JASON WALKER was once so popular at Holker Street that, before Saturday’s game, when the Barrow mascots were asked which player they wanted to walk out with, one of them apparently asked for the former Bluebird.

But this was no happy homecoming.

Six minutes into injury time, the 27-year-old departed down the tunnel to a chorus of boos – shown a straight red card by referee Karl Evans for a tackle in midfield on James Owen.

At first glance, it looked a bad challenge and it soon got worse for City. Evans hoisted red again almost immediately after, somehow singling Andre Boucaud out for punishment following a melee which had greeted Walker’s misdemeanour.

With both now set to be absent, possible appeals notwithstanding, the duo will leave a significant hole in Mills’ plans should bans follow.

It was an unseemly end to a match which had not seen a card of any colour until the start of stoppage time.

Wrexham and Fleetwood are among the Blue Square Bet big-hitters who have been downed in Cumbria and Barrow went into the game having scored in all of their previous matches this season.

Apart from a couple of half chances for former York youngster Adam Boyes, however, and a magnificent first-half save from Michael Ingham, the home side were largely blunted by a City defence which has rediscovered the art of the clean sheet.

Indeed, after quelling an early Barrow surge at the start of each half, it was the Minstermen – adapting to a tricky surface – who played the better football.

Having come so close to scalping Rotherham in the FA Cup last week, Barrow stormed out of the blocks.

In the fourth minute, Boyes nicked the ball off Jamal Fyfield’s foot in the right channel and surged into the box. Rather than shoot from a wide position, he elected to cut back inside and that gave the City centre-half the chance to recover and redeem himself with a timely tackle.

Boyes went even closer four minutes later, his header from Gavin Skelton’s left-wing cross pointed back across Ingham and kissing the edge of a post.

The match was into double figures before City enjoyed any real possession but Matty Blair was lively and Scott Kerr became an increasingly important presence in the middle of the park – disrupting play and calmly distributing.

Even so, Ingham needed to be at his brilliant best to prevent Richie Baker giving the home side the lead on 18 minutes.

Twenty yards out, the midfielder curled a free-kick over the wall and, as it dipped towards the ’keeper’s top right corner, Ingham somehow got across to tip it over the bar.

City got more on the ball and, with Kerr pulling the strings, James Meredith twice got behind the Barrow back four but, despite looking ever more comfortable, it wasn’t until the start of the second half that York fashioned their first real chance.

It came almost straight from the kick-off, Chambers’ cross from the right falling to Walker 12 yards out, but Danny Hurst was equal to the header.

Back came Barrow, Andy Cook’s bullet shot from 25 yards leaving Ingham scrambling.

But City again imposed themselves and were aggrieved not to be in front on 64 minutes.

Blair’s high cross from the right was met by Walker and he planted a firm header goalwards.

Hurst got both hands up to parry away but the ball fell to Chambers who fired it back in. It struck defender Paul Smith on the line and deflected away with a box full of York players appealing he had cleared with his hands.

Referee Evans, stoking the controversy which would erupt later, waved away the protests.

Hurst then had to be at full flight to tip Walker’s 25-yard free kick over the bar and, from the resulting corner, the City marksman connected with Danny Pilkington’s cross on the edge of the box only to see it dribble to the grateful Barrow custodian.

York continued to search for the breakthrough and Chambers chipped a shot over the bar after Jon Challinor took a defender out of the game with a sideways run across the box.

Baker flashed one wide of the left hand post as regulation time wound down in a rare Barrow assault but, with six minutes of stoppage-time scheduled, there was still hope Mills’ men could find a way through.

Walker’s sending-off ended any chance of that and, when Boucaud was also dismissed, nine men City were happy the whistle went almost straight after.

Match facts

York City: Michael Ingham 7, Jon Challinor 7, Chris Smith 7, Jamal Fyfield 6, James Meredith 7, Andre Boucaud 7, Scott Kerr 8, Paddy McLaughlin 6, Matty Blair 7, Jason Walker 6, Ashley Chambers 7.

Subs: Danny Pilkington (for McLaughlin 59), 6; David McGurk (Smith 65), 6; Daniel Parslow (Chambers 90). Not used: Jamie Reed, Adriano Moké.

Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.

City’s star man: Scott Kerr – calm, assured and City’s best in possession. Cleverly found time and space.

Barrow: Danny Hurst, Phil Bolland, Danny Hone, Gavin Skelton, Paul Rutherford, Richie Baker, James Owen, Paul Smith, Jack Mackreth (Dominic Rowe 86), Andy Cook (Louis Almond 78), Adam Boyes. Subs not used: Shaun Pearson, Kelvin Lomax, Andy Ferrell.

Booked: Owen 90+1. Sent off: Walker 90+5, Boucaud 90+6.

Shots on target: Barrow 4, York 5.

Shots off target: Barrow 2, York 1.

Corners: Barrow 2, York 2.

Offsides: Barrow 0, York 4.

Fouls conceded: Barrow 11, York 15.

Referee: Karl Evans (Lancashire). Rating: Had handled things well until controversial handball decision. Stoppage time got out of hand.

Attendance: 2,190 (365 City fans).

Moment of the match: Ingham’s first half tip over the bar, at full-stretch, from Baker’s free-kick was first rate.

Head to head - Jason Walker v Adam Boyes

Billed as the match-up between the two prolific strikers – both turning out against their former clubs – neither got on the scoresheet.

Boyes started faster and might have done better with early chances but Walker grew into the game and was the greater threat in the second half.

The former Barrow player came deep to get the ball in the opening half, as he was well marshalled by Danny Hone, but clever movement after the break brought chances. The sending-off was not the way he would want to remember his return.