1 City look more solid with a back four than a back three

Undeniably the best decision Sam Collins made during his first match in full-time charge of the Minstermen was to dispense with a three-man defence and switch to a back four just past the half-hour mark. Collins had stressed the importance of tightening up ahead of the Haig Avenue trip, but Southport were exploiting massive gaps between the three defenders and wing-backs and, before the change was made, the hosts should have led by a greater margin than the 1-0 lead given to them by Dion Charles’ eighth-minute penalty.

If the FA Cup ties are to be disregarded, given the lower standard of opposition, then City had conceded six goals during two games and one third of Saturday’s match when lining up in a 3-5-2 formation. In contrast, with a back four, City shipped just one goal in the opening three fixtures of Collins’ caretaker reign – back-to-back clean sheets against Brackley (0-0) and Blyth (2-0) preceding a 1-1 draw against Hereford.

The Minstermen had not previously managed successive shut-outs for more than a year, illustrating the long-established improvements required in terms of the team’s shape without the ball. With centre-backs Joe Tait and Hamza Bencherif being asked to start off attacks by occupying wide positions, the four-man defence during those early games in Collins’ temporary tenure might not have been conventional but, when out of possession, the side were disciplined in their positional play and did not look vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Fielding just one recognised centre-half at Southport in Bencherif, who was flanked by utility men Josh Law and Sean Newton, didn’t seem to help matters with the likes of Tom Allan (initially) and Dan Parslow overlooked despite Tait being ruled out and it seems, if Collins is to return to a back three, the choice of personnel will need to be spot on, with the capable players selected comfortable with how their manager wants the system to be implemented. The balance has to be right between playing out from the back and being defensively combative, which is not always an easy combination to find at sixth-tier level.

Collins, of course, is still also learning about the individual merits of his inherited squad with Allan becoming the 21st player he has used during nine games at the helm.

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2 Nathan Dyer passed a significant test of his mental strength

Second-game syndrome can sometimes feel similar to that well-known footballing affliction - second-season syndrome. After stepping into the unknown for the first time, young players can begin to feel the pressure of that initial support from more senior team-mates being augmented by the expectations of certain necessary standards being met on a game-to-game basis for the good of the team.

But, having earned the sufficient trust of manager Sam Collins to retain his place following a promising debut against FA Cup minnows St Ives Town, 17-year-old hopeful Dyer was one of the few players whose performance level did not dip during an opening half-hour at Southport that saw so many of his more experienced counterparts struggle to carry out the jobs asked of them. The ex-Leeds academy player also adapted well when asked to operate further up the pitch following a switch to 4-4-2 and deserves credit for maintaining the same standards he attained during his first Minstermen outing in the face of more trying circumstances.

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3 The Minstermen’s ball-players must be visible for 90 minutes

Simon Heslop has his critics among the Minstermen faithful but, whilst others went into hiding somewhat during periods at Southport, he continued to be a willing recipient of possession and tried to lift the team out of its early lethargy. Others, arguably with more technical ability, must follow suit if Collins’ preference for possession football is going to pay dividends in the future by seeking the ball just as often as the oft-maligned former Luton midfielder.

The lack of options for the man with the ball at his feet or in his hands was often most starkly highlighted in Merseyside during throw-ins when the movement from City players was poor, with one such static situation in the home team’s left back area, seeing play immediately break up the other end, where Dion Charles should have done better from a one-on-one opportunity. Following a quiet display at Nuneaton, Adriano Moke has been left on the bench for the last two matches and Alex Harris was similarly subdued at Southport.

Both can be important players under Collins given their skill levels, but the pair will need to demonstrate that they also have the bravery to demand the ball persistently and, especially, when the going gets tough.

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4 City won’t always get as lucky without threatening further up the field

During 90 minutes at Southport, City only managed two attacks that led to chances in the opposition’s penalty box. The first saw Jake Wright denied twice by Daniel Hanford, before Jordan Burrow equalised from another follow-up effort.

Wright also headed over from a Nathan Dyer cross during second-half stoppage time but, in contrast, five Southport forward raids resulted in opportunities prior to Collins’ 32nd-minute reshuffle. The Minstermen won’t be able to rely on profligate opposition finishing or, indeed, a Simon Heslop thunderbolt for maximum points every week and Collins will be looking for his team to penetrate the opposition’s final third more at Blyth this weekend.

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5 Ten goals make Simon Heslop the only potent Minstermen midfielder during the last three years

Heslop’s spectacular 84th-minute goal moved him into double figures on his 94th appearance for City, which compares more than favourably with the return of his recognised central-midfield contemporaries at Bootham Crescent over the past three seasons. Of those team-mates, only Adriano Moke, with a modest three from 75 outings, has netted more than once during the same period.

Otherwise, Danny Holmes (one in 27), Clovis Kamdjo (one in 18) and Asa Hall (one in 16) have managed to hit the target while the like of Matty Dixon (14 appearances), Russ Penn (12), Simon Lappin (nine), Theo Wharton (nine), Luke Woodland (three), Franklyn Clarke (two), Sam Fielding (two) and Tyler Walton (one) have not scored in 53 collective games. Getting more goals from the team’s natural midfielders must clearly be a target and Collins will hope more can take a leaf out of Heslop’s book by shooting on sight when possible.