Life moves pretty fast, quoth 1980s philosopher Ferris Bueller. Life in football moves even quicker. Less than an hour after York City and Bradford City trooped off the Bootham Crescent pitch following the latter’s 2-0 win, York had parted company with the manager. Less than 48 hours later, a new man was in position.
I’d barely got to the bottom of post-match pint number two when the news regarding Gary Mills’ dismissal broke. During those two pints of delicious Cumberland bitter, my companions and I dissected the game we’d just seen, effectively decided by two individual blunders – the goalkeeper Michael Ingham letting a tame header squirm underneath his body and the otherwise excellent centre-back Jack O’Connell slipping at the most inopportune moment to allow substitute Garry Thompson to seal the win.
Other than that, City were excellent. The style that we’ve become accustomed to was there for all to see. Chances came – not in any great volume and, as is obvious by the final score, not taken – and a neutral observer wouldn’t have thought the team in gold and black had been the side that featured in a major final the previous week. But results count, especially after the board’s recent statement about seeing an upturn in that department. Four points back to the drop zone, even if as many teams still sit between City and the bottom two, is too close for comfort, but having made a rod for their own back, the board felt forced to act.
Immediately, it feels like a mistake. Fate very much rests in City’s hands with games against those teams around them – AFC Wimbledon, Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Plymouth and Accrington – to come. Has they have played like they had against Bradford, or Rotherham the previous Tuesday, then those games would have been extremely winnable under Mills. Now we won’t know whether that assertion is right or not.
Instead, control passes to Nigel Worthington. “Personally, I like 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1″, the ex-Northern Ireland boss told local paper The Press which, given comments made by Mills prior to his dismissal about not being a 4-4-2 manager, sounds like the board are pandering to the most crashing bores that populate the Popular Stand; the ones that took against an attractive passing side and demanded something more direct.
Now there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with any given formation – Manchester United work a 4-4-2 pretty well, and the term is used a lot as a substitute for stodgy and negative football – but looking at the players Worthington now has at his disposal, it’s difficult to see them being deployed in a 4-4-2 in a positive manner. Given the desire to play three up front, we’re overloaded with forwards and central midfielders and it may be more of a case of packing the midfield and trying to grind things out and nullify the opposition rather than forcing the issue.
You can argue, and results would support you, in saying that being progressive hasn’t really helped and perhaps a dash of pragmatism to ensure survival is necessary and then build from there. That smacks of short-termism, though, while being stylish progressives was a longer term thing, giving the club an outlook, that dread word philosophy, a hook to hang the jacket on and say “yeah, we’re York City, this is how we do things. What of it?”. Now we’re just sheep. Whether that’s important right now is arguable. Possibly it isn’t, but it felt good to be part of a movement rather than just another person going to watch a game of football.
More importantly, however you line up a set of players is not going to stop, for example, Michael Ingham coming out of his area to clear and missing the ball. It won’t stop Jack O’Connell slipping and allowing an opponent a free run at goal. It won’t stop Michael Rankine failing to connect properly with an attempted clearance to give away a 94th-minute equaliser or any of the dozen or so individual mistakes that have so plagued City over the poor run of results they find themselves on. Maybe Worthington has a magic wand and can stop everyone falling over – maybe by installing gyroscopes in their boots – or an early warning alarm for a goalkeeping brain explosion that will alert everyone to an impending blunder. If not, then it’s difficult to see what he can do.
Worthington has targetted 50 points for survival this season. City currently sit on 40 and there are 10 games remaining. I hope, desperately, that does not mean he’s going to try to, as George Herbert Hirst told Wilfred Rhodes as the two sealed the 1902 Ashes for England with a last-wicket partnership, get them in singles. We’ve all been spoiled by the football Mills brought to the club and while I want the club to achieve all it can, I want it with nice football as well. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice between success and pretty football and there’s no reason why one has to come at the expense of the other. Whether that balance can be achieved under Worthington or not will only become clear over the next few weeks. Maybe I want the moon on a stick, but that’s where we’ve come from and chucking all that away for a short-termist knee-jerking response to non-aesthetes in the crowd seems such a shame and something that’s as likely – if not more likely – to send us down as it is keep us up.
Yes, I’ve got a downer on it all right now. Maybe that’s because when we would have stayed up with something to spare and Gary Mills was still in charge in May, I’d have been within my rights to send a postcard to all the blowhards who sit near me with the words “Told you so” on the back. Now, the only way I could do that is if we go down and, clearly, I don’t want that to happen.