YORK City missed out on the chance to go back top of National League North after spurning a one-goal lead in a 3-1 defeat at Boston United.

Kurt Willoughby gave City the lead early on but Frank Mulhern cancelled it out before half-time. Brad Abbott put the hosts ahead after the break and Andi Thanoj wrapped up the win with 10 minutes to go.

An unfamiliar pill to swallow, this was the first time this season any side has put three past York, who might consider themselves a tad unlucky to have conceded a huge deflection from Mulhern and Thanoj's cross-cum-shot.

However, York did not do enough themselves to justify three points. They started brightly enough and even a lack of true efforts on goal did not seem to put them on the back foot.

But as the game wore on, a dearth of attempts became more and more telling, and even the attacking introductions of Dan Maguire and Alex Kempster could not yield more than one shot on target for the full 90 minutes.

Boston are now six points behind York with two games in hand.

The sole change to York’s squad from last week’s 4-2 defeat of former third-placed side Chester was Wes York coming in for unused substitute Macaulay Langstaff. York returned from his loan to Brackley Town at the start of January, while Langstaff has gone to Blyth Spartans for a month.

Boston boss Craig Elliott made two changes to the team that won 1-0 at Blyth last week. Scott Garner was called up to the starting 11 after staying on the bench for the win in the North East, while Abbott came into the side following two weeks out. They replaced Jay Rollins and Jordan Thewlis.

Fresh from signing with the Pilgrims on Thursday, former Minsterman Simon Heslop was named on the bench. His late introduction was greeted with jeers from York fans.

In a fast-paced opening, Albanian attacker Andi Thanoj received a sixth-minute yellow card for a reckless push on David Ferguson. York’s right-sided wing-back was approaching at pace to contest a 50-50 ball and Thanoj’s shove sent him flying into the side of the home dug-out. He was okay to continue.

Willoughby broke the deadlock just a minute after. Adriano Moke flicked a ball over the top and Willoughby got there just ahead of keeper Peter Crook and lobbed in.

There were harbingers of a very open game as Boston looked to respond quickly, with Dominic Knowles volleying a difficult chance off-target when well-placed and Thanoj skewing an effort from range high and wide.

The pressure was by and large coming from the men in red and blue, as was the control in the centre of the park. York’s midfield trio of Kieran Green, Paddy McLaughlin and Moke were sharp and exhibiting nice touches behind Willoughby and Jordan Burrow, who looked ready to pounce.

An air of aggression started to creep into the game – some was healthy competition, some unwarranted. Simon Ainge crunched Willoughby in what was a fair, if unnecessarily heavy, challenge. Taking a cue from Thanoj, McLaughlin’s shove sent Alex Whittle hurtling head-first into pitch-side hoardings. The ugly noise was audible from beyond the away end but, impressively, Whittle carried on. Willoughby was shown a yellow card in the aftermath.

By the half-hour mark, Willoughby’s goal was York’s only effort, while Boston had four wildly off-target half-chances. Despite this, it was an engaging but occasionally scrappy affair, and Boston captain Luke Shiels was shown yellow for a challenge on Burrow where the intent looked to be as much about stopping the striker as playing the ball.

Frank Mulhern drew Boston level in the 39th minute. He cut in from the right across a line of York players before, from the edge of area, getting away an effort which looked to have taken a big, kind deflection and looped over Pete Jameson.

Moke made an unfortunately bizarre start to the second half, putting in the effort for a 20-yard diagonal run across the area only to put the ball straight out of play ahead, Ferguson the intended target.

After that, the first five minutes were Boston’s – and Abbott put the Pilgrims ahead in the 52nd minute. A corner was blocked, cleared and played back in more than once, with Jameson tipping a medium-distance effort onto the crossbar. It fell kindly to Abbott, who could set himself and bury from very close in.

Dan Maguire – on in the 55th minute for Burrow – had half a sight of goal just a couple of minutes later. McLaughlin got the luck of the bounce in midfield and he looked the play in Willoughby. His touch bobbled backwards into Maguire’s path and he curled low, just wide of Crooks’ right-hand post.

At the back, Steve McNulty showed again his class and positional intelligence as the last defender when Boston broke from a York free kick high up the pitch, showing Mulhern out wide, from where his tame effort was easily stopped. At the other end, another experienced player in Andy Bond cracked a fine long-distance effort off the crossbar.

Thanoj made it three in the 79th minute. From near the touchline in front of the York fans, he caught Jameson unaware with an inswinging cross which the keeper got a finger end to before it nestled in the far corner off the post. Mulhern was among the Pilgrims players celebrating boisterously in front of the travelling supporters and picked up the fifth yellow of the match.

Boston: Crook, Penny, Whittle (Jackson 90), Garner, Ainge, Shiels, Platt, Abbott, Knowles (Rollins 76), Mulhern, Thanoj (Heslop 87). Subs not used: Thewlis, Woolford.

Goals: Mulhern, Abbott, Thanoj

Yellow cards: Thanoj, Shiels, Mulhern

York: Jameson 7, Griffiths 7, Tait 8, McNulty 8, Newton 8, Ferguson 8, McLaughlin 7 (Kempster 64), Moke 7 (Bond 55), Green 7, Willoughby 7, Burrow 6 (Maguire 55). Subs not used: King, York.

Star man: Steve McNulty. Showed his class and nous at the back, and demonstrates how to play the game with the head.

Goals: Willoughby

Yellow cards: Willoughby, Tait

Referee: John Matthews

Attendance: 2,155 (400 away supporters)