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Match report: York City 3, Ebbsfleet United 2
Man of the match Matty Blair puts the Ebbsfleet defence under pressure during ten-man York City’s 3-2 win
York City might have their own Forrest Gump in Matty Blair but, if life at Bootham Crescent is like a box of chocolates, then somebody must have removed the soft centres.
Displaying a resilience and mental toughness that manager Gary Mills regards as vital if his team are to fulfil their potential this season, the Minstermen secured a 3-2 victory over Ebbsfleet despite playing 75 minutes of the match with ten men after Scott Brown was sent off.
The hosts also recovered from seeing their first-half lead wiped out within five minutes of the restart by scoring from the next attack of the match and, later, when Callum Willock’s 87th-minute goal might have left the faint-hearted more than a little jittery, saw out the remainder of the game with admirable determination.
Blair rightly earned the plaudits of his manager afterwards, drawing comparisons to Tom Hanks’ Hollywood favourite for a willingness to seemingly run continent-sized distances for the cause of his team.
That is perhaps where the similarities with the slow-witted Gump end, however, with Blair clearly a quick learner.
The 21-year-old winger’s game has flourished during the last two months under Mills with his never-in-doubt endeavour now matched by a devastating end product in the final third of the pitch.
Blair’s brace on Saturday means he has now hit the target 12 times in his last ten matches with both goals again demonstrating a striker’s knack of being in the right place at the right time to find the net with a first-time finish.
His ability to maraud right along the front line, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Martyn Woolford’s best displays in a City shirt and, like his predecessor who is currently plying his trade in the Championship, the somersault- celebrating Blair could soon be leaping up the leagues if he carries on in his current vein.
Following Brown’s dismissal, Blair certainly compensated for his side’s numerical disadvantage against Ebbsfleet by doing the running of more than two men and, as well as his double strike, he also claimed an assist for James Meredith’s 67th-minute goal.
While Blair might have played the leading role for City, however, he had a strong supporting cast.
Goalkeeper Michael Ingham excellently denied Ebbsfleet three times before the break while Scott Kerr, despite losing midfield partner Brown so early in the match, carried on doing the so-called simple things as effectively as ever.
An exhilarating contest kicked off with Jamie Reed racing on to a Blair header before driving narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Reed then did well to retrieve a Kerr ball down the right flank before passing to Danny Pilkington, whose poor low cross led to City’s opening goal on ten minutes when Fleet defender Craig Stone miskicked his clearance and Blair pounced to stab the ball past visiting ’keeper Preston Edwards from seven yards.
The Minstermen lost the services of Brown on the quarter-hour mark when he turned and planted his studs into Ram Marwa’s chest with a high halfway-line challenge for possession.
Ebbsfleet might have then drawn level six minutes later when Dan Parslow’s poorly-struck back pass was intercepted by Nathaniel Pinney but Ingham was swiftly off his line to execute a perfect tackle just inside his 18-yard box when any mistake in timing would have seen his side reduced to nine men.
Despite being a player down, City continued to take the game to the visitors with a positive 30-yard run with the ball by Pilkington ending in an edge-of-the-box attempt that was tipped over by Edwards.
On 36 minutes, though, away manager Liam Daish made the first of several intelligent tactical tweaks from both managers.
Daish introduced an extra attacker in Lanre Azeez and he made an instant impression when he sprinted down the right flank before delivering a low cross into the City six-yard box, which was met by Willock.
But the former Stevenage striker’s close-range shot was kept out brilliantly by Ingham with an instinctive low save to his right.
Seconds later, Ingham was diving in the opposite direction to stop Willock’s downward header creeping into his bottom left-hand corner following Pinney’s left-wing cross to the far post.
City played with nine men during the closing stages of the first half as Parslow left the pitch for treatment to a facial cut.
The visitors continued to threaten after the break with former Minsterman Neil Barrett heading over before Pinney levelled the scores on 50 minutes.
Pinney latched on to Willock’s header to run in behind Parslow and round Ingham before rolling the ball into an inviting net.
City’s riposte was instant with Blair getting his second goal on 52 minutes.
Reed was the architect, forcing Edwards into a near-post save from his angled drive before displaying awareness when the ball came back to him to pick out Blair, whose thumping eight-yard effort left the Fleet ’keeper helpless.
Captain Chris Smith, already cautioned in the first half, was then a little fortunate to avoid a second yellow card when he upended Willock 20 yards from goal and Tom Phipp flashed the resulting free-kick narrowly wide.
Mills chose that moment to change tack, opting to send a fresh pair of legs on in attack with Matthew Blinkhorn replacing Reed, while Parslow moved into midfield as a defensive screen for the back four with Pilkington withdrawn and Jamal Fyfield partnering Smith at the back.
An adventurous 4-3-2 system, with Blair pushed up closer to Blinkhorn, then saw City enjoy long spells of possession that gave the impression it was the hosts who were boasting an extra man.
With Parslow anchoring, both full-backs were even bombing forward at every given opportunity and, after Kerr had seen a 20-yard drive deflect narrowly wide, Meredith netted his second senior goal.
Clever play on the left flank by Blinkhorn saw him pass the ball back to Meredith, who headed straight for the visitors’ penalty box before exchanging passes with Blair and confidently lifting a right-footed shot into the roof of an advancing Edwards’ net from eight yards.
Blair then twice went close to claiming the match ball, curling over from the edge of the box after seizing on a mistake by makeshift right-back Phipp and then leaving Joe Howe for dead on the opposite flank and calling Edwards into action at his near post.
In between, Jon Challinor went close from distance and Meredith also forced Edwards into another save later on.
The powerful Willock pulled a goal back for Fleet on 87 minutes when he found Ingham’s bottom right-hand corner with a low shot on the turn 12 yards out.
But the Minstermen ended an enthralling afternoon celebrating three consecutive victories for the first time since November 2010.
Mills’ team also now travel to Kidderminster tomorrow night knowing the hosts are the only team to defeat them in their last 17 league matches.
York City 3 (Blair 10, 52; Meredith 67), Ebbsfleet United 2
York City: Michael Ingham 9, Jon Challinor 8, Daniel Parslow 7, Chris Smith 7, James Meredith 8, Scott Kerr 9, Scott Brown , Paddy McLaughlin 7, Matty Blair 9, Jamie Reed 8, Danny Pilkington 8.
Subs: Matthew Blinkhorn 8 (for Reed, 59), Jamal Fyfield 7 (for Pilkington, 59). Not used: Boucaud, Moké, Ashikodi.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Star man: Blair – best 9/10 display of the season and perhaps only one more goal away from full marks.
Ebbsfleet: Preston Edwards, Joe Howe, Craig Stone, Yado Mambo, John Herd (Lanre Azeez, 36,), Ram Marwa, Neil Barrett, Tom Phipp, Nathaniel Pinney, Callum Willock, Liam Enver-Marum.
Subs not used: Tom McNeil, Paul McCarthy, Che Masroh-McDowell, Ben Adams.
Booked: Smith 26, Kerr 76.
Sent off: Brown 15.
Shots on target: York 8, United 6.
Shots off target: York 9, United 3.
Corners: York 7, United 7.
Fouls conceded: York 8, United 12.
Offsides: York 3, United 0.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Liverpool).
Rating: strong-minded and decisive.
Attendance: 2,973 (68 away fans).
Tackle of the match: There was no room for error with Ingham’s perfectly-timed challenge on Pinney after Parslow’s mistake.
Save of the match: Ingham’s first stop from Willock was perhaps marginally better than his second.