YORK City's miserable opening day record continued with a 2-1 home defeat to Cambridge United.

Following their relegation from the Football League in 2004, the Minstermen have now failed to kick off the last four seasons with three points and their cause was not helped on Saturday by a 55th-minute red card for debutant Stuart Elliott.

The former Newcastle midfielder was sent off for striking out at the lumbering Leo Fortune-West in an off-the-ball incident that also gifted Lee Boylan the opportunity to secure victory for the visitors from the penalty spot.

Boylan's goal marked the culmination of a disastrous five-minute second half spell for City, which saw Craig Farrell's first half penalty cancelled out by slack defending and indiscipline.

And it provided a physical Cambridge team, boasting the brute strength of Fortune-West, Mark Albrighton, Gavin Hoyte and Danny Brown, with a perfect start to their Blue Square Premier campaign.

Earlier, in an edgy first half, which smacked of opening day jitters, Cambridge's best two chances came courtesy of City mistakes.

On 13 minutes, a careless crossfield pass by Elliott was easily intercepted by Darren Quinton, who released Boylan for a low shot saved by Tom Evans at his near post.

The Minstermen's first shot of the new season saw Farrell rattle the underside of the crossbar from 20 yards after a cleverly-worked 19th-minute short corner with Martyn Woolford.

David McGurk then glanced a header wide from another Woolford corner before another lapse almost cost City at the other end of the pitch.

Normally reliable right-back Ben Purkiss was the culprit on this occasion, miscueing a clearance straight to winger Courtney Pitt, who raided down the left before delivering a cross that sailed over Evans but was headed wide by a stretching Fortune-West at the far post.

Moments later, ex-City midfielder Mark Convery's cross from the right bounced off the top of Evans' crossbar before the Minstermen forged ahead.

Woolford won possession from Michael Morrison and then drove for the byline before being brushed off balance by Daniel Gleeson.

Referee Jock Waugh pointed to the spot in front of a baying away end and Farrell sidefooted to Danny Potter's left while the Cambridge 'keeper dived in the opposition direction.

Cambridge captain Brown was then fortunate not to suffer the same fate awaiting Elliott after two late challenges on City skipper Manny Panther.

The first was deemed worthy of a yellow card but the second, arguably a worse offence, went unpunished.

Early in the second half, Farrell missed the target from a Panther cross before Cambridge levelled the scores on 51 minutes.

Former City midfielder and set-piece specialist Convery was the architect, aiming a corner at Albrighton, whose unchallenged downward header from the edge of the penalty box was fumbled by Evans, with defender Gavin Hoyte drilling in the loose ball from close range.

Four minutes later, Elliott received his marching orders and Cambridge took the lead when Boylan placed his spot kick to Evans' left.

Substitute Ross Greenwood proved a lively presence as City attempted to compensate for Elliott's loss and McGurk headed narrowly off target from a Woolford corner on 70 minutes.

But excellent opportunism from Boylan saw his volley from the edge of the box dip narrowly over Evans' crossbar.

A determined Panther went closest to an equaliser for City, sending a diving header wide from Purkiss' cross on 88 minutes after he had driven into the penalty box to finish a move he had begun.

Match facts

York City 1 (Farrell (pen) 38), Cambridge United 2 (Hoyte 51 Boylan (pen) 56)

York City: Tom Evans 5, Ben Purkiss 6, David McGurk 7, Carl Jones 7, Mark Robinson 6, Paul Brayson 6, Manny Panther 8, Stuart Elliott 4, Martyn Woolford 6, Craig Farrell 7, Chris Beardsley 7.

Substitutions: Greenwood (for Brayson 56) 7, Brodie (for Beardsley 62) 6, Sodje (for Farrell 62) 6.

Subs not used: Pentney, Hutchinson.

Key: 10 - Faultless; 9 - Outstanding; 8 - Excellent; 7 - Good; 6 - Average; 5 - Below par; 4 - Poor; 3 - Dud; 2 - Hopeless; 1 - Retire.

City's star man: Panther - made some excellent driving runs from midfield, even following Elliott's dismissal.

Cambridge: Danny Potter, Michael Morrison, Mark Albrighton, Gavin Hoyte (Mark Peters, 76), Daniel Gleeson, Mark Convery (Stephen Reed, 67), Danny Brown, Darren Quinton, Courtney Pitt (Stephen Smith, 72), Leo Fortune-West, Lee Boylan.

Subs not used: Scott Rendell, Luke McShane.

Yellow cards: Brown 39, Hoyte 45, Beardsley 45.

Red cards: Elliott 55.

Shots on target: City - 3 Cambridge - 4

Shots off target: City - 10 Cambridge - 2

Corners: City - 3 Cambridge - 1

Fouls: City - 9 Cambridge - 16

Offsides: City - 5 Cambridge - 4

Referee: Jock Waugh (Sheffield).

Rating: Showed first-half leniency towards Cambridge, but generally decisive.

Attendance: 3,136.

Mistake of the match: Elliott's alleged swipe at Fortune-West.

Shot of the match: Farrell's drive that crashed against the crossbar.

Move of the match: The late diving header by Panther following his surging run into the penalty box and a pinpoint cross from Purkiss.

City player watch: Centre-back Carl Jones

Shots on target: 0

Shots off target: 1

Passes to own player: 15

Passes to opposition: 2

Pass success rate: 88 per cent

Crosses to own player: 0

Crosses to opposition: 0

Dribbles, ball retained: 1

Dribbles, ball lost: 0

Free-kicks won: 1

Free-kicks conceded: 0

Headers: 12

Tackles: 0

Clearances, blocks and interceptions: 9

Offsides: 0

Bookings: 0

Final summary: An encouraging debut for City's new centre-back. Former Hartlepool man Jones looked composed on the ball and dealt well with the aerial threat posed by Leo Fortune-West.

His high pass completion rate suggests a player who can be relied on to play the ball simply out of the box.

The fact he wasn't called on to make a single tackle - but that he did make a number of important blocks and interceptions - reveals his good positional sense. Little he could do about Cambridge's first goal.

* Player watch stats by Steve Carroll