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Match report: York City 2, Luton Town 1 - play-off final
York City goal hero Matty Blair celebrates his winning goal two minutes into the second half of the play-off final victory over Luton Town at Wembley
IT’S taken eight years to hear these eight words but York City are back in the Football League.
And that is something to savour for anybody reading this report.
Goals from Ashley Chambers and Matty Blair saw the Minstermen clinch a 2-1 triumph at Wembley over arch-rivals Luton Town, who had forged ahead in the 71st second of a tense Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final.
Prior to kick off, It’s Getting Better by York’s own Shed Seven had been belted out of the world-famous stadium’s speakers but, truthfully, football does not get much better than the last nine days for City’s long-suffering supporters.
Having lifted the club’s first national trophy in 90 years by beating Newport at the home of English football last weekend, the announcement in midweek that relocation to Monks Cross has been approved by City of York Council also provided the first step to securing the Minstermen’s long-term sustainability.
To top that with a first promotion in 19 years and a return to the 92-strong elite club that was perhaps, for so long, taken for granted, but never will be again, is incredible.
City will now swap Braintree Town for Bradford City next season with Gary Mills and his players deserving immense credit for finally steering the club out of the hardest division to leave behind in English football.
Yesterday’s game encapsulated everything Mills’ team has stood for throughout 2011/12 – desire, determination, dignity and a dogged refusal to be beaten.
All those quailties were also epitomised by two brave and unlikely far-post interceptions by Lanre Oyebanjo that left certain scorers Craig McAllister and John-Paul Kissock both bloodied as City held on to their 2-1 advantage.
From the very first game of the season when Jason Walker rescued a losing position with two late goals at Ebbsfleet, self-belief has been coursing through the veins of Mills’ team and the importance of that quality in football should not be over-estimated.
It is something that Luton must certainly be in short supply of when it comes to tackling the Minstermen and few from Bedfordshire will now be sorry to see the back of their non-League nemesis after suffering a seventh defeat in 11 meetings between the two clubs.
Even when City fell behind to Andre Gray’s early goal, there was an air of inevitability about what followed although many in the North Yorkshire ranks will have had their nerves frayed before the final whistle was blown following four minutes of stoppage time.
The Hatters could, with justification, lament the fact that Blair’s 20th goal of a sensational season for him was blatantly offside but the former League Cup final winners still had more than 40 minutes to salvage something from the match and ultimately fell short.
They could not capitalise on their opponents’ growing reputation as notorious slow starters either.
Buoyed by a raucous 30,000 supporters, the Hatters flew out of the traps, as they have done in previous encounters, but could not maintain that momentum as, following another familiar pattern, the Minstermen settled into their passing rhythm and it was the 9,000-strong North Yorkshire contingent that grew noisier as the match progressed.
Gray, though, struck the first blow when he steered a composed ten-yard finish in off the base of Michael Ingham’s left-hand post after Robbie Willmott had skipped past former Cambridge team-mate Jon Challinor on the left wing.
Midfielder Alex Lawless then dragged a 25-yard chance wide and Willmott, drifting in from the left flank, fired wide from a similar distance.
But the Minstermen remained calm and, on ten minutes, created their first chance when Chris Doig released Walker down the left and his cross was stabbed just wide of the near post by Oyebanjo.
Challinor then saw a 15-yard drive deflected over by Lawless and credible penalty appeals followed when Luton left-back Jake Howells handled as Doig attempted to hook the ball over him.
City continued to threaten with Walker making a nonsense of the seven-inch height difference between him and hulking Hungarian Janos Kovacs to outjump the ex-Minsterman and meet Challinor’s right-wing cross.
A back-pedalling Mark Tyler, though, did well to tip Walker’s header over his crossbar.
The equaliser did arrive on 26 minutes when Challinor was hacked down by Keith Keane as he burst down the right wing to collect a Blair through ball.
Oyebanjo curled the subsequent free-kick to the far post where skipper Chris Smith cushioned the ball down on his chest before aiming it back towards the penalty spot.
There, steaming in, came Chambers who, after the ball bounced invitingly up off the hallowed turf, smashed a rising 12-yard drive into the roof of a helpless Tyler’s net to claim his tenth goal of the campaign.
Luton rallied a little before the break with Adam Watkins wasting a promising chance when he scuffed a shot straight at Ingham and Gray also ran past Doig before the ’keeper parried his angled drive with Ben Gibson then quick to clear the danger.
But, just over a minute after the interval, Blair pounced to add yet another vital goal to his burgeoning collection. Having netted the decisive headers to send his team to Wembley twice this season, Blair also broke the deadlock in last week’s FA Trophy final before this latest stratospheric strike.
The former Racing Club Warwick winger sidefooted through Tyler’s legs from four yards after Dan Parslow had helped on Oyebanjo’s right-wing long throw with his head at the near post.
Television replays later confirmed Blair was clearly two yards offside but the flag stayed down and the Minstermen had a lead to defend, which they did with typical grit.
After James Meredith had headed over from six yards and Chambers ended a great run to the edge of the penalty box with a low shot that was saved to his right by Tyler, the Hatters went in search of an equaliser.
Manager Paul Buckle sent on target man McAllister, signalling a switch to 4-4-2, but he only lasted ten minutes after Oyebanjo prevented him from meeting a well-flighted cross by Gray, who had wriggled his way past Doig and Gibson.
The City right-back stretched every sinew in his neck to prevent a certain goal and, after winning the ball, also came off better in the consequent clash of heads.
Gray then took a swipe at the ball with both his left and right feet just three yards from Ingham’s goal, but, remarkably, failed to make contact on either occasion.
On 81 minutes, Curtis Osano’s cross from the right could only be palmed away as far as John-Paul Kissock by Ingham but his six-yard effort was once more blocked heroically by Oyebanjo, leaving the Luton sub with a nose that matched his nickname at Kenilworth Road – “Messi”.
And, after the blood, came sweat and tears for the Hatters faithful, whose team continued to toil but hopeful long-range efforts by Willmott, Aaron O’Connor and Keane all missed the target.
At the other end, Walker’s curling free-kick brushed the sidenetting but it mattered little as referee Jeremy Simpson called an end to proceedings, leaving one set of supporters dejected and the others in delirium.
And who can blame them? It has been a long time coming. Lest anybody forgets, the Minstermen’s last Football League opponents were Swansea and everybody knows where they are now.
City might never grace the same heights as the top-flight Welsh side but, as a Conference swansong, the last nine days feel every bit as historic.
York City 2 (Chambers 26, Blair 47), Luton Town 1 (Gray 2)
Michael Ingham - 8
Displayed sound judgement, coming off his line to claim a succession of crosses and corners.
Jon Challinor - 7
Given trouble by Willmott early on. Was coming to terms with the winger before Keane’s crude challenge ended his afternoon prematurely.
Chris Doig - 7
Given nervy moments by Gray’s pace but, as ever, maintained a level head.
Chris Smith - 9
STAR MAN – called a colossus by his manager during the second half of this season and showed why with another towering display.
Ben Gibson - 7
Also troubled a little by Willmott when the Luton winger swapped flanks but solid up to that point.
Daniel Parslow - 9
Tracked every forward run by a Luton player and won his physical battles.
Lanre Oyebanjo - 9
Made a succession of crucial and unlikely far-post interventions when switched to right-back following Challinor’s injury.
James Meredith - 8
Closed play down well and used the ball sensibly when in possession.
Matty Blair - 7
Lost the ball in dangerous positions during the first half but, once more, proved himself the man for the big occasion with the winning goal.
Jason Walker - 8
Both Pilkington and Kovacs looked uneasy against the City striker, who forced mistakes from both.
Ashley Chambers - 9
Another mature performance under the arch for City’s England ‘C’ international, always positive and rarely gave the ball away.
Substitutes: Scott Brown 7 – dug in and did a disciplined job for the team (for Challinor, 37), Jamie Reed (for Chambers, 78), Paddy McLaughlin (for Walker, 86). Not used: Paul Musselwhite, Adriano Moké.
Mark Tyler - 6
Will be disappointed that Blair’s goal went between his legs despite the offside protests.
Curtis Osano - 8
Marauded with intent down the right flank and kept going until the final whistle.
George Pilkington - 5
Never looked comfortable in defence and not the captain’s performance that his counterpart gave.
Janos Kovacs - 6
Incredibly outjumped by Walker in the first half considering the seven-inch height difference and also looked harassed.
Jake Howells - 5
Known as an overlapping full-back but offered very little in an attacking sense.
Alex Lawless - 6
Started brightly but faded and had little to offer in the second half.
Keith Keane - 5
Could not find space in midfield to pull the strings and grew more frustrated as the game went on.
Adam Watkins - 5
Made one positive run but lacked end product before being replaced just past the hour.
Andre Gray - 7
A very lively first half but fluffed his big chance when he miskicked twice in front of goal after the break.
Stuart Fleetwood - 5
Looked sluggish throughout and did not cause City any problems.
Robbie Willmott - 8
STAR MAN – can hold his head high despite being on the losing side and caused City’s full-backs problems on both flanks with his willingness to attack.
Substitutes: John-Paul Kissock 7 – comfortable on the ball with a useful array of tricks but did not really hurt the Minstermen where it mattered (for Watkins, 61), Craig McAllister (for Fleetwood, 61), Aaron O’Connor (for McAllister, 73). Not used: Daniel Gleeson, Shane Blackett.
Booked: Lawless 62, Gibson 87.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).
Rating: did well and certainly better than his assistants, as Luton fans would testify.
Shots on target: City 4, Luton 7.
Shots off target: City 5, Luton 8.
Corners: City 7, Luton 5.
Fouls conceded: City 3, Luton 9.
Offsides: City 2, Luton 1.
Shot of the match: Chambers’ net-busting strike was unstoppable.
Interception of the match: Any one of Oyebanjo’s superbly-timed interventions.