AHEAD of Tamworth’s visit, York City boss Martin Gray hailed his squad’s attitude and hard work.

Speaking in his programme notes, the manager insisted the Minstermen would “get the benefits in the weeks to come.”

Unfortunately, for all that effort and belief, Gray hadn’t bargained on his side serving up a string of individual errors and gifting the Lambs all three points.

A lack of communication in defence for the first goal, Sean Newton’s misjudgement for the second, and David Ferguson’s sending off all contributed to a painful defeat for the boss - whose only crumb of comfort would have been seeing his side fight back from two goals down to draw level before a late sucker punch left them with nothing.

Gray made two changes for the clash – one enforced, with centre half Hamza Bencherif ruled out injured. Amari Morgan-Smith dropped to the bench, while Adriano Moke and Aidan Connolly were called into the starting XI.

New arrival Daniel Rowe, who only completed his move on Friday, began on the bench.

After a cagey opening, in blustery conditions, the David Longhurst Stand were incensed when visiting striker Reece Styche dived in late on home stopper Bailey Peacock-Farrell in front of them – receiving ‘only’ a caution for his reckless challenge. Both men received treatment before the action continued.

Moments later, Alex Whittle’s clever through-ball appeared to have set James Gray clear but the striker lashed his shot wide as the assistant referee’s flag went up.

City were grateful to Gray’s strike partner Jon Parkin in the 16th minute when the big frontman did superbly to clear - from the floor - Stephen Morley’s dangerous corner.

Tamworth almost shocked their hosts on the half hour when Ellis Deeney’s effort from distance cannoned off the City crossbar with Peacock-Farrell beaten.

It was a warning sign that the Minstermen didn’t heed and, in the 36th minute, a routine through-ball inexplicably found its way past the home defence, allowing Styche to wander forward unchallenged and slot home with alarming ease.

Even the goalscorer looked stunned by the simplicity of it all, as Bootham Crescent fell silent.

At the other end, Parkin and James Gray were feeding off straight balls pumped up to them, with little support from the midfield or wide areas.

A rare moment of attacking quality did come five minutes before the break, however, when Connolly popped up on the left flank and fed the overlapping Whittle – the latter’s cross-cum-shot flying wide of the far post.

The visitors’ confidence continued to grow, and that man Styche even had the cheek to try to catch out Peacock-Farrell from the halfway line, before the keeper recovered his ground.

Connolly threatened to bust clear in added time but was foiled by Tamworth’s determined defence as the first half closed to a chorus of boos from the home support.

City needed to start the second period on the front foot but instead were hit with another body blow just two minutes in. Newton misjudged an innocuous ball forward, and the grateful Styche lumbered through to confidently finish past Peacock-Farrell again.

It was woeful defending, and Christmas had come early for Styche and the visitors.

Manager Gray was understandably unhappy and wasted little time in ringing the changes, with Louis Almond replacing James Gray, and Rowe making his debut in place of Whittle.

The new boy slotted in at centre-half, allowing Newton to push into midfield.

That change almost paid instant dividends when Josh Law’s cross skimmed off the head of an unmarked Rowe ten yards from goal.

City did pull a goal back seconds later, though, with Newton the provider as his fine cross from the left gave Parkin the chance to control and poke the ball home from close range.

It wasn’t particularly pretty – but, with more than half an hour remaining, it was game on.

Styche was continuing to cause problems at the other end, and his far post cross needed heading out of play by Parslow to prevent Tamworth re-establishing their two-goal lead.

Pantomime villain Styche was subsequently replaced, with Bradley Reid entering the fray.

And the new arrival was a key figure in the game’s next big moment as he surged clear of the City backline before he was adjudged to have been hauled down by Ferguson in pursuit.

Referee Aaron Jackson was in no doubt, brandishing the red card immediately before Darryl Knights curled the resulting free-kick wide of the mark.

Down to ten men and a goal behind, City needed to dig deep.

And they did, with debutant Rowe levelling things up in the 69th minute after Parslow had nodded down Law’s deep cross from the right.

It was a dream start for Rowe, and City were screaming for a penalty moments later when fellow substitute Almond went down in the box. However, a free-kick to the visitors was the outcome and the unfortunate Almond was forced off with a shoulder injury sustained in the challenge, to be replaced by Morgan-Smith.

The game was wide open heading into the final quarter of an hour, with Andy Burns firing over for the away side and team-mate Regan Upton testing Peacock-Farrell with a 25-yarder.

Undeterred, City went in search of a winner, and they were screaming for a penalty again with four minutes remaining when Parkin’s drive was blocked by a diving Ben Fox. Once again their appeals were given short shrift by the man in the middle.

More home pressure followed and seconds later Morgan-Smith charged down an attempted clearance from Tamworth stopper Rowley but could only watch the ball bounce wide.

A City victory suddenly looked the most likely outcome as Tamworth retreated and the hosts poured forward in the closing stages.

However, the Minstermen were punished for their ambition with the ultimate sucker punch when the pacy Callum Powell scampered away down the Tamworth right flank and cut back a low cross for Knights to guide his finish past Peacock-Farrell via the foot of the post.

Six minutes of added time couldn’t save the home side – and the Lambs headed back to Staffordshire with all three points.

For City - who have dropped to ninth in the National North table – a first-class attitude and work ethic is one thing, but will only take them so far if the individual errors continue.