THE mistletoe might have been taken down for another year but anybody thinking York City can now kiss goodbye to their play-off hopes, following a 2-1 defeat to Exeter, should think again.
Despite Saturday’s result, the Minstermen lost no ground on League Two’s top-seven places with all 24 teams continuing to take points off each other on a regular basis.
As Gary Mills stressed at the end of his team’s latest keenly-fought contest in this most competitive of divisions, the margin between victory and defeat is so slender from match to match.
Arguably, three fixtures into the second half of their season, City are yet to encounter an outstanding adversary or a poor one.
Exeter were no exception although their excellent away record is one of the more consistent and reliable features of an increasingly unpredictable season at the fourth level of the English game.
Facing their fourth promotion contender in succession, there was again little discernible difference between the quality of the Minstermen and their latest opponents.
In fact, for the opening 45 minutes, the hosts were the stronger side and deserved to be ahead rather than on equal terms at the interval.
Weaker second halves have hindered City’s progress this season, however, with the likes of Paddy McLaughlin, Alex Rodman and Scott Kerr, all prominent performers before the break, finding it difficult to maintain the same standards after the restart.
Addressing that trend could be crucial if City are to climb the table during the remainder of the campaign.
Equally, if they are to continue making progress this season or next, the Minstermen need to be a little more clinical in front of goal and less error prone at the back.
Exeter ’keeper Artur Krysiak, once an on-loan Minsterman, only had two shots on target to contend with on his return to North Yorkshire, smothering at Matty Blair’s feet for the first before Michael Potts pounced on the loose ball to level the scores with the second on 19 minutes.
Earlier, Rodman had scored a bizarre own goal, which will now need to wait until next Christmas before, no doubt, featuring on a number of rib-tickling DVD compilations.
Poor play in their own half by Kerr and Jamal Fyfield also contributed to Exeter’s winning goal, despatched by Jimmy Keohane on 54 minutes.
More lessons, therefore, were learned by a City team, still finding their feet at League Two level, against a side that were plying their trade in the division above last season.
The home side dominated the early exchanges with McLaughlin driving over from 25 yards in the second minute after David McGurk had won the ball close to the halfway line.
McLaughlin and Potts then combined to create an edge-of-the-box chance for Jason Walker that he dragged wide.
Moments later, McLaughlin was narrowly clearing the crossbar again from distance and Dan Parslow headed wide after McGurk retrieved the ball when Krysiak punched away a Walker corner.
But the Devon side forged in front following their first attack of the match on 14 minutes.
Keohane ran past a flat-footed Smith and headed straight for the home penalty box.
Sprinting back, Rodman prevented Keohane from finding John O’Flynn with a clever reverse pass, but the City winger only succeeded in firing powerfully past a helpless Michael Ingham from 15 yards with his outstretched boot.
Mills’ men have not won a single game after falling behind first this season, but gave themselves a great chance to put that right when Potts claimed his first goal at Bootham Crescent.
After receiving the ball in the left channel from Rodman, Potts threaded through a pass that Blair took in his stride, only to be stopped in his tracks by Krysiak. Potts, though, had continued his run into the penalty box and was on hand to find an inviting net from eight yards.
At the other end, Ingham kept out two long-range attempts from Alan Gow before Walker curled a free-kick narrowly wide of Krysiak’s right-hand upright with the Polish shot-stopper struggling to get across his goal line.
Exeter were a stronger proposition, though, after the break even if they were helped on their way after Kerr played a risky ball to Fyfield, who then allowed substitute Kevin Amankwaah to dispossess him 35 yards from goal.
The former Swansea winger then hared down the right flank and, when his low cross was allowed to travel across the face of City’s goal, Keohane struck a low ten-yard shot that squirmed under Ingham’s body.
Gow went on to shoot wide from 20 yards and then fired straight at the City ’keeper after being sent clear by Keohane.
The one-time Rangers forward also called Ingham into action with a rising shot at his near post before City finally threatened the visitors’ goal in the second period on 71 minutes when Blair burst through the right channel to race on to a Potts through ball.
But last season’s 20-goal top marksman saw his lofted effort over the advancing Krysiak bounce wide.
Lanre Oyebanjo was sent on to trouble the Grecians’ defence moments later and almost immediately forced left-back Andy Woodman to block his goalbound shot after charging into the penalty box.
Later on, Smith joined Oyebanjo, Blair and Rodman to form a four-pronged strike force but the nearest City came to claiming a point was when Ingham was sent forward for a stoppage-time corner.
The ’keeper climbed high to meet Oyebanjo’s corner but Smith could only fire wide after sliding in at the far post.
York City 1 (Potts 19), Exeter City 2 (Rodman og 14; Keohane 54)
Michael Ingham 7
No chance with first goal, but might have done better with second.
Dan Parslow 7
Generally solid defensively and used the ball well in the first half especially.
Chris Smith 6
Caught unawares prior to Rodman own goal and moments of uncertainty.
David McGurk 8
STAR MAN – made the right decisions again at the back with a safety-first approach.
Jamal Fyfield 6
Slow to react and a little casual on occasions prior to being withdrawn.
Scott Kerr 7
Distribution and care in possession was exemplary until risky pass for second goal.
Michael Potts 8
Closed down well, positive for his goal and set Blair up for a great chance later.
Paddy McLaughlin 7
At the heart of everything early on, but faded a little after the break.
Matty Blair 7
Displayed equal amounts of stamina and speed, but should have scored.
Jason Walker 6
Out of sorts and probably still suffering following bout of tonsillitis.
Alex Rodman 7
Unlucky with own goal, but displayed an ability to disguise which way he was going past opponents.
Subs: Lanre Oyebanjo 7 – lively (for Fyfield, 64), Tom Allan (for Walker, 75), Jamie Reed (for Potts, 83).
Not used: Musselwhite, Platt, Challinor, Bullock.
Artur Krysiak, Steve Tully, Pat Baldwin, Danny Coles, Craig Woodman, Jimmy Keohane, Scott Bennett, Tommy Doherty (Kevin Amankwaah, 46), Matt Oakley, Alan Gow (Arron Davies, 66), John O’Flynn.
Subs not used: Aaron Dawson, Rhys Evans, Elliott Chaberlain, Jamie Reid, Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Star man: Keohane – positive burst for first goal and grabbed second.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland). Rating: 7/10 – competent although lenient when he could have cautioned players.
Booked: Tully 37, Baldwin 86.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 3,506 (214 from Exeter).
Shots on target: City 2, Exeter 5.
Shots off target: City 9, Exeter 7.
Corners: City 10, Exeter 3.
Fouls conceded: City 7, Exeter 10.
Offsides: City 3, Exeter 2.