YORK City boss Martin Gray insisted his team will still challenge for automatic promotion this season despite the gap to the top widening to 11 points.

The Minstermen fell further off the pace following a 3-2 defeat at second-placed Salford, who are ten points clear of Gray’s side with a game in hand.

Leaders Harrogate have also played one fixture fewer, while defeat at Moor Lane meant City even dropped out of the play-off positions.

Late goals by substitutes Louis Almond and Aidan Connolly proved insufficient after home skipper Liam Hogan had netted twice, either side of a first-half Jack Redshaw effort.

But a defiant Gray remained adamant that the Bootham Crescent outfit are still targeting the one spot that guarantees promotion from National League North, while stressing the need to now take maximum points from home games against Tamworth and Curzon Ashton on successive weekends.

“We’ve got to go on a run and get a winning mentality,” the ex-Darlington chief stressed. “You can’t push for championships when you win one, draw one and lose one, as we have just done.

“You’ve got to have consistency because there’s still a great chance to challenge for the title and we will challenge – there’s no question about that. There are more than 80 points to play for and we’re not halfway through the season.

“We’ve got to look to take six points from the next two matches now. That’s not me putting pressure on the players – that’s just the pressure you have to work under and we need to get back to keeping clean sheets by being solid, well-organised and focussed for 90 minutes.”

Having seen his side’s chances of victory disappear the previous weekend when Leamington snatched a point from a free kick and throw-in during the final minutes, Gray was once more left bemoaning the standard of the visitors’ defending from set-plays.

A free kick and two corners proved City’s undoing in Greater Manchester and Gray lamented: “We’ve conceded five goals in the last two games and they’ve all come from set-plays, which isn’t good enough.

“We worked so hard on the training ground and provided so much information regarding the opposition and it’s got to be better, because they only had two chances in the first half, but got two goals. All five goals have been down to individual errors and people not doing their jobs right, which leaves you with mountains to climb.

“We hit the woodwork three times and scored twice away from home, but you can’t defend like we did. We’re looking at what we need to improve on all the time and I think we should have had two wins and a draw from my first three games.

“We didn’t deserve to lose against Salford, but you can’t give teams a three-goal start, then finish as strongly as we did to try and get something out of the game. You’ve got to do the basics right.”

On-loan Leeds keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell might have done better with two of the goals, but Gray was in no mood to criticise the 20-year-old rookie afterwards, pointing out: “Between ourselves and Leeds, we will put our arm around the boy.

“It was only his third senior game and he will make mistakes. Players do and it’s all about how you react to them.”

Gray was pleased, meanwhile, by the responses from Almond and Connolly following their introductions, saying: “The subs had a great impact and scored two excellent goals.

“They went on and made a difference, which is exactly what you’re looking for them to do. It wasn’t just their goals – they looked nice and bright on the ball as well and got us back into the game.

“I expect players to give everything until the final whistle and that’s one thing you can guarantee from my teams - they won’t throw the towel in, because I won’t accept that.”

Almond came on for debutant James Gray just past the hour and, on the Torquay loan striker’s first match in City colours, Gray added: “He had a chance early in the game and took it early.

“After that, nothing quite dropped for him in the box, but he gave us lots of energy and he’ll hopefully get better.”

The likes of Kaine Felix and Jassem Sukar, meanwhile, were missing from the visitors’ bench with Gray explaining: “The squad is a bit stronger and we’re looking at what’s the right 16 now to put out there.”

Having also been left out of matchday squads under Gray, Sam Muggleton made his full Boston United debut in a 2-1 defeat at Curzon Ashton after joining the Lincolnshire outfit in a one-month-loan switch.

On that decision, the City boss reasoned: “He needs some game time. He’s not had many minutes since the start of the season and the move will allow him to kick on.”