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Altrincham 1, York City 3 (FA Trophy, first round)
CHRISTMAS is a time for giving and York City's players are giving caretaker boss Colin Walker every chance of continuing in his current position on a permanent basis.
Saturday's 3-1 FA Trophy triumph at Altrincham represented a third win for Walker during the unbeaten four-game start to his temporary tenure and he has now emerged as a very strong contender for the full-time job.
Equalling a club record for consecutive away wins and negotiating the Minstermen's safe passage into the second round of a cup competition for the first time in five years will certainly prove impressive recent additions to Walker's CV when the KitKat Crescent board meet to discuss his suitability for the role within the next fortnight.
The promoted reserve coach is, of course, benefiting from the qualities of a team assembled by his predecessor Billy McEwan, which was always one of the determined Scotsman's biggest fears.
But Walker deserves credit for the tactical changes he has implemented since taking charge and the players appear united behind him in a manner that was not always evident during the final weeks of McEwan's reign.
The switch to a back three, for example, has reaped rewards with the City defence looking less nervous and vulnerable by the game.
Danny Parslow, in particular, illustrated his value to the team on Saturday with a flawless performance, while Darren Kelly and David McGurk also did little wrong, as goalkeeper Tom Evans faced just two shots on target all afternoon.
Evans did, however, survive an early scare when he missed an attempted punch only for ex-Scarborough striker Chris Senior to direct a bicycle kick over his vacated net.
The visitors then assumed the ascendancy with Onome Sodje threading an excellent pass through to Craig Farrell, but the former Exeter striker failed to beat home 'keeper Stuart Coburn from 12 yards.
Martyn Woolford, who was designated a man-marker in Gary Scott, hit the post from 20 yards shortly afterwards and skipper Manny Panther forced Coburn into a difficult save through a crowded penalty box on 41 minutes.
Late first-half opportunities also fell to Altrincham's Senior, Colin Little and Robbie Lawton but Farrell squandered a second chance for the visitors seconds before the interval.
This time, he slashed wide of Coburn's near post from ten yards after patient approach work by Ben Purkiss, Woolford and Panther with an unmarked Sodje also calling for a square pass.
In the second half, City's wing-backs Purkiss and Anthony Lloyd, who are more defensively inclined than previous pairing Darren Craddock and Mark Robinson, showed greater adventure and exploited the space they were afforded on the flanks by home manager Graham Heathcote's decision to mimic City's formation.
On 56 minutes, the visitors went ahead when Farrell released Panther down the right channel and then made amends for his earlier misses by drilling into Coburn's bottom left-hand corner after the City captain's cross had only been cleared to the edge of the penalty box.
A great move shortly afterwards saw Purkiss receive a crossfield ball from Stuart Elliott and pass to Sodje whose stepover created a 25-yard opening for Farrell but his first-time shot was kept out by Coburn.
Two minutes past the hour, City did extend their lead when Parslow made a lung-busting raid down the right and centred for Farrell.
His low drive was parried by Coburn but only as far as Lloyd, who swept the ball into the back of the net.
At that point, Altrincham looked demoralised but were literally handed a lifeline on 74 minutes when McGurk shoved Senior to the floor and Warren Peyton delivered a free-kick that saw Little volley into Evans' top left-hand corner form 12 yards.
Walker, though, can claim an inspired double substitution.
He introduced Chris Beardsley and Nicky Wroe and the lively pair combined to put the tie beyond doubt on 87 minutes.
Wroe released Beardsley down the right channel again and then set off on a supporting run to receive a return pass before confidently sidefooting past Coburn from ten yards and securing a fifth successive win on the road.
Cynics might argue the team's away form was good under McEwan anyway and that Walker has enjoyed a run of favourable fixtures.
They might even point to the fact that Chris Brass won his first four league games in charge before overseeing relegation from the Football League.
But City's caretaker boss seems to be building momentum in the role and must now be edging ever closer to becoming the club's 25th full-time managerial appointment.
Altrincham 1 (Little 74), York City 3 (Farrell 56, Lloyd 62, Wroe 87)
York City: Tom Evans 6, Danny Parslow 8, Darren Kelly 8, David McGurk 8, Ben Purkiss 7, Manny Panther 8, Stuart Elliott 7, Anthony Lloyd 7, Martyn Woolford 7, Craig Farrell 8, Onome Sodje 7.
Substitutions: Nicky Wroe (for Purkiss, 78) Chris Beardsley (for Sodje, 78)
Subs not used: Josh Mimms, Darren Craddock, Richard Brodie.
Key: 10 - Faultless; 9 - Outstanding; 8 - Excellent; 7 - Good; 6 - Average; 5 - Below par; 4 - Poor; 3 - Dud; 2 - Hopeless; 1 - Retire.
City's star man: Parslow - very dependable and showed another side to his game when he burst forward to help create Lloyd's goal.
Altrincham: Stuart Coburn, Chris Lane, Darren Tinson, Ryan Shotton, Gary Scott, Joe O'Neill (Carlos Logan, 68), Robbie Lawton, Jake Sedgemore (Gareth Whalley, 72), Warren Peyton, Colin Little, Chris Senior.
Subs not used: Richard Acton, Pat McFadden, Steve Aspinall.
Yellow cards: McGurk 73.
Shots on target: Altrincham 2, York 9
Shots off target: Altrincham 11, York 4
Corners: Altrincham 2, York 4
Fouls conceded: Altrincham 8, York 9
Offsides: Altrincham 5, York 0
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincoln).
Rating: made few contentious decisions in a sound performance.
Celebration of the match: City's players mobbing Lloyd after he scored his first goal for the club in his first game of the season.
Cross of the match: Parslow's raid down the right and centre for Farrell that led to Lloyd's goal would have pleased a winger let alone a centre-back.
City player watch: Left wing-back Anthony Lloyd
Goal attempts on target: 1
Goal attempts off target: 0
Blocked goal attempts: 0
Passes to own player: 29
Passes to opposition: 10
Crosses to own player: 1
Crosses to opposition: 1
Pass success rate: 73.2 per cent
Dribbles ball retained: 0
Dribbles ball lost: 2
Dribble success rate: 0 per cent
Clearances, blocks and interceptions: 3
Free-kicks won: 1
Free-kicks conceded: 1
Final summary: Anthony Lloyd made a reasonably solid return to the side. He might have got forward a little more in his wing-back role as is illustrated by just two crosses, but he did pop up in the penalty box to score City's second goal. He won his fair share of tackles and headers as well and, aside from the odd stray pass, his distribution was normally safe.