarely caught out of position and defended resolutely.
Jamal Fyfield 8
Disciplined defensively and made a number of overlapping runs which were not always noticed by team-mates.
Scott Kerr 8
Hard to recall a misplaced pass from the vice-captain, who showed no ill-effects following his bang to the nose.
Michael Potts 8
Busy from the start and always willing to be involved, resulting in a number of dangerous deliveries into the box.
Paddy McLaughlin 7
Uncharacteristically failed to make the cleanest of contacts when presented with two decent chances.
Matty Blair 8
Grew stronger as the match wore on and frightened Fleetwood every time he got the ball down and ran at them.
Jason Walker 8
Should have hit target with second-half chance, but competed valiantly and won a succession of free-kicks.
Alex Rodman 7
Indecisive at times, but caused problems when he carried the game to the home defence.
Subs: Lanre Oyebanjo (for Rodman, 70), Lee Bullock (for Potts, 82). Not used: Paul Musselwhite, Jamie Reed, Tom Platt, Jon Challinor, Tom Allan.
Scott Davies, Shaun Beeley, Alan Goodall, Rob Atkinson, Dean Howell, Jamie McGuire, Alex Marrow, Jamie Milligan (Damien Johnson, 46), Junior Brown, David Ball (Steven Gillespie, 70), Alex Titchiner. Subs not used: Steve McNulty, Conor McLaughlin, Chris Maxwell, Jamie Allen, Tom Barkhuizen.
Star man: Davies – kept his team in the match prior to the break.
Referee: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire).
Rating: 7/10 – a couple of glaring mistakes, but none had a bearing on the final outcome.
Booked: Potts 78.
Sent off: None.
Shots on target: Fleetwood 2, City 4.
Shots off target: Fleetwood 4, City 6.
Corners: Fleetwood 5, City 5.
Fouls conceded: Fleetwood 13, City 14.
Offsides: Fleetwood 4, City 1.