York City supporters watched on in stunned silence as the club's spectacular tumble into non-League football was confirmed at Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.

The Minstermen will end 75 years as a Football League club at Swansea on May 8 because of a 3-1 defeat at Belle Vue which, coupled with victories for Scunthorpe and Rochdale, sealed relegation to the Nationwide Conference.

It is a dismaying prospect and a fate that seemed ridiculous back in August after a record-equalling start to the season of four straight victories saw City lead the Third Division.

But the fall from the top of the table to the bottom with two games still left to play has been made complete by Carlisle's victory at Mansfield.

And the factor that Minstermen fans will find especially hard to stomach is the side's inability to scrap for the few points that would have secured safety during another record-breaking run.

Saturday's defeat was City's 18th without a victory and four points from a possible 54 is the reason that Bootham Crescent will be playing host to the likes of Margate, Forest Green and Crawley next season.

At Doncaster, City fans watched on in quiet anguish as the home team took an early two-goal lead from their first attacks and went on to illustrate the gulf in class that means the two teams will play their football two divisions apart next season.

Rovers were last promoted from the Football League's basement division 20 years ago, finishing behind Denis Smith's famous 1984 City Championship team.

Contests between the two clubs in that season were epic battles that pitched the likes of Keith Walwyn and John Byrne against the Snodin brothers but Saturday's meeting was as one-sided an affair as you will see between two teams in the same division.

Doncaster have been rejuvenated after five years in the Conference, as is illustrated by the masses of replica shirts and young supporters in evidence these days at the newly-named Earth Stadium.

Community initiatives in schools to attract tomorrow's generation of fans are great but there is no substitute for a winning team in the quest to boost attendances.

That must be the target for City now although, unlike Doncaster, they will not benefit from the uplifting effect of a chairman who made millions from breast implants.

The Minstermen's future fortunes depend on continued prudent housekeeping and the managerial acumen of Chris Brass.

Player-boss Brass certainly shared the pain of travelling City fans on Saturday.

He chased every ball at Belle Vue and, on occasions, sprinted past less-committed members of his side to make challenges and tackles.

His team, though, were not a match for champions-elect Doncaster.

The side's ability to create and score chances will definitely need to be addressed next season.

Chris Brown, who was tracked by Brass before he signed for Doncaster on loan from Sunderland, bagged a brace on Saturday to take his season's tally to 10 goals in 15 - the kind of contribution that could have saved City.

Doncaster went ahead on five minutes when City captain Darren Edmondson hesitated and then stumbled, allowing talented midfielder Michael McIndoe to cross for Gregg Blundell, who netted his 20th goal of the season by beating a queue of home players waiting to tap the ball in.

Two minutes later, a massacre seemed possible when a sloppy one-two between Brown and Blundell carved open the visitors defence far too easily before the former beat Mark Ovendale from close range again.

Home midfielder Paul Green then waltzed into the City penalty box only for Ovendale to save at his feet and Blundell headed wide from McIndoe's cross.

The visitors' only goal attempt of the first half came on 32 minutes when Brass' curling effort from the edge of the box went narrowly wide.

City were then gifted a goal on 49 minutes after a blunder from Andy Warrington.

The ex-City goalkeeper, who became a target for the Bootham Crescent boo-boys during his Minstermen career, was responsible for the visiting fans' one moment of joy in a depressing afternoon, bizarrely running past the ball and a post as Darren Dunning's tame free kick found his bottom corner.

Doncaster, who had seemingly relaxed after their storming start, responded by hitting City's woodwork twice virtually straight from the restaart.

Dave Mulligan's volley and Brown's header from the rebound both crashed against the underside of the crossbar and at least one appeared to cross the line but referee Barry Knight waved play on.

Rovers then regained their two-goal cushion when McIndoe tricked his way past substitute Graeme Law and sent in a cross that Chris Smith failed to clear, allowing Brown to help himself to another tap-in.

Law, who was introduced after Edmondson was hauled off at half-time, recovered from his mistake to give an assured performance at right-wing back and provided a 74th-minute cross which deserved better than David Merris' wild finish that comfortably cleared the crossbar from ten yards.

The final whistle saw tears fall from dumbstruck faces as transistor radios relayed the dreaded scorelines from Glanford Park and Aggborough, beginning a period of mourning for the club's lost Football League status that has to be endured before thoughts turn to next season's attempts to bounce back.

Doncaster 3 (Blundell 5, Brown 8, 57); York City 1 (Dunning 49)

Ovendale 6, Wise 6, Wood 5, Smith 5, Edmondson 5 (Law HT 6), Cooper 6 (Arthur 83), Brass 6, Dunning 7, Marris 5, Newby 6, George 56 (Bell 58, 5)

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: Porter, Davies

Star Man: Dunning - Battled throughout and was rewarded with his goal

Doncaster Rovers: Andy Warrington, Simon Marples, Steve Foster, Mark Albrighton, Tim Ryan, Dave Mulligan, Paul Green (Dave Morley, 85), John Doolan (Ricky Ravenhill, 80) Michael McIndoe, Chris Brown (Leo Fortune-West, 85), Gregg Blundell. Subs not used: John Melligan, Adam Collin.

Yellow cards: None

Red cards: None

Referee: Barry Knight (Kent).

Rating: decent display from Premiership official.

Attendance: 7,843

Weather watch: Sunny - warmest game of 2004.

Game breaker: Early goal was worst possible start for City and was quickly followed by a second.

Match rating: One-sided match as a City side bereft of confidence took on a buoyant Doncaster team.

Updated: 10:02 Monday, April 26, 2004