CARDIFF and the Millennium Stadium will have to wait for another season for York City, at least via the Worthington Cup route.

But while knock-out competition progress has been halted for the time being, even in defeat City's progress as a team continues.

If the truth be known, the Minstermen faithful probably travelled to Bramall Lane in hope rather than real expectation of a cup upset.

And while manager Terry Dolan and his players would disagree, the performance, coming after an unfortunate reverse in their last outing and a top-of-the-table clash to contend with on Saturday, was what really mattered most.

True, defeats are never welcome, especially when one swiftly follows another.

But given last night's battling performance against a First Division side riding high there is nothing to suggest City's confidence will have taken a battering ahead of the visit of Rushden and Diamonds.

City battled throughout, kept possession well at times and came within a whisker of at least forcing extra-time.

In doing so, crucially City maintained the level of performance that has catapulted them into the early pace-setters of Division Three.

Last season, consistency was the problem for the Minstermen - red-hot one minute, cold-stone the next.

This time around, City have played well in every game since Macclesfield on the opening day, which suggests this positive start is no flash in the pan.

Roared on yet again by another vociferous and considerable away following, the Minstermen started confidently and purposefully.

Their work-rate, passing and tackling - a football manager's perfect cocktail - could not be faulted.

In the absence of Jon Parkin, their tactics looked spot-on too, Dolan resisting the temptation to start with the inexperienced Rogerio in favour of a 3-5-2 formation which enabled City to dominate the early midfield skirmishes.

But having established what looked a firm foundation upon which to build another momentary defensive lapse enabled United to grab the lead against the run of play

Rob Kozluk's throw from the right was flicked on by Shaun Murphy and while Chris Smith managed to get a head to the ball he could only direct it straight to the lurking Jon-Paul McGovern, who volleyed it goalwards and, with the help of a deflection, beyond Alan Fettis.

Having gone a goal down the Minstermen followed their usual pattern of looking shaky in the aftermath before steadying themselves.

Thereafter, while the twin flank threat of McGovern on the right and Michael Tonge on the left always looked dangerous, rarely did United get in behind a well-organised City rearguard.

The Blades only real chance to add to their tally came on 29 minutes when Iffy Onuora showed great vision to lift a bouncing ball goalwards from 25 yards that Fettis did well to tip over the bar.

If there was one gripe that the critics could point in a controlled City's direction it was the lack of adventure.

Their only real clear sight of goal, corners and set-pieces aside, fell to Lee Nogan, whose hopes as he poised to shoot from the edge of the penalty area were scuppered by a superb tackle from Phil Jagielka.

But with the score at 1-0 City always remained in with a shout and the decision not to throw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser was the correct one.

It needed only a decisive pass, a fortunate bobble, a lapse of concentration and City could pounce to make a killing.

Vindication was almost instant as the second half got underway as Nogan and Duffield combined to give the latter more than a half chance but the former United striker shot straight at Paddy Kenny in the Blades' goal.

For a time, it was United who looked like adding to their tally.

Onoura had already forced another fine save from Fettis before the City 'keeper again showed tremendous reflexes to deny a Nick Montgomery header.

On the 70 minute mark, Montgomery laid claim to the miss of the season when with the goal at his mercy he turned Carl Asaba's cross wide.

That miss seemed to lift City however, who now sensing the clock was ticking down started to press forward more confidently.

Crosses from Graham Potter created problems in the home box before the linesman's flag intervened but showed the game was far from over for City and moments later United skipper Murphy was in the right place at the right time to clear Lee Bullock's far post header off the line in City's best chance of the evening.

Thereafter the ball just would not quite run for York, who continued to force the issue but could not force a goal in a game for the first time this season.

Out of the cup but not down in the mouth, disappointed but certainly not disheartened.

Fact File:

Sheffield Utd: Kenny, Kozluk, Jagielka, Murphy, Ullathorne, McGovern, Montgomery (Brown 78m), McCall, Tonge (Doane 90m), Onuora, Peschisolido (Asaba 59m) Subs, not used: Cryan, Heuvel Bookings: Montogomery 37m (foul), Jagielka 89m (foul) Goal: McGovern 13m

York City: Fettis 8, Edmondson 6, Smith 7, Brass 7, Hobson 7, Cowan 6, Bullock 7, Brackstone 8, Potter 7 (Yalcin 84m), Duffield 6, Nogan 6 (Rogerio 67m 6) Subs (not used), Howarth, Jones, Mathie Bookings: Cowan 18m (foul), Brass 60m (foul), Hobson 65m (dissent), Edmondson 86m (foul)

REFEREE: Mark Warren (West Midlands)


Man of the match: Alan Fettis. A hat-trick of super saves from 'Super Al' ensured City remained in the fight

Updated: 09:55 Wednesday, September 11, 2002