THE Press York City reporter DAVE FLETT trains his scrutiny on the lurching about-turns of City’s comeback to the Football League which soared and dipped to nerve-shredding last-day drama

YORK City’s first season back in the Football League for nine years will forever beg two questions. Where did it all go wrong for Gary Mills and how did Nigel Worthington turn things around?

In the case of Mills, two months was all it took for a man rightly feted for the club’s double-winning Wembley campaign and lauded for his team’s transition to League Two football to become another out-of-work football manager.

On New Year’s Day, his team battered promotion hopefuls Burton 3-0 at Bootham Crescent and were still in close contention for a play-off place.

By March 2, though, he had been relieved of his duties after an alarming run of 11 matches without a win, culminating in a 2-0 home defeat to Bradford.

The decision was a brave one made by a board of directors who ran the risk of inevitable criticism had Worthington failed to turn the tide from those quick to pass judgement with the huge benefit of hindsight.

Mills will always be remembered for his historic role in guiding the Minstermen back to League Two but some of the seeds for his downfall were perhaps sewn just weeks after those momentous victories on English football’s hallowed turf.

With the exception of Michael Coulson and John McReady, who both suffered long-term injuries, the rest of Mills’ summer signings did not see out the season at Bootham Crescent.

Jonathan Smith (ten), Danny Blanchett (two), Lee Bullock (two) and Oli Johnson (one) started just 15 games between them – the same amount as cruciate ligament victim Coulson – while McReady, who recovered from a broken collar bone in January, is still waiting to make his full debut.

Mills’ signings once the season was underway also failed to inspire.

Former Scotland international Scott Dobie was brought back out of retirement briefly, having spent a year training to be a policeman, but he left without making a first-team squad.

Former West Texas University striker Ben Everson, Derry City frontman David McDaid and Salford City defender Jameel Ible were later recruited during the crucial January transfer window period when the team’s fortunes were beginning to slide.

None of the three made a Minstermen starting line-up with Everson swiftly loaned out to Gateshead and Ible another to leave before the season ended after failing to make a first-team squad.

The under-pressure manager’s final throw of the dice was to bring back former striker Michael Rankine on loan from Aldershot but he only brought the same frustrations that had caused Mills to release him in the first place.

Following a towering display against champions-elect Gillingham in his comeback game, Rankine never got near the same standard in subsequent matches and his failure to cut out a cross in stoppage-time at high-flying Rotherham led to a costly equaliser in what would prove Mills’ penultimate game in charge.

In terms of his transfer market acumen, one of the laziest allegations levelled at Mills following his dismissal was that he is a Conference manager with non-League contacts.

Even were that statement true, however, it need not have held him back in the summer of 2012.

There is nothing wrong with trusting what you know best as his earlier signings of Blue Square Bet Premier quartet Andre Boucaud, Jason Walker, Matty Blair and Lanre Oyebanjo had proven.

If Mills’ knowledge of that level of the game was greater given his recent employment history, there would have been nothing wrong with pursuing a transfer market policy that saw the club take the Conference’s best talents up with them.

The speed in which he passed judgement on the likes of Football League trio Blanchett, Bullock and Johnson, however, suggested a lack of familiarity with their strengths and weaknesses at the time they were recruited.

A failure to strengthen the squad was always going to be exposed when players lost form and injuries kicked in.

Blair, Walker, Paddy McLaughlin and Scott Kerr all struggled to reproduce their form of the previous season but the alternative options were largely inadequate.

Dobie, McDaid and Everson were never going to provide credible competition for Walker in the lone central striker role, nor was Jamie Reed, whose reputation as the team’s super-sub was also on the wane by the end of an underwhelming campaign.

The performances of Walker were not helped either by his isolation in attack at times. He might have netted just six times in open play during 2012/13 but, when you can count the number of his bad misses on one hand, that would suggest a problem with service. Blair’s mid-season dip in form, combined with injuries to Coulson and Ashley Chambers, meant contributions from the flanks became unreliable, while the absence of an attack-minded player from midfield only compounded Walker’s loneliness up front.

Mills had turned to full-backs Oyebanjo and James Meredith to combat that problem in the past but, with Jonathan Smith gone and McLaughlin just not forceful enough, he struggled to solve that conundrum in his 4-3-3 formation.

In retrospect, following his performances under Worthington, Tom Platt might have been better used and trusted by the man who gave him his first professional contract instead of being loaned out hastily to Harrogate and Halifax.

Without that midfield thrust, City were often not adventurous enough going forward, which was a factor behind the club record-equalling number of 19 League draws and the failure to score more than a single goal in any of Mills’ final 11 win-less games in charge.

The team were often hard to break down away from home during the first three-quarters of 2012/13 with two midfielders stationed in front of the back four but frequently failed to frighten teams in the final third.

Mills’ commitment to keeping possession in all areas of the pitch was commendable during that time but too little football was being played where it mattered most and the tempo of the play was not as high as it had been the campaign before.

As a consequence, several goals were conceded when the ball was needlessly given away in City’s half and even in their own penalty box.

Worthington, on his appointment, immediately set about eradicating those reckless moments with a risk-free approach to defending.

That manifested itself, initially, in ugly long balls directed at Rankine, as the former Northern Ireland and Norwich boss searched for the best means of achieving results with the group of players he had inherited.

It was a process that took him four games, with a worrying one point picked up in the meantime, resulting in the team dropping into the bottom two.

A largely, lacklustre 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers, though, would prove the turning point, with the team winning four of their last five games and only drawing the other due to an Accrington Stanley equaliser in the third minute of injury time.

By the Bristol game, former City favourite Richard Cresswell had returned to the club to lead the line at the age of 35 on loan from Sheffield United, providing a passion missing in Rankine’s play and a physical presence that Walker could not match.

The spine of the team had also been massively strengthened by the return of David McGurk from injury at centre-back, alongside talismanic skipper Chris Smith.

Earlier in the season, Mills had puzzlingly preferred the likes of Chris Doig and Tom Allan to McGurk, who has been a model of consistency during nine seasons with City.

Selecting Oyebanjo and Jack O’Connell as full-backs also completed a resolute defensive line, while Parslow’s switch to the midfield anchoring role was just as important as the pairing of Platt and on-loan Sunderland midfielder Adam Reed were in front of him.

The Minstermen finally found a compatible triumvirate in those central areas with the combative and disciplined Parslow sitting deep, allowing the capable Platt and Reed to both break forward and join in attacks when appropriate.

With the right personnel in the correct positions, the team rediscovered the belief and energy that had characterised the previous season’s promotion push when so many sides were seen off by second-half comebacks.

In contrast, the Minstermen of 2012/13 had been guilty far too often of throwing points away after the break.

It is a staggering statistic that going into the final fixture at Dagenham, a table compiled to include first-half scorelines showed City lying fifth in the League Two standings.

They were second-bottom for the corresponding second-half table. The side never came back from behind once to win any of their 51 games and Worthington, or whoever is in charge next season, will want to address the physical and psychological explanations for that revealing pattern next season.

New faces will obviously help, as too perhaps would an overdue return to organised reserve team football.

Sporadic behind-closed-doors friendly fixtures have proved inadequate in maintaining the fitness levels of fringe players, blooding youngsters and reliably running the eye over trialists.

Having fought so hard to regain Football League status and then come perilously close to losing it, the Minstermen must now strive for the most professional standards possible to maintain their rightful place among English football’s top 92 clubs.