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Match report: Ebbsfleet Utd 1, York City 2
IF all good things come to those who wait, then York City supporters’ patience was rewarded fully at Stonebridge Road.
Widespread optimism about the Minstermen’s Blue Square Bet Premier prospects in 2011/12 has meant the close season – not to mention a seemingly endless programme of friendly fixtures – has seen followers of Gary Mills’ team counting the minutes down to the start of the campaign for weeks.
Pleasingly, Saturday’s curtain-raiser was no anti-climax.
With two contentious “goals” – one allowed, one not – a dubious red card, a penalty and a stoppage-time winner, City’s 2-1 win at Ebbsfleet was certainly incident-packed and, if the visitors’ aim was to start the new season as they mean to go on, then this display represented a strong signal of their intent.
Clinching only their second opening day victory in eight terms as a non-League side, the Minstermen’s second-half performance was particularly impressive and, in £60,000 summer signing Jason Walker, Mills has clearly captured a match-winner.
Walker showed a nerveless calm to level from the penalty spot just moments after the ten-man hosts had taken an 80th-minute lead in controversial circumstances when marksman Calum Willock appeared to barge into Michael Ingham.
Former Barrow striker Walker then rose majestically to nod home a tremendously-inviting, stoppage-time cross from Lanre Oyebanjo.
It was no more than the Minstermen deserved for an adventurous and positive second period with Mills’ team growing in confidence after a sometimes shaky opening half.
Centre-backs David McGurk and Chris Smith were both cautioned before the break and found lone home striker Liam Enver-Marum an intimidating and unsettling handful.
Too often and with too much ease, Enver-Marum warded off City challenges and found gaps down City’s left flank between Smith and Meredith.
Even so, Fleet chances were still at a premium although Ingham was required to make an excellent reflex save to tip over Enver-Marum’s 31st-minute header from Craig Stone’s centre.
Smith enjoyed better fortunes at the other end of the pitch, twice winning far-post headers from free-kicks that might have led to an opening goal had his team-mates displayed better anticipation and he, in turn, greater accuracy.
Left-winger Ashley Chambers, meanwhile, forced a couple of routine saves but Matty Blair squandered the easiest chance of the afternoon just past the half-hour mark.
Picking the ball up just inside his own half, Blair burst through a gap in the home defence so large he could have, indeed, driven one of the London double-decker buses in the nearby scrapyard through it.
Finding himself immediately clear on goal, the former Kidderminster winger had time to weigh up his options and, when Joe Welch came out to confront him, he decided to try and round the Fleet goalkeeper only to have the ball grabbed off his toes.
The restart saw City start to stamp their authority on the game.
Looking less vulnerable defensively, full-backs Oyebanjo and Meredith began to bomb forward more while the team retained possession in a manner Mills demands from his side.
A sweeping 52nd-minute move led to a scramble in the Fleet penalty box, which eventually saw Welch save at Meredith’s feet.
The growingly-influential Chambers also flashed a 25-yard strike wide before Andre Boucaud provided the game with its first moment of controversy.
Following good work by Blair and the elusive Moké, whose twisting and surging runs with the ball were troubling the hosts, Boucaud’s 20-yard curling shot beat Welch and bounced back off the underside of the crossbar at an angle that suggested it had crossed the line.
But neither referee Tim Robinson or his assistant agreed and the Trinidad and Tobago international was denied his first Blue Square Bet Premier goal in 128 outings.
The game’s second debatable decision came on 69 minutes when Tom Phipp was shown a red card in surprising circumstances with his midfield challenge on Moké seemingly carrying little malice.
Shortly afterwards, Moké called Welch into action with a rising, edge-of-the-box attempt but home boss Liam Daish, whose side’s only second-half threat had seen Alex Stavrinou shoot meekly at Ingham, made a bold move on 76 minutes when he replaced winger Ricky Shakes with Willock and, despite his team’s numerical disadvantage, employed him alongside Enver-Marum in a powerful two-man front-line.
It looked an inspired decision when Willock won a header from Michael West’s corner and broke the deadlock despite apparently impeding Ingham as the ball bounced over the line.
City, though, responded in determined fashion.
Patrick McLaughlin drove wide from 20 yards before Chambers’ pace sent him clear of the home defence and he was floored by Welch after rounding the former Histon stopper.
Debutant Walker then made no mistake from the spot, sidefooting powerfully down the middle of the goal in the 83rd minute as Welch dived low to his right.
A headed opportunity for McLaughlin and Walker’s smart shot on the turn both called Welch into further action before he was beaten again in the second minute of injury time.
Teased off his line by Oyebanjo’s curling right-wing cross, Welch was left stranded as Walker leapt high and headed his team to a deserved three points from eight yards out.
Ebbsfleet Utd 1 (Willock 80), York City 2 (Walker 83 pen, 90)
York City: Michael Ingham 7, Lanre Oyebanjo 8, David McGurk 6, Chris Smith 6, James Meredith 6, Adriano Moké 8, Andre Boucaud 7, Patrick McLaughlin 7, Matty Blair 7, Jason Walker 8, Ashley Chambers 8.
Substitutions: not used: Daniel Parslow, Jamie Reed, Michael Potts, Jamal Fyfield, Liam Henderson.
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: Jason Walker – displayed a coolness in front of goal just when City most needed it.
Ebbsfleet: Joe Welch, Craig Stone, Ian Simpemba, Clint Easton, John Herd, Tom Phipp, Giannoulis Fakinos (Alex Stavrinou, 66), Ram Marwa, Michael West, Ricky Shakes (Calum Willock, 76), Liam Enver-Marum.
Subs not used: Preston Edwards, Joe Howe, Lanre Azeez.
Booked: Bookings: McGurk 15, Smith 45, Marwa 58, Welch 82, Walker 86.
Sent off: Phipp 69.
Shots on target: Ebbsfleet 3, City 9.
Shots off target: Ebbsfleet 2, City 3.
Corners: Ebbsfleet 6, City 7.
Fouls conceded: Ebbsfleet 15, City 14.
Offsides: Ebbsfleet 3, City 3.
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex) rating: both teams were on receiving end of major mistakes.
Miss of the match: Blair’s first-half, one-on-one chance.
Save of the match: Ingham’s fingertip stop from Enver-Marum.
Cross of the match: Oyebanjo’s whipped-in, right-wing centre for Walker’s winning goal.
Head to head - Adriano Moké v Ram Marwa
Considering he was thrown in at a few minutes’ notice having believed he would not be in the starting line-up since the previous day, Moké made a promising debut for City.
In the first half, Marwa might have benefited from a little too much space in which to pull the strings for Ebbsfleet.
But, after the interval, Moké’s positive forward runs were a key factor in the visitors carrying the game to their hosts, forcing Marwa to retreat to an even deeper position.