York City's relegated players were treated like champions as they were mobbed during their attempts to leave the Bootham Crescent pitch after Saturday's 2-1 home defeat against Leyton Orient.

Hundreds of Minstermen fans poured on to the playing field as referee Colin Webster's final whistle signalled the end of 75 year of League football in York but they were in no mood for apportioning blame and pointing accusing fingers.

Heartfelt chants of "City 'Til I Die", "We Are York", "We'll Support You Ever More", "There's Only One Chris Brass" and "You'll Never Kill York City" were all belted out by the impromptu chorus in front of the Main Stand before City's player-manager, clearly moved by the scenes, picked up the microphone and, in an impassioned speech, vowed to give the assembled crowd better reason to shout such sentiments in the future.

The shared feeling at Bootham Crescent was one of solidarity with the fans on the pitch outlining their continued support for Brass who, despite relegation, they are still willing to succeed as their manager because of his unswerving passion, commitment, integrity and loyalty.

Brass has lived through the off-field traumas that have plagued the club in recent years and his understanding of the fans' suffering has been acute.

It is a cruel irony that now the club importantly have people who hold York City dear to their hearts in every position of power from the chairman, through the boardroom to Brass and his assistant Lee Nogan, they have plunged into non-League football.

However, the emotional scenes on Saturday proved that if he can deliver success then, because of his personality, Brass would be immortalised at Bootham Crescent and it seems the majority of supporters are ready to reserve judgement on his managerial skills until next season.

The national media's spotlight fell on York's famous old ground at the weekend hungry for scenes of anger or sorrow. They had arrived seven days late.

The time for recrimination and tears had been at Doncaster last weekend when the club's relegation was confirmed bar a mathematical miracle.

Seven days is a long time in football and, since then, Brass has begun his cull, releasing eight senior players before the visit of Orient.

Most of the players, therefore, in Saturday's starting line-up, which included four teenagers and three full debutants, carried little responsibility for the record-breaking run of 19 games without a win during the last three months of the season.

The average age of the team which began the match was 21.6 and, after Liam George, David Merris and Adam Arthur had been replaced by Andy Bell, Sean Davies and Kane Ashcroft, that had dropped to 20.7.

Bryan Stewart, making his first appearance since September and his first start, was the pick of Brass' Babes, providing glimpses of the kind of wing play City have sorely missed this season.

Left-winger Stewart hugged the touchline and, as well as displaying some nifty dribbling skills, provided several dangerous crosses.

Fellow teenager Graeme Law also appears to have a good understanding of the right-back position while striker Lev Yalcin is still to transform his undoubted promise on to the first-team stage and his first touch looked a bit rusty against Orient.

Right-winger Arthur, 18, enjoyed a tidy performance in the first half before becoming virtually anonymous after the break.

Aside from the youngsters, Wise - a relative veteran at 20 - staked the biggest claim for a new contract among City's remaining senior players.

The gutsy centre back scored his first league goal on five minutes and defended in his normal no-nonsense fashion.

Wise opened the scoring after Darren Dunning's well-struck free kick had been tipped over the bar by Glenn Morris.

Dunning swung in the resulting corner and Wise rose at the far post to send a powerful downward header past Morris.

City fans then displayed a gallows humour that might have surprised the hoards of television cameramen and photographers with cries of "We're Bottom of the League, We're Having a Laugh" and "We're Gonna win 10-0" - in reference to the club's helpless goal difference.

Orient went into the match without a league victory in 13 matches but went close to an equaliser on ten minutes when Ciaron Toner volleyed narrowly wide.

Chris Porter then produced an acrobatic save to push a Gary Alexander volley on to his crossbar but the visitors levelled the scores with an almost action replay of Wise's earlier effort.

Mark Peters rose unchallenged to head in after Matthew Lockwood's 28th-minute corner had sailed over Porter and Wise.

Three minutes later, Andy Scott headed wide from another Lockwood corner before Brass' header was saved by Morris at the other end.

Porter's communication, judgement, kicking and handling skills all came under scrutiny during nervous spells before and after half-time and a mix-up between the Minstermen goalkeeper and Leigh Wood presented Andy Scott with a chance that he blasted wide on 35 minutes.

John Mackie's miscued clearance then beat O's 'keeper Morris but landed on the roof of the netting.

The visitors went ahead in the third minute of first-half stoppage time when Porter came off his goal-line to punch away Lockwood's deep cross but his flat-footed leap was not high enough and Alexander nodded into an unguarded goal.

Wise's head continued to look City's biggest goal threat in the second half and he forced two saves from Morris after Dunning free kicks.

Morris also prevented Ashcroft from scoring with his first touch in senior football, saving the teenage substitute's point-blank effort after he charged into the penalty box to get on the end of a move that had seen Brass, Sean Davies and Stewart combine down the left.

Toner rattled the underside of the bar moments later before Bell fired wide from an acute angle on 89 minutes.

Mr Webster's final whistle then brought an atmosphere that most observers will have found unique in their football spectating lives.

Results on the pitch have, at times, in City's recent history almost become of secondary importance compared to saving the football club's very existence and that appeared to be the context in which the supporters paid their spontaneous tribute after another home defeat.

Relegation to the Conference is a massive body blow but, now the club has been stabilised financially and Bootham Crescent secured for the foreseeable future, the important matter of getting victories on the pitch must become the all-consuming priority again.

Brass knows that will be the ultimate barometer by which his managerial ability will be judged.

York City 1 (Wise 5); Leyton Orient 2 (Peters 18, Alexander 45)

Porter 5, Law 6, Wise 7, Wood 5, Merris 6 (Davies 81m), Arthur 5 (Ashcroft 81min), Brass 6, Dunning 6, Stewart 7, Yalcin 5, George 5 (Bell 64min, 6)

Key: 10 Faultless, 9 Outstanding, 8 Excellent, 7 Eye-catching, 6 Good, 5 Average, 4 Below-par, 3 Dud, 2 Hopeless, 1 Retire

Subs not used: Stockdale, Staley

Star Man: Stuart Wise - solid defensively, an attacking threat at set-pieces and suggested he wants to be around next season.

Leyton Orient: Glenn Morris, Gabby Zakuani, John Mackie, Mark Peters, Donny Barnard, David Hunt, Ciaron Toner, Brian Saah, Matthew Lockwood, Andy Scott (Jabo Ibehre, 79), Gary Alexander. Subs not used: Lee Harrison, Billy Jones, Wayne Purser, Shaun Cooper.

Yellow cards: Scott 37, Zakuani 55, Hunt 63, Ibehre 80, Wise 80.

Red cards: None

Referee: Colin Webster (Tyne & Wear). Rating: Five cautions was a bit fussy but made few mistakes

Attendance: 3,462

Weather watch: Hot and sunny

Game breaker: Porter mistake for Orient's second goal.

Match rating: Occasion - especially the scenes at the final whistle - will live longer in the memory than the match.

Updated: 11:14 Monday, May 03, 2004