SHED Seven’s Chasing Rainbows welcomed York City’s players on to the Wembley pitch before yesterday’s Blue Square Premier play-off final.

But it was opponents Oxford United who walked off with the £700,000 pot of gold at the end of an agonising 90 minutes for the Minstermen.

Along with the financial windfall, U’s fans were left celebrating their return to the Football League after a four-year absence following last night’s 3-1 win.

Bradford City, not Barrow, now await Chris Wilder’s men in 2010/11.

City chief Martin Foyle, meanwhile, must try to lift his players for the club’s seventh successive season of non-League football after missing out on promotion in the cruellest possible manner.

Not one member of the squad should feel any shame in defeat, however, having restored pride to a club that stared semi-professional football firmly in the face last season.

The Minstermen were just unfortunate to encounter an Oxford team whose rediscovered belief, allied to their players’ unquestionable ability, proved too strong at the final hurdle.

When players of the ilk of John Grant and Franny Green cannot even merit a place on the bench of a Conference standard football club, it is a bit of a mystery as to how the U’s let automatic promotion slip through their fingers with Alfie Potter’s devastating cameo appearance as a substitute, though also illustrating the competition for places at the Kassam Stadium.

City were, admittedly, uncharacteristically nervous in defence and struggled to combat Oxford’s narrow three-man midfield or contain their opponents’ attacking triumvirate.

It is unlikely that if Foyle had matched the U’s 4-3-3 formation, however, the outcome would have been any different with Wilder’s team much more accustomed to that system than the Minstermen.

Chris Carruthers, playing against his former team, forced the game’s first save when his hopeful 30-yard effort zipped off the wet surface and caused a surprised Ryan Clarke to push the ball over his crossbar.

At the other end of the pitch, Michael Ingham charged out to the edge of his box to smother at Matt Green’s feet.

Michael Rankine strained every neck muscle to try to reach an Alex Lawless cross on 12 minutes and Carruthers fired at Clarke from distance once more before Oxford broke the deadlock on 15 minutes.

City ’keeper Ingham was again lured off his line by a long punt forward but, on this occasion, Constable beat him to the ball 15 yards from goal, hooking over his shoulder.

Jack Midson then outjumped James Meredith in an aerial challenge and Green produced an impressive finish to fire over covering defender David McGurk into the roof of the net.

City came back in spirited fashion with Mark Creighton heading over his own bar under pressure from Richard Brodie after Rankine had flicked on Purkiss’ long throw.

Graham also headed narrowly wide from Carruthers’ corner.

But another untidy goal saw the 1986 League Cup winners double their advantage.

Oxford’s 29-goal top scorer Constable has been well policed by City in the past.

In fact, fittingly, for a former knickers factory employee, his goalscoring record against the Minstermen has been pretty pants.

But, having fired blanks in his past five meetings with the Bootham Crescent club, he made no mistake when the ball fell rather fortuitously to his feet on 21 minutes.

Constable had initially done well to win a header in the final third of the pitch but, there was an element of fortune when the ball struck Meredith in the face as Green tried to retain possession.

The unfortunate deflection gifted Constable with a great chance that he fired firmly past an exposed Ingham from 12 yards.

City were then rocking for a period with Ingham pushing a low Green drive around his near post and an unchallenged Midson heading against the opposite upright when meeting Adam Chapman’s corner.

The Minstermen were handed a lifeline, though, in the 42nd minute when Clarke let a right-wing Purkiss cross slip through his fingers from under his own crossbar and bounce over the line off his nose.

In the second half, with Lawless drawn inside more to assist Neil Barrett and Levi Mackin in the middle of the park, Oxford had a little less space and time in possession and withdrew deeper as Constable cut an increasingly isolated figure up front until the introductions of substitutes Potter and Sam Deering.

Rankine missed an excellent chance to level the scores on 54 minutes when he fired wide from ten yards with his left foot after the ball had ricocheted to him off Jake Wright.

City’s 37-goal top scorer Brodie, well shackled by the U’s defence, then called Clarke into action at his near post but Ingham needed to make a diving save from Simon Clist as Oxford threatened on the counter.

On 71 minutes, Lawless dragged a 30-yard effort across the face of goal before he was involved in a clever one-touch passing move, along with substitute Michael Gash and Barrett, that saw the latter push a disappointing shot wide with the outside of his right boot.

Courtney Pitt, on for Carruthers, saw a header kept out by Clarke at his near post after Gash had fed an overlapping Purkiss down the right flank.

Another sliced edge-of-the-box attempt by Lawless also drifted wide before Foyle threw on French centre-back Djoumin Sangare as an emergency striker.

Sadly, Sangare did not have an opportunity to demonstrate his aerial threat in the Oxford penalty box with City limited to long-range shots from Mackin (twice) and Pitt before Oxford added a third goal.

Constable had fired wastefully over after being set up following a terrific 85th-minute burst by Potter.

But, in the first minute of stoppage time, another break saw last man Lawless outnumbered three to one as Potter exchanged passes with Deering before shooting past a helpless Ingham from ten yards.

City’s players and fans were highly dignified in defeat but the gut-wrenching disappointment is unlikely to have subsided overnight or, indeed, get any easier during coming weeks.

Match facts

York City 1 Clarke og 42,
Oxford United 3 Green 15; Constable 21; Potter 90+1

Referee: Michael Naylor (Sheffield)

Attendance: 38,957

York City

Michael Ingham 6: Struggled to come to terms with greasy surface early on

Ben Purkiss 7: Crossing got increasingly better throughout the game

Luke Graham 6: Troubled by movement of Oxford’s front three at times, but gave 100%

David McGurk 7: Stayed calm despite the setback of two first-half goals

James Meredith 6: Unfortunate for Oxford’s first two goals and struggled to join in attacks

Alex Lawless 6: Tough job in the inside-right position. Will be disappointed by his shooting

Levi Mackin 6: Overrun during early periods, but improved in the second half

Neil Barrett 6: City’s workhorse looked a little jaded and fluffed his second-half chance

Chris Carruthers 6: Operated efficiently down the left without really hurting his old team

Richard Brodie 6: Marshalled well by Oxford and barely afforded a sniff of goal

Michael Rankine 6: Frustrating day at the office for City’s wholehearted striker

Michael Gash 7 – retained possession well after coming off the bench (for Rankine, 70)
Courtney Pitt (for Carruthers, 74)
Djoumin Sangare (for Barrett, 81)
Subs not used): Josh Mimms, Daniel Parslow

Star man: Purkiss – looked the side’s best attacking outlet pressing down the right flank

Bookings: Lawless 33

Match analysis

Shot of the match: Constable’s finish for Oxford’s second goal could not have been more clinical.

Miss of the match: Rankine’s failure to hit target early in the second half.

Move of the match: The one-touch football between Gash, Lawless and Barrett on 73 minutes. Unfortunately the latter’s finish was wayward.

Shots on target: York 4, Oxford 7

Shots off target: York 9, Oxford 3

Corners: York 7, Oxford 4

Fouls conceded: York 10, Oxford 6

Offsides: York 2, Oxford 1

Oxford United

Ryan Clarke 6: Poor mistake gave City a lifeline, but handled well after the break

Damian Butt 8: Made several powerful raids down the right from the first whistle

Mark Creighton 8: Uncompromising presence at the back and won his aerial battles

Jake Wright 8: Was fairly untroubled and swept up well

Anthony Tonkin 7: Strong defensively while not attacking with his usual eagerness

Dannie Bulman 7: Tidy in possession and industrious

Adam Chapman 9: Rarely wasted a pass and pulled the strings from the middle of the park

Simon Clist 7: Always an option for his team-mates and reliable on the ball

Matt Green 8: Great finish for first goal and lively presence in final third of the pitch

James Constable 8: Demonstrated his clinical streak with Oxford’s second goal

Jack Midson 8: Ran himself into the ground during an unselfish shift

Substitutions: Alfie Potter 8 – mesmeric running capped by the third goal (for Green, 69), Sam Deering (for Jack Midson, 79), Rhys Day (for Chapman, 87). Subs not used): Billy Turley, Kevin Sandwith.

Bookings: None.