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Posts posted by Amaroq

  1. Tuesday, 27th March, 2007.

    The phone rang.

    I let it ring twice before picking it up - I was idly toying with the idea of an assymetrical formation, but I couldn't seem to get it to work on paper as well as it did in my head.

    "Richards here."

    "Hi Ian, this is Tom," answered the now-familiar voice of my agent, Tom Conlin.

    "Hi. What have you got for me?"

    "Well, its not good, but not unexpected either. Spurs sent me a fax today indicating that they've decided not to pursue hiring you."


    It was not unexpected, not at all, I hadn't even wanted the job ..

    .. why was I so disappointed?

    He gave me a moment to collect my thoughts before going on,

    "Still, I think it was very good exposure for you - just the fact that they were willing to interview you puts you 'on the map', as it were.

    "Its upped the pressure on the York board, certainly, to come to the table with an offer, or risk losing you entirely."

    I guess that's good news.

    I tried to remind myself that I didn't really care about Spurs one way or the other - all I wanted was a League Two title and a new contract at Bootham Crescent.


  2. Saturday, 24th March, 2007.

    The fourth matches of the European Championship Qualifying took place Saturday evening.

    England stood idle, which let me spend the weekend with Stacy. Her school is getting challenging; she had to bring her schoolbooks and spend some good part of the time studying, but we did get over to Manchester to spend the day with Ope; we're going up to Lancaster tomorrow to see Gary.

    Georgia took over first place in Group 7 thanks to a 2-1 home victory over struggling Denmark. The idle Three Lions trailed by one point, but have a game in hand and a massive goal differential advantage if it comes to that. Poland handled Malta by the same 2-1 margin, sitting solidly three points back of the leaders, also with a game in hand.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD

    1 Georgia 8 2 2 0 8 6 + 2

    2 England 7 2 1 0 12 2 +10

    3 Poland 5 1 2 0 6 5 + 1

    4 Denmark 1 0 1 2 3 7 - 4

    5 Malta 0 0 0 3 2 11 - 9</pre>

    Sweden beat Group 3 leaders, Turkey, 3-1, to take over the top spot. Cyprus crushed Liechtenstein 4-1 to go third, while Scotland were defeated 3-2 by Slovenia in Celje.

    A Paul Gallagher goal was the only bright spot of a first half that saw the Scots down 3-1 and utterly dominated. Though Gallagher added a second on the hour to give the visitors a tantalizing chance at a draw, solid defending and a dangerous counterattack saw the hosts through with the 3-2 victory. The Tartan Army dropped to fifth in the group, and all but eliminated from contention.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD

    1 Sweden 10 3 1 0 8 3 + 5

    2 Turkey 9 3 0 1 9 3 + 6

    3 Cyprus 6 2 0 2 6 7 - 1

    4 Slovenia 6 2 0 2 6 7 - 1

    5 Scotland 3 1 0 3 4 7 - 3

    6 Liechtenstein 1 0 1 3 4 10 - 6</pre>

    Ireland played a negative, defensive game against the dynamic, first-placed Spain side. Amazingly, they limited the Spanish to just 3 shots, each dealt with by Shay Given, and John Macken scored early in the second half to give the Dublin crowd hope. The defense held firm, and Ireland held on to an improbable 1-0 victory against the group favorites which could prove crucial down the stretch run. As it was, it put the Irish in first place in Group 1!

    Bulgaria beat Armenia 2-1 to move into second, with Spain third, and the FYR of Macedonia beat Estonia 3-1 to keep their faint hopes alive in fourth place.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD

    1 Ireland 10 3 1 0 11 1 +10

    2 Bulgaria 10 3 1 0 10 4 + 6

    3 Spain 9 3 0 1 13 1 +12

    4 Macedonia 6 2 0 2 5 9 - 4

    5 Armenia 0 0 0 4 2 11 - 9

    6 Estonia 0 0 0 4 3 18 -15</pre>

    Roy Carroll was on the top of his game, stopping six shots from an Israel side that outshot Northern Ireland 11-6 despite being on the road to earn Man of the Match in a nil-nil draw. Alan Blayney, as predicted, did not play. That gave Northern Ireland their first point from Group 9, while Israel moved up to third thanks to Russia's 3-0 manhandling of Wales in Moscow, a final score that could have been worse but for a missed penalty in the first half.

    Idle Italy remained top of the group, unbeaten and untied.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD

    1 Italy 9 3 0 0 7 0 + 7

    2 Russia 6 2 0 1 4 2 + 2

    3 Israel 4 1 1 1 3 5 - 2

    4 Wales 3 1 0 2 5 6 - 1

    5 N.Ireland 1 0 1 3 0 6 - 6</pre>

    In the other groups, Holland, Portugal, and France remained perfect to date, with the leads of their respective groups, while unbeaten Germany remained top of theirs despite sitting idle.

  3. Friday, 23rd March, 2007.

    We had the first of back-to-back Reserve matches Tuesday evening, away to the first-placed Plymouth Argyle Reserves. John McGrath started in a rehabilitation effort for us, but two quick goals by the home side put us 2-0 down by the 18th minute, and a half-amateur Reserve side was never going to come back against the side that look to be Reserve group champions this year. They peppered goalkeeper Kevin Butler with 20 shots, and he was lucky to hold the scoreline to 0-2 through the remaining seventy minutes.

    The following day our Reserves traveled to Exeter, and the side included a number of "ringers": Keith Barker, Micah Richards, Tappa Whitmore, and Jon Paul McGovern all started to work on their match fitness. It took Barker just three minutes and thirty-five seconds to find the net, and he had two goals by the 23rd minute, when Jeff Miller noted that he was limping a bit and recommended I pull him off. He was angry about it - he'd wanted a hat trick, but I told him he'd proved his point.

    Adam Corbett added another goal before halftime, and then I had to pull Richards off, also a bit injured. In the second half, we nearly made it four but Tappa's penalty effort was saved. Still, a solid 3-0 victory for our ringers, and McGovern had earned Man of the Match honors over 63 minutes.

    Keith Barker had twisted a knee, an injury which would see him out for about two weeks. Luckily, we had only one match in that two-week time frame, due to the internationals the coming weekend.

    In F.A. Cup Sixth Round action, Arsenal eliminated Manchester United 2-1 at Emirates Stadium on two second-half goals to overcome an early Wayne Rooney goal for the Red Devils.

    I took the opportunity of the off week to start working on my pre-season schedule for next summer. By my count, Southampton, Barnsley, and Celtic all owed us home friendlies for their various transfers from us over the past year. Southampton accepted a friendly on Wednesday the 18th of July, with Barnsley a week later on Tuesday the 24th, but the reply I got from Celtic was a nice letter from their legal department informing me that they were not required to accept a date with York until the completion of the Adam Corbett transfer in June.

    Technically, they were correct, but I found it a bit annoying.

    With the international matches approaching over the weekend, we saw Alan Blayney called up to the Northern Ireland squad to replace Norwich goalkeeper Alan Mannus, who had pulled a groin. Blayney, who had just recovered sufficiently from his broken arm to return to practice this week, was very excited about it: he's never earned a cap above the U-21 level.

    I didn't have the heart to tell him that with Roy Carroll and Maik Taylor ahead of him, he's not likely to this weekend either.

    We all wished him good luck as he headed west for the ferry to Belfast.

  4. Monday, 19th March, 2007.

    With that, we were on to a two-week break for the senior side, a respite from the hectic schedule congestion we'd undergone earlier in the year. With our starting goalkeeper out injured, it couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time. With seven games left in the season, we looked pretty solidly clear of the playoff battle from 4th through 7th:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GD

    1 Cheltenham 76 21 13 5 +26

    2 YORK 75 23 6 10 +25

    3 Walsall 65 17 14 8 +26


    4 Port Vale 65 18 11 10 +13</pre>

    There was no surprise when Jamal Campbell-Ryce was named to the League Two Team of the Week, the first time he'd done so in a York kit - his play had been nearly flawless on Saturday.

    Saturday had also included an Under-18 match in Bury, where we were able to start a number of young players who had been seeing action at the senior level. However, it was the amateurs who found the net, midfielder Ian Sutton and right back Gary Osborne scoring the goals in a 2-0 victory of Bury U-18s. Right wing Mark Goodwin was named Man of the Match, but attacking midfielder Joe Foote suffered a nasty gash in his right leg, an injury which required stitches and would see him out for about a week and a half.

    Oddly, there was still no news from Tottenham: Spurs still had no replacement for Jacques Santini, and they still hadn't answered me yet! The most recent rumour has former Germany manager Jürgen Klinsmann was coming in to interview. That, at least, assuaged my feelings: if they're shooting that high, it makes more sense why they haven't given me an answer yet.

    Entertainingly, the press linked my name - as well as Cheltenham manager John Watson - against the Watford vacancy. Sure, they're a former Premier League team, but at the moment the Hornets are in a life-or-death relegation struggle at the bottom of League One. I don't see how either of us would benefit by that move.

    I told Tom to rebuff any overtures from Vicarage Road.

  5. Saturday, 17th March, 2007. League Two - Game 39, vs Darlington.

    Darlington lay 22nd, just one point clear of the relegation zone and 23rd-placed Carlisle. An away match to the league's second-placed side wouldn't have been easy in any circumstance, but their leading scorer, Alun Armstrong, would miss the match with a twisted ankle, and their number two scorer and assists leader Chris Killen had also injured his ankle. The lineup they did field looked on the verge of exhaustion, overworked and underrewarded this season.

    With a two-week respite to follow, I could select the strongest healthy lineup I had available without needing to save anybody for the next match. That meant Nick McDonald in goal, Tony Craig, Jamie Cooper, Liam Fontaine, and Daniel Smith across the back, Alan Navarro in the holding midfielder role. Our loanees, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Phil Townley would start at left and right wing respectively. Robert Cousins was joined by Lee Croft in the attacking midfield, and Paul Edwards was the striker.

    Darlington were utilising a 3-5-2 which seemed to leave their back three very exposed on our counterattacks, although it also meant that they were able to mount some serious pressure on our back five if they got the chance. Both sides had some good opportunities in the first half, and I was very much rueing the sale of Ryan Ashington when we had a juicy free kick from 19 yards, only to see Jamal Campbell-Ryce put it harmlessly over the bar. The Jamaican winger atoned with a pair of scintillating dribbles later in the half. Neither was able to produce anything, as he got no help from his teammates.

    In the 38th minute, Jamie Cooper won a header on a long Darlington goal kick. He played it up to Robert Cousins, and suddenly it was a 3-on-3 break for York City. Cousins made for the center of the pitch, drawing attention from two Darlington defenders, then passed to his left for Paul Edwards. Our leading scorer launched a wicked shot from the corner of the area, fully twenty yards from goal with the shot curling to the far post to give us a 1-0 lead!

    Darlington switched to a 4-3-3 early in the second half, while I brought Jon Paul McGovern on for Phil Townley, who seemed to have picked up a knock. The game had been fairly even early on, but now it was clearly swinging in our favour, as Darlington legs tired, and the relentless cheers of our 3,056 faithful buoyed our side. Lee Croft came oh-so-close just ten minutes into the half, blazing over from eighteen yards.

    Just shy of the hour, Campbell-Ryce was stymied by two defenders some thirty yards from the corner. He looked up to launch an aerial ball into the box for Cousins. The attacking midfielder met it with his head from 16 yards, a slow looping header which seemed a veritable change-up to Darlington 'keeper Lee Crockett. He made a textbook dive to catch it, but moved too early, and as he fell to the turf he could only look up at the slow-moving ball passing above him and into the net. It dropped just enough to nick in under the crossbar, and at 2-0 our lead seemed virtually unassailable.

    Darlington mailed in the last half-hour, seeming to give up on the match entirely. We had by far the greater chances, and if Keith Barker were a bit closer to the target, we might have seen three or even four goals in, but he missed wide at every opportunity. Still, the 2-0 final was a satisfying end to the day.

    York 2, Darlington 0

    Edwards 39, Cousins 58; ----

    MoM: Campbell-Ryce

    Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who had dribbled at will up and down the left wing all day, was named Man of the Match, and it was a surprise he only had one assist to show for his work at the day's end.

    While he was busy accepting accolades from his teammates, I checked with Viv, who shook his head: Cheltenham had won again.

  6. Friday, 16th March, 2007.

    I was relieved when Jeff's injury report indicated that Tony Craig's injury against Yeovil had been just a muscle twinge, and shouldn't even cause him to miss training if we're careful not to overdo it again. I didn't think we could afford yet another injury. Luckily, our starting wingers were back on the training pitch, as both Jon Paul McGovern and John McGrath were recovering from their latest injuries.

    Paul Edwards's excellent performance against Orient on Tuesday had earned him Team of the Week honors, the first time he'd achieved that accolade all season.

    Thursday night's UEFA Cup matches saw victory for all three British teams. Manchester United was through with a 2-0 victory over Croatian side Rijeka (4-0 aggregate), while Newcastle delighted their home crowd with a 3-0 win over Dutch side PSV to make a 4-1 aggregate. Celtic, on the road after a loss at home, overcame Maritimo 3-1 to advance on a 4-3 aggregate.

    Darlington manager David Hodgson, my next opponent, told the Yorkshire Post that he didn't want to see York City earn promotion this season, and that he hoped to put a dent in our promotion chances by beating us on Sunday. When I saw this, I jumped over to yorkcityfc.com to post that I believe we can gain promotion even if Darlington make the surprise result, and admitting that I'd be disappointed if we don't achieve promotion given where we are in the table at this late state.

  7. Saturday, 10th March, 2007. League Two - Game 38, vs Yeovil Town.

    We'd beaten Yeovil 2-1 earlier in the season, and they were down in 21st place, one of only four teams which had yet to win ten games in League Two. They're in only their fourth League season, after winning the Conference National in 2002/03.

    It was again a patchwork lineup for us, missing more than half of my starting XI due to injury or fatigue. Nick McDonald made his second consecutive start in goal. Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, and Jamie Cooper were familiar faces in defense, while Daniel Smith made his first league appearance for York at right back. Alan Navarro was the defensive midfielder, while the wing pairing of Adam Corbett and Phil Townley returned to duty. Up front, Micah Richards and Tappa Whitmore were paired together, with loanee Keith Barker at striker. Summed together, this lineup had produced just eight goals for us all year.

    We looked like the dangerous side in the first two minutes, but then in the 4th minute one of Yeovil's back line sent a long ball over the top of everything. Kevin Gall ran it down just at the end line, but as he controlled it, Jamie Cooper slid in rashly, putting the ball out of play and leaving Gall in a heap. To the dismay of our home crowd of 3,197, referee John Holbrook pointed at the spot!

    Phil Jevons converted the penalty, drilling it to the right of Nick McDonald, and we were down 0-1 with 85 minutes yet to play.

    If there was a silver lining, it was only that Cooper wasn't booked for his foolish play.

    In the 13th minute, Cooper atoned for his error with an incredible long pass that picked out Keith Barker. The striker was behind the Yeovil line, and looked offsides, but there was no whistle, and he nestled it into the back of the net. The crowd and our bench rejoiced, and only then did Holbrook call it back - Barker had been offsides after all.

    At the quarter hour, Tappa Whitmore darted up the left wing, reaching the end line. He dribbled towards the near post, then cut it back for Barker. The striker's shot was blocked, but deflected right to Whitmore who unleashed a wicked shot from 6 yards. Impossibly, Chris Weale's diving effort kept it out, an amazing reflex save from the Yeovil Town 'keeper.

    By the half hour, I'd shifted us to our 'attacking' tactic, pushing the backs and wings forward - Yeovil weren't mounting any pressure of their own, and I wanted to ensure that we got the goal. Somehow, every offensive was rebuffed, whether it was Daniel Smith's cross going off a defender and out, or Micah Richard's corner kick header cleared behind the line by Kevin Gall, or hobbling left back Tony Craig's shot going just over the bar.

    The second half was even more frustrating, as we were in complete control, but wasted chance after chance, twice shooting wide, and twice forcing saves by Weale. I pulled the injured Craig for Thomas Carroll in the 61st minute, moving to a 3-5-2 in search of that elusive goal.

    We continued piling on the pressure, and I thought surely Joe Foote's 16-yard shot was going in, but Weale was again there. Our best chance may have been Micah Richards's, as Adam Crobett's cross in the 75th minute skittered through the six yard box. Richards was on the far-post run, and just couldn't quite direct the shot, putting it inches wide when he'd had a clear shot.

    The final minutes ticked away, but Weale was up to anything we could throw at him today, and the crowd jeered us a bit when the final whistle blew.

    York 0, Yeovil 1

    ----; Jevons pen 5

    MoM: Weale (Yeovil GK)

    That has to be one of the most maddening results in football: we'd outshot a weaker team 17-0, but Chris Weale had played the best game of his season, handling everything en route to Man of the Match honors. The penalty award was the only time Yeovil had been able to penetrate our defense, but the 0-1 final, however lopsided the run of play had been, was the result.

  8. Thursday, 8th March, 2007.

    The second leg of the Champions League first knockout round was Wednesday night. Arsenal continued their dominance of Werder Bremen, securing a 4-0 victory in Germany behind Croatian star Ivica Olic's hat trick, which gave them an 8-1 aggregate victory.

    Chelsea played a dreary, defensive nil-nil game in Paris. It may not have pleased the fans, but it was enough to see them advance past Paris Saint-Germaine on a 2-0 aggregate.

    Liverpool was not as lucky, losing 1-3 to German giants Bayern München in Munich, which saw them out of the tournament on a 1-4 aggregate.

    In the other games, Real Madrid beat Fenerbahçe 1-0 in Turkey for a 2-1 aggregate win, Barcelona beat Bayern Leverkusen 2-0 in Germany for a 3-1 aggregate, and AC Milan beat Juventus 1-0 to advance on a 2-1 aggregate. Inter Milan finished their annihilation of Valencia with a 2-1 win in Spain that made for a 6-2 final, and Roma drew 1-1 with Deportivo, which was good enough to see the Italian side through, 3-1.

    Our Reserve match Wednesday night was an event-filled game, contested nearly entirely by amateurs. In the first 25 minutes, we had three goals and five yellow cards, with Chris Simpson scoring a brace. Dorchester Reserves were reduced to ten men on a sending-off in the second half, and we eased to a 4-0 final. In the waning moments of injury time, however, defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker was given a second yellow and sent off, ensuring that he'd miss a match due to suspension.

    None of those results were as impactful to me as a 30-second clip on the BBC from White Hart Lane.

    Tottenham still haven't hired a replacement. The popular choice amongst the media - or Gary Lineker at least - seems to be former Spurs player Edgar Allen, who is currently working wonders at Pau. Though they haven't said "no", exactly, my name isn't mentioned as a serious candidate anymore.

    Its humbling, really, that they'd rather leave the position vacant than hire me.

    Stewing about that as I crawled into bed kept me up 'til half past three - it really made me doubt Steve's assessment of my worth.

  9. Wednesday, 7th March, 2007.

    The Yorkshire Post was very flattering the next morning. Not only did they quote chairman Steve Beck as being extremely pleased with the result, they added the following.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">After an incredible season, supporters of the Minstermen are hoping that the unthinkable could still happen and their club will lift the title. The club had modest expectations coming into the season and have surpassed all expectations to be in the thick of the title race as the end of season nears.

    It is unbelievable that the board remain reluctant to lock manager Ian Richards in to a long-term contract. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    Heady words!

    Looking over the League Two table on the back page, I caught Viv's eye.

    He just shook his head.

    "I'm just glad we're not caught in that scrum," he said, pointing to the muddle of teams around the playoff positions. Just four points separated guaranteed promotion via 3rd place and missing the playoffs in 8th place:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD GP

    1 Cheltenham 72 20 12 5 57 32 +25 (37)

    2 YORK CITY 72 22 6 9 53 29 +24 (37)

    3 Port Vale 62 17 11 8 50 36 +14 (36)


    4 Lincoln 61 16 13 8 59 40 +19 (37)

    5 Cambridge 61 18 7 12 60 47 +13 (37)

    6 Boston Utd 61 18 7 12 58 47 +11 (37)

    7 Walsall 59 15 14 8 52 29 +23 (37)


    8 Bristol Rovers 58 15 13 8 51 40 +11 (36)

    9 Chesterfield 57 15 12 10 52 52 +10 (37)

    10 Leyton Orient 54 14 12 11 47 44 + 3 (37)</pre>

    At least we looked well clear of that, with only nine matches to go and an eleven point advantage over fourth place.

    The April 28th match at Cheltenham Town looks like it will decide the title. The second to last game of the season, its already standing-room-only, and will surely be the largest crowd of the season!

    The physio's report was mildly worriesome. Paul Edwards had no discernable injury, but was still reporting mild pain from his right knee. Graeme Law had strained a calf, but worse, Jeff recommended physiotherapy for our captain. I sent him off, knowing that there were only three matches in the next month, which should give him time to recover and rejoin us for the final push.

    With our top two right backs both off and injured, that left me with little choice but to recall Daniel Smith from loan. He'd been out on a full-season loan to fellow League Two side Chesterfield, but I'd kept a clause allowing us to bring him back at need - which this certainly was. Nobody else on the squad was competent to play the right back, and I was out of loans, unless I wanted to terminate one to make room for a replacement right back.

  10. Tuesday, 6th March, 2007. League Two - Game 37, at Leyton Orient.

    It was a rough stretch of schedule for Leyton Orient, as they'd faced Cheltenham on Saturday, suffering a defeat that dropped them from 7th and in the playoffs to 10th, so they were seeing the top two teams within a four-day span. We'd beaten them earlier in the year, 3-1, but that had been at Bootham Crescent, and promised to be a more challenging encounter at Brisbane Road on short rest.

    Despite my attempts to shelter a strong lineup for this match, there were numerous holes in my starting XI. Nick McDonald was making only his second start of the season in goal for the injured Alan Blayney. The defensive foursome of Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and Graeme Law was the strongest I could field, but both Fontaine and Law were showing signs of tiredness, playing for the second time in four days. Beyond that, it was wholesale changes: Alan Navarro returned at defensive midfield. Mark Goodwin made his fourth start of the year at right wing, partnered with Jamal Campbell-Ryce in his return to York. The attacking midfield pairing was Robert Cousins and Lee Croft, while leading scorer Paul Edwards lined up at striker.

    All told, it was nine new starters from the Saturday squad, and five of them had started fewer than ten games for us.

    I was worried.

    For a minute and fifteen seconds.

    That's how long it took for Campbell-Ryce to make his presence felt. A 4-5-1 formation from the hosts had invited Tony Craig to venture forward, and the fullback found the Jamaican winger in traffic just outside the area. A quick turn and pass forward found Paul Edwards in space, and he drilled it in at the near post, finding the bottom corner to give us a dream 1-0 start.

    Leyton Orient's 4-5-1 looked reminiscent of a Christmas Tree, narrower than our formation and with no defensive midfielder. I noticed that they weren't getting back on defense, frequently leaving all six forward. Robert Cousins and Edwards nearly combined on a breakaway in the 25th minute, exploiting that space, but Glenn Morris made the save, and it remained 1-0 until halftime.

    A beautiful long pass by Mark Goodwin sliced open the Orient defense early in the second half. Edwards raced onto it, and into the box, one-on-one with Morris. It was a great chance, but Morris saved it, just getting his right hand on it. I think everybody in the stadium thought it was trickling into the net at the far post, but it rolled just wide.

    By the hour mark, the home side's frustration was mounting: tempers were boiling over, and they disagreed with a number of calls, earning some four yellow cards in a twenty minute span. The Orient manager was forced to substitute on some cooler heads.

    In the 65th minute, Graeme Law curled a cross in from deep, maybe forty yards away from the by-line. Paul Edwards, still tormenting the hosts' defense, rose to head on net. Morris made another save to divert it on his line, and it rolled paralell to the goal-line until it was wide of the post. The resultant corner generated two more great chances, but Morris saved from Edwards again, and then Cousins's shot hit Gabriel Zakuani and deflected wide.

    Phil Townley and Joe Foote came on for us in the 67th, and nearly generated a chance in the 70th, but Morris made a diving save at the post to stop Foote's 18-yard effort. Morris was really making a play for Man of the Match honors. In the 75th minute, Grame Law was injured on a clumsy tackle by Tony Dinning, who already had a yellow card. Dinning received only a warning, but was subbed out immediately; I had to bring on Ian Bannister to play, out of position, on the right.

    Orient nearly exploited that in the 77th when Prince Toku beat Goodwin out on our right sideline. Bannister came way out of position trying to help, and Toku launched a long pass into the area, where the dangerous Gary Alexander had found the space Bannister vacated. Leading Orient with 13 goals, he looked to have another when he launched a wicked shot, but McDonald made an acrobatic save to tip it over.

    Bannister continued to play poorly - he essentially had to learn right-back on the fly - but he did create a turnover in the 87th minute. Foote played it forward to Edwards on the counter, and the striker split the two red-clad central defenders, outrunning them to the eighteen where he laced it home for a 2-0 lead.

    Paul Edwards was stretchered off the pitch during injury time thanks to a brutal tackle by Justin Miller that had our bench yelling for a card - it certainly looked like retribution for scoring a brace. With us a man short, Anthony Grant found Alexander in the arc. The Orient captain's shot deflected off of Jamie Cooper, leaving the inexperienced Nick McDonald wrong-footed, moving to his right as the ball went into the opposite side of his net. It was no more than a consolation goal, making the final score 2-1; I was more worried about what it would do to Nick's confidence.

    Leyton Orient 1, York 2

    Alexander 90; Edwards 2, 87

    MoM: Edwards

    Paul Edwards earned a perfect '10' rating and Man of the Match honours; he could easily have had a hat trick had it not been for the fine play of Glenn Morris in the Orient goal.

    When Viv Busby brought out the radio, he shook his head. "They beat Yeovil, 1-0," he said, updating us on Cheltenham's seemingly inexorable progress.

  11. Sunday, 4th March, 2007.

    After a brutal match had seen four of our fourteen players injured, I went to meet with Jeff Miller expecting the worst - and I got it, in the bad news about starting goalkeeper Alan Blayney.

    "Here's the worst news," he told me. "Alan's fractured his arm. He's in hospital getting a cast put on. He'll need at least three, maybe four weeks before he can play again."

    The rest of our injuries were minor: Micah Richards was fine, as was Tappa Whitmore: both could play Tuesday if I really needed them. Simon Roberts had strained his thigh, and would miss about a week - two games.

    I had to meet with the press and explain the injury - Alan is of course one of our key players, so I was asked how much we would miss his presence. I gave about the same answer as I had for Joe Keenan.

    "It's a blow, but I think we've adequate cover: it'll only be three matches, thanks to the two-week break we have at the end of March."

    Then I tried to distract them. "Honestly, the position that worries me most is the wings, where John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern are both injured. That's why I've struck an agreement with Charlton to bring back Jamal Campbell-Ryce through the season's end."

    It worked, getting the press off of that target as they asked what my plans were for the Jamaican winger. For now, I told them, he'd be starting on Tuesday against Orient.

    The conference closed with a bunch of 'no comment's about Spurs and my contract situation.

  12. Saturday, 3rd March, 2007. League Two - Game 36, vs Shrewsbury Town.

    A span of three matches in eight days started at Bootham Crescent against 17th-placed Shrewsbury. They had been a League side, as high as the Championship from 1979 through 1989, but had suffered the ignominy of relegation to the Conference National for 2003/04. They'd promoted back to League Two that year, but were struggling to avoid relegation again. We'd beaten them 1-0 at their place earlier in the season, so I was very confident coming to the home rematch.

    With an important match against Leyton Orient to follow on Tuesday, I rested some of my bigger names. Alan Blayney remained in goal, with Adam Eckersley, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley, and captain Graeme Law his defensive line. Ian Bannister spelled Navarro at defensive midfield, while it felt like Adam Corbett and Phil Townley were the only healthy wingers on the squad. Micah Ricards made his return to the starting lineup after almost a month's rest, and he was partnered with assists leader Tappa Whitmore. Keith Barker got his second call to start at striker, as I wanted to save Edwards for the Orient game.

    Dene Shields nearly got the visitors off to a dream start, breaking clear of our defenders on a long pass in the early going, but Liam Fontaine made a great tackle in the arc to take it away from the Scottish loanee. By the 20th minute, Micah Richards had picked up an injury of some sort, and I brought him off: I hadn't spent a month getting him back in shape for the final push to risk him against a relegation contender. Ricky Shakes was his replacement.

    The game was pretty even, and neither side was seeing too much in the way of chances, but in the 37th Keith Barker broke into the box from the right side. He cut it back to Tappa Whitmore, and the Jamaican launched a beautiful curling shot from the 18. It had Shrewsbury keeper Ross Turnbull beat, but came back off the crossbar. Still, it was one of his best shots of the season, a thing of beauty had it scored.

    Just minutes later, we had an issue of great concern: Alan Blayney made a diving save, but didn't get back up, clutching his arm to his chest. Graeme Law signalled urgently for a physio, and I had to put in young backup goalkeeper Kevin Butler.

    The youngster didn't see a touch by halftime, and I decided to start pushing a few players forward, not content with a 0-0 draw. It didn't pay dividends, precisely, but in the 48th minute Adam Corbett earned a corner. Adam Eckersley took it, an outswinger which headed for Phil Townley at the near post, 6 yards from net. Turnbull came out to fist it away, but unluckily for him he sent it straight for Ricky Shakes, who met it with his head at 12 yards. The Shrewsbury defenders had already begun to push forwards, and there was nobody left on the line to stop it: Shakes had his first York goal and the adulation of 2,974 Bootham Crescent fans greeted our 1-0 lead.

    Shakes nearly made it two in the 58th minute, but sent his 16-yard effort wide. He also missed a pair of long free kicks, balls I would rather have seen played to one of his teammates, but the 22-year-old from Bolton was feeling his oats. In the 65th minute, I made my last substitution, shifting back defensive and bringing on the explosive counterattack power of sixteen-year-old Simon Roberts. Shrewsbury had clearly seen his game tape: they kept their defensive formation, often keeping four defenders back to guard Simon rather than pushing forward to seek the equalizer.

    In the 78th, an amazing pass by Trevor Challis, in his 100th game for the visitors, found John Grant. Grant had slipped free of our defenders, and dribbled into the area and around young Kevin Butler. It looked a sure goal, but he shot with his weaker left foot and missed the net embarrassingly.

    From there, it was a defensive exercise, and we held most of the possession. I was a bit concerned when Roberts and Tappa both pulled up with injuries, but each was able to gut it out through the final minutes.

    York 1, Shrewsbury 0

    Shakes 48; ----

    MoM: Shakes

    Goalscorer Ricky Shakes, who hadn't even started the day, was Man of the Match, applauded off the field by the fans.

    "You almost cut it too fine," Viv told me in the locker room, referring to the top starters I'd left on the bench for the Orient match.

    I didn't answer him, just asked how Cheltenham had done. They'd won again, so we were still one goal behind them for the top spot.

  13. Thursday, 1st March, 2007.

    The monthly meetings with the board are starting to go to my head, I'm afraid. They're still utterly delighted, and after listening to them gush about how they never expected to be in a title chase this season, they'd have me believing I'm the best manager ever to grace Bootham Crescent. I suppose its been a long time, and having such success really seems to validate the entire Supporter's Trust concept.

    Still, where's the guy who whispered in Caesar's ear "You are only mortal"?

    Oh, yes, that would be Sophie McGill, my financial officer. She reminds me that we're still 12% over our wage budget, and that we're still hemorrhaging money: we lost £60,000 last month. We're still up £607,000 for the season, but the vast majority of that is from transfers, and we only have £362,000 in the bank. Well, it sounded more ominous when she said it - her point being that over budget and experiencing a negative run rate isn't a good situation, exactly.

    You'd think that the board, so happy with performances on the pitch, would be excited to renew my contract, but no - like the elephant in the room, it was the thing nobody talked about.

    When the meeting adjourned, chairman Steve Beck pulled me into his office.

    "I'm glad you haven't let this contract issue distract you from the pitch," he said.

    There didn't seem to be any response required.

    He sighed.

    The silence was almost unbearable, and I broke first. "What's on your mind, Mister Beck?"

    "I'm unhappy that you've hired an agent," he answered. "And interviewing at Spurs? That hurt."

    That was predictable.

    "I've every right to representation," I replied stonily. "You could have avoided this if you'd just agreed to an extension back in January. I don't understand your reluctance."

    "It's like this. I'm not sure we can afford you."

    It took a minute to get my jaw back off the desk, and when I did, all I could articulate was:


    "Surely you realize, you've become one of the hottest young managerial prospects in England."

    "I .. suppose..."

    "Well, clearly you deserve more than an untried Conference-manager's salary. You were already due a huge pay raise - and we're already well over budget.

    "Now this 'agreement' Tom has with Spurs has set your 'price' - but its well beyond our means. If we were to pay you what you deserve, you'd bankrupt the club.

    "And if we don't.. well, that's hardly fair to you, after everything you've done for us."

    Nothing's ever simple, is it?

  14. Wednesday, 28th February, 2007.

    A mostly amateur Reserve side took on Moor Green at Bootham Crescent mid-week. Kevin Butler played well to post a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw, but young defenseman Kevin Eaton tore a groin muscle, which would rule him out a month.

    I spoke with physio Jeff Miller after the match, and he warned that groin injuries are frequently a recurring problem. He recommended that Eaton be given a surgical treatment followed by lengthy rehabilitation, effectively ending his season but helping prevent a recurrence of the injury. The kid is 17, and one for the future, so I agreed pretty much immediately - there's no point risking his health when he's not a part of our first team.

    Striker Thomas Carroll, whom I had started as he's so utterly lacking match practice lately, picked up a one-match ban for his fifth yellow card of the season. Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but bringing him in has turned out to be the worst move of the year for me: he's never cracked the starting lineup, and is becoming increasingly more disgruntled with the time he's spent on the bench.

    I had rested right back Mark Dixon, intending to get him some time with the senior side over the next week, but he strained his calf in training. He, too, would be sent off to physiotherapy, ruling him out for the entirety of March.

  15. Tuesday, 27th February, 2007.

    I'd been on tenterhooks for a week, with no word from London, and I finally called Tom Conlin.

    "Hi, Tom, any news?"

    "Nothing worth printing," he answered. "We've agreed to terms in principle, but they don't want to put it to a contract."

    "What's that mean?"

    "Officially, they 'Are still interviewing other candidates.'

    "Unofficially? I don't think they were too thrilled with you.

    "Still, its put us in a very good position to negotiate with other clubs from, and given us some real leverage to use with York."


    I didn't ask him what the terms were; I didn't want to know. I tried to focus, to remind myself that I didn't really care about Tottenham one way or the other - I wanted to stay here - but oh, White Hart Lane...

    I can't believe I'm being seduced by a stadium!

  16. Sunday, 25th February, 2007.

    The League Cup Final between Liverpool and Blackburn was one for the ages. After 90 scoreless minutes, fairly adjudicated by legendary disciplinarian Rob Styles, the match went to extra-time. Blackburn scored through Matt Jensen in the 91st minute, but the Golden Goal hasn't come to the League Cup yet, and Liverpool had fully thirty minutes to seek a reply.

    It looked like they would be unable to find one until unlikely hero Florent Sinama-Pongolle, on in only his 10th match of the season, found the net in the 112th minute. He'd played his best with the game on the line, and the goal included a nifty move past two defenders before he fired a 25-yard piledriver.

    Eight scoreless minutes followed, and it went to penalties. Each side made three off the first five - the two goalscorers each missed - and then the next two, leaving it 5-5 after seven kicks. Igor Biscan secured the sixth for Liverpool, and when Danny Marsh missed wide of the net, it was Liverpool's Cup to lift.

    Meanwhile, our injury crisis on the wings continued. This time, it was Jon Paul McGovern, who pulled a groin, apparently in the final moments of the match or during the celebration afterwards. That would cost him two weeks, and left us with only three wingers total. I was really regretting turning down the loan for Jamal Campbell-Ryce, as every other offer I'd made had been turned down. I was getting desperate, offering in on loan just about anybody I could find who could play both wings.

    It took a late goal by amateur Chris Simpson to equalize for the York U-18s to earn a 1-1 draw at home against Lincoln Sunday, in a warm rainstorm. The breeze which had made Saturday's match so chilly was gone, but the Lincoln U-18s dominated the match, peppering Colin Hart with shots, and only a Man of the Match performance by the youthful keeper kept it to a one-goal game for Simpson to tie up in the 87th.

  17. iacovone - wow! icon_cool.gif I hadn't realized that! Thanks for pointing it out!

    Strankan - I hope you've read flipsix3's tale, then!

    aaberdeenn - Thank you; as I've often said, its the support of the readership that's kept me going.

  18. Saturday, 24th February, 2007. League Two - Game 35, vs Scunthorpe United.

    We returned home for our next two games, the first against 16th-placed Scunthorpe United. A League club since 1950, they've been hanging around in League Two since 1968/69, with only occasional one-year stints in League One following promotion. They had been strong last year, placing 7th in League Two, but had managed to win only 11 games out of 34 thus far this year. One of those was against us, 1-0, at Glanford Park, but I was sure it would be a different result in the friendly confines of Bootham Crescent. They were led by the one-two punch of Steve Basham and Lee Matthews, who had combined for 26 of the side's 41 goals.

    Our starting lineup returned nine from last weekend's victory: Alan Blayney in goal, Tony Caig, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and Graeme Law defensively, and Alan Navarro at defensive midfield kept the back six utterly unchanged. Adam Corbett took left wing, allowing me to shift Phil Townley to the right and let McGovern recover from his injury, though the Scot was available off the bench if needed. Theodore Whitmore, after a grand performance, would remain up front partnered with ten-goal man Robert Cousins, and the team's leading scorer Paul Edwards would look to build off of his brace against Exeter City in his 100th career league appearance.

    It was a breezy, wet afternoon at Bootham Crescent, and Viv and I exchanged incredulous looks when Scunthorpe came out in what can only be described as a 4-2-4. With no midfield to speak of, they had real trouble transitioning from defense to attack, and showed no real way to break down our defense if we had time to set up. They did threaten on the counter-attack a few times, but with Alan Navarro free to clean up, it was slim pickings for the visitors.

    In the 22nd minute, Navarro took a free kick about 35 yards from the Scunthorpe goal. He played it into the area for Robert Cousins, but Darren Holloway headed it away. Navarro held it in the attack zone, dribbling to the top of the arc before trying a long shot. It was blocked by Steve Basham, kicking off of his knee. The rebound looped crazily into the air, to Tappa Whitmore, who leaped up and headed it on goal from just inside the 18. It curved over stumbling Scunthorpe keeper Paul Montgomery, but hit the crossbar. Montgomery was completely turned around, but the ball fell directly to Paul Edwards inside the six, and the team's leading scorer made no mistake with the unguarded net. I'm not above taking a wacky goal for a 1-0 lead!

    In the 34th minute, Tony Craig made a long run up the left wing, and took a pass from Robert Cousins. The fulllback, nearly unmarked, sent a cross in, and over the near-post feint of Edwards to an unmarked Phil Townley. Eight yards from goal, with Montgomery again out of position, it looked a sure thing, but the speedy winger's shooting leaves a lot to be desired, and he put this one into the crowd.

    In the 40th minute, Townley made a vicious tackle which took the legs away from Lee Matthews, leaving the dangerous striker to be carted off the field on a stretcher. It looked a disturbing red-cardable offense, but Townley escaped with only a foul, and no card issued.

    Both sides took note, and the second half was an ugly affair. Scunthorpe had shifted to a 3-5-2, trying to clog the midfield and get more chances forward to their strikers, but the early second-half chances were ours. Cousins's 30-yard effort was tipped over, and Townley struck a fifteen yarder through traffic which forced a fingertip save from Montgomery.

    Then the hard tackling began to take over. Andy Butler's rough treatment forced Tappa off at the 51st minute, but Lee Croft's clear retaliation, which ended Butler's afternoon, also met with no card - it was as though referee John Hayto was letting the players police themselves. The disturbing chants of "You're going home in a f***ing ambulance" showed the darker side of the game.

    I was content with a one-goal game, and shifted to an utterly defensive formation, putting on Jon Paul McGovern and striker Keith Barker as my last substitutions. They combined on the counter in the 76th minute, with the Scotsman's long ball played out in front of Barker's fresh legs. He ran onto it past the last defender, and one-on-one with Paul Montgomery. Montgomery saved the first attempt, but Barker got to the rebound. Montgomery had a chance at stopping his second chance, but Barker put it into the net from inside the six. 3,351 came to their feet to applaud his first-ever York goal, and it was 2-0.

    They almost made it three when McGovern sent the same long ball over the top in the 86th. Barker came into the area from the right side. His shot was too powerful for Montgomery to stop, but the keeper got a solid hand on it. It was rolling slowly goalward, but defender John Anderson arrived just in time to put it out at the near post.

    It was not to matter, and luckily we survived the last few minutes without any further injuries.

    York 2, Scunthorpe 0

    Edwards 22, Barker 77; ----

    MoM: Whitmore

    The crowd were happy, and there was celebratory reggae in the York locker room yet again. I couldn't help but think the selection of Tappa Whitmore as Man of the Match had more to do with his two-assist performance the previous week than his lucky one assist in fifty-one minutes this week, but there weren't any other obvious candidates.

    Viv's report from the radio was that Cheltenham had dispatched Boston United by the same 2-0 scoreline, which meant we were still second on a narrow margin, but had opened up a five-point lead over third place.

  19. Friday, 23rd February, 2007.

    I was grateful when Jeff Miller's post-match report indicated that Simon Roberts had only rolled his ankle, and had managed to avoid even spraining it - he'd be able to play Saturday if I needed him to. Joe Foote's sprained wrist would rule him out until the first game of March, not a big loss thanks to our sudden luxury of healthy attacking midfielders.

    We were unlucky on Thursday, as John McGrath - not yet back to match fitness while recovering from his high ankle strain - pulled a groin, an injury which will cost him another two weeks of training time, at least. The oft-injured winger will be leaving for Bournemouth at season's end, and I'm starting to wonder if he'll be able to contribute at all before the end of the year.

    Stockport did finally wind up with a York City goalkeeper, as they purchased former Minsterman Tony Caig from Cambridge for £12,000. The difference between Caig and Alan Blayney, whom they had made overtures towards, is tremendous, but they professed to be happy to have 'got their man'.

    The close battle for League Two supremacy continued, with Boston United and Cheltenham due for a key clash at Whaddon Road. Despite being on the road and underdogs, Boston manager Steve Evans claimed his side were "very confident of victory." John Ward responded by saying he thought it was "make or break time" for both sides, and that he "would be surprised if the losing team could recover."

    Personally, I told the Yorkshire Press I was just hoping that they knocked each other about, letting us slip into first place.

  20. Wednesday, 21st February, 2007.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Richards Interviews with Spurs

    York City manager Ian Richards was in London yesterday to interview for the vacant Tottenham Hotspur managerial position.

    According to agent Tom Conlin, Richards was very impressed with the facilities, and the agent announced that contract talks were already underway.

    The club refused to confirm or deny the report, but Richards's meteoric rise at York City is well-documented, and with his contract expiring at season's end, any compensation which would be owed to the Minstermen would be minimal. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>


    My agent leaked my interview to the press.

    I wasn't the only one disappointed: Joe Keenan's proposed move to Stockport County collapsed today.

    The injured fullback had rejected my contract offer, rightly enough, as I could not offer him any wage increase. Instead, excited at the prospect of playing at a higher level, he'd accepted the offer from Stockport County. With the deal signed and sealed, Stockport were forced to back out because they lacked sufficient transfer budget to complete the transaction.

    How embarrassing!

    In other news, John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern both resumed training. The Irishman looks pretty rusty after his month off, and neither looks like they will be quite ready by Saturday's match.

    McGrath played 30 minutes in the York Reserves' Wednesday match at Halifax. With a week-long break for the senior side, I fielded a full professional side, giving a number of big names some work. I expected a dominant performance, but got only a 1-0 victory, with the goal left late into the second half. Unluckily, Simon Roberts went down clutching at his ankle just before halftime, and Joe Foote sprained his wrist in the second half. Ricky Shakes scored the goal, after an amazing dribble, and Micah Richards, in his first action since Saturday the 3rd earned Man of the Match honors. I'd given him a week of rest, followed by a light training load, and now he seemed completely recovered from the exhaustion Jeff had noticed.

    The opening games of the Champions League knockout round was Wednesday evening, and I hurried back to see what TiVo had on television for me. At Emirates Stadium, Arsenal had dominated Werder Bremen 4-1, with two early goals by Thierry Henry setting the tone for a match that was over by halftime.

    Chelsea defeated Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, while Liverpool's hopes were dim after a 0-1 defeat to FC Bayern München at New Anfield.

    In the other matches, Bayern Leverkusen earned a 1-1 draw at Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus fought to a 1-1 draw, and Turkish side Fenerbahçe pulled out a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid. The other two home sides succeeded in taking care of business, with A.S. Roma dispatching Deportivo, 2-0, and Inter Milan manhandling Valencia 4-1.

  21. Tuesday, 20th February, 2007.

    Spurs certainly didn't wait long! Tuesday I went down to London for my interview with Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Daniel Levy.

    I thought it was going well: he says that he watched our match against Boston, and was very impressed, and was impressed as well with our F.A. Cup run of 2005/06. He gave me a long spiel on the history and tradition of the Spurs, and stated that this 'momentary blip' down into the Championship was merely a hiccup. He spun a dream of success in Europe, competing with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool for the title, and made it sound all-so-achievable.

    The insider's tour of White Hart Lane is amazingly impressive. The stadium itself is a 36,000 all-seater with under-soil heating, but the complex surrounding it is an even greater leap up from the comfortable confines I've been used to. Three full-size practice pitches, top weight-lifting and video facilities, and a budding youth academy are luxuries I never thought to contemplate asking for at Bootham Crescent.

    I expressed my unfeigned admiration - so this is what a world-class facility looks like!

    Unfortunately, in the afternoon, the interview took a sour turn. Levy wasn't particularly impressed with my plans to switch Spurs over to the 4-5-1 which had served me so well thus far, saying that "the supporters" - by which I think he meant himself - expected a more aggressive attacking style of football, and wouldn't be satisfied with the 1-0 games which I rely on to drop three points into the table. I thought for a moment he would hide behind that, but he concluded by expressing his worry that I was 'too young' and not well-enough known to 'command the respect' of the 'international superstars' which he normally employed.

    I left disheartened: surely they weren't going to hire me after that. I'd missed the discussion about finances which I'd hoped to have, not that that was going to matter now one way or the other.

  22. Sunday, 18th February, 2007.

    Port Vale manager Mark Hateley was talking it up in the aftermath of his team's victory over Boston, saying that he considers his side the leading contenders for promotion. With four top teams, and only three guaranteed positions, it was an exceptionally close race:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Team Pts W D L GF GA GD GP

    1 Cheltenham 63 17 12 5 52 31 +21 (34)

    2 YORK 63 19 6 9 48 28 +20 (34)

    3 Boston Utd 61 18 7 9 57 41 +16 (34)


    4 Port Vale 60 17 9 7 48 32 +16 (33)

    5 Cambridge 58 18 4 12 56 43 +13 (34)</pre>

    If Hateley was serious about his aspirations, however, he may have made a big mistake, as he completed the sale of starting goalkeeper Mark Goodlad, 27, to Swindon Town up in League One. Goodlad had been the Port Vale starting keeper for the previous three years, including their relegation season from League One, and had really wanted to move back up the football pyramid. He'd had 13 clean sheets in 45 starts this year, and his departure left only Paul Rachubka, signed on a free the previous year, to take over between the sticks.

    That move prompted me to go look over Port Vale's lineup, and believe it or not they had eight players injured, comprising 130 starts over the course of this year - it looked like they were down to playing good portions of their Reserve team on a regular basis. I can't see them as a serious threat after that!

    Speaking of injuries, Jon Paul McGovern's proved to be merely a bruised thigh, and he hoped to be ready to return by next weekend's game. Nonetheless, it had scared me, as it was a clear reminder of how thin we were on the wings with John McGrath injured and Jamal Campbell-Ryce gone.

    We entertained a pair of transfer offers on Sunday, both from Stockport County. The League One side offered a meager £75,000 for Alan Blayney - I told them they could meet his release clause of £1.5M or do without him.

    However, they did meet the £350,000 minimum fee for injured left back Joe Keenan. I had no choice but to accept - but I knew that I wanted to keep him, so I tabled a contract offer of my own for him. I could also hope that he wouldn't pass their physical, due to his current injury, which would keep him out through the summer.

  23. Saturday, 17th February, 2007. League Two - Game 34, at Exeter City.

    The long trip South to the Devonshire coast and Exeter City followed. They were another team which we'd faced in the Conference National, and my last trip to St. James Park had ended in a 4-0 defeat back in April of 2005. Our meeting this season in Bootham Crescent had been a 1-1 draw, and with them in 11th place to our 2nd, we were the favorites to win even though we were on the road. That might be as much due to the fact that City's leading goalscorer, Matt Derbyshire with 14 goals, was banned for the match due to receiving a red card in the previous one.

    It was back to a strong lineup for us, though our 'weakened' one hadn't done poorly against Boston! Alan Blayney made his 35th start of the year in goal. His defense was our first choice of Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and captain Graeme Law. Alan Navarro would run the midfield, with Phil Townley on left wing and Jon Paul McGovern on the right. I had some doubts about selecting Tappa Whitmore in the attacking midfield - Joe Foote was rested as well, and the Jamaican wasn't giving me anywhere near the performances he once had, but he used to be the spark in the attacking midfield and I gave him the nod, partnered with debutante Ricky Shakes. Paul Edwards, co-team-leader with ten goals, was the striker.

    A mere 11 seconds after kickoff, Tappa earned a yellow card for a minor shirt-tug at the halfway cicle, which had me thinking about pulling him at halftime. The hosts had a caution of their own by the tenth minute, and I was expecting a card-filled game, but then the ref let us settle down and play.

    In the 20th minute, Paul Edwards put a low centering pass for Whitmore, who was about five yards outside the City arc. Edwards darted for the area, and Tappa's return pass threaded through a tight mark by Tony Dennis with perfect precision. Edwards launched it to the far corner, and it spun in off the post: a 1-0 lead in the early going!

    The incredible pass was a clear reminder why Tappa was still one of my best choices in the attack, a true creative genius even at the end of his career, and it gave me cause to forgive as a few of his long shots failed to trouble keeper Neil Baker later in the first half. At halftime, it was still 1-0, and I refrained from making any changes.

    In the 56th minute, Exeter right wing Paul Duncan took a throw-in on the right sideline about 45 yards from the end line. He launched a beautiful long cross towards the 6-yard-box. Our central defenders clearly thought Alan Blayney had it, and let Matt King go through unmarked. Blayney waited complacently in the six-yard-box, unaware of the danger, and let King meet it in time and space for what he would afterwards call "the easiest goal of my career." 3,769 fans went wild at St. James Park as the scores were level at one apiece.

    A week earlier, that might have ruffled our disconsolate team, but they just kept up the hard work, and continued soaking up any Exeter pressure and replying with a counterattack of their own. In the 66th minute, new loanee Ricky Shakes settled for Tappa in midfield. The Jamaican played it forward with his first touch, picking out Edwards with a bit of space in the arc. The striker settled, then smashed it from the 18 to the top corner, a blistering shot which Baker could not stop. It was 2-1 with 25 minutes left, and that silenced the crowd.

    I made my first substitutions then, letting Shakes and Whitmore both come off despite their contributions to that goal, as I shifted to a more defensive focus. In the 74th minute, Phil Townley sprinted up the left wing, and then played it forward for Edwards. The striker beat the last man into the area, and shot for his hat trick - but came up with only side netting.

    We soaked up Exeter's ever-more frantic pressure until the 89th minute, when Jon Paul McGovern was injured. He required lengthy treatment, and though he did hobble back on before injury time expired, he could barely more than walk.

    Deep in injury time, captain Graeme Law launched a long free kick from our half. Somehow it slipped past the last Exeter defender, and Edwards pounced, again looking to complete the hat trick. One-on-one, Neil Baker made a fabulous save to deny him, but there was only time for one desperate 40-yard shot for the hosts, and then time expired.

    Exeter 1, York 2

    King 56; Edwards 20, 66

    MoM: Edwards

    Two-goal hero Paul Edwards was decidedly the Man of the Match, though you could have made a case for Tappa Whitmore, who had dispelled my doubts about him with two fine assists.

    As we gathered in the locker room, Viv broke out a radio to get us the scores from around the league. Boston United had lost at home to Port Vale, 1-2, dropping them out of the lead and moving Port Vale up to fourth with a game in hand, but that hadn't put us top of the table: co-leaders Cheltenham had pounded Scunthorpe 3-0, which nudged them from one behind us on goal differential to one ahead of us.

    Our April was beginning to look very interesting, as two of our final three games were Port Vale and Cheltenham!

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