IT is often hard to gauge anything from end-of-season games but from this enthralling encounter there will be plenty for York City boss Terry Dolan to digest over the summer months.

His young squad showed they have matured with age as they produced a brave display against a Scunthorpe outfit who were clinging on to outside hopes of making the play-offs.

But no matter how well defensively his side played - despite conceding a controversial late winner from Martin Carruthers - the performance of the attack must be a cause of concern.

The combination of Michael Proctor and Lee Nogan has worked brilliantly this season, as did the brief cameo introduction of injury victim Peter Duffield, but with Proctor determined to build a career at home-town Sunderland, Dolan will need to fill that void for next season.

The effect leading scorer Proctor has on City was plain to see against Scunthorpe when he hobbled off after just eight minutes of what looks set to be his final game for the club - with his season-long loan from the Stadium of Light now at an end.

Without the presence of the much sought-after youngster, it was hard for the near 1,000-strong travelling City faithful to see where any goals would come from.

This is to take nothing away from acting-skipper Lee Nogan and Alex Mathie, but for all the hard graft the pair got through there was no finishing presence.

But fortunately for City it seemed that Scunthorpe had also forgotten their shooting boots as they looked a poor imitation of a side hoping of grander things.

A number of permutations were needed to see Scunthorpe scrape into the play-off cauldron, but the one thing that was certain was the fact they needed a victory to keep their hopes bubbling.

However, the emergence of Leigh Wood and Stephen Brackstone quelled the treat of the highly-rated Alex Calvo-Garcia, while full-backs Darren Edmondson and Scott Jones were involved in intriguing battles with the winged-threat of Peter Beagrie and Lee Hodges.

Any time the Iron did create an opening, the bodies of Jon Parkin or Chris Smith slid into the picture to get a vital block.

And with 'Super' Alan Fettis ruled out through injury, England Under-20s' goalkeeper Russ Howarth took centre stage to prove a more than able replacement as the last line of defence.

In fact, an opening salvo ensured Howarth had no time to dwell on the fact he was making his first League start of the campaign in the final match.

Mike Sparrow, Carruthers, Calvo-Garcia and Beagrie all had efforts blocked early on, while it was in the 23rd minute that Howarth showed his talents with a breathtaking one-handed save to his left to keep out a bullet header from Carruthers.

But while the brilliance of Howarth caught the eye, so too did the erratic refereeing of Durham's Colin Webster - with no stranger decision than that to book Edmondson, who put in a faultless display, for diving.

The former Carlisle defender looked to have been caught by an elbow from Beagrie as they clashed for the ball, and when Mr Webster produced the yellow card there seemed little doubt it was for the Scunthorpe skipper.

It only became clear the decision had gone against City when Scunthorpe began to line up the free-kick, with Edmondson trying in vain to show the referee the cut to the mouth he sustained in the challenge.

This was the first of many decisions that left the City bench baffled, but none caused more reaction from Dolan than the treatment of Howarth, who he felt was subjected to a number of suspect challenges at corners.

With 17 flag kicks, Scunthorpe certainly had the opportunities to put the pressure on the City shot-stopper, but it wasn't until the last one - a minute into injury time - that they got through.

There was some argument over whether the corner should have stood with the impressive Wood claiming to have knocked the ball out for a throw-in.

However, with one last throw of the dice, Beagrie swung the ball in and, with Howarth trapped on his line, Carruthers rose to nod the ball home.

Straight from the kick-off, Nogan tried a spectulative 50-yard effort but, like the rest of the City efforts at goal, Scunthorpe's Tom Evans was barely tested.

City's best chances had come in the final ten minutes, with first Christian Fox firing over when clear and then Nogan just failing to connect with Edmondson's ball across the face of the goal.

These missed chances were certainly costly as City's strong end-of-season run of four wins and a draw was brought to an end with a defeat.

However, with a proven goal-scorer in Duffield back next season, and the usual summer hopes of new signings, the loss of Proctor can be soon forgotten.

Match facts:


Scorer: Carruthers 90

Evans, Dawson, Stanton, Jack-son, Hodges (McCom- be 85m), Calvo-Garcia, Beagrie, Jeffrey, Carru-thers, Sparrow (Quailey 45m), Vaughan.

Subs not used: Graves, Cotterill, Bennion.

Bookings: Vaughan 15m, Sparrow 58m, Beagrie 64m.

Sent off: None.

York City

Howarth 8, Edmondson 8, Smith 6, Parkin 7, Jones 6, Wood 7, Brackstone 6, O'Kane 6 (Cooper 45m 7), Mathie 7, Nogan 7, Proctor 6 (Fox 8m 6),

Subs not used: Collin- son, Wise, Grant.

Bookings: Edmond- son 16m, Nogan 70m

Sent off: None

Attendance: 5,159

Referee: Colin Webster (Durham)

Updated: 10:21 Monday, April 22, 2002