WHEN York City decided yet another manager was in for the high jump back in January, they turned to the Gateshead International Athletics Stadium to get their season back on track.

With City having fallen well off the top-seven pace and looking nervously over their shoulders, Steve Watson was persuaded to leave the north-east National League promotion hopefuls to see if he could muster an unlikely late sprint across the finishing line from the under-performing Minstermen.

During his first two games – meetings with top-two Stockport and Chorley – it was always going to be a case of learning to walk before he could run as Watson familiarised himself with the strengths and weaknesses of his inherited squad.

But his record over the remaining 15 fixtures, had it been matched over the course of the season, would have been worthy of a position on the winners’ podium.

During that period, from the beginning of February, City averaged 1.87 points a game which, over the course of a 42-game campaign, equates to 78.55 points - a tally sufficient to secure third place in the table and just over one win short of champions Stockport.

Indeed, Watson’s side accumulated just four fewer points than Stockport over that three-month period and four more than runners-up Chorley, who were in pole position for the title until conceding a last-minute goal in their penultimate fixture.

Having gone 14 months since claiming their last back-to-back league victories - only Reading and Weston-Super-Mare had endured longer sequences from English football’s top-seven divisions at the time - the Minstermen rattled off four straight successes as Watson won the National League North Manager of the Month award for February.

That momentum was subsequently lost as the unlikeliest of play-off charges was halted following four draws in five contests - three of which witnessed the spoils being shared from winning positions.

The Minstermen would ultimately conclude the campaign in the club’s lowest-ever position in the football pyramid - one place below their 11th-placed finish 12 months earlier - but Watson cannot be held culpable for another underwhelming, mid-table berth.

City kicked off the season with then manager Martin Gray targeting the title - a bold ambition for a side that had ended the previous season in such a dispiriting fashion and still had nine members of that squad on duty in the 16-strong party for the 1-0 opening-day loss at Chorley.

Gray’s comments quickly looked unfounded and the Minstermen swiftly found themselves in the familiar position of playing catch-up.

Unsatisfactory starts had seen none of Gray’s predecessors last beyond October during the past four campaigns.

Even so, the ex-Darlington chief was genuinely shocked when he was relieved of his duties just three August weekends into 2018/19 and, with Gary Mills having been fired the previous September and Jackie McNamara moved upstairs the October before, Watson might celebrate getting through pre-season in a couple of months’ time.

There was little evidence, however, of improvement under Gray in the 11 months since his replacement of Mills and, suddenly, newly-appointed youth-team coach Sam Collins was promoted to the senior role, initially in a caretaker capacity.

Collins started well, stamping his coaching beliefs on to the team, with tactical tweaks that secured four points from six against eventual play-off qualifiers Brackley and Blyth.

But, following a run of just one defeat in nine matches which included bagging the club an FA Cup first-round tie at Swindon, when Collins started to encounter his first speed bumps, the wheels fell off.

Unforgivably, the Minstermen lost all of the former Hartlepool defender’s last seven away league matches in charge - Collins’ home record was actually significantly better than Watson’s - when just eight points from those 21 would have been enough to claim a top-seven finish at the end of the season.

Particularly demoralising defeats at Boston (2-0) and Darlington (5-1) led to Collins questioning the professionalism of the majority of the squad - a damning indictment, made in exasperation, that fuelled the long-suffering City supporters’ resentment of certain individuals.

It was a high-risk strategy for Collins, who had previously been cautious of such public condemnation.

No doubt aimed at getting a defiant on-pitch response from the players, it seemed to work for a game, as the Minstermen gained revenge with a 4-0 New Year’s Day triumph over Darlington, but standards slipped alarmingly again during a single-goal loss at Curzon Ashton and, after lambasting the defeat as “schoolboy stuff”, Collins was asked to clear his desk and, for only the second time in their history, the club would finish the season having had three different managers at the helm.

In the midst of such chaos, the calm, but determined, manner of Watson proved a strong appointment. Perhaps for the first time since Martin Foyle and Andy Porter, the Minstermen also appear to have a genuine management team in place.

Being the boss of a football club can be a lonely existence without somebody to share that burden and Watson’s number-two Micky Cummins has demonstrated a more hands-on approach than most recent assistants.

Like his friend, Cummins is a confident, eloquent and engaging operator when he fills in during media duties and he is just as instructive from the dugout as the former Premier League defender on match days.

Both have subsequently quickly gained the respect of the squad, with messages being enforced by two convincing individuals to stamp out the ill-discipline Collins felt dogged his efforts in charge.

Whereas the latter could never settle on a side he deemed capable of delivering consistent results, Watson and Cummins quickly identified a nucleus of players they felt the could rely on.

Given the disappointment of the last two seasons, some observers have expressed dismay at the number of players whose services are still wanted next season.

Following temporary improvement, many of the same issues that bedevilled progress at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho have now resurfaced and those individuals Watson has placed faith in must reward the manager with a full season of consistency to win over City’s wary supporters.