WHEN assessing the multitude of shortcomings at York City last season, misfortune never merited a mention.
Without exception, all 16 of the Minstermen’s Blue Square Premier defeats in 2008/9 were deserved.
On Saturday, however, fans of promotion favourites Oxford United were apologising to their City counterparts after Chris Wilder’s men snatched the luckiest of 2-1 victories with two late goals.
Until the 88th minute of this Kassam Stadium curtain-raiser, visiting ’keeper Michael Ingham had only been required to make one save – a routine 26th-minute catch from Mark Creighton’s weak header.
City, meanwhile, had seen Andy Ferrell force a fine reflex stop from Ryan Clarke just four minutes into the game and took a well-earned lead courtesy of Richard Brodie later in the half.
However, just as nobody remembers, ten years on, how shocking Manchester United were for the first 90 minutes of their Champions League final victory against Bayern Munich, the scoreline of this match, no matter how cruel and unforgiving, will forever define York City as losers and Oxford United as winners.
With two minutes of normal time remaining in Saturday’s match, City skipper Daniel Parslow, who had enjoyed an impeccable game, fell to the ground, gifting home substitute Matt Green a clear run on goal that saw him convert his side’s first shot on target.
City manager Martin Foyle argued his captain had been shoved over and covering defender James Meredith also claimed, with apparent justification, that he had cleared the goalbound effort before it had crossed the line.
Then, in the first minute of stoppage time, Ingham, whose judgement and handling had been largely exemplary, failed to punch cleanly amid a crowded penalty box after leaving his goal unattended following Adam Chapman’s corner from the right.
The ball then broke fortuitously to centre-back Creighton off team-mate Green and he sidefooted into an unguarded net.
A demoralised City must now demonstrate that being defeated in such a fashion will not have the same psychological impact on the start of their season as it did when Burton inflicted similar pain during the club’s first away fixture two years ago.
For those people unfortunate enough to have witnessed last weekend’s final pre-season friendly at AFC Halifax Town, though, this game certainly provided a more optimistic outlook for the next nine months.
Hard-working City looked fitter than their hotly-fancied hosts with combative trio Michael Rankine, Andy Ferrell and Levi Mackin helping to set a purposeful tempo from the first whistle.
In defence, centre-backs Parslow and David McGurk, who had come under rare scrutiny from their manager following indifferent performances at Halifax, produced gritty and determined displays when it mattered most, restricting home strikers James Constable and Jack Midson, who enjoyed a combined haul of 50 goals last season, to one off-target effort.
Alex Lawless, meanwhile, took less than a minute to drag the game’s first shot wide from 25 yards and, shortly afterwards, Clarke dived low to his right to deny Ferrell after Brodie had headed down a deep Ben Purkiss cross.
Oxford’s large, expectant home crowd had to wait until the 21st minute for their first sight of Ingham’s goal, but the City ’keeper comfortably gathered a Luke Foster header that would have missed the target.
At the other end, Mackin drove wide before Brodie broke the deadlock on 34 minutes.
Lawless’ through ball dissected flat-footed centre-backs Foster and Creighton, leaving Brodie with a clear run on Clarke’s goal.
City’s England ‘C’ international then rounded the U’s upright ’keeper and, when his first shot bounced back off the near post, he gleefully smacked his second chance into the roof of an inviting net with his right boot.
City’s attacking threat diminished in the second half although the visitors rarely looked troubled with Oxford restricted to a couple of wayward long-distance attempts by Chapman and Constable.
Such was Wilder’s frustration the former Halifax boss reshuffled his formation three times after the interval but it looked in vain until Brodie lost possession on the right flank and play was quickly transferred to the City half.
Parslow then lost his balance under pressure from Constable and Green, cutting in from the left, was gifted a free run on goal.
The former Torquay forward kept his composure to lift the ball over an advancing Ingham although it appeared his shot would not carry sufficient weight to beat covering defender Meredith and cross the line.
Despite Meredith’s sliding clearance, however, the referee’s assistant flagged for a goal.
City then saw all three points slip out of their grasp in as many minutes when Oxford debutant Creighton scored his first league goal since last August.
On the stroke of half-time, striking partner Rankine almost added a second goal with a rising, edge-of-the-box effort that narrowly cleared Clarke’s crossbar.
Oxford United 2 (Green 88, Creighton 90), York City 1 (Brodie 34)
York City: Michael Ingham 7, Ben Purkiss 7, David McGurk 8, Daniel Parslow 8, James Meredith 7, Alex Lawless 8, Levi Mackin 9, Neil Barrett 7, Andy Ferrell 8, Richard Brodie 8, Michael Rankine 8.
Substitutions: Gash (for Rankine, 69) 7, Nelthorpe (for Ferrell, 90), Smith (for Lawless, 90).
Subs not used: O’Hare, Sangare.
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: Mackin – strong presence in the City midfield in a very committed performance.
Oxford: Ryan Clarke, Adam Chapman, Luke Foster, Mark Creighton, Kevin Sandwith (Matt Green, 55), Adam Murray, Simon Clist, Dannie Bulman, Marcus Kelly (Alfie Potter, 46), James Constable, Jack Midson (Alex Rhodes, 75).
Subs not used: Damian Batt, Rhys Day.
Yellow cards: None.
Shots on target: Oxford 3 York 3
Shots off target: Oxford 5 York 6
Corners: Oxford 4 York 0
Fouls conceded: Oxford 14 York 14
Offsides: Oxford 2 York 4
Referee: Rob Whitton (Chelmsford). Rating: strong and unmoved by a big home crowd although wavered in the latter stages.
Attendance: 6,408 (420 from City).
Save of the match: Clarke’s fourth-minute stop from Ferrell.
Pass of the match: Lawless’ through ball for Brodie’s goal.
Head to head
Andy Ferrell v Adam Chapman
YORK City midfielder Ferrell might not be a natural left winger, but his workrate and enthusiasm ensured former Sheffield United trainee Chapman did not enjoy a comfortable afternoon.
Better travelling forward, the teenage right-back was kept occupied defensively by Ferrell and his attacking contributions were mainly limited to dead-ball situations.
Chapman also looked uncertain when Ferrell drifted inside from the flanks to help team-mates Lawless and Barrett in the middle of the park.