FOR surely the only time in the club’s 87-year history, on-target York City goal attempts outnumbered visiting supporters at Bootham Crescent on Saturday.
Only 11 away fans made the 200–mile journey from Gloucester, while Martin Foyle’s men called Forest Green goalkeeper Terry Burton into action a dozen times during this one-sided contest.
For the most part, Burton was equal to the challenge, pulling off a string of superb saves before and after Michael Rankine belatedly broke the deadlock from the penalty spot on 74 minutes.
Until then, it had appeared Foyle might rue his decision to leave last season’s leading marksman Richard Brodie on the bench for three-quarters of the match.
Brodie, responsible for 13 of the 23 league goals scored since Foyle’s arrival last November prior to this match, must have watched on in envy as City created a host of opportunities against very modest opponents.
Eventually, it took a questionable decision by referee Richard Clark to hand City the chance to take a deserved lead, although the unimpressive Morpeth official had earlier failed to award a spot kick when Neil Barrett was bundled over in the box.
Substitute Adam Smith later added a splendidly-taken second goal in the 90th minute, although the final scoreline still did not reflect the level of City’s superiority.
Burton’s best stops denied Barrett, Alex Lawless, Brodie and Craig Nelthorpe, while Andy Ferrell and Michael Gash were also thwarted.
Gash, City’s £55,000 summer signing from Ebbsfleet, displayed nimble footwork and intelligent play on his full debut before tiring and being replaced by Brodie.
His striking partner Rankine, meanwhile, intimidated the visitors with his penalty box presence only for his finishing to prove a little wayward until he coolly dispatched his spot kick.
As early as the third minute, Burton was forced into a double save from Lawless and Gash.
With City committing more players forward than they had in either of their previous two games against Oxford and Rushden, Barrett then lifted the ball cleverly over Forest Green defender Mark Preece, but his firm edge-of-the-box drive was pushed around a post by the outstretched right arm of Burton, who had been falling in the opposite direction.
Soon afterwards, David McGurk and Ferrell were both cautioned for late challenges, but Jon Challinor somehow escaped punishment after deliberately chopping down the rampaging Rankine in the first of series of puzzling decisions by Clark.
On 34 minutes, Gash brought the ball down expertly in the penalty box forcing Burton into another save at his near post.
Rankine then ended the half driving wide from 20 yards, heading over from a Ferrell cross and firing into the sidenetting from an acute angle.
At the other end, Forest Green were largely restricted to hopeful, long-range attempts by John Else that failed to trouble City ’keeper Michael Ingham.
Seven minutes into the second half, Clark baffled all onlookers by taking no action when Challinor, leading a charmed life, shoved Barrett over after the midfielder had burst into the box and gathered Ben Purkiss’ long ball. With only Burton to beat, Challinor should have also seen red.
On the hour, Lawless was sent clear on goal after Gash had headed on a long punt forward by Ingham.
But the City midfielder delayed his shot and, eventually, fired straight at his ex-Forest Green team-mate, who pushed another effort by the same player behind for a corner two minutes later.
As anxiety grew among certain sections of the home crowd, however, the referee provided welcome relief when Rankine tumbled over in the box under pressure from sub Ross Stearn.
Rankine swiftly grabbed the ball and, despite Brodie briefly pressing his claims to take the kick, City’s 15-stone front man was in no mood to let go.
Foyle, fearing the worst on a thus-far frustrating afternoon, looked away, but Rankine sidefooted confidently into Burton’s bottom left-hand corner.
With Forest Green having offered next to nothing as an attacking unit, the hosts then got a little leisurely.
McGurk was required to make a terrifically-timed tackle as Steve Davies prepared to shoot at Ingham’s goal on 83 minutes.
The City stopper was then forced into his only save of the afternoon when he gathered Stearn’s cross-cum-shot at his near post.
Those two incidents re-galvanised City with substitutes Nelthorpe and Smith both to the fore. Nelthorpe provided greater thrust down the left after his introduction and, on 86 minutes, slid a pass through to Brodie whose low shot was kept out by Burton’s left leg.
The former Doncaster winger then saw Burton tip over an opportunist, first-time 35-yard effort before playing a long ball over the visitors’ defence for Smith to get on the scoresheet.
Smith beat back-pedalling Rovers defender Ben Pugh twice before drilling a low shot past Burton.
Ex-Gainsborough winger Smith, playing as an out-and-out striker, almost added a second when more direct running tormented Preece, on this occasion, before his shot was deflected wide.
Smith’s little cameo was reminiscent of the occasions when Martyn Woolford was employed as a centre forward to devastating effect by former City boss Colin Walker.
Both he and Nelthorpe certainly staked strong claims for starting places.
York City:Michael Ingham 7, Ben Purkiss 7, David McGurk 8, Daniel Parslow 8, James Meredith 8, Alex Lawless 7, Levi Mackin 7, Neil Barrett 7, Andy Ferrell 7, Michael Gash 7, Michael Rankine 8.
Substitutions: Craig Nelthorpe (for Ferrell, 63) 8 Richard Brodie (for Gash, 69) 7 Adam Smith (for Rankine, 88).
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: McGurk – commanding performance at the back ensured another clean sheet.
Forest Green: Terry Burton, Andy Taylor, Curtis McDonald (Ben Pugh, 61), Mark Preece, Paul Stonehouse, Conal Platt (Paul Lloyd, 76), Jon Challinor, Jonathan Smith, John Else (Ross Stearn, 70), David Brown, Steve Davies. Subs not used: James Baldwin, Tom Pass.
Yellow cards: David McGurk, Andy Ferrell.
Referee: Richard Clark (Morpeth). Rating: the worst for a long while.
Attendance: 1,954 (11 away fans).
Save of the match: Burton provided several contenders, but his first-half stop from Barrett was the best.
Mistake of the match: Referee’s decision not to award a penalty when Challinor felled Barrett in the box.