When the fourth official lifted his electronic board and indicated there were five minutes of injury time left to play the collective sigh emanating from Bootham Crescent perhaps said it all.

STEADY ON: City striker Barry Conlon tangles with Exeter's Barry McConnell during the goalless clash at Bootham Crescent

A poor second 45 minutes had wiped out the memories of a promising, sometimes pulsating, first half performance by City and the end couldn't come soon enough.

Sure enough it is a point nearer to safety for City, their first in four matches and their first under Terry Dolan.

At set-pieces City looked organised. The distribution from City's new look defence was a rapid improvement on what has gone before and rarely did Exeter threaten a goal.

For the second time in as many games the woodwork prevented the Minstermen from registering what could, and surely would, have been a decisive strike.

Undoubtedly too, the double blow of losing midfield fulcrums Kevin Hulme and Scott Jordan to injury left City unbalanced and disjointed for much of second half.

But the fact remains the Grecians had managed to eke only one point from 11 games on the road and, just to compound the embarrassment, were reduced to ten men for nigh-on 80 minutes.

Perhaps if David Lee, the former Chelsea defender making his debut for Exeter, had stayed on the pitch then City would have gone on to win the game.

For in those opening minutes there was more action and threat on goal than has been witnessed at Bootham Crescent for a good while.

Dolan, as promised, handed Peter Hawkins his senior debut at left-back and shifted fellow loan star Mark Bower into the centre of defence alongside skipper Barry Jones for his home debut.

Teenage son of York Marc Thompson also took his first bow before the City faithful as 17-year-old 'keeper Russ Howarth was favoured to Bobby Mimms in goal.

But the biggest surprise was among the strikers, where Mark Sertori went from back to front and was handed goal plundering duties alongside Barry Conlon, recalled after a one match suspension.

Sertori's added height and muscle made City's plan clear - to sweep the ball forward at the earliest opportunity and for the ever-hungry Hulme, aided and abetted by his midfield cohorts, to pick up the pieces provided by Conlon and his new partner in crime.

Sertori, who had started his career as a centre-forward, seemed to relish his regained freedom, chasing down Conlon's flick to earn a corner.

From Jordan's inswinger, Jones rose the highest but couldn't keep his header down.

A rampaging Sertori then pinched the ball from a slumbering Lee and squared the ball back for Conlon who failed to connect before City's defender-cum-striker rolled an inviting pass into the path of Christian Fox.

Unfortunately for City, the youngster, also making a welcome return to the side, blazed his effort high and mighty.

Five minutes was not yet up.

It was cracking stuff played at a tempo unrecognisable from much of the season and the City fans responded in kind.

The sense of expectation positively blossomed when Lee received his marching orders for pulling back Sertori, who had latched on to Thompson's pass and looked clear on goal.

A man down and Exeter, flustered by the vim and vigour of City's forward forays, looked in disarray.

Exeter's player-manager Noel Blake hauled off Finnish midfielder Jukka Vanninen and installed himself at the back as the Grecians gradually restored some kind of order.

Sensing that City were not making enough of their numerical superiority, Dolan replaced Thompson with John Williams, who was obviously under instructions to hug the touchline and wait for the ball to come.

Much to Dolan's chagrin it never did but still City carved out chances.

Conlon lashed a fierce volley wide and should have scored when, after a clever peel-off by Sertori, he latched on to Jordan's free-kick on the edge of the six-yard box only to miscue horribly his diving header.

With less than a minute before the break, a graceful Bower picked up the lose ball just inside the Exeter half, ghosted through the middle and unleashed an arrowed drive on to the post from 30 yards.

Hulme, in his last contribution before succumbing to injury, still had time to roll a clever effort just the wrong side of the upright after neat link-up play with Sertori.

The loss of the fearsome Hulme was compounded less than a minute into the second-half when his central midfield ally Scott Jordan also withdrew suffering a back injury.

Fox moved into the centre alongside Lee Bullock, a half-time replacement for Hulme, while the Williams of John and Marc patrolled the flanks.

City had three new faces in midfield from those which had started and it showed. From the direct and purposeful team of the first half they were unrecognisable.

The rearguard still looked unshakeable but going forward City too often over complicated matters. When simplicity returned, they looked dangerous.

Hawkins, gaining in confidence as the game progressed, galloped down the left and looped in a pinpoint cross for Conlon to attack from point blank range. He missed, not only the goal but, inexplicably, the ball too.

Exeter's tactics of squeezing as much time as possible from set-pieces did little to add to the spectacle and simply added to the frustration.

The first half long since forgotten, the final whistle, when at last it came, was music to the ears.

York City 0, Exeter City 0

Nationwide Division Three Saturday, February 26, 2000

YORK CITY: Russ Howarth 7, Matt Hocking 7, Mark Bower 7, Barry Jones 7, Peter Hawkins 8, Scott Jordan 6 (Marc Williams 49mins 5), Kevin Hulme 7 (Lee Bullock 46mins 7), Marc Thompson 6 (John Williams 30mins 5), Barry Conlon 5, Mark Sertori 7, Christian Fox 7

Subs not used: Bobby Mimms, Martin Reed

Goals: none

Red cards: none

Bookings: Hulme 38mins, foul

Man of the Match

Peter Hawkins: Showed his Premiership grounding in an assured senior debut. Swift in the tackle, wanted the ball and always looking to carry it forward. Rarely wasted possession.

EXETER: Stuart Naylor, Barry McConnell, Kofi Nyamah, David Lee, Chris Curran, Jason Rees, Paul Buckle, Jukka Vanninen (Noel Blake 15mins), John Cornforth, Frankie Bennett (Alex Inglethorpe 75mins), Darran Rowbotham (Steve Flack 53mins)

Subs, not used: Jason Matthews, Graeme Power

Goals: none

Red cards: Lee, 13mins,

Bookings: Rees, 40mins, foul

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)

Crowd: 3,066

City's next match: versus Peterborough United at London Road Ground, Saturday, March 4, kick-off 3pm

Sorry Chester embarrassed by Seagulls

The gap between York City and basement side Chester increased to 11 points after the Cheshire club suffered a humiliating defeat at home to Brighton.

The Seagulls blasted seven - including a Bobby Zamora hat-trick - past the hapless hosts, who managed only one in reply.

Second-bottom Carlisle and third-bottom Shrewsbury shared the spoils with a 1-1 draw at Brunton Park, the respective goals coming a minute either side of half time.

At the other end of the table, Rotherham increased their lead at the top after Jason White scored the only goal of the game at Rochdale, while second-placed Swansea were held to a goalless draw at home to Hull.

Darlington now occupy the third automatic promotion spot thanks to a 2-1 win at play-off hopefuls Mansfield Town.

Fourth-placed Barnet lost to the only goal of the game at fifth-placed Northampton, who are looking good for a play-off place.

Peterborough lost 2-1 at Chelten-ham, but are still four points clear of Rochdale who hold the last play-off spot on goal difference from Hart-lepool, who drew 1-1 at Plymouth.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.