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York City 1, Oxford United 0
WITH Archbishop Dr John Sentamu cheering on from the stands, York City's very own evangelist fired the Minstermen into the Conference play-offs.
Neal Bishop's stunning 20-yard first-half volley capped a quite sensational week for the 25-year-old midfielder, which saw him called up to the England National Game XI squad and be named City's Billy Fenton Clubman of the Year, as well as players' player of the year.
Manager Billy McEwan had called for calm and composure from his side and, by and large, he got it as City bossed an Oxford outfit shorn of a number of first-teamers.
As expected Us boss Jim Smith rested a number of players from his starting line-up with striker Yemi Odubade on the bench, midfielder Chris Hargreaves rested and Andy Burgess missing through injury.
There was further injury woe for Smith when 'keeper Billy Turley bruised a thumb in the pre-match warm-up, Chris Tardif stepping in.
With City needing a point to guarantee a play-off spot, the Minstermen started nervously as Oxford bustled to the ball.
But ten minutes in came the first chance. Martyn Woolford's long ball found Craig Farrell who cut into the box. His cross was blocked but came out to skipper Manny Panther who fired over the bar from 25 yards.
City were probing the Oxford defence with direct balls to strikers Farrell and Clayton Donaldson but regardless of their pressing, it was the visitors who should have taken the lead on 14 minutes.
Chris Zebroski drove into the box and slid the ball across the goalmouth for forward Rob Duffy, who threw himself at the centre but couldn't divert it inside 'keeper Tom Evans' far post.
It was the warning shot across the bows which City needed. By that time, former Minstermen loan signing Luke Foster had left the pitch with an ankle injury giving York the opportunity to create a host of chances.
First, Farrell saw his shot blocked by Tardif after he had stolen a march following a botched back-header from Barry Quinn on 26 minutes.
Then, a Woolford corner had to be put behind by Eddie Hutchinson with Bishop waiting at the far post to pounce.
City were furious they didn't get a penalty when Gavin Johnson went through Donaldson in the box after trickery from Woolford who, after cutting the ball back past three defenders, had seemed to give the Hibs-bound striker a shooting chance.
But Bishop wasn't to be denied on 37 minutes.
Panther, an increasingly formidable presence in the middle of the park, flashed forward down the right-hand side.
He passed to Danny Parslow whose cross was headed to the edge of the area by Eddie Anaclet where Bishop lashed a right-footed volley into the net off the inside of the left-hand post.
City should have had a second a minute before the break when, after Quinn was booked for deliberately handling a Panther cross, Farrell's teasing free-kick was missed by both Donaldson and David McGurk by the narrowest of margins.
With York in control, the play-off tension which had built during the week began to drain away.
And that's probably why the Minstermen were a little lethargic as the second period got under way.
Farrell had to head off the line two minutes after the restart following Michael Cocoran's header from a Carl Pettefer cross and, on 50 minutes, Duffy narrowly missed out after another Pettefer corner.
But City settled once more and Farrell should have scored on 53 minutes - instead swinging at fresh air after Donaldson found him with a pass six yards out.
Duffy then tested Evans with a first-time volley from 20 yards before he and Danny Rose both hit shots over the bar.
But the best chance fell to Woolford who, on 73 minutes, broke with the ball from the half-way line and, with defenders backing off, shot just past the left-hand post with Tardif a mere spectator.
There was still time for Bowey to blast over and for Manchester United loanee Rose to briefly threaten Evans' goal but City had already done the hard work.
Now they have to finish the job.
Match facts York City v Oxford United
Nationwide Conference: Saturday, April 28 2007 at KitKat Crescent
York City: Evans 7, Purkiss 6 (Lloyd 46, 7), Parslow 7, McGurk 7, James 7, Bishop 8, Panther 9, Woolford 7 (Convery 80), Bowey 8, Farrell 7 (Brodie 85), Donaldson 7.
Key: 10 - Faultless; 9 - Outstanding; 8 - Excellent; 7 - Good; 6 - Average; 5 - Below par; 4 - Poor; 3 - Dud; 2 - Hopeless; 1 - Retire.
Subs (not used): Gamble, Peat.
Star man: Panther - he skipper slipped the shackles in the second-half, his surging runs helping to drive his side on to victory.
Oxford United: Tardif, Day, Corcoran, Quinn, Anaclet (Odubade 71), Luke Foster (Hutchinson 19), Rose, Pettefer, Johnson (Brevett 64), Duffy, Zebroski. Subs not used: Turley, Martin Foster.
Bookings: Quinn 44, Panther 52.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Ashington).
Rating: Tried to let the game flow, but let some obvious fouls go. City fans were furious he didn't give a first-half penalty.
Weather watch: Warm but with a fairly stiff breeze.
Game breaker: It's been some week for midfielder Neal Bishop and his fabulous goal helped drain away the KitKat Crescent tension.
Match rating: Not a classic but, following a nervy start, City imposed themselves and did what they had to do.
Billy's verdict: "What can you say about our fantastic fans? I thought the noise they made was fantastic. It was like an extra player."
Player watch: Steve Bowey
Goal attempts on target: 0
Goal attempts off target: 2
Passes to own player: 11
Passes to opposition: 8
Crosses to own player: 1
Crosses to opposition: 0
Pass success rate: 57.9 per cent
Dribbles ball retained: 0
Dribbles ball lost: 1
Clearances, blocks and interceptions: 17
Free-kicks won: 0
Free-kicks conceded: 2
Final summary: A typically combative performance from the City midfielder who popped around on the left, right and in the midfield.
Should have done better with a second-half effort which he blazed over the bar but, on the whole, was disruptive in the middle of the park.
His tenacity allowed Panther, in particular, to surge forward in the second-half.