1 Professional status has counted for little

The 5-0 away victory at Bradford Park Avenue on the second Saturday of the season appeared to expose the benefits of a full pre-season’s summer training when compared to the preparations possible for the Minstermen’s part-time counterparts at National League North level. That disparity in fitness levels has rarely been evidenced since, though, with the division’s supposed lesser lights quickly catching up in that respect during a packed early programme of fixtures.

City must now justify their full-time status during coming months and capitalise on that extra time they are afforded on the training pitch in other ways as, in theory, there should be greater opportunity to assess their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and work on a relevant game plan. Set-pieces and team shape should also be more polished for those teams able to dedicate more hours to such important aspects of the game.

The results and performances of Brackley, Blyth, Spennymoor, Bradford Park Avenue and Chorley – all currently above the Minstermen as the campaign reaches its midway point – have posed an interesting dilemma for the club, however, should the unthinkable happen and another season of sixth-tier football follows this term. It is, without question, a real privilege for players to be receiving a full-time wage plying their trade this low down in the football pyramid and the achievements of the afore-mentioned outfits suggest you might be better served seeking the best semi-professional players with jobs outside the game, rather than professionals prepared to drop to this level.

If City did go down that route in 2018/19, it is to be hoped any such switch would be temporary and reversed once promotion was achieved. Also, ideally, that decision would be restricted to the first-team staff and other areas of the club would remain unaffected, including the academy, whose value has been witnessed in recent times with the likes of Ben Godfrey, Ryan Edmondson and Gaby McGill all helping provide some financial relief following their transfers to bigger clubs.

York Press: EYES ON THE PRIZE: Vadaine Oliver (pictured left at Macclesfield) is The Press Player of the Month for March

2 Vadaine Oliver has been missed

City retained the majority of the squad that almost preserved National League status by producing top-ten form after the turn of the year. There was one notable departure, however, as former Sheffield Wednesday reserve Oliver secured a move back into the Football League with Morecambe.

Few people could have anticipated the impact Oliver would make following his return from an unspectacular loan spell with Notts County in the New Year, given the poor form he had also demonstrated as the Minstermen departed the Football League without any semblance of a fight. But, after subsequently finding the net ten times, Oliver offered a vital secondary goal source to complement the prolific efforts of Jon Parkin.

Of the other recognised centre-forwards to be fielded by City this season, Amari Morgan-Smith (three), Michael Rankine (two), Gary Martin (one) and James Gray (none) have contributed just six goals in 41 collective appearances during 2017/18. Behind 16-goal Parkin, midfielder Sean Newton is second in the club’s scoring charts on four and he has not hit the target in the league since the end of August. Whilst a run of 13 games without a clean sheet has understandably placed the team’s defence under much scrutiny – the team’s goals-against record (seventh best in the division) is statistically better than the goals-for tally (eighth best).

Oliver’s ability to unsettle defences with willing runs anticipating Parkin’s knock downs now needs to be replicated by somebody from within the squad or from the outside if the team are to find the firepower needed to regularly finish teams off and relieve some of the burden on their veteran talisman, who turns 36 at the end of this month.

York Press:

3 The club’s record against lower-placed teams continues to prove costly

In the final analysis, dropping eight points against the three teams that finished below them in the National League standings played a key role in the Minstermen’s relegation to English football’s sixth tier back in April. Defeats against the division’s bottom-two whipping boys Southport (0-2) and North Ferriby (0-1) were of particular significance, given the pair would both end the campaign 12 points adrift of safety.

Conversely, a Lincoln team, currently looking good bets for promotion to League One, were seen off in the FA Trophy semi-finals despite being desperate to reach Wembley for the first-ever time and held at Sincil Bank in a league which they never looked like being usurped at the top. Frustratingly, a similar pattern has emerged this term.

With just one win from half-a-dozen contests against teams currently occupying the bottom-seven positions in National League North, no other club above 16th has a worse record against those lowest-placed strugglers. Only seven points have been collected by the Minstermen during those fixtures while Stockport – just one spot higher in the overall standings – have won five and drawn two of their games against the same opponents to collect a total of 17 points.

Less-fancied clubs such as Brackley (six wins from six and just two goals conceded) and Blyth (six wins from seven) have laid the foundations for their surprise onslaught on the higher reaches of the table by their ability to despatch the division’s weaker sides with ruthless and reliable efficiency. From the top-ten teams, meanwhile, only runaway champions elect Salford (25) have taken more points than City (16) in games between sides from that group of clubs, of which the latter currently sit bottom of the pile when overall results are totted up.

The victory over Salford in the FA Cup, along with a 3-2 away defeat in the league, suggest City could be, as the pre-season bookmakers’ odds suggested, a lot closer to the Manchester team than the 21-point gulf that currently separates the pair. Until a solution is found, however, to counter the well-established trend of throwing points away where gains should be made, that gap will continue to widen.

York Press: New York City manager Martin Gray. Picture: FRANK DWYER

4 Martin Gray needs to make his presence felt in coming weeks

The transition period that saw Gary Mills implement the changes he felt were needed to address the “mess” he was quoted as having inherited from previous boss Jackie McNamara would see the club slip into a relegation dogfight that, ultimately, they could not recover from. Ten league games passed, with five points taken from a possible 30, before Mills secured a 1-0 victory at North Ferriby on Boxing Day.

On succeeding Mills at the start of October, Martin Gray did not hint at the kind of wholesale surgery to the squad that was deemed necessary on the former’s return to Bootham Crescent but, after starting his City managerial career with an encouraging 2-1 triumph over Brackley, only two more league games have been won from the seven subsequent contests. With Gray having now made nine signings – David Ferguson, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, James Gray, Daniel Rowe, Gary Martin, Adam Bartlett, Jonny Burn, Tyler Walton and Sean McAllister – it would suggest that the ex-Darlington chief did feel bigger changes were necessary once he got to work at Bootham Crescent.

This latest acclimatisation period has seen the hopes Gray had of still achieving automatic promotion fade, probably along with any aspirations towards the second and third-place finishes that offer play-off advantages. City’s chief has accepted that results still need to be racked up, whilst he decides on the correct playing style and personnel to move the club forward.

Currently, his points-per-game ratio of 1.375 (11 points from eight games) is lower than the 1.5 (18 from 12) that led to Mills’ dismissal and improvements in that respect will now need to be witnessed, with his predecessor having also taken a two-month period to reverse the club’s fortunes last term. While the bedding-in process has not been as successful as Gray would have liked himself and has not been ideal from a club perspective, the change to the new seven-team, play-off format does make such a spell more easily absorbed and less damaging than it was during the battle to stay up last season.

York Press:

5 The wish for a 1-0 win is justifiable

It might not be exciting, but Gray’s desire for a 1-0 victory is totally understandable. Salford continue to set a pace that nobody can match at the top of the National League North standings and have done so by enjoying that most slender of scorelines on five different occasions.

A total of 36 goals means five teams have outscored the Lancashire outfit this term, but a tally of four shut-outs in their last five fixtures has proven, beyond question, how advantageous having a water-tight defence has been during a campaign where the likes of Harrogate (50) and Blyth Spartans (46) have hit that target in a much more prolific manner. Thirty-nine league games have now passed since that last single-goal victory at a festive Ferriby and the Minstermen must soon show their potential to grind out such results in the second half of this campaign.