YORK City's Wembley play-off final dream died at Morecambe last night after a defence that had not conceded a goal in more than seven hours of football shipped two in seven minutes.

Three successive clean sheets were crucial in the Minstermen's crusade for a top-five place during the last three matches of the regulation season.

A further shut-out in Friday night's first leg at KitKat Crescent gave City fans the genuine hope, considering the team's unsurpassed away form, of making only their second appearance at the home of English football and becoming one of the first teams to run out at the newly-modernised stadium.

Steve Bowey's 20th-minute penalty made that tantalising prospect an even more realistic proposition and City went on to play controlled football until the game's turning point on the stroke of half-time.

Left-back Craig James, who endured an unsure performance before being withdrawn early in the second half, was penalised for climbing on the back of Morecambe winger Paul Lloyd.

Adam Yates then swung in a free kick from the right which tempted Tom Evans off his line.

Crucially, though, Evans decided he would not reach Yates' centre and, after Wayne Curtis headed towards an unguarded goal, the stranded City 'keeper could not scramble back in time to prevent a careless equaliser.

Two minutes into the second period, Morecambe were level after more neglectful defending from the visitors.

Curtis was, unusually, afforded three direct shots from the same position roughly eight yards from Evans' goal.

Evans stood tall at his near post to block Curtis' first two attempts but, instead of closing down any of the burly winger's efforts, City's defenders retreated.

After failing to beat Evans with power, Curtis went for the deft approach with his third chance and lofted the ball over the heads of City's covering players.

It was a finish not dissimilar to George Best's much-repeated FA Cup effort against Northampton in its execution, however unlikely that comparison might seem, but Curtis should not have been given the opportunity to showcase the less-heralded, subtle side to his game.

City were never going to find an avenue back into the match easy from that point against a defence led by uncompromising pair Jim Bentley and Chris Blackburn and in front of a home crowd lifted by the visitors' generosity.

The Minstermen plugged away with manager Billy McEwan sending on Mark Convery and Richard Brodie for attacking inspiration but his side, for once, fell short.

Clayton Donaldson and Craig Farrell both struggled to make a second-half impact and exciting youngster Martyn Woolford made few inroads down the flanks.

James sent a long-range effort wide before being replaced, Convery narrowly missed with a curling 20-yard chance on the hour and a tame Neal Bishop shot, comfortably saved by substitute keeper Scott Davies, proved City's only on-target attempt other than Bowey's penalty.

Davies' first touch of the ball, other than grabbing it off the penalty spot in a piece of gamesmanship that earned him a yellow card, came when he recovered it from the back of his net following Bowey's successful conversion.

First-choice Steven Drench had earlier been stretchered off after clattering into Donaldson 15 yards from his goalline.

Skipper Manny Panther had sidestepped a Craig Stanley challenge in his own half before striding forward and delivering a through ball over the home defence that invited a 50-50 challenge.

Donaldson's pace ensured he reached the ball ahead of defender Chris Blackburn but, after nudging it around Drench with his head, the Morecambe 'keeper's momentum saw him collide sideways into the Hibernian-bound City striker.

Referee Roger East immediately pointed to the spot but with the ball seemingly bouncing away from goal - and probably beyond Donaldson's control - decided a yellow card for the badly-injured Drench was sufficient punishment.

Bowey, who assumed spot-kick duties with Donaldson still groggy, kept his cool in exemplary fashion - his confident run-up followed by a decisive side-footed finish into the opposite corner as Davies dived to his left.

Sadly, for City, their joy was shortlived and, instead of heading for Wembley, Woking, Droylsden and Histon now beckon when the new season kicks off in three months' time.

Match facts

Morecambe 2 (Curtis 40, 48)

York City 1 (Bowie, 20 pen)

City ratings

Key: 10 - Faultless; 9 - Outstanding; 8 - Excellent; 7 - Good; 6 - Average; 5 - Below par; 4 - Poor; 3 - Dud; 2 - Hopeless; 1 - Retire Evans 6
Lloyd 6
Parslow 8
McGurk 8
James 6 (Peat 53m, 7)
Bishop 6
Panther 8
Woolford 6
Bowey 6 (Convery 65m 6)
Farrell 6
Donaldson 6 (Brodie 77m)
Subs (not used): Gamble, Greenwood

Star man: Panther - worked tirelessly in his team's cause and never shirked his responsibility.

Morecambe: Steven Drench (Scott Davies, 19), Adam Yates, Jim Bentley, Chris Blackburn, Danny Adams, Paul Lloyd (Garry Hunter, 66), Craig Stanley, Neil Sorvel, Wayne Curtis (David McNiven, 78), Michael Twiss, Danny Carlton. Subs not used: Michael Howard, Ged Brannan.

Bookings: Drench 19, Davies 20, Curtis 43, Twiss 49, McGurk 64, Stanley 90.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire). Rating: Generally efficient and probably got the biggest decision of the match correct when City were awarded a penalty.

Attendance: 5,567

Weather watch: Drizzle and swirling wind.

Game breaker: It's an old cliche but it's never a good time to concede a goal on the stroke of half-time.

Match rating: A tense contest with so little between the two teams. The outcome boiled down to which side made the fewest mistakes.

Billy's verdict: "The boys are all extremely disappointed but in the cold light of day we will look back on a fantastic season."

Player watch: Neal Bishop

Goal attempts on target: 1
Goal attempts off target: 0
Blocked shots: 0
Passes to own player: 14
Passes to opposition: 8
Pass success rate: 63.6 per cent
Crosses to own player: 1
Crosses to opposition: 20
Cross success rate: 33 per cent
Dribbles ball retained: 0 Dribbles ball lost: 1
Dribble success rate: 0 per cent
Headers: 9 Tackles: 6
Clearances, blocks and interceptions: 2
Free-kicks won: 2
Free-kicks conceded: 2
Offsides: 0
Bookings: None

Final summary: Like several players in City's side, Bishop struggled to meet his usual high standards. The midfield anchor man was less involved than is the norm but he did manage the visitors' only on-target attempt other than the penalty although substitute keeper Scott Davies was unduly troubled by his 20-yard effort.