PUTTING a smile back on people’s faces at York City has been Gary Mills’ mission ever since he first walked into the club 19 months ago.
Well, tip Wembley’s famous arch upside down and that was about the size of the average City fan’s grin at the end of Saturday’s historic 2-0 FA Trophy final victory over Newport County on the hallowed turf.
Second-half goals from Matty Blair – who has been beaming pretty much non-stop since his summer arrival from Kidderminster – and Lanre Oyebanjo saw the Minstermen end a 90-year wait to win their first national knockout competition.
The triumph also exorcised the ghosts of the club’s 2009 and 2010 visits to the home of English football, which ended in painful defeats to previous Trophy foes Stevenage and play-off final rivals Oxford respectively.
Blair’s 65th-minute strike on Saturday was also especially symbolic.
It meant his side had racked up a century of goals in 2011/2 on a day when the new Wembley was hosting its 100th match.
For much of the first hour of this contest, the match struggled to live up to the occasion.
But, once more, a City team that has now scored 28 of their last 33 goals in the second half of games, finished the game stronger than their opponents.
Ashley Chambers was the catalyst for the improvement, providing perfect passes for both goals as, seven years after becoming Leicester’s youngest-ever player at 15, he came of age in a City shirt.
Given a marauding role by Mills, Chambers released Blair for the first goal with a wonderfully-weighted pass from the left touchline that lured Newport goalkeeper Glyn Thompson off his line and out of his penalty box.
Seven minutes later, after patiently exchanging passes with team-mates from the right-back position, the former England youth international burst down that flank to collect a sublime Paddy McLaughlin pass and cross for Oyebanjo to tap in the second goal.
An unsung hero, when assessing the club’s progress under Mills this season, Chambers has now claimed more goal assists than any other player at the club this term and deserved the ovation he received from City supporters when he was replaced in the 90th minute by Adriano Moké.
Earlier, after Blair’s deflected shot had forced the first corner, which captain Chris Smith then headed into Thompson’s hands, it was the visitors that started the game with greater purpose.
County chief Justin Edinburgh sprang a surprise with his team selection, employing Lee Minshull – a midfield battering ram in the two previous meetings between the two teams last month – as his side’s lone central striker.
The motivation for such a move was immediately clear – go direct to Minshull and let young strikers Romone Rose and Nat Jarvis feed off the scraps in a 4-3-3 system, much removed from Mills’ interpretation of his favoured formation.
As a game plan, it looked far from flawed during the opening 45 minutes with Michael Ingham pushing a Rose shot into his side-netting after the former QPR striker had wriggled a way past Jon Challinor.
After Smith’s 12-yard volley was deflected over, Rose then squandered a great opportunity to fire the Exiles in front on nine minutes.
The Newport frontman was presented with a clear run at Ingham’s goal after Jarvis had beaten Dan Parslow to the ball on the halfway line.
In front of City’s supporters, though, Rose aimed a weak 12-yard shot straight at the exposed former Northern Ireland international.
Rose also saw a long-range effort deflect wide off Smith while David Pipe’s deep right-wing cross was headed wide by Ismail Yakubu from ten yards.
At the other end, Chambers’ header teed up McLaughlin for a 25-yard chance that nicked off County captain Gary Warren and spun narrowly wide of Thompson’s right-hand post with the experienced ’keeper wrong footed.
Blair’s goalbound low drive was also headed away by Yakubu.
For Newport, Rose and Jarvis then both missed the target with attempts from outside the box.
City’s best period of the half came in its closing stages with a familiar free-kick routine, performed by Chambers and McLaughlin, leading to the latter peeling to his left before firing wide from 30 yards.
James Meredith also dragged an edge-of-the-box volley wide and Challinor’s stinging long-range effort was parried by Thompson with Pipe sweeping up the danger.
The final opportunity of the first 45 minutes saw Minshull hold off a Smith challenge before shooting wide from 20 yards.
A slow start to the second half saw Oyebanjo drag a speculative attempt tamely wide and Sam Foley slice woefully wide when in a promising position for the Welsh team.
But, from his halfway line position just in front of both benches, Chambers provided the pass that broke the deadlock.
Placing the ball behind the Newport back line, Chambers picked out Blair’s surging run through the middle and, when Thompson charged out to meet him, the former Redditch and Bedworth winger claimed his 19th goal of the season – and eighth in the Trophy – by lifting his 20-yard effort into the vacated net. Not bad for an 8-1 shot for first goalscorer with some bookmakers.
After Rose sliced wide with another shot from distance for County, a goal that typified City at their best settled the outcome.
A spell of keep ball found its purpose when McLaughlin picked out Chambers’ burst through the right channel with the outside of his left boot.
Charging for the byline, Chambers then pulled the ball back for Oyebanjo, who had hared towards goal to tap in from three yards.
A wounded Newport team refused to surrender with Foley, Warren and Yakubu all having late attempts on goal – the latter going closest with a header against Ingham’s right-hand upright after Oyebanjo had cleared a Lee Evans long throw.
But the Minstermen kept a fifth clean sheet in six matches and Jason Walker almost added a third goal in stoppage time with a spectacular volley on the turn that dipped over Thompson’s crossbar.
Cue the ecstatic celebrations and, while a few might have been sunk on Saturday night, there will only be one double on the minds of Mills and his players today.
Focus must now switch to the biggest prize of all, regaining the club’s Football League status by winning again at Wembley against Luton in the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final on Sunday.
Pull that off and those arch-sized smiles will get wider and wider.
Newport County 0, York City 2 (Blair 65, Oyebanjo 73)
Michael Ingham - 8
Handling and judgement was impeccable. Got his angles right when Rose burst through on goal
Jon Challinor - 8
Never flustered and experience of his 31 years and previous Wembley final appearances was pivotal
Daniel Parslow - 7
Recovered from a slightly shaky start and was rarely troubled by the aerial threat of Minshull
Chris Smith - 8
Another towering display from City’s captain who marshalled the back line superbly
Ben Gibson - 8
A sound return for the on-loan Middlesbrough man with Newport struggling to make any inroads
James Meredith - 7
Grew in stature and became more involved, always willing to receive and retain possession
Lanre Oyebanjo -7
Quiet in the first half but nobody was stopping him getting on the end of Chambers’ cross to score
Paddy McLaughlin - 7
Made a sublime pass in the build up to Oyebanjo’s goal and battled well throughout
Matty Blair - 8
Displayed great speed and anticipation for his goal and, as expected, never stopped running
Jason Walker - 7
Well policed by the Newport defence but his touch and ball
control were exemplary
Ashley Chambers - 9
STAR MAN – His movement in the final third of the pitch caused Newport the most first-half problems and he was the architect of both his team’s goals after the break
Glyn Thompson - 7
Did well to push Challinor’s shot to safety in the first half but might have felt he made Blair’s mind up for him with the first goal
David Pipe - 7
Full of endeavour but looked concerned whenever Chambers got the ball down and ran at him
Gary Warren - 8
Like his City counterpart, the Exiles’ captain led by example and was a combative adversary
Ismail Yakubu - 8
STAR MAN – a typically no-nonsense performance from the unfussy centre-back. Dominant in the air and came closest to scoring
Andrew Hughes - 7
Solid but unspectacular at left-back and rarely looked to join in attacking moves
Max Porter - 7
Grafted hard to close down City players in midfield but offered little in a creative sense
Lee Evans - 8
Gave a mature display that belied his 17 years and never looked overawed
Sam Foley - 7
Demonstrated glimpses of his clear ability on the ball but never really hurt City
Nat Jarvis - 7
Threatened a couple of times in the first half but was generally well contained by City’s back line
Lee Minshull - 7
Won some good headers in dangerous places but team-mates not always on the same wavelength
Romone Rose - 7
His movement and enthusiasm offered first-half promise for the Welshmen but fluffed his big chance by firing straight at Ingham
Substitutes: Elliott Buchanan 6 (for Rose, 69), Jake Harris 6 (for Jarvis, 69), Darryl Knights (for Porter, 80). Not used: Matthew Swan, Paul Rodgers.
Booked: Smith 21, Porter 42, Rose 66.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe).
Rating: Premier League referee who looked like somebody at the top of his profession.
Shots on target: City 4, Newport 2
Shots off target: City 6, Newport 12
Corners: City 5, Newport 3
Fouls conceded: City 13, Newport 13
Offsides: City 2, Newport 0
Miss of the match: Rose should have done better when he fired straight at Ingham on nine minutes.
Pass of the match: McLaughlin’s exquisite through ball that led to City’s second goal.