IN the maze of bewildering rules which befuddle football fans on an almost weekly basis, FIFA’s Law 11 regarding offside, and interfering with an opponent, is actually pretty clear.

It says “preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball. For example, by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball”.

Referee James Linington may want to incorporate this into his bedtime reading after a shocking decision allowed Matt Richards to put Cheltenham Town in front against York City on the stroke of half-time.

After Byron Harrison’s early goal had been cancelled out by Ryan Bowman, netting his first for the club from a header, Richards stood over a free-kick about 40 yards out and punted the ball into the area.

Troy Brown, hanging around the six yard box, went up to head the ball, missed, and it bounced up past Michael Ingham and into the net.

Before the net even bulged, the assistant referee on the far side put his flag up. Brown had tried to head the ball from an offside position, but it was where he was stood – directly in Ingham’s line of vision – which surely must have made the City custodian think twice about whether or not to deal with the attacker.

But Linington, after a brief chat with his assistant, awarded the goal, leaving City’s players outraged.

So it is testament to their strength of mind and character that, in driving rain and a blustery wind that tried hard to send the ball back from whence it came, they not only fashioned an equaliser – Bowman profiting from a comical mix-up in the Robins’ defence nine minutes into the second half – but could even have pinched all three points late on.

With Lewis Montrose absent with a groin injury, Tom Platt came back into the York midfield and he was joined in the starting 11 by club captain Chris Smith, who was preferred to Tom Allan in the centre of defence.

They were soon being tested, Richards using the swirling wind to drive in a series of swerving set-pieces that caused early havoc in the Minstermen area.

It was from one of a succession of corners, on 12 minutes, that the Robins took the lead. The ball cannoned off Platt, Ben Davies could do little but help it on to the far post and it landed right at the feet of Harrison, who just had to poke it home.

Before Cheltenham could build on their lead, however, York equalised from their own corner eight minutes later.

Ryan Brobbel’s delivery was just as destructive as Richards’ but Bowman still had a lot to do at the far post. Losing his marker, he planted his header back through a wall of defenders and into the net.

Cheltenham continued to look dangerous when given space to move the ball around the pitch, but Josh Carson could have done better than just a weak shot after cutting in from the right wing on 29 minutes, and Scott Brown in the Cheltenham goal held his free-kick from 25 yards a couple of minutes later.

Sam Deering took a tumble in the City box after a couple of rash challenges, but was booked for diving and Elliott Whitehouse also had his name taken for a dangerous-looking challenge near the centre circle.

All of that was merely leading up to Linington taking centre stage.

Going in at the break surely feeling aggrieved, it was a measure of City’s resilience in the second half that they kept their heads focused firmly on the task of getting back into the game.

It only took nine minutes.

Luke O’Neill’s cross to the far post looked like being a routine catch for Scott Brown but, comically, Sido Jombati decided to get involved and practically kicked the ball out of his goalkeeper’s hands.

It bounced straight to the waiting Bowman at the far post. He had only to keep calm and direct his header on target to level up the scores.

It was really all that the Minstermen deserved.

Cheltenham still had their moments.

Jombati, looking to atone for his horrendous error, skinned a tiring Brobbell on the right and cut it back to Deering 12 yards out on the angle just after the hour mark.

He hit a powerful shot towards goal, but Ingham was able to push it over the crossbar.

The former Northern Ireland custodian also did well, in the face of heavy rain, to hold a Richards free-kick from 25 yards with ten minutes left on the clock.

But it was York who finished the stronger, and they might even have nicked a late winner.

Josh Carson forced Scott Brown to palm away his free-kick in stoppage time, while only desperate blocking stopped Smith finding the target when following up.

Match facts

Cheltenham 2 (Harrison 12; Richards 45), York City (Bowman 20, 54)

York City

Michael Ingham 7
Could do little for either goal – especially the controversial second – but showed exceptional handling in swirling wind.

Luke O’Neill 7
An impressive shift, always happy to assist Carson in attack but did not shirk his defensive duties.

Chris Smith 7
Returned to the starting line-up and showed the form which was so impressive at the back end of last season.

Daniel Parslow 7
Again put his body on the line with a couple of crucial blocks. Composed when playing the ball out of defence despite conditions.

Ben Davies 7
Had been concerned he wasn’t in tip-top form, but composed display against a side always looking to get in behind.

Josh Carson 7
Mr Dependable ran Cheltenham ragged down the right flank. Deliveries caused problems.

Elliott Whitehouse 7
Energetic around the park, determined, and always willing to stick a foot in. Booked for a shocking tackle.

Tom Platt 6
Grew into the game and produced a couple of telling touches defensively when Cheltenham pressed early in the second half.

Ryan Brobbel 6
Quiet compared with Tuesday’s heroics but delivered a superb, swinging corner for Bowman’s first goal.

Ryan Bowman 8
STAR MAN – two headers got him off the mark for York and both showed real striker’s instinct.

Wes Fletcher 6
Didn’t get the glory this time, but tried to hold the ball up and give his side attacking options.

Subs: Sander Puri 7 (for Brobbel, 65) – disciplined, Ryan Jarvis 7 (for Fletcher, 70) – held up well, Richard Cresswell (for Bowman, 88).

Not used: Chris Kettings, Craig Clay, Jamal Fyfield, Tom Allan.

Cheltenham: Scott Brown, Sido Jombati, Troy Brown, Keith Lowe, Matt Richards, David Noble, Russell Penn (Zack Kotwica, 83), Jason Taylor, Sam Deering, Byron Harrison, Jamie Cureton (Terry Gornell, 70). Subs not used: Connor Roberts, Joe Hanks, Craig Braham-Barrett, Harry Williams.

Star man: Matt Richards – set-pieces made him a real handful.

Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight).

Rating: 4/10. A refresher course on the offside rule may be required.

Booked: Deering 38, Whitehouse 42, Noble 53.

Sent off: None.

Attendance: 2,706 (239 from York).

Shots on target: Cheltenham 6, York 6.

Shots off target: Cheltenham 5, York 3.

Corners: Cheltenham 8, York 7.

Fouls conceded: Cheltenham 15, York 14.

Offsides: Cheltenham 4, York 0.