Stevenage 1, York City 0
York City could not spoil Stevenage Borough’s championship-winning celebrations but are now free to concentrate on the mouth- watering prospect of throwing their own promotion party at Wembley.
When the Minstermen play host to play-off semi-final opponents Luton on Thursday night, more than three weeks will have passed since Martin Foyle’s team secured a top-five place.
It seems longer – because, ever since that fantastic 5-0 thumping of Wimbledon, the four subsequent fixtures have only really served as minor distractions ahead of the eagerly-anticipated main event.
Despite ending in defeat, therefore, Saturday’s trip to Stevenage proved a case of mission accomplished.
All of Foyle’s players emerged unscathed injury wise, giving him a fully-fit squad to choose from against the Hatters and, his sensible decision to leave Richard Brodie on the bench until the latter stages, means the 36-goal striker will not be on tenterhooks going into the two-legged tie.
A yellow card for Brodie at Broadhall Way and a couple more against Luton would have left him ruled out of any play-off final for City.
Now, the Bedfordshire side will need to work hard to contain an England ‘C’ international relieved of suspension fears, not to mention a striking partner in Michael Rankine who has proven a handful for most Blue Square Premier backlines this season.
Despite the game’s lack of relevance, City gave a creditable performance against a Stevenage side who have finished the season 11 points clear at the top.
But, having fallen behind to David Bridges’ 35th-minute header, the visitors were always going to find a route back into the match tough.
Stevenage’s miserly defence has been tighter than their cheerleaders’ hot pants this season and, with towers of strength Mark Roberts and Jon Ashton at the heart of the Hertfordshire club’s backline, it is easy to understand why their goals against column is the lowest in the top five divisions of English football.
When City did manage a clear sight on goal, after right-back Daniel Parslow’s inviting 65th-minute cross picked out Chris Carruthers on the far post, home ’keeper Chris Day then illustrated his prowess between the sticks, producing a smart reflex save from the former Oxford midfielder’s well-struck volley.
Earlier, Alex Lawless, playing in an advanced role just behind Rankine, found the sidenetting with the game’s first chance on four minutes.
Ex-Minsterman Chris Beardsley was at the centre of the first half’s best moments however.
On 17 minutes, his tenacity saw him brush off a Luke Graham challenge before pulling the ball back from the byline only for striking partner Charlie Griffin to slice a 12-yard shot wide.
The ex-Mansfield forward then delivered a teasing cross from the right that both Parslow and Mimms failed to attack, allowing Bridges to head into the net from six yards.
Andy Drury also headed wide from a Joel Byrom centre in time added on before the interval.
The second half, though, saw City carrying the greater attacking threat.
On 48 minutes, Carruthers squandered a good opportunity having cut inside on to his weaker right foot and Neil Barrett called Day into action after heading Paul Harsley’s free-kick towards goal.
Carruthers was then denied by Day’s impressive reactions and Levi Mackin curled an edge-of-the-box effort over.
Substitute Adam Smith enjoyed a positive cameo performance but his cross to the far post was headed wide by McGurk, whose one flaw in a consistent season has been a lack of aerial power in the opposition penalty box.
Byrom sent a free-kick sailing over the bar with the hosts’ one second-half goal attempt but Brodie also forced a near post save on 82 minutes and Mackin’s stoppage time volley looked dangerous before being diverted away from goal after an unfortunate deflection off team-mate Michael Gash.
Cue the popping of champagne corks and Freddie Mercury on full blast over the tannoy.
Given the choice, however, Wembley Way will always beat Broadhall Way as a celebration setting.
Time will tell whether that is the destiny awaiting City, Luton, Rushden or Oxford come May 16.
Stevenage 1 (Bridges 35), York Cicty 0
York City:Josh Mimms 6, Daniel Parslow 7, Luke Graham 7, David McGurk 7, James Meredith 7, Paul Harsley 6, evi Mackin 7, Neil Barrett 7, Chris Carruthers 7, Alex Lawless 7, Michael Rankine 7.
Substitutions: Adam Smith 7 (for Harsley, 66), Michael Gash 7 (for Barrett, 66), Richard Brodie (for Carruthers, 79). Subs not used: Richard Pacquette, Jamie Clarke.
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: Carruthers – patrolled the left flank to good effect and looked City’s biggest goal threat.
Stevenage: Chris Day, Ronnie Henry, Jon Ashton, Mark Roberts, Scott Laird, Andy Drury, Michael Bostwick (Yemi Odubade, 55), Joel Bryom, David Bridges, Chris Beardsley (Lawrie Wilson, 70), Charlie Griffin (Tim Sills, 64). Subs not used: Ashley Bayes, Stacy Long.
Referee: John Farries (Adderbury). Rating: kept a cool head and cards in his pocket.
Cross of the match: Beardsley’s far-post delivery for Bridges’ goal.
Mistake of the match: Came after the game when a pitch-invading Stevenage fan took his celebrations one step too far, goading City fans before being chased and arrested.
Head to head - Josh Mimms v Chris Day
Neither ’keeper had a busy afternoon during a game of few clear-cut chances.
Two moments, though, defined the match and led to contrasting fortunes for the net-minders.
Teenage rookie Mimms, making his first league start of the season, was caught in two minds as Beardsley’s cross saw Bridges head in unopposed.
Experienced former Watford and QPR stopper Day, now 34, then positioned himself perfectly to keep out a Carruthers chance midway through the second period.
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