If you, as a football fan, recognise the shortcomings of 4-4-2 (the system, not the magazine), then that leaves you a few genes short of being a ‘proper bloke’ and certainly unpatriotic in the extreme. Here, we welcome back John Dobson, a regular chronicler of Yorkshire football, to point out how fan pressure must not be allowed to hold sway at Bootham Crescent.
Things are not going well at York City. After a couple of heavy defeats, a draw at home to erstwhile league leaders Gillingham – and a crucial clean sheet to boot – was a vast improvement. Indeed, that point would have looked pretty good if it had been backed up a few days later with all three against Barnet, one of a decreasing number of clubs below City in the table.
Oh dear. Defeat to Barnet extends a winless run to eight games and with three of the clubs below City picking points up at the weekend, things are getting a bit nervy. Having worked so long and hard to get back into the Football League, it would be a bit of a disaster to go straight back down.
In the stands and on the message boards, the mood is shifting. What was once a noisy minority now seem to have reached consensus that there’s a desire to change either The Plan, the manager or, preferably, both. The demands are for a shift to that scoundrel’s refuge that is 4-4-2 and a big lad up front. The current manager, Gary Mills, speaking to the local press, said that he retained faith in his favoured 4-3-3 system and that if the chairman wants a 4-4-2 manager then he’d best look elsewhere.
Good for him. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with going three up front. That is not the reason for the winless run and the accompanying slide down the table. City have been struggling to create chances, giving the front players little to work with. Moreover, two of the main strike weapons – Ashley Chambers and Michael Coulson – have been long-term absentees while last year’s star man, Matty Blair, has struggled to replicate his form in his first tilt at league football.
As a consequence of this, goals against hurt even more. The full-backs have been pushed back, blunting the attacking intent which is so vital to provide width. But that’s as nothing to the sloppy, individual errors which have blighted recent performances.
In losing 4-1 to Morecambe at Bootham Crescent, City looked pretty good for large periods. With quarter of an hour to go, it was still 1-1 with the two sides largely cancelling each other out – York pressing and Morecambe happy to soak it up and play on the counter. One of those counter-attacks should have been dealt with by goalkeeper Michael Ingham who came out of his goal to attempt the clearance. Attempt, but miss. 2-1.
City launched everything forward to rescue something, but were picked off twice late on which made it look a heck of a lot worse than it was. Against Barnet, Mills was left bemoaning a basic lack of respect for possession as the winner came from a City throw-in. That’s not the fault of 4-3-3 or the coaching. Since Mills arrived, possession and passing have been the watchwords.
It may be easy enough to say after a win, but Edgar Davids had plenty of praise for City’s approach in that Barnet game, saying “I … like the way they play football. More teams should do that in League Two”. That’s something that should echo throughout English football. Someone who has tasted success at the very highest level should be listened to. If you get everyone playing good, technical football, at every level and every age group, ultimately the better it would be for the national team. Instead, if things aren’t going precisely to plan, revert to 4-4-2 and a big man up front.
Since when was 4-4-2 such a panacea anyway? When City were relegated out of the football league, they played 4-4-2. Was that the fault of the system? Of course it wasn’t. It’s the same when anyone concedes a goal while marking zonally. Suddenly it all becomes the fault of the system – probably imported here by nasty foreigners – with no credence placed on the system when goals are conceded by a team marking man-for-man. It’s naive thinking which stifles innovation and paints a revisionist version of history in rosy hues of how great English football once was.
Today, the board of York City have released a statement saying that there needs to be an upturn in results starting immediately. The statement stops short of saying ‘beat Oxford or you’re out’, but that’s the lasting impression it leaves. Yes, results do have to improve if City are to make sure of their immediate future as a league club, but sacking Gary Mills won’t prevent that and may even accelerate the process if the players are asked to play a different way so deep into the season.
If the chairman does want a 4-4-2 manager, it’s clear that Mills isn’t the man, and while there are plenty of 4-4-2 fans, there are also a hell of a lot of us who are not, who appreciate what Mills has done for the club so far and can see where we might end up with some stability and the man who has brought the best football to Bootham Crescent in nearly 30 years at the helm.