YORK City's season might have ended in celebration under Wembley's world-famous arch but Gary Mills is unlikely to be satisfied until his work at Bootham Crescent has gone full circle.

Shaping a brighter future for the Minstermen was Mills' intention when he returned in October to manage the club he had led back into the Football League four-and-a-half years earlier.

That will be his ultimate goal again but, having failed to stave off the threat of relegation on goal difference following an agonising final day, the whole process will now need to begin in the regionalised realms of National League North.

Mills, of course, believes it has already started, following the 3-2 FA Trophy final victory on the hallowed turf over Macclesfield after his revamped squad displayed top-ten form from the turn of the year.

Incredibly, only two players that kicked off the season on a sweltering afternoon in Maidstone last August – Simon Heslop and Yan Klukowski – would end the campaign in City's starting XI at the home of English football, with the latter also making way at half-time.

That statistic is a sad indictment of the "awful" recruitment, in the words of chairman Jason McGill, that had been overseen by former manager Jackie McNamara during the summer months.

Given the National League's third-biggest budget, McNamara displayed reckless naivety in assembling a group of ill-equipped players who were tasked with winning promotion but were quickly drawn into a relegation dogfight.

Convincing early victories over Woking (4-1) and Solihull (4-0) did offer some hope but perhaps, in hindsight, City met both teams at an opportune time and both certainly grew stronger during the season.

McNamara's team were also heavily reliant on diminutive youngster Aidan Connolly's creative spark and returning striker Richard Brodie's propensity to come up with something out of the ordinary.

If either of those two were injured, off-form or unfit, with Brodie far from his peak physical condition, the squad's dependence on too many unproven youngsters and poorly-scouted, part-time players was then sorely exposed.

Away from home, meanwhile, the club's supporters travelled more in forlorn hope, than optimistic anticipation, as a drop in division could herald no improvement in McNamara's dismal form on the road, which would see him end an 11-month reign with no wins outside of North Yorkshire, five draws and 23 defeats.

Such a sorry sequence cast aspersions on the team's organisation and shape and, after a 6-1 defeat at Gateshead provided a contender for lowest point in the club's history, it was superseded by the undeniable 95-year nadir when, in October, a Guiseley team who were still searching for their first victory of the season triumphed by the same scoreline at their modest Nethermoor Park home.

Some of the West Yorkshire club's part-time players had rocked up for the match with their boots in carrier bags and, at 4-1, the night game was even delayed for an hour due to floodlight failure.

Surprisingly, the lights did not go out on McNamara's time as manager, though, after that debacle.

In between the two thrashings, the former Celtic skipper had suggested that he would consider his future following another disappointing 2-0 defeat at Barrow.

After reports that he had not taken training the following Monday were then confirmed by a social media picture of him collecting his new Audi car in Scotland, speculation grew further about his intentions.

The Twitter photograph was swiftly deleted by the motor dealership and McNamara returned to work, although the reasons for his absence attracted criticism from some supporters.

In the same week, he then appeared in court and was found guilty of the non-payment of a train fare.

With his side's season seemingly careering off the rails following the Guiseley horror show, McNamara announced – to the bewilderment and bemusement of the wider football world – that he would decide whether he remained as manager depending on whether the team picked up a "positive" result in their next game at Braintree.

After Lee Barnard's 88th-minute penalty earned the hosts a 1-1 draw, there then followed a two-day period when fascinated observers waited to see whether such an outcome met the ambiguous requirement.

It didn't, it was subsequently decided, but in another twist to the unconventional saga, McNamara would stay on as caretaker manager until a replacement was found.

Following a poor 1-1 FA Cup fourth-qualifying round home draw with Curzon Ashton, that search was swiftly concluded, with McGill and McNamara pictured that Saturday night speaking to Mills in a York hotel and The Press exclusively revealing that the former double-Wembley winner would be returning as manager.

In one final abnormal act, though, McNamara would be staying on as chief executive.

Following such turmoil, Mills was refreshingly straightforward in his work, but it would take almost two months – possibly up to the unlucky 1-0 defeat at title hopefuls Tranmere on December 3 – for him to unravel the "absolutely diabolical mess" he had inherited, in his own words.

Initial mistakes in the transfer market, such as Robbie McDaid, Jake Charles and Luke Woodland, all made in haste, were soon followed by a much-welcomed, more credible approach to recruitment.

The likes of Hamza Bencherif, Simon Lappin, Scott Loach, Adriano Moke, Amari Morgan-Smith, Rhys Murphy, Sean Newton, Jon Parkin, Dan Parslow and Aarran Racine would all prove excellent additions to the squad and help the club restore much of its lost pride and respectability.

Even Vadaine Oliver, vilified in all quarters for his lacklustre performances as the team tumbled out of the Football League, returned from a loan spell at Notts County in January to become an integral figure in that recovery.

By then, a 1-0 win at North Ferriby on Boxing Day had heralded the end of a club record-equalling run of 35 games without an away triumph and, from their last 15 matches on the road, City would win six, draw seven and suffer defeat in only two.

Mills had worked hard to rid the club of its losing mentality but that seven-week transition period from one squad to the next, coupled with an improvement in standards at the bottom of the table since City's last non-League stint, meant clawing their way out of trouble proved more problematic.

In the meantime, Mills was plotting another trip to Wembley, as the team spirit he had engendered saw his players negotiate FA Trophy ties against part-timers Worcester, Harlow, Nuneaton and Brackley – before prevailing against eventual league champions and FA Cup quarter-finalists Lincoln by completing an aggregate victory in front of a partisan 8,409 Sincil Bank crowd when sub Scott Fenwick converted his team's only on-target effort of the second leg from the penalty spot in extra time.

Rather than a distraction, that triumph seemed to inspire the team, with five of the subsequent seven league fixtures ending in victory to briefly lift the club into a position of safety with three fixtures remaining.

A 3-1 blip at home to Mills' former team Wrexham was capitalised upon by City's relegation rivals, though, which heaped enormous pressure on the final away trip of the season – against a Woking team also fighting the drop.

More unfavourable results meant a 1-1 draw in Surrey – the first points City had let slip in four away matches – left their fate in the hands of others going into a fraught final-day home contest with play-off qualifiers Forest Green.

The television cameras turned up to see attacking talisman Parkin, who would end the season with 13 goals in his last 17 games, twice cancel out goals from his old club and, as long as Guiseley continued to trail a Solihull team that had seen a penalty saved and hit the bar on 87 minutes, then the Minstermen would be safe.

But a stoppage-time own goal by Solihull's Kristian Green – which this writer has only just had the stomach to view four weeks on – sealed City's fate.

Mills' men would go on to reaffirm the progress made during the current calendar year, though, by defeating ninth-placed Macclesfield for a third time on this country's biggest stage.

Having navigated the Road to Wembley for a fifth time in eight years, there is genuine hope that the victory will offer a positive stride on the Road to Redemption.


Made one appearance following summer move from Stoke during the 6-1 Guiseley debacle. Not the worst player on show that evening but did not look a better option at left back than Alex Whittle. Gary Mills made swift decision to transfer list him following arrival as manager.

Appearances: 1 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 4/10


Dependable and strong addition to the team following January arrival from Wrexham. Given the odd problem by pace but largely slotted in well as the central figure of the back three following injury to Yan Klukowski. Could have perhaps contributed more at attacking set-pieces given his height.

Appearances: 21 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Clearly unfit on rejoining the club, the much-travelled marksman nevertheless ensured the team avoided an even poorer start than might have been the case had he not been leading the line. Linking up well with Aidan Connolly to mask other deficiencies in the squad, he scored some truly spectacular goals, netting in five consecutive matches. But discipline remained a problem as referees were forever reaching inside their pocket and the writing was on the wall when Mills returned as manager and quickly looked to offload the then top scorer.

Appearances: 15 (6); Goals: 7

Rating: 6/10


Teenage youth-team graduate who was given his debut as a substitute during a difficult afternoon at Bromley. Most agreed the 3-0 home win was a classic case of men against boys, with the likes of lightweight quartet Bruton, Robbie McDaid, Callum Rzonca and Jake Charles offering little attacking presence. Not risked again in the unforgiving environment of National League football.

Appearances: 0 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


The grandson of former Leeds United, Juventus and Wales great John was more gentle than giant following his brief loan spell from Barnsley. Could not impose himself on games. Looked overwhelmed by step up from development football.

Appearances: 2 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


Adequate with the ball at his feet but struggled when put under defensive pressure, as evidenced most painfully during 6-1 horror show against Guiseley. Looked lost when given the responsibility of a midfield anchorman role that night. Pace of step up from reserve-team outings at Hull proved too much and he was loaned out to Boston.

Appearances: 9 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 3/10


Must have been as surprised as everybody else when a trial from the football backwaters of Dorchester Town saw him swiftly offered a contract at Bootham Crescent. Found wanting on his two subsequent first-team appearances in midfield. Gone, almost as quickly as he had arrived, when Mills decided it was time for him to return to the south and part-time football with Salisbury.

Appearances: 1 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


Worked well in tandem with Brodie during first month of campaign when Premier League hopefuls Reading were monitoring his progress. Racked up assists during those early games and terrorised the defences of Woking and Solihull, as they were finding their feet in the opening weeks. Found it hard to find a place in Mills' 3-4-3 formation, though, when team play was prioritised over a strong dependency on one individual, whose absence was keenly felt when he picked up an October injury.

Appearances: 16 (8); Goals: 5

Rating: 6/10


Tidy feet, without really hurting opposition teams. Perhaps lacked the battling qualities needed in a dogfight. Following brief loan spell from Birmingham, went on to team up with his father Mark at Forest Green and impressed during the play-off final Wembley win over Tranmere.

Appearances: 5 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


Good attitude but too many games passed him by when given his chance in midfield. Did well during a 2-1 defeat at Forest Green but his forward surges in that match were conspicuous by their absence in other games. Next to anonymous in many of his other 13 appearances and allowed to leave for North Ferriby by Mills.

Appearances: 10 (4); Goals: 0

Rating: 3/10


Could not always combine his devastating pace with a reliable final product. Decision-making was that of a semi-professional player too, rather than a full-time footballer. Farmed out by Mills within a month of his return as manager.

Appearances: 6 (8); Goals: 0

Rating: 4/10


Showed ice-cool nerve to convert the match-winning penalty at Lincoln that sent his team to Wembley in the FA Trophy final. But that contribution, along with an unlikely comeback-inspiring header at Sutton, were the only highlights of an otherwise underwhelming campaign. Brought in last summer with the hope that he would be the team's biggest goal threat but managed to net just twice in open play during 29 outings.

Appearances: 11 (18); Goals: 3

Rating: 4/10


Coped well when thrown in during the most difficult of circumstances during Jackie McNamara's final game in charge at Braintree and subsequent one-match caretaker reign for the FA Cup home tie with Curzon Ashton. Not intimidated by the robust challenge of senior football despite his skinny frame and strong enough mentally to assume set-piece responsibility. Delivered well from dead balls too and, hopefully, one for the future.

Appearances: 2 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 6/10


Started the season in goal, before incurring a five-game ban after being found guilty of racial abuse. Subsequently lost his place to Kyle Letheren and was loaned out to Macclesfield. Recalled by Mills and did well for a spell but allowed to leave again for Moss Rose after struggling in a 4-1 home defeat to Lincoln.

Appearances: 8 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


Failed to fulfil expectations after arrival from a Braintree team that had reached the previous season's play-offs with the division's best goals-against record. Intelligent, affable and professional but looked vulnerable defensively, conceding too many penalties and spending too much time on his backside for a centre back. Also had his problems with injuries.

Appearances: 22 (1); Goals: 2

Rating: 3/10


As during the previous season, promise suggested by the odd flash of talent could not be converted into a consistent run of performances. A spectacular goal against Chester proved his only telling moment of the campaign. Struggled with injury throughout and soon told he had no future at the club under Mills.

Appearances: 7 (2); Goals: 1

Rating: 3/10


Offered more height in the team following his loan move from Cheltenham. Sometimes looked a little off speed in midfield. Long-range shooting was unreliable and wayward.

Appearances: 16 (0); Goals: 1

Rating: 5/10


Status as skipper was questioned, even by manager Mills, but gave captain's performances in high-stakes matches such as the final-day clash against Forest Green and FA Trophy semi-final second leg at Lincoln. Weighed in with a handful of goals. Also worked hard for the team when switched to a less-preferred right-wing back role.

Appearances: 52 (0); Goals: 5

Rating: 6/10


Wore his heart on his sleeve and could be dominant in the air at his best. At other times lacked defensive discipline at set-pieces and struggled when asked to play out from the back. Step up from a leaky Stalybridge defence proved too much and went on to spend last six months of the season at fellow-relegated outfit Southport.

Appearances: 17 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


Willing performer in a number of different roles, including in a surprise left-wing back role that saw him have hand in both the Minstermen's opening FA Trophy final goals. Often played second fiddle to others in the pecking order for positions in defence, out wide and midfield. But showed his worth in the 2-0 win at Chester with a brilliant goal-saving tackle and spectacular goal.

Appearances: 19 (8); Goals: 1

Rating: 6/10


Signed to get bums off seats by former boss McNamara but spent most of his time on his own backside in the stand. Looked naive and raw during his limited outings. Unwanted by Mills, who didn't name him in a single match-day squad.

Appearances: 2 (3); Goals: 0

Rating: 3/10


Showed erratic midfield form during early weeks of season, when he was often found wanting in possession. Needed to move ball around quicker. Exposed terribly when moved into defence during the 6-1 thrashing at Guiseley, before season ended prematurely after suffering cruciate ligament damage in November.

Appearances: 14 (2); Goals: 1

Rating: 3/10


Transformed when moved into the middle of defence by Mills three months into the season. Had never played at the back but his intelligent reading of the game and technical qualities made him an inspired choice as the ball-playing sweeper in City's back three. Prior to Mills' arrival, he had been ineffective in too many matches as a midfielder.

Appearances: 29 (3); Goals: 3

Rating: 6/10


Former Premier League midfielder added a touch of class to City's play with his reliable range of passing following his November arrival. Dangerous from dead balls, he also never shirked a challenge, while holding his shape effortlessly in an anchoring role. Forged a good understanding with Sean Newton in the middle of the park that was sorely missed when his campaign was curtailed in February by a ruptured Achilles.

Appearances: 9 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Made a string of saves during the season that won his team several points at crucial moments in games. Often over-worked until the team's mid-season improvement under Mills. Nevertheless, responded well and, although his errors seemed to come during a brief uncertain period, he made fewer mistakes than most and was unlucky not to feature in the final nine league games after the club were able to recruit experienced former Championship campaigner Scott Loach.

Appearances: 36 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Ex-England under-21 international who showed excellent commitment to the cause after being drafted in for the dogfight during the final five weeks of the campaign. Displayed sharp reflexes when he came under pressure during the nervy 2-1 Good Friday win at Solihull. Also a capable kicker and reliable organiser.

Appearances: 9 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Came in disappointed that he had never been given a chance in the Championship with previous club Leeds but was soon given a reality check when he found the going tough at National League level. Lacked sharpness and incision in attack. Could not fulfil Mills' initial expectations and loaned out to Chorley.

Appearances: 5 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


At 27, there still seems uncertainty surrounding the former Glenn Hoddle Academy graduate's most natural game. Proved himself as an accomplished retainer of possession when used in a central-midfield role, although sometimes had a propensity to play safe rather than hurt the opposition. Also demonstrated in his FA Trophy semi-final cameos against Lincoln that he can still hurt teams with explosive forward bursts but could not hold down a starting place during the crucial run-in.

Appearances: 16 (8); Goals: 0

Rating: 6/10


Worked prodigiously hard and showed admirable unselfishness to sacrifice his own desire to score goals by providing much of the leg work that allowed Jon Parkin to concentrate on putting the ball in the back of the net. At times, his industry perhaps affected his ability to make more incisive runs beyond defences. But closed down and harried as well as anybody in the side.

Appearances: 24 (0); Goals: 6

Rating: 7/10


His prodigious long throw was met by gasps from every set of unsuspecting opposition supporters on first viewing. When hailed from the bench, he was an immediate provider of assists, with the likes of Parkin and Vadaine Oliver grateful targets for his abnormal touchline talent. Also proved he could play a bit when given his first start on the season's final day against Forest Green.

Appearances: 1 (7); Goals: 0

Rating: 6/10


Woefully short of match fitness on his September arrival after a long spell on the sidelines following serious injury. Unable to overcome that handicap during two substitute outings. Among first to be offloaded after Mills' reappointment.

Appearances: 0 (2); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


Linked up well with Parkin during their first couple of outings together. Suffered a little, though, following a couple of important, glaring misses. Returned to parent club Forest Green after a month, before moving on to Football League outfit Crawley.

Appearances: 6 (0); Goals: 1

Rating: 6/10


Mills would have cloned his former Wrexham utility man if possible. Performing just as well when selected in defence, out wide or in midfield, he even threatened when employed as an emergency striker. Never gave less than 100 per cent and his stoppage-time winner at home to Barrow proved a season highlight.

Appearances: 35 (0); Goals: 3

Rating: 7/10


One goal and no assists from 19 first-team appearances tells the story of the former Worcester winger's struggles at National League level. Never featured again after a torrid afternoon deputising at centre forward when Parkin was not risked on Harlow's 3G pitch. Looked cowed by the club's expectations, with his first touch and final pass never convincing.

Appearances: 7 (12); Goals: 1

Rating: 3/10


Came back to City a little sheepishly, having made it clear at the end of the previous season that he wanted to move on after a poor second half of the campaign. A subsequent six-month loan spell at Notts County followed but he was sent back to Bootham Crescent and given a second chance by Mills. Then showed admirable character to win back the support of uncertain fans and earned redemption with a series of whole-hearted displays and well-taken goals.

Appearances: 22 (1); Goals: 10

Rating: 7/10


An injury-ravaged campaign restricted him to just five starts. Never looked comfortable during those outings. Played no part from the end of February.

Appearances: 5 (2); Goals: 0

Rating: 4/10


Did all he could to try and keep the club up and avoid a first career relegation during the closing weeks of the campaign. Netted 12 times in his last 14 games and, despite only arriving in December, his final tally of 16 goals was the best return from any City player for five years. A marksman of the highest pedigree, who remains lethal in front of goal at 35.

Appearances: 28 (0); Goals: 16

Rating: 7/10


City stalwart who slotted in as if he had never been away on his return to North Yorkshire in January. A model of consistency, the former Welsh under-21 international remains happy for others to hog the headlines while he goes quietly about his business. Unflustered when required to play on his less natural left side and any mistakes are difficult to recall.

Appearances: 23 (0); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Man-mountain of a defender who came out on top in all his physical contests during a one-month loan spell. Excellent in the air with a no-thrills approach on the deck. Moved on to Torquay, where his season was cruelly ended by serious injury.

Appearances: 5 (0); Goals: 1

Rating: 7/10


Looked ill-prepared for the pace and power of National League football following his arrival across the Irish Sea. Badly exposed during his handful of outings, most notably during his final game – a hapless substitute cameo at Barrow. Spent most of campaign on loan at Boston.

Appearances: 2 (3); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


Has all the physical attributes to excel as a right-wing back but lacked the anticipation needed to become a dependable defender. Such lapses were regularly punished and needs to work on his game intelligence to progress in the game. Difficult to trust him in a game situation otherwise.

Appearances: 33 (5); Goals: 1

Rating: 4/10


Scored a spectacular goal after coming off bench against Guiseley. Couldn't make as big an impact during nine other outings and given just one start in a 2-2 draw with Chester. Told he had no future at club after North Riding Cup reserve defeat at Whitby.

Appearances: 1 (9); Goals: 1

Rating: 4/10


Let nobody down on his debut at Forest Green before Letheren was brought in as first choice. Also saved a penalty at Curzon Ashton when the latter was injured but looked a little unsure with high balls into his box. Overlooked again when Mills decided to draft Loach in to cover for another Letheren absence before the transfer deadline.

Appearances: 1 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


Restricted to one substitute outing against Woking before being moved on to North Ferriby. Would return to Bootham Crescent and score the winning goal for City's relegation rivals on New Year's Day. Then relished the opportunity to rub home fans' noses in it at the David Longhurst End.

Appearances: 0 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 4/10


Given his debut as a teenage substitute at Torquay. Not afraid to get on the ball and wasn't intimidated by physical side of game. Might have distributed a little better.

Appearances: 0 (1); Goals: 0

Rating: 5/10


Full of energy up and down left flank. Very few wingers got the better of him. Might have caused more damage in final third but a reliable provider of crosses from wide positions.

Appearances: 45 (3); Goals: 0

Rating: 7/10


Out of his depth during sole City start in comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Bromley. Looked ill-equipped for National League battle. Soon deemed surplus to requirements.

Appearances: 1 (2); Goals: 0

Rating: 2/10


Tenacious striker whose aggression sometimes overstepped the mark. Gave plenty of effort though and offered a goal threat. Went back to parent club Sheffield United, having acquitted himself adequately without pulling up too many trees.

Appearances: 6 (1); Goals: 1

Rating: 5/10