FORMER York City midfielder Lee Bullock has revealed that his old club’s highly-rated teenage keeper Ryan Whitley is responding well to a “baptism of fire” at Whitby Town.

Whitley, who only turned 18 at the end of October, has been attracting interest for several years as he progressed through the academy ranks at Bootham Crescent, attending trials with Manchester City and earning invitations to England youth training camps.

Despite the Minstermen fielding four different net-minders this term, however, he is yet to get a first-team chance at the club he has supported from the Main Stand since being a young boy.

Instead, he has dropped down a level to play for Whitby in the Evo-Stik Northern League premier division in the midst of the Seasiders’ longest-ever run without a win, currently standing at 12 games.

But Bullock, who is assistant manager to Chris Hardy at the coastal club, has been impressed with how rookie Whitley has handled that scenario.

The former Archbishop Holgate pupil kept a clean sheet on his senior debut – a 0-0 draw with Stafford Rangers – whilst he has only been beaten three times in two more outings during narrow defeats to Nantwich (1-0) and Witton Albion (2-1).

Whitley has since missed the last two games due to a thigh injury, but is expected to recover in time to reclaim the gloves for this afternoon’s home clash with Coalville.

On the ex-Fulford junior shot-stopper’s contribution to Whitby’s cause, fellow former City youth-team graduate Bullock said: “He looks a really good prospect and he’s a nice, level-headed lad.

“He’s gone straight in amongst the men in our dressing room and had a really good debut. He kept a clean sheet and got a round of applause from all the lads after the game, because he played really well.

“That performance got him settled in straight away and he looks very assured and has made some good saves since too. He comes for crosses and you get peppered with them quite a lot at this level, so that has been a real baptism of fire for him.

“Teams have seen he’s a young keeper and believe they can target him with balls into the box and he’s come for them all. Even when he’s missed the odd one, that’s not stopped him coming and getting the next one.

“He’s a confident lad and it’s just unfortunate for him that he’s come to us at a really difficult time when we’re struggling. That’s been nothing to do with him, because he’s set a good standard for himself and he’s deserved a win or two.

“Our keeper coach has been very impressed with him. When people from professional clubs come into our dressing room, the lads just want to see them work hard and he’s done that, which means the other players have taken to him immediately.”

Bullock, now 36, spent two spells at Bootham Crescent – the last was shortlived and ended in 2013, while the first coincided with the emergence of another young keeper, who has since gone on to play in the Premier League, Europa League and won an England call-up under then manager Fabio Capello.

Despite Bullock admitting that he would have never foreseen David Stockdale’s meteoric rise in the game - he was even released by former City chief Billy McEwan – the Whitby coach feels Birmingham City’s current number one can be held as a role model for Whitley, as he looks to fulfil the potential others have seen in him.

“Ryan will stand out at youth level, because he’s a big, strong lad and, if he keeps his attitude right, he has a great chance of having a good career,” Bullock reasoned. “Then, if you get 100 games behind you, you can start enjoying the rewards of being a footballer, but that only comes if you keep working hard and I know Martin (Gray) will make sure he does.

“I’ve probably not seen enough of Ryan yet to make big predictions about his future but, even though Stocky was a few years younger than me at York, if you’d have told me then what he would go on and do in the game, I’d have never guessed that. He’s had an outstanding career and is a great example for somebody like Ryan of what can happen if you work hard and take the chances that come your way.

“The rewards can become bigger and better then, as Stocky has shown with the career and lifestyle he is enjoying.”

Bullock also believes that in his former team-mate Adam Bartlett and City academy keeper coach Andy Collett, the right mentors are in place to guide Whitley during these vital formative years.

“Ryan’s still very young, but he can learn a lot off Barts,” Bullock declared. “He’s a really good keeper at pro level, never mind where York are now.

“I played with him for a short while at Gateshead and he distributes the ball really well and is a good shot-stopper. I know Colly seems to have taken him under his wing too and he’s a good, experienced coach so, if he listens to them, I’m sure York will have a very good keeper between their sticks in the future, or somebody who can move on for decent money like Ryan Edmondson has just done going to Leeds.”

Along with Whitley, Connor Smith was also taken on loan by Whitby, having been on the fringes at Bootham Crescent and, as Bullock enjoys a close working relationship with City chief Gray, there could be further movement between the two clubs in the future.

“I played against Martin with York a few times when he was at Darlington and, being a fellow north-east lad in football, we speak a couple of times a week,” Bullock revealed. “We’ve taken players off him from Darlington and York and I spoke to him as recently as Thursday at 7.30am.

“In the situation we are in, it’s a hard location to attract players at our level. We haven’t got too much money and players don’t like the travelling involved, when they can play in the Northern League and be back home at 6.30pm, so it’s great if we can get players in from the likes of York and Hartlepool, but we also realise that not all young players are suited to the situation we’re in now where we’re battling for our lives and we don’t want to ruin them.

“With Ryan, though, regardless of our precarious situation, he just seems keen to impress, which he has done. We sold our keeper (Shane Bland) to Spennymoor because we couldn’t stand in his way and, what happens next, probably depends on what Martin and Colly thinks is right for Ryan.

“If he stays with us longer or goes back to York, I’m sure he’ll look back on this first taste of men’s football as being really valuable in terms of appreciating that every point means a lot.”

Sean Newton, meanwhile, has moved up to second in The Press Player of the Year standings after winning our man-of-the-match award for the 2-1 defeat at Boston.

The City skipper picked up three points for that accolade, moving him ahead of Josh Law and seven behind Jon Parkin at the top of the leaderboard.

Adriano Moke (two) and Adam Bartlett (one) were also recognised for their efforts as The Press’ second and third-highest rated performers respectively at York Street.

Debutant Jonny Burn received the most votes from out Twitter man-of-the-match poll to earn the two bonus points available in that contest.

The Press Player of the Year standings: Parkin 22, Newton 15, Law 13, Connolly 10, Parslow 10, Worsnop 10, Almond 9, Bencherif 9, Whittle 9, Heslop 6, Morgan-Smith 6, Moke 5, Bartlett 3, Rankine 3, Rowe 3, Ferguson 2, Martin 2, Smith 1.

The Press Player of the Month standings for December: Newton 3, Burn 2, Moke 2, Bartlett 1.

Goals: Parkin 16, Newton 4, Heslop 3, Morgan-Smith 3, Almond 2, Connolly 2, Parslow 2, Rankine 2, Felix 1, Ferguson 1, Law 1, Martin 1, Moke 1, Own Goal 1, Rowe 1.

Assists: Almond 7, Newton 6, Parslow 5, Morgan-Smith 4, Parkin 4, Martin 3, Whittle 3, Connolly 2, Gray 2, Felix 1, Heslop 1, Moke 1, Peacock-Farrell 1, Worsnop 1.

Bad boys: Bencherif, Heslop both one red card, two yellow; Newton three yellow; Rowe, Wharton, Worsnop all two yellow; Ferguson one red; Gray, Law, Smith, Whittle all one yellow.