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York City's promotion mission at Wembley
10:20am Friday 14th May 2010 in York City v Oxford United - Wembley play-off final By Tony Kelly, Deputy sports editor
PLAY-OFF penalty-saving ace Dean Kiely is fervently hoping York City will be spot-on in securing another Wembley ascent on Sunday.
In just over 48 hours the Minstermen attempt to straddle the final hurdle blocking their path to a return to the Football League, from where they have been exiled for the last six seasons.
City take on Oxford United, another former Football League member currently mired in the Conference, at Wembley.
Twin towers may have been torn down and replaced by an arch at the national stadium, but it was at the home of football where, 17 years ago, a then 21-year-old Kiely underscored his potential as an international and elite division goalkeeper to help the Minstermen thwart Crewe Alexandra.
That 1993 dramatic penalty shoot-out conquest in which Kiely saved the crucial spot-kick from the Railwaymen’s Gareth Whalley, elevated City from the basement to division two, now the equivalent of Coca-Cola League One.
The prize this Sunday is arguably even more significant insisted West Bromich Albion goalkeeping coach Kiely, who was a bastion of gloved strength during his 239 League and cup appearances for the club that gave him his first-team professional baptism.
If City topple Oxford coveted Football League status would be restored to Bootham Crescent. It is an eminence that brings with it a deep well-spring of income as well as the kudos of being back among the exclusive 92-strong professional domestic league clubs.
“It’s a massive game for City, far more vital than this time last year when they got to the FA Trophy final,” said the goalkeeper, whose illustrious shot-stopping career spans almost two decades and more than 750 senior games.
“It’s great to win one-off trophies but everyone puts more stock on the week in, week out test of playing in the Football League.
“The longer they stay out of the Football League the more difficult survival becomes because you are trying to kick on when you are down to the bare bones of staff and resources.”
From his watching brief in the Midlands – he confided the first three results he looks for after the Baggies are those of City, Bury and Charlton – he has been impressed by the work of City boss Martin Foyle and his second-in-command Andy Porter.
“In terms of progress they have put together a very strong and determined squad and they remind me a bit of Blackpool, who have stormed into the Championship play-off final,” he said.
“They were largely written off but they have shown what team spirit can do. It was the same with us in 1993. We were a good team and when you know that, it’s never an arrogance, but a strong feeling of self-belief.
“We had a strong sense of will about us and from talking to people about City this season they have that same bond, that same sense of togetherness.”
Kiely, who has just signed a contract extension to his new role as playing goalkeeping coach at West Brom, was keeping his well-exercised fingers crossed that the club where he made his senior bow 20 years ago, will finish off the job against Oxford.
That would complete two-thirds of a pulsating promotion treble for the Salford-born former Republic of Ireland international number one.
His current club West Brom are still basking in the thrill of returning to the Premier League, City are one game away from returning to pastures more profitable, while Charlton, where he made almost 250 outings mainly in the top-flight, are in a League One play-off semi-final against Swindon.
“I wish York City all the best because they are the club I am indebted to for giving me my chance,” said Kiely.
“They are one match away from getting back into the Football League. I hope they can do it. They deserve the status of being a Football League club.”