This season has been one of relentless struggle for the Minstermen. As has been the case for long swathes of the campaign, their heads are peeking above the parapet, with only two points separating them from the relegation places. Having replaced Nigel Worthington in mid-October, Russ Wilcox has been stoical and assiduous in his attempts to galvanise the group and cherry-pick loan signings to bolster the squad, while operating under taut financial constraints imposed by no choice of the McGill family. The rhetoric from the City camp remains positive, yet with 11 games to go, do they have what it takes to withstand the downward pull of relegation?
The backbone of a team’s success, however lofty it aims, must be its home form. Not only have York been unable to make Bootham Crescent a fortress, they have lowered the drawbridge and raised the portcullis of the medieval city, allowing opposing teams to plunder points. They have collected a meagre 15 points at home this season, with even rock bottom Hartlepool able to manage 19. Their two wins on home soil, against Accrington Stanley on Boxing Day and Tranmere Rovers, stand in isolation among an abundance of draws, many of which York have come close to losing.
Their poor home form could be attributed to a number of factors. The Minstermen seem unable to express themselves in front of an expectant support, perhaps pressured by the yoke of having to take the game to the opposition and dominate proceedings. The lack of a consistent goalscorer for the vast majority of the campaign, has meant York have lacked an outlet up front and a hopeful target for chance creation. As soon as they showed sparks of life, Jake Hyde gained a suspension against Luton and Wes Fletcher, who went 18 games without scoring early in the season, pulled up with a hamstring injury at Wimbledon. Aside from this duo, experienced centre-back Keith Lowe is the team’s top scorer with five, encapsulating York’s malaise in front of goal.
City lack a pattern of attack at home, underpinned by a lack of quality and consistency in midfield. While captain Russell Penn has proved a regular fixture in the side, Tom Platt, Lewis Montrose, Luke Summerfield and now auxiliary midfielder Brad Halliday have all had protracted runs in central midfield. Whether incited by loss of form or injury, an inability to build up a partnership, a proper understanding, in such a vital area of the field has certainly cost City.
The deterioration of the pitch at Bootham Crescent has seriously hindered York in recent weeks. It has become incredibly uneven, particularly in the wide areas, and as the season has progressed, has begun to cut up as early as the first half of home games. Wilcox’s intent to implement a measured, passing style, after Worthington was latterly crucified for a long ball approach (only as results begun to go awry, mind), has been impeded by the poor quality of the pitch.
This is just another facet of a season of struggle that has sapped the confidence of the Minstermen. They have been unable to put a run of form together, and on only one occasion have they managed to win two games in a row, which came over the festive season with back-to-back victories over Accrington and Carlisle. City’s longest unbeaten run has stretched to just four games, an insufficiency in a relegation battle where consistency is king.
At the lowest moments, particularly the 2-0 home loss to Dagenham, the attitude of the team has been criticised. In adversity, a unified dressing room, and indeed club, is paramount, but supporters have seen fit to call into question whether some players are more fixated on the trappings of the career rather than survival in League 2. The eternal prognosis of the fan: do the players truly care as much as I do? The commitment of the likes of Keith Lowe, Femi Ilesanmi and Russell Penn has never been doubted. It has been down to York fans to theorise as to whether this is matched by certain other squad members.
Green shoots of recovery
All is by no means lost for the Minstermen, although wherever they end up in the league this will have been a wretched, miserable season. They have simply suffered from bad luck in a number of instances. They deserved to beat Burton at home, for example, until Adam McGurk sneaked in an unmerited, late equaliser. The recall of Diego De Girolamo, a sprightly young attacking midfielder on loan from Sheffield United, was out of their control.
The comprehensive win at Cambridge is a haunting display of York’s potential. They have a number of crucial, winnable games coming up against sides in and around them at the bottom of the table, with Carlisle, Cheltenham and Hartlepool still to visit the Crescent. York also have a healthy goal difference compared to fellow relegation candidates, which certainly counts in their favour.
There are a number of struggling teams in the fourth tier and there could easily be two teams who are worse than City come May. It will be tense and Wilcox’s tributes will be terse, but expect York City to remain a League Two club next season.