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Match report: Darlington 2, York City 2
York City’s refusal to be beaten in 2011/12 has seen Gary Mills’ team equal a 38-year-old club record.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw at troubled Darlington was by no means a vintage display but, thanks to second-half Chris Smith and Ashley Chambers goals, it represented a tenth league game undefeated on the road – a sequence which now sits in the history books alongside that of a team with a valid claim to being recognised as the club’s finest.
Tom Johnston’s class of 1973/4 are the only other side in the Minstermen’s 90-year history to enjoy a double-figured run without losing an away league game.
That team, including the likes of Chris Jones, Graeme Crawford and Jimmy Seal, went on to set another landmark by winning promotion to the second tier of the English game and are still the only group of Bootham Crescent players to do so.
Under Mills, City continue to pursue a return to the Football League and, interestingly, both teams’ ten-game away records include three wins and seven draws.
A draw might amount to two fewer points than a win rather than just the one these days, but an ability to grind out results when not at your best remains just as important in 2012 as it was five decades ago.
The Minstermen have now lost just one of their last 19 league matches and, as they had managed against Mansfield twice over the festive period as well as at home to Solihull in the FA Trophy last month, Mills’ team managed to recover from a losing position at cash-strapped Darlington despite an indifferent display.
Just as the City chief had predicted prior to the game, Darlington were also not quite the no-hopers some might have expected considering the club’s off-field traumas.
Despite starting with five teenagers and being forced into introducing a sixth when captain Paul Arnison – one of just nine fit professionals at the club – limped out of the action before the break, the hosts quickly dispelled any hopes among the 1,300 travelling supporters that the game, still potentially the home team’s last, would be a mismatch.
Experienced campaigner Marc Bridge-Wilkinson warmed Michael Ingham’s hands after only 37 seconds while the likes of 17-year-old on-loan Sunderland ’keeper Jordan Pickford, striker-turned- centre-back Scott Harrison and well-deserved man-of-the-match winner John McReady all settled swiftly into performances that belied their birth dates.
Fielding a well-drilled 4-5-1 formation, the hosts started with greater determination than their opponents, who struggled for dominance in a congested midfield.
The visitors also persisted in attacking almost exclusively down the left flank during a first half in which play on that wing repeatedly broke down with Danny Pilkington the chief culprit, although there was a predictability about all of City’s play in the final third of the pitch where the front three’s movement lacked imagination.
As a consequence, Darlington took a deserved lead into the interval and added a second goal quickly after the break.
After Bridge-Wilkinson had fired off an early warning, Matty Blair blazed a volley high into the home end after full debutant Matthew Blinkhorn had won a header from Michael Ingham’s long goal kick.
Otherwise, the Minstermen were restricted to long-range Pilkington efforts before the break, while Dale Hopson blasted wide of Ingham’s left-hand post before the Quakers took the lead on 43 minutes.
Sloppy City failed to anticipate a short corner that saw Rob Ramshaw find Bridge-Wilkinson on the corner of the penalty box.
The former Port Vale midfielder then delivered an unchallenged cross that was turned in on the volley with a flick of his boot by an unopposed Adam Rundle eight yards from goal.
Shortly afterwards, Ryan Bowman prodded the ball across the face of Ingham’s goal after bursting through the left channel and, four minutes after the restart, Craig Liddle’s men doubled their advantage with another effort that reflected badly on the visitors.
Andre Boucaud’s stray pass was intercepted in Darlington’s half and Kris Taylor swiftly swept the ball out to the right flank, where McReady sidestepped a Daniel Parslow challenge before beating Ingham with a low shot inside his near post.
The City ’keeper then needed to be alert to save at McReady’s feet after Jon Challinor had surrendered possession to Rundle.
By this time, Chambers had been sent on as part of a double substitution that also saw Jamie Reed introduced. Boucaud, probably paying the price for his role in the hosts’ second goal, was replaced along with Pilkington as Mills opted for an adventurous 4-2-4 formation.
Ex-Leicester striker Chambers quickly made an impression, providing the 59th-minute left-wing corner that saw Smith claim his second goal in as many games. The City skipper’s downward header six yards out bounced up into Pickford’s top left-hand corner.
Just seconds later, on the hour, the Minstermen’s two replacements combined for the equaliser. Reed fed the ball to Chambers, whose angled 15-yard drive nestled in Pickford’s bottom left-hand corner.
The Quakers did not crumble, however, with Taylor lifting a 12-yard shot over following another well-rehearsed corner routine. At the other end, Pickford clawed a Paddy McLaughlin free-kick away to safety and watched Chambers curl a similar opportunity off target.
Both teams then went close to securing maximum points at the death. Harrison headed over from six yards after meeting a Rundle corner, while McLaughlin’s well-struck drive was parried brilliantly in injury time by Pickford and Smith headed over the flag kick.
Moments later, a tannoy system that had blasted out the likes of Money’s Too Tight To Mention and I’m Still Standing before the game, greeted the final whistle with the strains of Freddie Mercury.
The Show Must Go On is a sentiment that both sets of fans in Saturday’s super 6,413 crowd would have shared as Darlington hope to live to fight another day.
Darlington 2 (Rundle 43; McReady 49), York City 2 (Smith 59; Chambers 60)
York City: Michael Ingham 6, Jon Challinor 6, Daniel Parslow 6, Chris Smith 7, James Meredith 6, Scott Kerr 6, Andre Boucaud 6, Paddy McLaughlin 7, Matty Blair 5, Matthew Blinkhorn 5, Danny Pilkington 5.
Subs: Jamie Reed 6 (for Boucaud, 54), Ashley Chambers 6 (for Pilkington, 54), Jamal Fyfield (for Blinkhorn, 73). Not used: McGurk, Potts.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Star man: Smith – matched hosts’ commitment and led the comeback.
Darlington: Jordan Pickford, Paul Arnison (Phil Gray, 41), Scott Harrison, Kris Taylor, Aaron Brown, Dale Hopson (James Gray, 76), John McReady, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Rob Ramshaw, Adam Rundle, Ryan Bowman.
Subs not used: Jordan Nixon, Danny Lambert, Jamie Barton.
Booked: Ramshaw 70, Taylor 77, Harrison 90.
Shots on target: Darlington 5, City 9.
Shots off target: Darlington 6, City 5.
Corners: Darlington 5, City 13.
Fouls conceded: Darlington 12, City 10.
Offsides: Darlington 2, City 2.
Referee: Darren Handley (Bolton). Rating: showed degree of lenience that bordered on the unusually sensible. Will probably get marked down for it.
Attendance: 6,413 (1,358 City fans).
Miss of the match: Harrison’s late header could have snatched victory.
Save of the match: Teenage ’keeper Pickford denied McLaughlin twice, but injury-time stop was probably the pick.