York City boss Terry Dolan saw hope for the future tinged with regret as his young Minstermen mites brought an unforgettable season to a close with a 2-0 defeat at Oxford.

Despite City still retaining lingering play-off hopes, Dolan made good his pledge to ring the changes at the Kassam Stadium by naming one of the youngest sides in the club's history.

The average age of the starting line-up was just 22. Six players were 21 or under with only two players aged over 23; skipper Chris Brass, 27, and Tom Cowan, at 33 the only City player starting the match aged over 30.

Striker Lee Nogan, also aged 33, came on towards the end of the first-half, but Dolan also used 19-year-old Stuart Wise as a substitute and gave a Football League debut to first-year trainee David Stockdale.

The Leeds-born shot-stopper, aged just 17, replaced Michael Ingham, who was complaining of a shoulder-injury, at half-time.

Despite the 2-0 defeat finally killing off any chance of promotion, Dolan was fairly satisfied with the performance of his young charges.

As well as making changes to personnel, the City manager also changed the formation to 4-4-2 for the first time this season with the team clearly under instructions to pass and move.

"I think, by the end of the game, you could see the future of York City in the average age of the team," enthused the City chief.

"Several youngsters came in for the first time in a while and the important thing was they were happy to receive the ball and pass it.

"It's what we wanted them to do, but we would rather they passed it forward a bit more than sideways.

"We also tried a different formation for the first time this season and there were one or two signs I was very pleased with and that is something we can get ready to work on in pre-season."

City's lack of a cutting edge remains Dolan's prime concern. The team's failure to find the back of the net on Saturday means City have not scored for more than 360 minutes.

And with just 52 goals to their credit this season, only six teams in Division Three have scored fewer.

"We didn't have an end product and that is something for us to work on," conceded Dolan. "It doesn't take a genius to work out our biggest failing over the last three seasons has been scoring goals. That was fairly evident (against Oxford).

"But having gone through every emotion thinkable since last Saturday and when you look at it in the cold light of day, four or five more goals could have got us in the play-offs.

"Peter Duffield had got 15 for us before he left and has got something like five for Boston. Those five for us could have made a big difference."

While ruing the loss of poacher Duffield and missing out on the play-offs, Dolan said he was pleased City had at least continued with their steady improvement under his stewardship.

"Just the simple fact the club is still in existence is enough to be happy about," reflected Dolan after a season that saw the club taken to the brink of extinction.

"As an individual and a professional person, I want more than that and I'm disappointed we didn't get into the play-offs.

"But we've finished tenth, which was an improvement on last season. If we can improve on that next season then we are making progress."

Dolan paid special tribute to the 725 City fans who made the trip to Oxford on Saturday. At the final whistle, Dolan, his management team and squad crossed the pitch and applauded the fans for a good couple of minutes.

"They are the true supporters and we wanted to make sure we thanked them for all their efforts," he said. "It was important they realise we know they have done an awful lot of work for us as well."

Updated: 10:46 Monday, May 05, 2003