10:01am Monday 19th April 2010
By Dave Flett
FOOTBALL has always been a game of ifs, buts and maybes.
However, it is a fact that had they not dropped 14 points against the Blue Square Premier’s bottom five teams this season, York City would be travelling to Stevenage next weekend needing a victory to clinch the Blue Square Premier title.
Instead, City’s visit to the newly-crowned champions will determine whether the club finish fourth or fifth in the final league table.
That, of course, still represents a remarkable transformation in the Minstermen’s fortunes.
Saturday’s penultimate fixture of the 2009/10 league campaign was the third game since City secured a play-off place with a 5-0 thrashing of AFC Wimbledon.
At the respective stage of last season, the Bootham Crescent club were still struggling to stave off the threat of relegation to Blue Square North.
It is an achievement that the players deserve immense credit for and should earn Foyle a Manager of the Year gong.
Nevertheless, the 1-1 draw with ten-man Grays Athletic at the weekend highlighted, once more, his team’s toils against the division’s supposed lesser lights.
Eastbourne, Ebbsfleet and Forest Green are all in danger of the drop going into their final fixtures but have all beaten City – in Eastbourne’s case twice.
In fact, from all the sides in the lower half of the table, only Gateshead have failed to pick up a point against the Bootham Crescent club with Salisbury also completing a double over them.
The biggest factor in City’s failure to win less than half of their games against teams in the bottom 12 has been a struggle to impose their own tempo on these sides.
It seems to suit City when games are played at a high intensity. Fortunately, play-off semi-finals often follow that pattern.
Against bottom-of-the-table and already-relegated Grays, midfielder Neil Barrett tried to inject some urgency into proceedings but some of his team-mates drifted through the game a little, while others were guilty of sloppy standards.
The visitors started the match in a 3-5-2 formation and City, as in previous games, looked uncomfortable in their efforts to counter three central midfielders and two wing backs.
When striker Joseph Bajowa was sacrificed following goalkeeper Glyn Garner’s sending off midway through the first half, 16-year-old Alex Osborn was left to plough a lonely furrow up front and Alex Lawless was moved inside from the flanks to assist Barrett and Levi Mackin in the middle of the park but his impact was negligible.
Grays arrived at Bootham Crescent having enjoyed their first win since November after beating AFC Wimbledon 2-0 in midweek and made a promising start to this match with Michael Ingham forced into two early near-post saves from Bajowa and Kenny Davis.
The home side were almost soporific until Barrett fed Michael Rankine down the right and his deflected cross fell to Brodie’s feet in the six-yard box.
Brodie then sidestepped Garner and, just as he was about to roll the ball into an inviting net, was pulled down by the ex-Shrewsbury stopper. Referee Richard Wigglesworth reached for his red card but substitute ’keeper Preston Edwards dived to his right to keep out Brodie’s 24th-minute spot kick.
Barrett then had City’s best attempt at breaking the deadlock before the interval, volleying narrowly over from 15 yards.
Less than two minutes into the second period, Edwards tipped over Luke Graham’s header from a Mackin cross before Brodie’s 36th goal of the season saw the home side forge ahead. The striker strode on to a perfectly-weighted through ball by Ben Purkiss down the right channel before firing an angled ten-yard drive past Edwards on 51 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, City survived a scare when a hopeful ball forward skimmed off Graham’s head and then squirmed through Ingham’s fingers to present Osborn with a glorious chance.
But the schoolboy showed the naivety of youth when he slashed at his shot, which skewed out for a throw-in.
At the other end, Barrett made a lung-busting surge into the six-yard box to meet a Brodie cross but then sidefooted wide with the goal at his mercy.
Substitute Michael Gash also headed over from a Purkiss cross, following a sweeping move involving Barrett, Lawless and fellow replacement Courtney Pitt.
Grays went on to grab a point in the first of three stoppage-time minutes.
Ingham charged off his line into a posse of players to punch away Harlee Dean’s inswinging free-kick from the left when he might have been better advised to let his defenders deal with the danger.
The ball only fell as far as on-loan Southend defender Duran Reynolds, who volleyed into a gaping net from 12 yards.
An upset Ingham, voted Clubman of the Year by City fans, then expressed his disgust at dissenting voices in the David Longhurst Stand at the final whistle before pointedly applauding the often-maligned Main Stand supporters. It is to be hoped there will be a more unified atmosphere at Bootham Crescent when Luton or Oxford visit in ten days’ time.
York City 1 (Brodie 51), Grays Athletic 1 (Reynolds 90)
York City: Michael Ingham 5, Ben Purkiss 7, Luke Graham 6, David McGurk 6, James Meredith 6, Alex Lawless 5, Levi Mackin 6, Neil Barrett 7, Chris Carruthers 6, Richard Brodie 6, Michael Rankine 5.
Substitutions: Courtney Pitt 5 (for Carruthers, 65), Michael Gash 5 (for Rankine, 69), Richard Pacquette (for Brodie, 87). Not used: Daniel Parslow, Paul Harsley.
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: Barrett – provided bite and purpose to City’s midfield.
Grays: Glyn Garner, Marc Clarey, Harlee Dean, Duran Reynolds, Kenny Davis, Richard Graham (Harry Agombar, 81), Alsseny Cissoko, Tom Harvey, Alex Rhodes (Ibrahim Conteh, 72), Joseph Bajowa (Preston Edwards, 23), Alex Osborn. Subs not used: Jonathan Glowacki.
Booked: Lawless 80.
Sent off: Garner 22.
Shots on target: York 6, Grays 4.
Shots off target: York 11, Grays 2.
Corners: York 8, Grays 5.
Fouls conceded: York 16, Grays 9.
Offsides: York 1, Grays 2.
Referee: Richard Wigglesworth (Rotherham). Rating: gave an assured display.
Attendance: 2,854 (38 from Grays).
Miss of the match: Barrett’s shot lacked conviction when handed a close-range chance to seal victory for City.
Mistake of the match: Ingham’s decision to try and punch away Dean’s free-kick backfired.
YORK City midfielder Barrett was his side’s best player, while Cissoko was very quiet in the Grays engine room. Barrett won most of their tussles in the middle of the park and, unlike his French opponent, provided some telling through balls for his team-mates. Cissoko also struggled to check Barrett’s runs in support of his forward colleagues.
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