1 York City’s soft centre must be addressed

York City boss Sam Collins has repeatedly stressed the need for fight in his team, but that desire has to be commensurate with the choice of players in his starting XI. A lack of bite in midfield was again evident at Blyth and has become a team trait that is proving especially costly away from home, where the last six National League North contests have all ended in defeat.

The backbone of the team needs stiffening and that has been evident since Simon Heslop’s two months on the sidelines with injury coincided with Russ Penn’s departure to Kidderminster. Both players have their critics, but their ability to anchor in front of the back four made the Minstermen a more resilient team on the road.

Three out of City’s four away victories this term were achieved with Penn in the side. Heslop, meanwhile, has not been on the losing team in an away match that he has kicked off since the opening game of the season at Chorley.

An out-of-position Kallum Griffiths tried valiantly to fill the void left by the pair, but always looked in need to more assistance in the engine room and Heslop, who returned to action as a second-half substitute at Blyth, immediately had his name taken for a determined tackle on Adam Wrightson. He could take some time to get back up to speed after missing 13 games following knee surgery, but City must provide greater resistance in the central areas of the park if they are to reverse their reputation as sixth-tier pushovers on their travels.

A 4-2-3-1 formation – at least outside of Bootham Crescent – could prove the way forward for the Minstermen, with two defensive-minded anchor men shielding an oft-exposed back line. Collins could consider employing a centre back in one of those positions too, with Dan Parslow and Kennedy Digie, who have both performed there in the past, capable of providing the steel required in that area of the pitch.

York Press:

2 Sam Collins is nowhere nearer knowing what his best central-defensive pairing is

Every successful City side in the modern era has boasted a central-defensive axis that remained virtually unchanged from one game to the next, with immediate examples that spring to mind including Lowe and McCombe, McGurk and Graham, Tutill and Stancliffe, MacPhail and Sbragia and Topping and Swallow. In contrast, Sam Colllins has now named seven different centre-back pairings in the club’s last 13 fixtures – Hamza Bencherif and Joe Tait, Tom Allan and Tait, Sean Newton and Joe Davis, Kennedy Digie and Davis, Tait and Davis, Tait and Dan Parslow, and Digie and Bencherif.

With the exception of Digie, the other seven players have all performed at a higher level and five – Bencherif, Allan, Newton, Davis and Parslow – are former Football League campaigners. Allan remains on loan at Alfreton, but Collins must now decide on which two players he can place the most trust in and construct a defensive shape to the whole team aimed at rectifying a sorry sequence of two clean sheets from 17 league fixtures.

The recall of Bencherif, who conceded a penalty and was later cautioned for a bizarre deliberate handball, following 11 games out in the cold did not appear the answer alongside the raw Digie. Based on past performances, Davis and Parslow – one left on the bench and the other dropped from the squad at Blyth – would seem to boast the defensive intelligence required and commitment Collins demands. They are also one of the few partnerships Collins is yet to audition.

York Press:

3 Jake Wright deserves a sustained run in the team

The former Harrogate Town striker’s 36th-minute equaliser represented the second time he has netted in consecutive games this season. On the last occasion, he kicked off the following match – a 2-1 success at Southport – but was then back on the bench for the next three fixtures and he has never managed more than a hat-trick of consecutive starts under Sam Collins.

Wright’s finish at Croft Park was only his fourth goal of the season but, as he followed up his first saved effort to smash into the roof of the net, it signalled the desire of a player who wants to be a regular on the scoresheet. In fact, on another day, he might have bagged himself a first-half hat-trick and, remarkably, Jon Parkin remains the only City player to have managed a treble haul in a single game – against North Ferriby last season – in eight years and nine months!

Furthermore, without the aid of penalties, out-of-favour defender Sean Newton is the only City player to have netted twice in a match since last New Year’s Day – against Telford and Leamington last season. This term, Jordan Burrow heads City’s score-charts on 12 goals, but only six of those efforts have come in the league and four have been from the penalty spot.

He also has a tendency to score in clusters with 11 of his dozen efforts coming in separate six-game and three-match spells, having otherwise endured two six-match droughts during the season. In contrast to Wright’s first half at Blyth, whole 90 minutes can pass without Burrow getting a sniff at goal and there remains a belief that his biggest strength might lie as a foil for a more natural marksman, rather than being the focal goal point.

York Press: RETURN: Tom Allan - who suffered a knee injury within five minutes after taking to the pitch against Shildon - is back in training and expected to feature in tonight's squad at Ilkeston Town. Picture: Ian Parker

4 The squad is in need of trimming during January

Even with Kallum Griffiths injured and Tom Allan and Alex Kempster both out on loan, the Minstermen still left six experienced senior players – Alex Bray, Sean Newton, Jon Parkin, Dan Parslow, Joe Tait and Wes York - at home for Saturday’s contest. Such an over-swollen squad is unique at sixth-tier level and, once again, will be proving a drain on the club’s resources.

Only two of six Sam Collins recruits in the current squad, meanwhile, made the starting XI – a ratio that might be questioned should the City chief seek permission to make further additions in the New Year.

York Press:

5 Young players are becoming victims of senior players’ shortcomings

Sam Collins expressed a commitment towards developing youngsters on his appointment as manager and he can point to the progress made by Nathan Dyer as an example of that philosophy. But the announcement that Flynn McNaughton has been released, despite demonstrating genuine promise for the reserves and first team last term and being injured for most of the current campaign, presents a contrary argument, with Fergus McAughtrie and Harry Thompson having also suffered the same fate in recent weeks.

Shedding youngsters will save a few pennies, of course, but really just highlights the difficulty of offloading more deserving candidates from the wage bill.