From Barnet battering to Northampton numbing - it was still the same end game for York City.

ON GUARD: City skipper Chris Fairclough, whose own goal decided the match, shadow's Northampton's Darren Byfield

Improvement followed their six-goal thrashing in north London. How could it be otherwise? City were more compact, more cohesive, more concerted in their efforts to prise something from their wobbling run.

Yet they were also more conspicuous by their absence in front of where it truly matters - the opposition goal. The agony widens because, as at Barnet, City were vanquished.

No matter that the decisive goal - the only goal - was tinged by good fortune, City were again in debit street. And if the rot of three successive defeats isn't halted quickly then dire straits won't be too distant a destination.

Not for the first time the hosts' cutting edge possessed all the sharpness of a sponge. That allowed opposition, even as moderate as Northampton, to squirm off the hook and, blessed by favourable luck, wriggle into a lead.

So it was on blank, sorry, Bank Holiday Monday. There were times in both halves when the Cobblers were holding on, if not desperately, then with genuine discomfort.

But that pressure amounted to little more than being hot and bothered. Goalkeeper Keith Welch was never extended into completing any athletic saves.

Manager Neil Thompson has alluded to City having to knock the nail into the coffin. But City's inability to undertake the responsibility of scoring ensures their rivals are always in rude health, let alone alive and kicking.

Northampton were the prime example. Their attacking ambition was negligible. One shot on target in the first half, one - fatally so - in the second. That was it. But the boos and rants of 'what a load of rubbish' signalled that such meagre intention was enough to better the home side.

Understandably City started tentatively on their return to duty after their Underhill humbling.

Their rhythm, too, took time to unfold with four changes from the ranks routed by Barnet. Experience flooded back with Bobby Mimms, Neil Thompson and Barry Jones in from the start, the first two for the first time this season.

The other switch was the reintroduction of Rodney Rowe for international absentee Barry Conlon, while there was a shuffling of formation in which Wayne Hall advanced to left-midfield.

For the opening half-hour staying at home to watch - again - Shelley Winters trembling in The Poseidon Adventure was a far more attractive option. The quality of football was plummeting new depths of its own.

City then surfaced cork-like from the morass and began to pass and move with precision.

Christian Fox crafted a delicious 40-yard pass to John Williams, who bustled past one marker before letting off a drive that stung the hands of Welch. A through ball of cunning disguise from Scott Jordan almost freed Rowe, while Mark Atkins powered in a free-kick that either side of Welch would have flown in.

It was a 'better, but' flourish to the first-half leading to a sparkier start to the second. A tone-setting incident was Hall's rampaging run on goal blunted by Lee Howey's trip on the edge of the area.

In reply Mimms' stubbed clearance fell to the lumbering Steve Howard. But his control scuffed the ball in favour of Mimms' rescuing dive leading to a collision and a flare-up before Howard's name was entered into the referee's notebook.

But optimism remains as fragile as City's defence. Howard's flick header was fastened on to by Duncan Spedding, who zoomed down the left.

He had no other support so lashed in an angled drive that had 'speculative' written all over it. What City did not realise was the message also flashed 'goal'. Spedding's shot thumped off the far upright then against City skipper Chris Fairclough before rocketing back into the net.

City might as well have been floored by Lennox Lewis. Any confidence drained quicker than water through a sieve.

Passes went astray, Rowe's close control and tormenting of the Northampton back-line was undermined by lack of control after he had done the hard work and spun clear.

Witness the last stoppage-time raid. Williams smuggled a pass to Rowe, whose stride took him beyond a tackle. But his finish was high, wide and ugly into the Shippo. Woe upon woe.

Nationwide Division Three

Monday, August 30, 1999

York City 0 Northampton 1

YORK CITY: Bobby Mimms, Matt Hocking, Neil Thompson, Mark Atkins, Barry Jones, Chris Fairclough, Christian Fox (Lee Bullock 76min), Scott Jordan, John Williams, Rodney Rowe, Wayne Hall.

Subs unused: Russell Howarth, Kevin Dixon, Martin Garratt, Graham Rennison.

Bookings: Fairclough (foul 43min), Jones (58 foul).

Goals: None.

Evening Press man of the match

WAYNE HALL: Exemplified the fighting spirit needed by City if they are to come through their crisis in form. Even in unfamiliar role always battled.

NORTHAMPTON TOWN: Welch, Hendon, Frain, Howey, Sampson, Gibb (Clarkson 83), Savage, Hunt, Spedding, Howard, Byfield (Sturridge 90).

Subs unused: Wilson, Dobson, Parrish.

Bookings: Howard (foul 51).

Goals: Fairclough own goal 72min.

Referee : John Robinson (Hull).

Crowd: 2,597.

City's next match: away to Rotherham United - Saturday, September 4 (Nationwide League Division Three). Kick-off: 12.30pm.

Words of wisdom from Thompson

by Tony Kelly

Wise up was manager Neil Thompson's wake-up call to his free-falling York City charges.

And if the misfiring Minstermen did not get attuned to life among the lower orders then he hinted at new players coming in.

City's basement misery extended to three consecutive defeats when they were beaten 1-0 by Northampton Town in front of a meagre 2,597 Bootham Crescent crowd yesterday.

That dropped the hosts another spot to 18th place in Division Three - their lowest placing since the last day of the 1991-92 campaign.

Thompson said the players had to quickly realise the differences in the environment of the Third Division to which they dropped last may.

"Physically it is demanding. Today we coped better than we did at Barnet, but still we got beat. We've got to start learning," he said.

Thompson ventured that City's best performance this season had been against Wigan Athletic, their Worthington Cup conquerors presently lording it at the top of the Second Division.

"But we are in the Third Division and you cannot play tippy-tappy football. You've got to compete first and we've got to get wise.

"It is hard work for the players, but I am still looking to add.

"We have one or two areas I feel we need to improve on physically if we are to do it in this division."

And while he acknowledged the performance was considerably better than the 6-3 thumping suffered at Barnet, Thompson candidly declared: "We were still goal-less and point-less."

He also dismissed the 'lucky' tag attached to the only goal of the game. Northampton midfielder Duncan Spedding's snap shot from an acute angle ricocheted off an upright against City captain Chris Fairclough and into the net.

"I believe you make your own luck. If we'd have had a shot like that go in, we'd have gladly taken it."

Changes were made from the Barnet defeat including the season's first outing for the player-manager.

There was also a return to goalkeeping duties for veteran Bobby Mimms for his first outing since the last day of last season when City's relegation was confirmed at Manchester City.

But the City manager said that it was no reflection on highly-rated teenage goalkeeper Russ Howarth, nor fellow youngsters Andrew Dawson and Martin Garratt.

"I just felt we needed experience against Northampton. It was just a question of letting the youngsters sit this one out.

"We were a lot more solid and in the second-half for 20 minutes or so we bossed the match," he said.

"But we need to get that quality in front of goal. We've got to have someone who is hungry to put the ball into the net. It needs addressing."

Midfielder Mark Atkins said City had to 'up' their battling quality.

"That's what it's going to take now. We knew we had to get it sorted out after Barnet and it was a big improvement.

"But we've got to start scoring goals because then that gives you a breather."

Marc's back pain

Hapless York City striker Marc Williams is striving to beat the medical experts.

The marksman, whose fire has been doused by a run of injuries since the summer, has been told it may take two to three weeks before he can play again after an abscess on his back was removed.

But the Welsh 'B' international was hoping to return before that deadline.

Said Williams, whose pre-season was also wrecked by an energy-draining virus: "I'm hoping I can do something in about ten days or a fortnight. I just want to get my season going."

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