IT might be the appropriate time of year to be looking, but York City’s search for a saviour at Christmas has brought little reward in recent seasons.

For six consecutive campaigns now, the Minstermen have ushered in the Yuletide period with a different manager at the helm.

Current incumbent Martin Gray was preceded by Gary Mills, Jackie McNamara, Russ Wilcox and Nigel Worthington – all of whom did not hang around in the job long enough to unpack the decorations again at Bootham Crescent.

Given he is still employed as chief executive, McNamara might be the exception, of course, even if many supporters would like to tell him where to stick the club Christmas tree, following his traumatic 11-month term in charge.

Having endured both back-to-back relegations the ex-Dundee United chief had a hand in, though, there was an understandable relief and belief among the City faithful that the slide down the football pyramid would, at least, surely be halted with a season in the sixth tier.

It was simply inconceivable that a professional club which continues to benefit from beleaguered owner Jason McGill’s bankrolling would not challenge for a swift return to the modest environs of the National League, where Bromley, Boreham Wood and Dover continue to prosper.

Instead, City have suffered a real-life Nightmare Before Christmas, with three straight defeats leaving the long-suffering fan base feeling far from festive and Gray already fearing for his future if results don’t quickly improve.

The mid-table Minstermen lie just two points closer to the play-off places than they are to the relegation zone and such an unforeseen struggle has cast a little doubt on the wisdom of dispensing with Mills, just eight weeks into a season in which he had been given the green light to assemble his fiercely-loyal squad of players, after consecutive defeats against a title-challenging Harrogate Town team and a South Shields side that had won 48 of their previous 50 matches.

Despite Mills’ previous heroics, few tears were shed admittedly at the time of his dismissal, with City in a seemingly, underwhelming league position of seventh.

Aspersions have since been cast concerning discipline and professionalism levels at the club during Mills’ reign, but the sight of Sean Gregan – City’s part-time defensive coach and, by that association, an architect of another hapless display at the back – sat laughing in the stand throughout Saturday’s 3-2 home defeat to Blyth Spartans did not reflect well on the current regime at Bootham Crescent either.

Gray’s commitment to the cause can’t be questioned – he is determined to succeed with City and repay McGill for the chance to prove himself in full-time management - but, along with the apparently carefree Gregan, the players he has recruited must now justify their selections and the extra expenditure no doubt shelled out on their services.

The defensive deficiencies of Daniel Rowe and David Ferguson were certainly exposed, as they were given torrid afternoons by Blyth wingers Robbie Dale and Jarrett Rivers respectively.

Barman Dale made Rowe look like a pub player with his direct dribbles that led to Blyth’s opening goal from the penalty spot and the tortured right back’s afternoon ending prematurely after he hacked down the tall left winger, picked up a caution and was hauled off less than a minute into the second half.

On the opposite flank, Ferguson only fared marginally better against Rivers, repeatedly struggling to keep pace with the former newsagent worker or anticipate his forward runs. The game would have been painful viewing for two-time Press Player of the Year Dan Parslow, benched for the second game in a row, as well as Alex Whittle, who has now gone three fixtures without even making a matchday squad.

At the other end of the pitch, Jon Parkin bagged a brace to take his season’s tally to 18 for the campaign – although the first followed a contentious penalty decision after theatrics from Aidan Connolly and the second was a late consolation.

Quite where City would be without the veteran talisman, who turns 36 next Saturday, in frightening though.

His double-strike took him to 33 goals for the disappointing calendar year of 2017 – a haul that has only been bettered three times in City history by James Cowie (37 in 1929), Reg Baines (36 in 1932) and Richard Brodie (35 in 2009).

Fellow striker Amari Morgan-Smith is a distant second in this term’s scoring charts on four goals, and he failed to convert a one-on-one chance during that vital stage of any game – first-half stoppage time – with City trailing 2-1.

Sub James Gray, meanwhile, failed to make any impression as his quest to open his City account was extended to an eighth game, having been handed a deal until the end of the season by his namesake.

Blyth were missing their two leading marksmen in 22-goal duo Daniel Maguire and Dale Hopson, but still had sufficient firepower to take the points courtesy of Sean Reid, Adam Wrightson and Greg Rutherford efforts.

The part-time visitors also had to contend with the first-half losses of Ryan Hutchinson and Damen Mullen through injury, but took it all in their stride with early-replacement Wrightson a worthy man-of-the-match contender after capitalising on the freedom he was afforded in the middle of the pitch to score Spartans’ second goal and tee up the third.

Blyth had earlier started brightest with Dale and Kieran Green both going close inside the opening ten minutes.

The home side only mustered their first chance midway through the first period when Alex Pattison flashed a 20-yard effort wide from Hamza Bencherif’s lay-off, but the north-east outfit forged ahead on 25 minutes.

Dale headed for the byline and teased the most basic of fouls out of Rowe, who tripped the left winger with his outstretched leg, before Reid confidently beat Bartlett from the spot.

Just four minutes later, though, the Minstermen were level when Connolly threw himself to the deck, although Nathan Buddle’s penalty-box lunge, even if it did not make contact, was inadvisable.

Parkin made no mistake from 12 yards, steering a low shot to Peter Jameson’s right, as the Blyth keeper dived in the opposite direction.

But City were behind again on 34 minutes when David Atkinson’s low pass from the right dissected the home defence far too easily and, after Rowe had not been alert to the danger, he found himself in a position where he did not want to challenge Wrightson from behind with the latter continuing his run unchecked and guiding a calm finish past the advancing Bartlett.

Half-hearted attempts from Pattison, Adriano Moke and Connolly followed but, after Rutherford showed the greater desire to beat Ferguson to a Wrightson cross only to steer his shot wide, Morgan-Smith squandered the simplest of chances to level.

Sprinting clear on goal through the middle of the pitch, Morgan-Smith could only guide a low shot against a vulnerable Jameson’s right-hand post and then lacked the co-ordination to find a gaping goal from the rebound.

After the break, Bencherif’s improvised back-heeled effort was gathered at the near post by Jameson and Connolly shot wide from distance before Blyth went 3-1 up on 73 minutes.

With the Minstermen’s midfield lacking any form of shape following Sean McAllister’s withdrawal, Rivers played the ball to Wrightson, who charged unimpeded towards the home penalty box before releasing Rutherford through the left channel.

The lumbering forward looked too tired to pose much of a threat by this point of the game, but the little power he could summon saw a weak shot somehow squeeze past Bartlett from ten yards.

Just moments later, Rutherford’s lack of sharpness also allowed a porous home defence to deflect an equally good chance away from goal, while Bartlett was quickly off his line to smother at Rivers’ feet in front of an incandescent Longhurst Stand.

But opportunities to score continue to present themselves at National League North level regardless, normally, of the standard of a team’s performance and, on 87 minutes, a glimmer of hope was provided when Parkin expertly controlled a long Bencherif ball into the box and calmly found an inviting net after Jameson had saved his first shot.

After a rasping 25-yard Dale strike had hit an upright, Connolly might even have grabbed an undeserved equaliser in stoppage time, but he brushed the sidenetting with a half-volley, meaning the Minstermen were left to lament a hat-trick of successive defeats for the first time in 13 months.

City ratings

Adam Bartlett 5

Daniel Rowe 3

Hamza Bencherif 5

Jonny Burn 5

David Ferguson 4

Adriano Moke 5

Sean McAllister 5

Alex Pattison 5

Aidan Connolly 4

Jon Parkin 6

Amari Morgan-Smith 4

Substitutes: Josh Law 5 (for Rowe, 48), James Gray 4 (for McAllister, 65), Connor Smith (for Morgan-Smith, 90).

Subs not used: Dan Parslow, Luke Simpson.

Star man: Parkin – strayed offside too often, but took his goals well

Blyth: Peter Jameson, David Atkinson, Nathan Buddle, Ryan Hutchinson (Adan Wrightson, 14), Michael Liddle, Jarrett Rivers, Sean Reid, Damen Mullen (David McTiernen, 36), Robbie Dale, Greg Rutherford (Jordan Laidler, 83), Kieran Green. Substitutes: Ian Watson, Shaun MacDonald.

Blyth star man: Wrightson – capitalised on midfield freedom he was afforded

Referee: John Matthews rating: 6/10 – probably hoodwinked for City penalty

Booked: Rowe 46, Liddle 77

Sent off: None

Attendance: 2,751 (390 from Blyth)

Shots on target: City 8, Blyth 7

Shots off target: City 4, Blyth 5

Corners: City 5, Blyth 4

Fouls conceded: City 10, Blyth 10

Offside: City 10, Blyth 2