I took in a Blue Square Bet Premier match this weekend, travelling with some friends to watch my local team York City play Lincoln City at Sincil Bank.
A fixture that a few years ago would not have been out of place in the football league saw play-off chasing York travel to a Lincoln side sitting in the lower depths of the conference table. The home side are experiencing their first season in non-league since the 1987/88 campaign and despite being expected to be one of the promotion chasers have not delivered the success their fans crave.
The Minstermen made 5 changes from the side that drew at home to Mansfield on New Year’s Day; Chris Smith returned from suspension to replace the injured David McGurk, Jon Challinor replaced Lanre Oyebanjo at full back whilst Daniel Pilkington and Jamie Reed replaced Ashley Chambers and the departed Liam Henderson in the frontline. Scott Brown was handed a debut after signing from Fleetwood Town on Friday, he took the place of Andre Boucaud who could soon be heading to Fleetwood after The Cod Army placed a bid for the Trinidadian. Lincoln made two changes, Sam Smith replaced Jamie Taylor and new signing Karlton Watson replaced Richard Hinds who left the club during the week.
The first half was as poor as I have seen two professional clubs produce for a very long time with neither goalkeeper called into anything to strenuous. There were some signs that both sides could play football, Paddy McLaughlin curled a free kick just wide after a passing move from the visitors saw Matty Blair brought down on the edge of the box. For the hosts, Conal Platt and Sam Smith were linking well with the former hitting two shots wide of Michael Ingham's goal. Alan Power curled a shot from distance close but the majority of the half was fought in the central third of the pitch, debutant Brown, Scott Kerr and McLaughlin just shading the midfield battle against their Lincoln counterparts.
The second half immediately sparked excitement in the stands as York won a corner and looked to take a stranglehold of the game. McLaughlin fired over from another corner and Blair began to find more space between the Lincoln backline. It wasn't until the 64th minute though that the deadlock was finally broken, a ball into the box found Jamie Reed who turned sublimely (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt) before leaving the ball for Blair to fire a shot from 12 yards into the net. A few minutes later, the lead was almost doubled, Scott Brown's goal bound shot looked to be heading in before a deflection took it just wide. Sam Smith became the first player to be booked after a late challenge on York keeper Ingham before home boss David Holdsworth shuffled his pack, introducing Jamie Taylor and new recruit from Colwyn Bay, Danny Lloyd. Neither played had touched the ball when York doubled their advantage. Slick play down the right hand side gave Pilkington the chance to cut back onto his left foot from which he fired a fine cross onto the head of Blair who controlled a quality header into the net past Anyon in the Lincoln goal. John Nutter lived up to his name and was booked shortly after the goal before Holdsworth threw on his last substitute - former York striker Richard Pacquette. Christophe and Lloyd soon joined their teammates in the referee's book, Lloyd for diving although I do think Chris Smith caught the young winger. York by now were just playing out the final 10 minutes with a combination of passing football and solid defending. The home fans appeared in vain for two penalties for handball which on another day may have been given but even one of these to be awarded would have been undeserved. It took until stoppage time for Ingham to be tested, comfortably holding a shot from Power.
York are now up to 4th in the table although with other teams below them with games in hand, the chase for the playoffs could continue right up until the last day. The return of top-scorer Jason Walker in the next couple of weeks will be a welcome relief for City fans whilst Lincoln will continue to be looking at the teams below them rather than those above.
Hardly a dominant display by York but one that will please manager Gary Mills, if January passes without any of his main men departing (Boucaud apart) then I think York have the quality in the squad to represent a real threat in the playoffs at the end of the season.