STARTING problems don’t just dog the Grand National – they are proving troublesome at Bootham Crescent too.

As Aintree officials once more ran into ribbon bother on Saturday afternoon, York City fans watched their team make another far from silky start to their home clash with next month’s FA Trophy final opponents Newport County.

Falling behind to a fourth-minute Nat Jarvis header – the visitors’ first and last on-target effort of the afternoon – Gary Mills’ men required a Jason Walker equaliser after the interval to earn themselves a point.

Another first half without a goal meant the Minstermen have now managed to net only three times before the break in 17 league games since the turn of the year and not once in the last seven at home.

In stark contrast, Walker’s goal represented the 23rd City have mustered in second periods during that time.

The message is clear – if the Minstermen can start games how they finish them, then a play-off place, followed by promotion back to the Football League, is theirs for the taking.

Getting Walker back to his best might just hold the key to achieving that target.

After all, a fully-fit Walker was at the forefront of the whirlwind first-half performances that swept away the likes of fellow top-five hopefuls Wrexham and Luton earlier in the season.

His display against the Exiles was certainly the best since he claimed his last goal from open play back in October at Hayes & United.

That match also heralded the beginning of Walker’s injury problems, leading to 14 sporadic and tentative appearances prior to Saturday.

The old confidence seemed to flood back, however, ten minutes after his introduction against Newport when a typically audacious attempt clipped the outside of helpless ’keeper Karl Darlow’s post.

Moments later, he was back on the scoresheet after a cleverly-worked move with fellow substitute Ashley Chambers.

Ex-England youth international Chambers forged a potent partnership with Walker in the second half as Mills opted for a half-time switch to two central strikers as Lanre Oyebanjo and Matty Blair patrolled the flanks.

Chambers did what Mills must wish he would more regularly – ran directly at the visitors’ defence with pace and purpose at every available opportunity.

He also dropped deep to receive and retain possession constructively and with confidence.

The performances of Chambers and Walker certainly provided encouragement for any 4-4-2 disciples after a labouring Jamie Reed had struggled as the team’s lone central striker in the first half, especially against no-frills marker Ismail Yakubu, who was more interested in finding touch than a team-mate.

Reed strayed offside on the few occasions he breached a high defensive line that was later pushed further back by the twin threats of Chambers and Walker. It will be interesting to see whether a record of only one win in six league games at Bootham Crescent – and five points from a possible 18 – tempts Mills to employ the formation he finished with at the weekend from the start against Forest Green on the final day of the regulation season.

Much might depend on Walker’s readiness to lead the line in a 4-3-3 system as imperiously as he did during the first three months of the season.

In the opening 45 minutes on Saturday, City were also no match for a muscular Newport’s determination and channelled aggression in certain areas of the pitch, while a series of dreadful dead-ball deliveries by Danny Pilkington contributed to him being hauled off at half-time along with Reed.

Newport forged ahead when Adriano Moké conceded a soft free-kick wide on the left touchline.

Exiles captain Sam Foley then swung in a centre that Jarvis headed into Michael Ingham’s top left-hand corner from eight yards.

Moké responded by working the ball on to his right foot before testing Darlow from the edge of the box on 21 minutes and, after Jake Reid had headed wide at the opposite end, Blair also forced the on-loan Nottingham Forest ’keeper to tip over his 20-yard attempt.

At the start of the second period, City struggled to get out of their own half with the visitors winning a series of corners, but the tide turned after the ball sat up invitingly outside the penalty box for Walker following a Chambers lay-off and his excellently-weighted lob beat Darlow only to strike the outside of his right-hand upright.

Four minutes later, Walker displayed great awareness to hook the ball over his head and pick out Chambers’ run through the right channel into the penalty box.

The £60,000 summer signing went on to place himself in the perfect position to receive Chambers’ return pass and sidefooted clinically from ten yards inside the same post he had hit moments earlier.

City then went in search of the equaliser with Walker skewing wide from outside the area and Chambers causing a near-post scramble after attacking down the left flank.

Walker also missed the target with a glancing header and a 20-yard half-volley.

At the other end, Reid fired over Newport’s only shot of the second half before stretching home captain Chris Smith headed over an Oyebanjo corner.

Oyebanjo then drove across the face of goal after a smart back heel by Jon Challinor and a Paddy McLaughlin 25-yard attempt drifted wide.

The final opportunity again landed on Smith’s head in the third minute of stoppage time and, again, the City skipper could not hit the target from a Chambers cross.

Still, the solitary point meant the Minstermen can now win two and draw one of their final three fixtures to be certain of that all-important top-five finish.

A defeat would have left them still needing to win the lot.

Match facts

York City 1 (Walker 59), Newport County 1 (Jarvis 4)

York City: Michael Ingham 6, Lanre Oyebanjo 7, Chris Doig 7, Chris Smith 7, James Meredith 7, Adriano Moké 7, Daniel Parslow 7, Paddy McLaughlin 7, Matty Blair 7, Jamie Reed 5, Danny Pilkington 5.

Subs: Ashley Chambers 8 (for Moké, 37), Jon Challinor 7 (for Pilkington, 46), Jason Walker 8 (for Reed, 46). Not used: Tonne, Gibson.

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

Star man: Chambers – set a standard that he must now reproduce on a regular basis.

Newport: Karl Darlow, David Pipe, Ismail Yakubu, Andrew Hughes, Lee Baker (Wayne Hatswell, 83), Darryl Knights (Paul Rogers 76), Lee Minshull, Max Porter, Sam Foley, Jake Reid, Nat Jarvis (Elliott Buchanan, 81).

Subs (not used): Glyn Thompson, Jake Harris.

Booked: Minshull 7, McLaughlin 57, Baker 69, Darlow 90.

Shots on target: City 6 Newport 1.

Shots off target: City 9 Newport 2.

Corners: City 12 Newport 6.

Offsides: City 5 Newport 4.

Fouls conceded: City 6 Newport 12.

Referee: Richard Clark (Amble). Rating: communicated well and generally sensible in his decisions.

Attendance: 2,824 (119 away fans).

Decision of the match: The second-half pairing of Walker and Chambers in attack changed the game.

Move of the match: The second-half chance for Oyebanjo created after Challinor had back-heeled a precise Doig pass into his galloping stride.