WHEN York City were installed as short-odds second favourites for the National League North title last summer, nobody would have anticipated relying on part-time pair Chorley and Blyth Spartans slipping up to hang on to the division’s final play-off place in mid-April.

But, with a fortnight left to play of the regular season, that is increasingly looking like the scenario for Martin Gray’s men, meaning this afternoon’s clash at Duke Street between the Minstermen’s biggest two rivals for seventh place will carry almost as much significance as City’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity.

Both Chorley and Blyth boast two games in hand on City and are two and five points behind the Bootham Crescent outfit respectively.

Assuming the visitors secure maximum points at Northolme, a draw in Chorley might be perceived as the most favourable results in these parts although, as Blyth have only shared the spoils in one of their 36 league fixtures this term, that looks a remote hope.

If there is to be a winner, though, given the gaps involved, then Blyth would be the preference for everybody of a red-and-blue persuasion.

The weather, 22-team format and six-club play-off switch have all contributed, though, to several situations looking far from resolved at such a late stage in the season.

North Ferriby’s relegation is the only certainty but, mathematically, any one of 12 teams, right up to tenth-placed Bradford Park Avenue, could still go down with them.

At the other end of the table, only Salford, Harrogate or Brackley can win the title and are the three teams assured of at least a play-off place.

While City, Chorley and Blyth look to be embroiled in a three-way fight for seventh spot, meanwhile, in theory, all but five teams – Leamington, Alfreton, Tamworth and Gainsborough - could still make the play-offs, including fifth-bottom Telford.

Schedule wise, while they have more points to play, fatigue could also come into play for semi-professionals Chorley and Blyth, who must cram six league fixtures into 15 days.

Chorley also have the complication of a seventh – the Lancashire FA Trophy final against Clitheroe – to fulfil a week on Monday.

An analysis of the opposition each team will face during the next two weeks throws up few clues as to which of the three sides has the most routine run-in.

In terms of average league position, City are perhaps at a slight advantage, but successive clashes against Gainsborough, FC United of Manchester and Leamington sides all likely to be in need of results to stay up are unlikely to be straightforward.

Likewise, a final-day trip to Brackley, even if by then the game is a dead-rubber for the hosts, will not be without its difficulties.

Should Gray’s team win today, then their promotion outlook will certainly look a lot clearer by this time next week, as both Chorley and Blyth are embarking on a Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday run of games that will fully test their stamina levels.

Following their trip to Chorley, Blyth will also play four consecutive home matches in eight days.

Here’s a look at the three chief rivals’ remaining fixtures…

CITY: Today – Gainsborough (A); Tues, April 17 – FC United of Manchester (A); Sat, April 24 – Leamington (H); Sat April 28 – Brackley (A).

CHORLEY: Today – Blyth (H); Tues, April 17 – Stockport (H); Thurs, April 19 – Leamington (A); Sat, April 21 – Tamworth (A); Mon, Apr 23 – Clitheroe (Lancashire FA Trophy final), Sat, April 28 – Alfreton (H). TBA - Brackley (A).

BLYTH: Today – Chorley (A); Tues, April 17 - Telford (H); Thurs, April 19 – Southport (H); Sat, April 21 – Stockport (H); Tues, April 24 – Curzon Ashton (H); Sat, April 28 – Nuneaton (A).

Perhaps the brightest beacon of hope during Tuesday night’s gloomy 1-0 defeat at Nuneaton, meanwhile, was the lively substitute outing of Vinnie Steels, who became the fourth-youngest first-team player in the club’s history at 16 years and 244 days.

Steels sits behind record-holder Reg Stockill (15 years 281 days) – the former England Schoolboys international who scored the Minstermen’s first Football League goal – as well as Lee Grant (16 years 106 days) and Ryan Edmondson (16 years and 140 days).

The latter came on in Gray’s first match as manager against Brackley in October, but has since moved on to Leeds United, where he is being touted for a first-team debut before the end of the Championship campaign.

Steels has jumped above the club’s youngest-ever goalkeeper Mike Astbury (16 years and 298 days) in the list and became only the sixth 16-year-old to taste senior football with City – the others were Ben Hirst (16 years and 292 days) and Michael Staley (16 years and 305).

The 479 attendance at Nuneaton was also the fourth-lowest league crowd the club have played in front of during the professional era.

Since the club entered the Football League in 1929, the only poorer gates have been 323 (Grays 0 City 4, March 2010), 455 (Stafford 0 City 4, April 2008) and 458 (Hayes & Yeading 1 City 2, February 2011).

Elsewhere, top-scorer Jon Parkin still boasts a six-point lead in The Press Player of the Year contest.

Leading assists provider Aidan Connolly remains his nearest challenger, but he did not make up any ground during the back-to-back defeats against Harrogate and Nuneaton.

Jonny Burn won three points towards the standings as our man of the match at Nuneaton on Tuesday night.

The other Press points went to Hamza Bencherif (two) and Connor Smith (one) as our second and third-highest rated performers respectively.

Steels, meanwhile, won the two bonus points after receiving the most man-of-the-match votes from our Twitter poll.

Against Harrogate, Josh Law picked up three points as The Press man of the match, with Sean Newton (two) and Adam Bartlett (one) also getting recognition.

The two bonus points went to Clovis Kamdjo following his return as a substitute after being on the sidelines since November 2016 due to cruciate ligament damage.

Latest Press Player of the Year standings: Parkin 31, Connolly 25, Bartlett 18, Law 18, Newton 18, Parslow 18, Moke 16, Bencherif 15, Almond 12, Heslop 11, Ferguson 10, Worsnop 10, Whittle 9, Burn 8, Morgan-Smith 8, Pattison 8, Smith 5, Rankine 3, Rowe 3, Correia 2, Kempster 2, Martin 2.

The April Press Player of the Month standings: Burn 3, Law 3, Bencherif 2, Kamdjo 2, Newton 2, Steels 2, Bartlett 1, Smith 1.

Goals: Parkin 25, Newton 8, Connolly 6, Morgan-Smith 5, Heslop 4, Burn 3, Almond 2, Kempster 2, Moke 2, Own Goal 2, Parslow 2, Rankine 2, Correia 1, Felix 1, Ferguson 1, Gray 1, Law 1, Martin 1, Rowe 1, Smith 1.

Assists: Connolly 9, Newton 8, Almond 8, Heslop 5, Parslow 5, Ferguson 4, Gray 4, Law 4, Morgan-Smith 4, Parkin 4, Martin 3, Moke 3, Whittle 3, Bencherif 1, Correia 1, Felix 1, Kempster 1, Pattison 1, Peacock-Farrell 1, Worsnop 1.

Bad boys: Heslop two red, three yellow; Rowe five yellow; Bencherif one red, three yellow; Brown, Burn both four yellow; Newton three yellow; Ferguson one red, one yellow; Connolly, Wharton, Worsnop all two yellow; Parkin one red; Gray, Law, Moke, Smith, Whittle all one yellow.