WITH the Severn Valley steam train puffing away in the background, York City gave the first suggestion that they can get their season back on track under new manager Gary Mills.
On his arrival at Bootham Crescent, Mills stressed the importance of being organised at Blue Square Bet Premier level and, following his first full week at the club, City looked as well-drilled as they have at any point in 2010/11 during a professional 2-0 FA Cup triumph at Kidderminster.
The hosts were unbeaten in six home matches going into Saturday’s fourth qualifying round tie, with table-topping AFC Wimbledon and big hitters Grimsby among their scalps.
City, meanwhile, went into the match without a win in five fixtures since September 25.
But visiting ‘keeper Michael Ingham did not have a save to make at Aggborough while Chris Smith, on his second debut for the club, made a composed return to the City back line alongside an equally unflappable David McGurk.
Full-backs Daniel Parslow and James Meredith also kept wingers Matty Blair and Callum Gittings well contained, allowing the Minstermen to take full advantage of their extra man in the middle of the park following Mills’ switch to the en-vogue 4-3-3 formation.
The unfamiliar and unexpected sight of David McDermott operating in an anchor role proved an astute ploy as he retained possession effectively, which dovetailed nicely with Jonathan Smith’s workrate and the guile of Alex Lawless.
In attack, Leon Constantine offered a reliable outlet on the right with his willingness to receive the ball and deliver telling crosses.
Danny Racchi was also a busy presence on the opposite flank and capitalised on lone striker Michael Rankine’s aerial dominance to open the scoring midway through the first half.
The victory certainly represented City’s best all-round team performance of the season and the outcome was rarely in doubt after Jonathan Smith added a second goal on 54 minutes, long before substitute Ollie Thorne’s red card reduced the Harriers to ten men.
Earlier, Parslow had headed against the outside of a post after an inswinging free-kick by Racchi, who then grabbed his first goal in City colours on 24 minutes.
Patient passing characterised most of the visitors’ play on Saturday but, as has been the case on numerous occasions this season, a route one approach proved just as effective.
Racchi, anticipating that Rankine would get his head to Ingham’s long punt upfield, then produced a delightful finish to lob the ball over advancing home ’keeper Daniel Lewis with the outside of his left boot 15 yards from goal.
Shortly afterwards, Rankine saw a powerful effort bravely blocked by Harriers’ full-back Lee Vaughan and curled another attempt over from 20 yards.
The 6ft 3in City striker also volleyed narrowly wide after being picked out in the penalty box by Constantine.
On the stroke of half-time, a blistering 40-yard left-wing run by Blair might have seen Kidderminster grab an undeserved equaliser but Chris McPhee’s shot was scrambled behind for a corner.
Blair also squandered an excellent chance on 53 minutes, turning and firing wide after the ball had fallen to his feet in the visitors’ six-yard box.
Within seconds, though, Jonathan Smith had doubled City’s lead.
Thorne’s slip allowed Racchi’s through ball to send Rankine clear on goal.
The City striker then surprisingly opted to pass rather than shoot with only Lewis to beat and Smith, scoring in the Cup for a third successive season, just managed to lunge in front of covering defender Michael Briscoe to bundle the ball over the line at the far post.
City might have forged further ahead when Lawless burst through the middle and, with Rankine to his right and Racchi to his left, elected to slide in the latter but his sidefooted shot was saved by Lewis.
On 76 minutes, Thorne received his marching orders after he had over run the ball and clattered into Parslow on a greasy surface.
Moments later, Constantine headed over from Racchi’s cross following a flowing move but Rankine was a little fortunate not to follow Thorne down the tunnel after his sliding challenge on Tom Shaw.
Rankine was cautioned but, on another day with another referee, he might have seen red to even up the numbers and appease home supporters.
Acting swiftly, Mills substituted Rankine and was left celebrating a clean sheet, as well as a safe passage into the first round draw, when Blair tapped in but was ruled offside after Vaughan’s deflected strike had come back off a post.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Michael Ingham 7
Daniel Parslow 8
David McGurk 9
Chris Smith 9
James Meredith 8
Alex Lawless 8
David McDermott 8
Jonathan Smith 9
Leon Constantine 8
Michael Rankine 8
Danny Racchi 8
Substitutions: Chris Carruthers (for Racchi, 81), Michael Gash (for Rankine, 85). Subs not used: Knight, Young, Sangare, Fyfield, Beesley.
City’s star man: Jonathan Smith – tireless work in the middle of the park and combative throughout.
Harriers: Daniel Lewis, Lee Vaughan, Mark Albrighton (Dave Hankin, 61), Michael Briscoe, Mike Williams, Matty Blair, Tom Shaw, Keith Briggs (Ollie Thorne, 39), Callum Gittings, Chris McPhee, Lee Morris (Nick Wright, 61). Subs not used: Andrew Stevens, Tom Sharpe, Robert Thompson-Brown.
Booked: Briscoe 40, Hankin 66, Rankine 84. Sent off: Thorne 76.
Referee: Rob Merchant (Stafford). Rating: decisive and sensible.
Attendance: 1,123 (144 from City).
Shot of the match: Racchi’s perfectly-weighted chip was a sublime finish.
Block of the match: Vaughan put his body on the line to prevent Rankine firing away a fierce effort on 28 minutes.
Miss of the match: Blair failing to hit the target on 53 minutes proved costly as Smith quickly doubled the lead.
Head to head: Chris Smith v Lee Morris
Former £3 million striker Morris was hardly afforded a sight of Michael Ingham’s goal after a watertight defensive display by Smith.
The newly-appointed City captain was never left ruffled by Morris’ movement and the ex-Derby and Sheffield United striker was reduced to shooting from a ridiculously acute angle for his only goal attempt of the match.
Morris was later substituted just past the hour but his replacement Nick Wright fared little better.
Shots on target: Harriers 1, City 7.
Shots off target: Harriers 7, City 7.
Corners: Harriers 4, City 4.
Fouls: Harriers 18, City 12.
Offsides: Harriers 2, City 0.