IT was symptomatic of York City’s first-half performance at Billingham Synthonia that, 17 minutes in, goalkeeper Michael Ingham yelled with increasing frustration at his outfield players to “keep the ball”.

The possession football that has sometimes been a pleasing feature of the Minstermen’s pre-season was lacking on Saturday, as passes went astray, not helped by at times lacklustre movement.

The midfield triumvirate of Patrick McLaughlin, fit-again Scott Kerr and Michael Potts struggled to find space or get the ball moving with accuracy or pace, the wide forwards were largely on the periphery and Jason Walker up top, usually a clever player with the ball, on occasions cut a discomfited figure.

The defence was also sliced open a few times in that first period, especially in the gaps between right-back Daniel Parslow and centre-back David McGurk, and it all gave assistant-boss Darron Gee – standing in for manager Gary Mills, who was resting up at home – food for thought.

But for an equaliser bang on half-time by Matty Blair, who had earlier missed a sitter, City would have gone in at half-time a goal down following Danny Earl’s peach of a strike on 26 minutes, which gave the Northern League side a deserved lead.

The second half was much better for York, with the ball moved quicker and the players, bolstered by timely substitutions, showing greater pace and purpose, but it did not fashion a decisive goal, Walker fluffing the best chance.

Earl had had a great opportunity to give Billingham the lead in only the fourth minute as he was sent away down the inside left, only to delay the shot enough for Chris Smith to cover across and block with a sliding challenge.

His goal, though, was a beauty, as Chay Liddle’s pass again sent him clear down the same channel and this time he took it early, volleying over Ingham from 25 yards.

The City goalkeeper was also called into action twice by burly but skilful striker Nathan Jameson in that first half, once to stop a drive from the left corner of the box at his near post – the ball nearly squirmed under him – and later to catch a cheeky chip from a similar distance. A second goal had also looked afoot when Jameson broke away but his cross was scrambled clear.

At the other end, City created little against a side four divisions below them in the non-League pyramid – though they should have levelled before they did.

When they finally pierced the hosts’ defence, Walker crossed from the right for Blair to tap in – only he skewed the ball high and wide.

Blair made amends for that miss when he was again in the right place on the stroke of half-time as a McLaughlin free-kick from the left was headed back across goal by McGurk with Blair left in acres of space to knock the ball home.

An improved City had the bulk of possession and territory after the break, but their best chance of a winner was botched by Walker, whose previous deadliness in front of goal deserted him.

Paul Musselwhite, who replaced Ingham during the interval, was called into action only once to gather Jameson’s mis-hit volley.

At the other end, Potts’ 25-yarder was easy for home goalkeeper Josh Moody, Walker chipped Moody but also the bar, and Parslow wasted a free header from a corner by substitute Ashley Chambers, who had provided the team with its biggest injection of much-needed pace and purpose going forward, albeit against a tiring defence.

Parslow’s replacement at right-back, Lanre Oyebanjo, then created Walker’s glorious chance of a winner, on 77 minutes. The substitute, with his first touch, curled in a pinpoint cross but the former Luton forward glaringly headed wide from six yards.

Walker soon turned provider but Jamal Fyfield’s close-range effort was well blocked by Moody, and thereafter open spaces and opportunities to attack went to waste.

Synthonia: Josh Moody, Curtis Collintine, Dan McWilliams (Matty Osmond 45), Robbie Bettson, Phil Horsman, Kieran Edwards (Sean Joseph 75), Michael Cater (Glenn Donaldson 65), David Hillerby (Richie Storr 66), Danny Earl (Indie Singh 75), Nathan Jameson, Chay Liddle.

City: Michael Ingham (Paul Musselwhite 45), Chris Smith, David McGurk, Daniel Parslow (Lanre Oyebanjo), Scott Kerr, Jason Walker, Liam Henderson (Adriano Moké), Michael Potts (James Meredith 70), Jamal Fyfield, Matty Blair (Ashley Chambers 59), Patrick McLaughlin (Andre Boucaud 70).

Sub not used: Jamie Reed.