UNDERFIRE manager Martin Gray issued an apology to angry York City supporters following the 1-0 defeat at ten-man Gainsborough Trinity.

The result saw City drop out of the National League North play-off positions and their top-seven hopes now look slim with three fixtures left to play, as Chorley and Spennymoor – the two teams directly above them – have two and three games in hand respectively.

Travelling fans directed chants of “Gray Out” and “Martin Gray, Get Out of Our Club” at the beleaguered boss during the second half of the Northolme contest and at the final whistle.

Gainsborough lost left-back Brandon Fleming to a 24th-minute red card, but the relegation-threatened hosts went on to seal victory courtesy of Ashley Worsfold’s second-half goal.

The Minstermen faithful also directed slights of “You’re Not Fit to Wear the Shirt,” “This is Embarrassing” and “What a Load of Rubbish” at the team.

Gray did not defend the display afterwards but asked for the chance to prove himself in a job he took on last October following Gary Mills’ dismissal.

“I can only apologise to the fans for the display,” the former Darlington manager said. “It was the toughest day I’ve had since coming to the club and I understand the total disappointment for everybody, but I really want to do well and turn things around and I hope I am given the opportunity to do that.

“It’s very frustrating and difficult and won’t happen over-night, but I’m working very hard and giving it everything I can because I want to deliver success for everybody – the fans, the people that run the club and the players. I’m not a man that hides behind anybody.

“I put my neck on the line and I’m doing everything, within my means, to put this right, so I hope people can stick with me and help turn this corner. We must remain focussed, because we’ve still got a chance of getting into the play-offs, even though it’s becoming more difficult.”

City, now without a goal in three matches, kicked off with midfielder Sean Newton playing up front and he was partnered by centre-back Hamza Bencherif for the final half-hour after Alex Kempster suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury and Gray decided against throwing on his unpopular namesake James in anticipation of the reaction the former Torquay forward’s introduction would have provoked from the away supporters.

On his attacking tactics, Gray reasoned: “We needed more presence up front.

“Sean Newton’s not a natural forward and I understand that, but it’s no secret that we’ve massively missed Jon Parkin’s strength, character and presence since he’s been out of the team and that’s come at the wrong stage of the season. We had to have a go and Hamza is big and strong, so we put him up there to see if he could be a nuisance for them.

“I couldn’t put James Gray on, because the fans hammer him even before he gets on the pitch. Two weeks ago, he scored the winner, which was great but, when he was warming up (at Gainsborough), the fans were destroying him.

“That’s tough mentally, even though I understand the fans’ frustration.”

Gray went on to suggest that his side lacked bravery against their under-manned, part-time opponents.

“You have to make sure you maximise the spare man,” he pointed out. “Alex Kempster had a great chance to score, but didn’t and, in the second half, the bravery on the ball was not what it should have been and we conceded a goal when Dan Parslow and Adam Bartlett collided into each other.

“Obviously, when things aren’t going well, players probably feel the total pressure from the fans, because the expectations of people at this club are massive. But we’ve got to do better than what we are doing and we’re not proving we can do.”

Gray was particularly irked by his team’s quality at set-pieces.

“We had nine corners and seven landed in the keeper’s arms,” he complained. “That’s really annoying, because we work very hard on them and that wasn’t translated on to the pitch.”

The City chief added that he felt Fleming was a little unfortunate to be dismissed after a challenge that saw the on-loan Hull left-back and Connor Brown jump into a challenge close to the dugouts on the halfway line.

“It could have gone either way,” Gray suggested. “It was a really tough challenge from both players and probably the reaction of our player has got theirs sent off.”

An injured Alex Pattison was replaced at half-time and, with Kempster also limping off, 16-year-old Vinnie Steels completed the full game on his first professional start, drawing praise on a testing day for Gray, who said: “We got him on the ball more and more as the game went on and he showed bits of quality in the second half.

“We have to remember his age, but I think there’s a really talented player there. We’d pencilled him in for an hour, but the injuries meant he had to stay on and he had a nice, solid debut.”

Fellow teenager Flynn McNaughton was not named in the squad, though, following three successive substitute appearances with Gray explaining: “We had players back and I also want to keep him grounded.

“Flynn’s not ready to play in the first team yet. That’s asking an awful lot, but he’s a kid with good potential as well.”