1 City’s new manager values wins over excitement

Martin Gray expressed his longing for a 1-0 victory following another five-goal thriller at North Street. For some, the City chief’s viewpoint might be construed as that of a killjoy given the entertainment value at Alfreton, but the statement’s logic is hard to dispute.

It is now 36 matches since the Minstermen enjoyed a single-goal success when Jon Parkin’s header saw off FA Trophy quarter-final visitors Brackley back in February. In terms of league contests, meanwhile, City have gone one more fixture since their last 1-0 triumph – the Boxing Day away defeat of North Ferriby.

In the intervening period, meanwhile, five games – starting with the Trophy final victory over Macclesfield at Wembley – have ended 3-2. Of those fixtures, two have been decided in City’s favour and three have gone against the club – highlighting the unpredictable outcomes of such open encounters.

Saturday’s match could have easily been won by the hosts and, arguably, refereeing decisions and a little luck played their part in the eventual scoreline. Gray will be wanting to rely less on such uncontrollable factors, preferring his team to assume ownership of their own destiny.

Whilst 1-0 wins were dismissed as boring when George Graham’s Arsenal were winning league titles, City and Gray can also point to recent times in any analysis of their significance. Nigel Worthington’s well-drilled Minstermen, with current Premier League shot-stopper Nick Pope in goal, were 1-0 winners seven times in 11 matches on their way to securing a League Two play-off spot three-and-a-half years ago.

Gray’s Darlington, meanwhile, scored the only goal in four of their final ten fixtures as they finished in the National League North’s top five last term. Finding the right balance between attractive and winning football is now high on the former Sunderland midfielder’s priority list at Bootham Crescent.

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2 Jon Parkin’s presence on the pitch is vital in an evenly-balanced game

While fortune might have played its part in securing three points, Parkin’s appearance on the scoresheet twice owed nothing to coincidence. Regardless of how he is playing, the masterful marksman is always liable to get his team a goal.

The brace that knocked National League North leaders Salford out of the FA Cup this season came after a first half that he later jested had caused him to contemplate retirement. At Alfreton, he was a threat from the start, teeing up excellent early chances for Gary Martin and Sean Newton, but he had barely touched the ball in the second period as the hosts carried on the momentum they had enjoyed going into the interval.

On 52 minutes, though, he displayed all his poaching nous and power to get to Aidan Connolly’s inviting cross first and prod a shot past Chris Elliott. Unfazed when City were awarded a penalty, he also made sure he hit the target to claim his 25th goal in 28 games.

To put that in some form of crazy context, Lionel Messi has netted 28 times in his last 28 outings and Cristiano Ronaldo 26.

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3 Gray is no autocrat in his managerial approach

New backroom staff appointment Brian Atkinson’s regular trips from his seat in the stand to the visitors’ dugout provided more evidence that Gray is a manager who likes to rule by consensus. Having taken the Bootham Crescent job with David Penney in a new club role of sporting director, Gray was quick to welcome wily ex-Bishop Auckland, Whitby Town and Blyth Spartans boss Harry Dunn into the fold as chief scout.

On his arrival in North Yorkshire, the former Sunderland midfielder also made no secret of Steve McClaren’s mentoring role in his management career and plan for the former England manager to take a training session at Wigginton Road during his tenure. The recruitment of Atkinson - his long-time number two at Darlington – certainly suggests too that Gray is a character who likes to surround himself with people whose opinions he trusts and values.

With Penney and Dunn, not to mention chief executive Jackie McNamara, there are now four past-and-present football managers on the Bootham Crescent books, while the likes of Parkin and Jon Worsnop have been encouraged to cut their coaching teeth. Gray’s willingness to seek and listen to advice is refreshing and shows a strength of character in an industry when many in his position can feel threatened by the presence of others with experience in his role.

The support provided by those around him will, hopefully, also be of benefit to Gray in what can be a very lonely profession. Such working environments are no guarantees for success – the most recent comparable “management teams” at City would probably be the Colin Walker-Neil Redfearn-Eric Winstanley and Chris Brass-Lee Nogan-Viv Busby triumvirates – but it is the same working model Gray implemented on the way to three promotions at previous club Darlington.

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4 The diamond formation doesn’t always cut it

Having employed the same narrow midfield that stifled Curzon Ashton in the previous home contest, the visitors looked less comfortable with that tactical approach at Alfreton. Full-backs Josh Law and Alex Whittle were left too exposed by the lack of protection in front of them, as witnessed during the hosts’ opening goal.

But Gray’s subsequent reshuffle early in the second half, when admittedly under-the-weather anchorman Daniel Rowe was replaced by Amari Morgan-Smith, reduced the influence of opposition wing-backs Cieron Keane and Bradley Wood and demonstrated a readiness to try Plan B.

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5 A stronger squad could be the benchmark for progress

With the funds he was given over the summer, former City chief Gary Mills assembled a first XI of players he had an unswerving faith in. His options from the bench, though, were sometimes limited and often included players he had reservations about (Kaine Felix), were in the dugout with one specific thing in mind (Sam Muggleton) or were unproven rookies (Theo Wharton and Jassem Sukar).

With Gray having been given permission to bolster the ranks, City’s ability to change games with their choice of substitutes now looks much more varied than simply chucking on a long-throw specialist. Morgan-Smith, who was an automatic pick and started every game when fit under Mills, provided a great outlet with his forward industry after being introduced against Alfreton.

Furthermore, during their second-half cameos, former Championship campaigner and England C international David Ferguson made his presence felt and ex-Northern Ireland under-21 international James Gray ran the channels to good effect.