1 Just one free kick conceded in City’s own half suggests a very well-drilled outfit

Knowing Leamington’s reputation as a direct side who boast an aerial threat in penalty boxes, City chief Steve Watson stressed the need for his team to give away as few set-pieces as possible ahead of the game. Given his players have looked most susceptible at dead-ball deliveries, too, only served to crank up the importance of cutting off such a threat at its source.

The fact that Sean Newton’s 90th-minute foul just outside the penalty box was the first and only one committed in his own side’s half, from a total of nine, will have, therefore, delighted the former England under-21 international, especially considering the pressure his team were put under for long periods when misjudgements could quite easily have been made in the windy conditions. In fact, an impressive 25 minutes had passed before Hamza Bencherif committed the visitors’ first infringement of the afternoon deep in the opponents’ half, highlighting how closely the players had heeded Watson’s pre-match warning.

That discipline and desire to follow instructions speaks volumes for the respect Watson has managed to command from all factions of the squad during his relatively short tenure of seven weeks.

York Press:

2 Alex Kempster is turning into the team’s best goal poacher

With four goals in eight outings, no player has now contributed more goals in open play under Steve Watson than the rejuvenated Alex Kempster. Having failed to start a single match under Watson’s predecessor Sam Collins, resulting in a loan spell at Spennymoor where he was only used as a substitute, Kempster has become one of the first names on the club’s team sheet, with the distinction of being one of only two outfield players to have kicked off every game during the ex-Gateshead boss’ stewardship – Jordan Burrow is the other.

Three of Kempster’s goals have been predatory strikes, where he has reacted quickest to hit the back of the net in crowded penalty boxes. He has been less successful when trying his luck from further out after drifting inside from the left flank and Watson will, no doubt, be keenly devising more ways in which the former PE teacher can get closer in on goal, with the next challenge to turn his six solitary strikes for the Minstermen into braces or even better.

York Press:

3 Centre-back Hamza Bencherif is belatedly making his penalty-box presence count

After taking 83 games to claim his first goal in City colours, Hamza Bencherif has netted three times in his last seven outings and also claimed his first assist of the campaign at Leamington where he was only denied another appearance on the scoresheet by Tony Breeden’s parry that was pounced upon by Alex Kempster. Many might argue that the manifestation of Bencherif’s threat in the opposition box is overdue, given his career record of 28 goals prior to arriving at Bootham Crescent more than two years ago.

But it’s a case of better late than never and, with Paddy McLaughlin’s set-piece quality now part of the Minstermen’s armoury, there is no reason why Bencherif and fellow centre-halves David Mirfin and Sean Newton can’t weigh in with further goals this term. With Bencherif perhaps set to return to substitute duty when Mirfin recovers from his facial wound, it is also now far from outlandish to suggest that the 31-year-old defender could even be hailed from the bench in an emergency striker role as City chase the points during the latter stages of any delicately-balanced contests over the next two months.

York Press:

4 The Minstermen CAN defend 1-0 leads

An inability to secure solid 1-0 wins drove former boss Martin Gray to distraction during his time as City chief. It was also a scoreline that would elude Gray’s successor Sam Collins, meanwhile, during any of his 20 league matches at the helm.

Watson’s first single-goal triumph in his eighth contest in charge, though, saw the club defend a 1-0 lead for the longest period in a league game since Nigel Worthington made that result his trademark during the 2013/14 march into the League Two play-offs. Not since Keith Lowe grabbed the only goal of an Easter Monday triumph over Bury on five minutes have City preserved the slenderest of advantages for such a prolonged period than that following Alex Kempster’s 11th-minute opener at the New Windmill Ground.

The visitors survived a couple of scares at the weekend, as Worthington’s well-drilled outfit did on occasions too, but clear-cut opposition opportunities in open play continue to be restricted with just one goal having now been conceded during six hours and 13 minutes of football. With David Mirfin ruled out in Warwickshire, the clean sheet was also achieved with a goalkeeper and three defenders who have been on the club’s books during the past two seasons – Kallum Griffiths being the exception following his arrival last summer.

That statistic, in particular, offers genuine optimism that Watson has begun to make headway in addressing the deep-seated fragile defensive mentality that has hindered sixth-tier progress in the past.

York Press:

5 The extent of City’s renaissance will be truly tested against Altrincham

City’s 3-0 defeat at Altrincham back in mid-November was as comprehensive as any other this season, with the hosts carrying a potency and threat down the flanks that saw Sam Collins’ then charges relieved to escape Cheshire without a bigger humbling. That attacking ability doesn’t seem to have diminished with the play-off hopefuls having plundered ten goals in their last two matches – a 6-0 win at Curzon Ashton being followed by Saturday’s 4-0 beating of Chester – to establish themselves as National League North’s second-top marksmen.

Nobody wants to detract from City’s last four wins, given the club’s past struggles to beat even the most modest of opponents, but the matches have represented a favourable run of fixtures with Leamington having won one of their last 15 contests prior to Saturday and Nuneaton – the previous weekend’s visitors to Bootham Crescent – just one in 21. Kidderminster, meanwhile, had suffered six defeats in nine outings prior to meeting the Minstermen and Ashton United lost nine of their previous 12 fixtures.

With City having suffered seven defeats from ten meetings against the sides currently occupying positions one to seven in the National League North table, this weekend’s match should certainly provide an accurate and intriguing gauge of the progress made by the team under Watson since his reign kicked off with back-to-back losses against top-two Chorley (1-4) and Stockport (1-3).