York Call a Halt to the Oxford United Sprint
Following his analysis of York City’s prospects in our Season Preview fortnight, John Dobson was present as the Minstermen put an end to Oxford United’s strong start at the weekend. Here are his impressions:
The last time Oxford United and York City met was in a downpour at Wembley in a Conference play-off final just over two years ago. The Us won on that occasion and have established themselves as solid League Two campaigners with 12th and 9th-placed finished in their two seasons since returning to the league.
Despite the old adage about clubs promoted to the league always doing well, it’s Oxford’s model of consolidation and accumulation that York are aiming to emulate rather than Crawley’s cash-fuelled ascent to successive promotions. On the evidence of last Saturday’s game at Bootham Crescent, they look well-placed to do just that.
Oxford went into the game top of the league standings with three wins from their opening three matches. By contrast, York found league life a little trickier to get to grips with, losing their opener at home to a well-drilled Wycombe before a creditable draw at Morecambe and a first win in the Football League since December 23, 2003. (If that sounds odd, good. Yes, York really went from christmas ’03 through to May ’04 winless, a run of twenty games, a fact that goes a long way to explaining how and why they were relegated from the league in the first place).
Neither side had been particularly active in the transfer market as Jim White counted down the seconds to the window closing. Oxford got their business done early with loan deals for Manchester United defender Sean McGinty and Arsenal centre-back Daniel Boateng. York boss Gary Mills went for experience with Clarke Carlisle joining until the end of the calendar year and Scott Dobie signing a three-month deal having been out of football since the expiration of his St Johnstone contract in 2011, while also bringing Leeds left-back Charlie Taylor in. Of those four, only Carlisle and Taylor played a part here – Dobie was some way off match fitness and the Oxford loanees were both unusued substitutes. A scan down the teamsheet showed familiar names that York have had trouble containing before – Alfie Potter out wide for one, though it was some relief to home fans that the ever-dangerous James Constable only made the bench.
If City were nervous, it didn’t show. An earlier goal you’re unlikely ever to see. Official timing had it at 16 seconds when Michael Coulson swept home from eight yards, one of three up in a York attack straight from the kick-off. Worries that the acquisitions of Carlisle and Dobie may have signalled a change from the 4-3-3 and neat passing style that saw them promoted were dispelled in less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run 200 metres.
A quarter of an hour later it was two as York scored a very York goal – superb passing, crisp and pacy, lots of bodies in motion and a cool finish from Ashley Chambers. That came moments after Taylor was harshly penalised for a handball in the City box, but Michael Ingham saved. This represented something of a redemption for the one-time Northern Ireland international whose blunder in that Wembley meeting in 2010 gifted Oxford a crucial second.
Oxford were handed a lifeline by the one moment of panicked defending by York as an attempted clearance from a corner struck Paddy McLaughlin and went in – a freak goal which the midfielder later reckoned should have been given as a penalty. “It struck me on the arm” he said shortly after being awarded the sponsors’ man of the match award “so if the ref’s being consistent he should have given a penalty” in reference to the incident with Taylor for Oxford’s earlier spot-kick – albeit the Ulsterman was speaking with tongue firmly in cheek.
In any event, he atoned for whatever blame there was with York’s third early in the second half. Again, the passing was crisp in the build-up and while Oxford keeper Michael Raynes could have done better, there was no doubting who the better side were. Oxford boss Chris Wilder brought on Constable and Jon-Paul Pittman – another thorn in City’s side over the years – but York closed the game out with little alarm.
“We’re here to entertain”, Mills said after the encounter. The fact that there were over 4000 in to see this game – following almost 4500 for the opening home match – suggests that’s working. The break-even figure for the club in the Conference was mooted to be around 2500, so these crowd numbers are great and while City keep playing in this manner, they won’t only entertain, they’ll win many more games than they lose and spend more time looking up than down as they seek to make themselves the fixture in the Football League that they were previously. On the evidence of the opening four matches of the season, that looks a very modest ambition.