AN Englishman’s home might be his castle but York City have struggled to establish Bootham Crescent as a fortress in recent times.

Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to play-off rivals Southport means the Minstermen have now lost as many league matches in front of their own supporters during 2011/2 as they did during the previous two campaigns combined.

Following a fifth home reverse of the season, meanwhile, only 11 points from a possible 24 have been garnered by Gary Mills’ men from the last eight Blue Square Bet Premier matches at their North Yorkshire base.

For that reason, Mills will not be too concerned that six of his team’s remaining nine league fixtures are on the road, where his side have not lost since going down 3-2 at Gateshead in September.

It must also be remembered that Billy McEwan’s 2006/7 play-off semi-finalists secured a top-five place despite losing seven home fixtures and, in truth, City should have taken some reward from Saturday’s game.

’Keeper Michael Ingham did not get his gloves dirty other than when picking the ball out of his net twice, while FA Trophy hero Matty Blair squandered two excellent chances – one at the start of the match and one at the death – that should have resulted in Jamie Reed’s 84th-minute strike proving more than a mere consolation.

Southport snatched the points thanks to two clinical finishes by Andy Owens and Tony Gray in the space of five second-half minutes – the first goal coming after the unfortunate Blair had given the ball away in his own half.

Home boss Mills had started the match by springing a surprise when, despite numbering a surplus of midfielders at his disposal, he elected to play three defenders – James Meredith, Lanre Oyebanjo and Ben Gibson – in his engine room.

Meredith and Oyebanjo had operated there before and, after an uncertain start, Gibson grew into the anchorman role, vacated by the crocked Scott Kerr, but the Minstermen still failed to test visiting shot-stopper Tony McMillan until the 63rd minute.

Southport, this season’s surprise package, deserve some credit for that statistic with McMillan well protected by a five-man back line, led superbly by the imposing Earl Davis.

As the hosts enjoyed long spells of possession in the first half, the Sandgrounders defended their penalty box with remarkable resistance, blocking shots and clearing crosses on countless occasions.

Liam Watson’s men might even have forged ahead after only five minutes as well when lone central striker Owens, normally a left-back, lashed a great opportunity wide of Ingham’s near post.

Seconds later, Reed and Meredith combined to send Blair clear at the other end but he curled his shot wide of McMillan’s left-hand upright from eight yards, setting the tone for his profligate afternoon.

Karl Ledsham then sent a drive flashing across the face of City’s goal before the home team controlled the rest of the half without extending McMillan.

On 22 minutes, Reed did have the ball in the back of the net but his cheeky back-heeled effort from Blair’s left-wing cross into the six-yard box was ruled out by an offside flag – a decision that looked marginal to say the least.

Gibson also curled wide from 25 yards after a positive run but few other inroads were made with Reed often requiring further assistance against three imposing centre-backs.

In the second half, Ledsham found the side netting from a Gray free-kick on 51 minutes before Davis glanced a near-post header against the bar from Andy Parry’s corner.

Southport then took the lead on 65 minutes after Chambers’ 12-yard shot through a crowded penalty box had been parried by McMillan.

Blair gave the ball away on the right flank in his own half, allowing Gray to thread a pass through the left channel to Owens.

He then fired confidently across Ingham into the former Northern Ireland international’s bottom left-hand corner.

In response, Daniel Parslow headed wide from an Oyebanjo corner and Reed drove into the sidenetting from a narrow angle before Gray doubled the visitors’ advantage.

City were exposed on Southport’s right flank when Gibson, now at left-back following an injury to Jamal Fyfield, challenged for a ball close to the halfway line that left both him and the Merseysiders’ Russell Benjamin lying in a heap.

Referee Darren Handley decided the collision was not serious enough to stop the game, even though he would for a similar incident shortly afterwards.

Subsequently, Owens went on to find Gray, who cut inside from the right flank, past a stumbling Parslow, before beating Ingham with a low ten-yard shot into his bottom left-hand corner.

Again, as fans have come to expect from a team that are still yet to be defeated by more than a single-goal margin this season, City refused to surrender.

Reed’s low shot called McMillan into action on 78 minutes and substitutes Matthew Blinkhorn and Paddy McLaughlin both drove wide before the Minstermen reduced the deficit.

Turning swiftly on the edge of the penalty box, Reed beat McMillan with a thumping 20-yard effort into his bottom right-hand corner to claim his 12th goal of the season.

After sprinting down the left flank and exchanging passes with Reed, substitute Adriano Moké then teed up Blair perfectly in front of goal four minutes later.

But, with the whole of Bootham Crescent just waiting to see the net inevitably ripple, Blair sidefooted wide from five yards out.

Owens might then have claimed a flattering third goal for Southport but snatched at his shot with only Ingham to beat after a poor Parslow header.

He also shot wide from 40 yards with the City ’keeper off his line and out of his goal following a miskicked clearance.

The Minstermen now prepare for a 1,300-mile trek, covering a triumvirate of away games against Bath, Luton and Newport in the next eight days.

It will be a test of Mills’ sizeable 26-man squad as few at Bootham Crescent who witnessed the opening months of the season would have welcomed the absence of Kerr, Jason Walker and David McGurk, not to forget the departed Andre Boucaud, at this business end of the campaign.

Match facts

York City 1 (Reed 84), Southport 2 (Owens 65; Gray 69)

York City: Michael Ingham 6, Jon Challinor 7, Chris Smith 7, Daniel Parslow 6, Jamal Fyfield 6, Lanre Oyebanjo 6, Ben Gibson 6, James Meredith 6, Matty Blair 6, Jamie Reed 7, Ashley Chambers 6.

Subs: Adriano Moké 7 (for Fyfield, 56), Paddy McLaughlin (for Gibson, 78), Matthew Blinkhorn (for Chambers, 79). Not used: Brown, Doig.

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

Star man: Smith – another solid and determined display from the skipper.

Southport: Tony McMillan, James Smith, Steve Akrigg, Earl Davis, Simon Grand, Chris Lever, Russell Benjamin, Andy Parry, Tony Gray (Adam Carden, 80), Karl Ledsham, Andy Owens.

Subs not used: James Ellison, Matt Nemes, Darren Stephenson, Ross Farran.

Booked: None.

Shots on target: York 3, Southport 3.

Shots off target: York 11, Southport 6.

Corners: York 9, Southport 3.

Offsides: York 5, Southport 1.

Fouls conceded: York 8, Southport 9.

Referee: Darren Handley (Bolton).

Rating: questionable throughout and, at times, it was not clear whether he was paying attention.

Attendance: 3,465 (274 away fans).

Miss of the match: Either of Blair’s gilt-edged chances were contenders.

Finish of the match: Reed’s improvised back-heel that was surprisingly ruled offside.