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Amaroq

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  1. Wednesday, 17th January, 2007.

    "I just want to make sure we understand each other."

    Steve Beck had summoned me to his office.

    "I promise, you'll have a new contract, you just have to wait until the end of the season."

    "So you've said," I answered, noncommittally. I'd really liked Mister Beck, prior to this contract discussion - I guess the fact that he's tight with the pursestrings is part of the reason he's a good choice for chairman.

    "If we both understand each other, let's keep it out of the media. Its bad press for the club, and obviously distracting to the players."

    "Oh, I'm not the one talking to the press," I answered.

    That clearly came as a surprise to him, and took the teeth out of the discussion.

    "See that you don't, then," he said, and stood to usher me out.

    The spate of firings around English football continued, as teams began to see managers freed up that they might want to pursue. Burnley, the 23rd-placed side in the Championship (and home of Levent Yalcin) fired their manager, as did Macclesfield Town down in the Conference National.

    Jon Paul McGovern's trouble continued on Tuesday, as he strained his neck going for a header in training, and that would cause him to miss our next match, the second in a row for the 26-year-old.

    At Morecambe on Saturday, the York Under-18s defeated Morecambe U-18s in dramatic fashion, 2-1. Amateur substitute Chris Simpson's goal had given York a 1-0 lead in the final 20 minutes, but in the 87th Ian Bannister conceded an own goal. It looked a sure draw, but deep in injury time, Joe Foote's cross found Aaron Dennis at the far post, and the amateur midfielder put it away to make the 2-1 final. With only seven matches remaining, they'd closed to within two points of the once-unbeatable Blackburn U-18 side.

    It was the York All-Injury squad in Wednesday's Reserve match at Rochdale: Tappa Whitmore, Joe Foote, and Thomas Carroll all started, with Nick McDonald in goal and a now-recovered Mark Dixon as the captain. On a day barely above freezing, neither side could find the net, and the final result was a 0-0 draw, which at least helped usher some of our lads back towards match fitness.


  2. Saturday, 13th January, 2007. League Two - Game 27, vs Hereford United.

    Hereford were the Conference National champions in 2004/05, and placed 15th in League Two last season. This year, they lie 17th, with the third-weakest offense in the League. However, they've managed to win 8 games to stay comfortably clear of relegation, and have a four-game unbeaten streak. They've also beaten us in our last two meetings, both 2-1 at Hereford, one in the Conference in February of '05, and the other this season in August.

    With the two suspended players, our lineup was as follows: on-form Alan Blayney in goal, Joe Keenan on the left flank, Jamie Cooper partnered with Michael Staley in central defense, and captain Graeme Law on the right. Alan Navarro was the holding midfielder, and on the wings, loanee Phil Townley would be opposite John McGrath, who was making his 50th league appearance for York. Robert Cousins and Micah Richards were partnered in the attacking midfield, with Paul Edwards on his third straight start at striker.

    A steady rain was falling at Bootham Crescent, but it took us only 31 seconds to mount the first threat. Edwards fed Micah Richards in the area, and he sent a half-volley inches wide.

    However, the majority of the chances that followed went to the visitors. Tom Smith sent a dangerous cross into the box for Noel Hunt, who headed just over. In the 23rd minute, Andy Williams shot from range. Michael Staley threw himself in front of the shot, but the rebound fell to Danny Carey-Bertram. Blayney got behind the shot, but couldn't hold onto the wet ball, and Noel Hunt looked certain to score until Jamie Cooper's last-ditch tackle cleared the danger.

    Carey-Bertram had two more good chance, once met by Staley's desperation tackle, and the second stopped by Blayney's fine save. In the 42nd minute, Hunt hit the bar from nine yards.

    It was a relief to catch our breath at halftime - if you're thinking all that was Hereford pressure, you're absolutely right. They were piling on the pressure, and I couldn't see standing steadfastly in defense any longer. I asked the lads to start pushing forward, to challenge Hereford in midfield and try to hold the pressure in their zone if only to give the defense a breather.

    This led to a noticeable sea change, as Hereford relented a bit - for the first time, they were forced to think about defense.

    We earned a corner in the 51st minute, and without McGovern, Joe Keenan stepped over to take it. He played it to Phil Townley at the near post, and he shot into traffic from ten yards. Jonathan Gould made the first save but the rebound fell right to Graeme Law. Rather than take the obvious shot, he took a tight angle back to the unguarded near post, and found the net for the first goal of his career.

    With the tactic working, I left it unchanged, and the next ten minutes were constant York pressure with the crowd of 2,778 on their feet and cheering. Cousins, Edwards, and then McGrath each came close, and then Townley earned a corner kick. The rain was really streaming down as Keenan stepped up to take it, and Micah Richards tried the same near-post run that had worked for Townley in earlier. This time Malawi defender Tamika Mkandawire fouled him, and the referee awarded a penalty!

    Paul Edwards took it, and buried it to the keeper's right, making it 2-0!

    Hereford United nearly got one back immediately, on a corner kick minutes later, but Hunt's header from just outside the xi-yard box skimmed the crossbar on its way over. We came right back, with Tappa, who had declared himself fit to come off the substitutes' bench just as I was chosing a lineup, setting up Richards at the top of the arc. A wicked shot to the lower-right corner forced a top-drawer save from Gould.

    In the 77th minute, Hunt set up Andy Williams 25 yards from our goal. Staley won the challenge, but put it right to Karl Curtis, who one-timed it back into the space Staley had just vacated. Williams was the first one there, and drilled it home from 15 yards to narrow the deficit to 2-1.

    Both sides had spectacular chances in the closing minutes: Hunt hit side netting for Hereford, Whitmore broke free on a breakaway only to see it saved by Gould, Richards had another shot to the corner saved by Gould, and then Hereford United's Tom Smith sent a long cross from deep that carried over everyone, only to hit off the crossbar.

    By injury time, Hereford was sending everybody forward in a desperate bid to equalize, and as we've seen so many times that opened space up at the back. Our 5-on-3 counter-attack became a 3-on-1 breakaway. Richards had two teammates wide open and a defender on him, but chose to shoot, and it was no surprise that effort went wide wasting a great opportunity. Moments later, however, the final whistle blew, and judging from the crowd's chant we were back top of the table.

    York 2, Hereford 1

    Law 51, Edwards pen 70; Williams 77

    MoM: Gould (Hereford GK)

    Indeed, in the locker room a radio carrying the League run-down indicated that 4th-placed Lincoln had scored three second-half goals to beat Cambridge 3-1, and we were back atop the table. Jonathan Gould earned Man of the Match honors for the visitors for making 8 solid saves over the course of the game, while Navarro, McGrath, and Edwards had played well on our side of the ball.


  3. Friday, 12th January, 2007.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Fans Demand Extension

    Minstermen Supporter's Club president Alex Hunter issued a statement signed by more than 500 York City supporters calling on the Supporter's Trust to extend Ian Richards's contract.

    "Its time for the board to recognize the job Ian has done in just two years," the petition read. "He deserves better than seeing out a lame-duck contract, and the club can certainly afford a raise commensurate with his status as a League manager." </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    I shook my head, discarding the paper without even finishing the article. No good could come of bandying it about in the press like this. If it were up to me, we'd do everything behind closed doors.

    Nick McDonald and Thomas Carroll made their respective returns from injury in Wednesday's Reserve match. The young goalkeeper was particularly distressed, as if he hadn't been injured when Blayney had, he might have gotten the first-team chances instead of Kevin Butler. I could only hope that would make him determined to impress. The match was at Crown Ground against Accrington Reserves, and Marc Walton pronounced himself match fit after scoring one goal, creating another via an own goal, and earning Man of the Match honors in only 45 minutes. Carroll took over for him in the second half; McDonald lasted 65 shutout minutes, and even more encouraging, Joe Foote's physiotherapist had recommended a few low-impact minutes at the end of the match as his first step back towards competitive football. The final score: York Reserves 2, Accrington Reserves 0.

    In the first leg of the League Cup semi-finals, on the same day, Liverpool defeated League One Cinderella side Bradford City, 3-1, and Blackburn beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage.

    I'd been planning on starting Mark Goodwin at right wing for the suspended McGovern on Saturday, but that plan went out the window when he dislocated his jaw in training on Thursday. I'd had an odd intuition not to start Adam Corbett in the week's Reserve match, and that turned out to be the correct move now, as I only had three healthy, eligible wings for the Hereford match.


  4. Tuesday, 9th January, 2007.

    Alan Blayney's superb performance in goal also earned him a nomination to the League Two Team of the Week. Well deserved, and the first time he'd won that in a York jersey, though he had been twice named while on loan to Yeovil during the 2005 season.

    Cambridge has recovered their form and won their last two matches, so the draw put us back down to second place, a point behind with twenty games yet to play.

    Luckily, the F.A. decided that Fontaine's suspension would only be for one match. I gave him a formal warning however, telling him that I don't care what the referee said to you, I don't ever want to see my players sent off for arguing with the referee. He thinks I'm being horribly unfair, but honestly! He charged the referee in a fit a rage - I'd have been well within my rights to fine him, I informed him, and left the matter at that.

    I can only hope the incident hasn't poisoned my relationship with one of my starting defenders. At least a match against 17th-placed Hereford was a good one for our lads to serve their suspensions on.

    There were a wave of mid-season managerial sackings Sunday morning, most notably Mick McCarthy of Sunderland, who found 14th place in the Premier League was uncomfortably close to relegation for his board. Conference sides Northampton and Barnet, and Conference South side Bath City, all felt a need for a change as well.

    I've come to a loan arrangement sending right back Daniel Smith, my third-string, to fellow League Two side Chesterfield for the duration of the season. His contract is expiring, and I've been unable to pay him what he thinks he's worth, so it really isn't worth my while to continue investing training time in him. I'd slipped a guaranteed-fee clause into the deal, and hoped Chesterfield would exercise it to bring the player over full-time.


  5. Saturday, 6th January, 2007. League Two - Game 26, at Peterborough United.

    Peterborough offered a bigger challenge, a League One side last year, on a four-game unbeaten run, sitting 13th in the table, and at home. We'd beaten them twice already this season, 2-1 in a friendly and 3-0 in a League match, but both of those had been at Bootham Crescent. The city is near Cambridge, due north of London along the A1, and due east of Birmingham.

    With both our injury crisis and our fixture congestion beginning to abate, I got to select a side much closer to my ideal XI. Alan Blayney was back in goal, with a defensive line of Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley, and Graeme Law. Alan Navarro would anchor the midfield, with John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern on the wings. Robert Cousins and Micah Richards, the only two healthy attacking midfielders, were the clear choice, with Paul Edwards starting at striker despite playing a full ninety minutes on Monday.

    A steady drizzle was falling at London Road, a reminder of the swampy nature of that area before landfill began. Peterborough came out in a defensive 4-4-2 with a holding midfielder, bringing all eleven players back to defend against corner kicks and free kicks in obvious deference to our top-of-the-table status. It worked - it was a stifling tactic that led to few chances for either side. Our best opportunity came in the 37th minute on a free kick, played out to Micah Richards at the top of the box. He drilled a long-range effort curling to the top-right corner, but Andy Oakes made a brilliant fingertip save to divert it over the top.

    In the 39th minute, just outside our 18-yard box, Liam Fontaine went in on Tony Dinning with a dangerous two-footed challenge, and Mr. Rawcliffe gave Fontaine a yellow card. The wet pitch may have made it appear more dangerous than it was, but Fontaine disagreed with the call, and was given a short lecture. He was walking away when the referee must have said one last thing, because suddenly Fontaine charged back at him, furious, and earned his red card. I was afraid he was going to slug the referee and earn a lengthy suspension, but he just walked off the pitch.

    I sent Alan Eckersley on for Edwards, moving Keenan to a central defense role. Blayney saved Dinning's effort from the resultant free kick, but no more than five minutes later, Mr. Rawcliffe blew the whistle again, this time citing Eckersley for backing into Armstrong on an aerial challenge just at the 18-yard-line. Worse, he pointed to the spot, and my lads were about ready to boil over!!

    Dinning stepped up confidently to take the penalty, but Blayney guessed right and came up with the save!

    After another questionable yellow card during injury time, I spent all of half-time trying to calm the lads down, reminding them "A scoreless draw is a fine result here. Just don't get yourself sent off: we won't do so well with nine men."

    I got a real scare in the 52nd minute when Blayney went walkabout, turning it over to Michael Proctor, who was pressuring him. Proctor failed to shoot while the net was open, letting Blayney scramble back into position. Then he shot, ignoring an open Dinning on the far-post run, and Blayney made another fine save to deny him.

    Two minutes later, it was Proctor again, this time getting above Law about 17 yards from goal to head Ahmed Deen's long ball on. Blayney was charging out just as Proctor got his head to it, but made an amazing reaction save to tip it high into the air. It still looked goal-bound, but carried just over, landing on the top netting.

    Just as it was beginning to feel like one-way traffic, Micah Richards's long pass picked out McGovern impossibly free behind the last defender. He drove in on goal, but again Oakes came up with a fine save. It gave me a feeling of confidence, and as we continued to hold our own through the 70th minute, I decided to try something daring, pressing my backs and wingers forward in mimicry of our 'aggressive' tactic.

    To nobody's surprise, that turned a defensive affair into an offensive slug-fest, with both sides getting plenty of shots off. Blayney continued his fine play, twice coming out to cut out dangerous crosses near the penalty spot, and making one more good save. McGovern picked up a yellow card on the 78th minute, but in the 80th Townley's ball from our own half broke young Simon Roberts free from the mid-way stripe. He had only one man to beat. He got into the box, and made his man miss, only to put the shot over at the last instant!

    The final minutes and injury time were real heart-pounding stuff, with both sides feeling on the verge of breaking off the game-winner, but neither could come up with a breakthrough.

    Peterborough 0, York 0

    ----; ----

    MoM: Blayney

    Alan Blayney thoroughly deserved his Man of the Match award after a fantastic performance in goal - I told him how glad we were to have him back. A draw after going a man down in the first half was realistically a good result, but missing Fontaine and McGovern, who would be suspended for his fifth yellow card, was going to make our next match that much harder.


  6. Thursday, 4th January, 2007.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">No Contract for Richards

    York City chairman Steve Beck today confirmed yesterday's report from an unnamed source: manager Ian Richards has asked for a new contract, and was turned down this week.

    The stellar young skipper has done a tremendous job to revive the troubled club, leading the Minstermen from the Conference up to knocking on the door of League One, and the fans - Beck's employer in the Supporter's Trust agreement - will be shocked.

    "Though we have not given him a new contract today, we recognize that Ian has been a visionary who turned the club around," Beck said. "We don't want to let this become a distraction, and I gave him my personal promise that we'll have a new contract in place before this one expires." </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    The press had gotten wind of the discussions - and I hadn't told them. That means a leak from the board, right?

    On Wednesday, injured goalkeeper Alan Blayney made his return to the pitch, playing 45 minutes in a Reserve match tune-up against Crawley at Bootham Crescent. He didn't play all that well, conceding a goal as the Crawley Reserves beat York Reserves 2-0. A 21-year-old striker named Adam Kerley impressed, scoring both goals for Crawley. Marc Walton also got back on the pitch late in that one, playing the final 25 minutes.

    Thursday's big news was that famous English manager Glenn Hoddle had been hired by Derby County, currently 14th in the Championship. His last position was at Coventry City, whom he took over as they were on the path to relegation from the Championship, and then brought back up the following year as League One winners, before getting fired mid-October.


  7. Tuesday, 2nd January, 2007.

    With my heart in my throat, I met with Jeff Miller to get his report on my injured players. Luckily, subbing Robert Cousins off so early had prevented any further injury, and he'd be fine with a bit of light training this week. The diagnosis of fractured ribs on Lee Croft was correct - he'd miss most of the month of January. Jamaican winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce was the worst injured of the group, with strained knee ligaments that Jeff recommended be seen by a specialist, and might keep him out for the duration of the loan arrangement, which was due to expire in mid-February.

    Even the news that chairman Steve Beck was pleased with the 2-0 win couldn't quite assuage the wounds: I wasn't convinced it was worth the cost, but at least the serious injuries had happened to men in on loan, and not to our long-term prospects.

    The monthly review of training helped dramatically: maybe it was the two days off for Christmas, or maybe it was the adjustments I'd made to the training schedule, but we were seeing dramatic, almost incredible improvement across the board. Defender Joe Keenan was the most improved, with a huge step forward that was unexpected for a man of his age. Michael Staley's had a similar giant improvement, which reversed a slight trend of decay, while Micah Richards broke out of a long doldrum with a huge leap forward, and Alan Navarro was similarly trending up. With more improvement than we'd seen from anyone on the team in October were Robert Cousins, Campbell-Ryce, Malcolm Parker, Phil Townley, and Thomas Carroll. Mark Dixon's fantastic play Monday was a sign of how much he'd stepped forward, and in fact he was one of the most improved players on the side, after Jamie Cooper. Mark Goodwin and Simon Roberts made big strides forward to hit their personal peaks, and Tappa Whitmore was showing his first improvement since the injury.

    Making strides that would have earned note in other months, but were in fact small for the side as a whole this month were Joe Foote, Jon Paul McGovern, Marc Walton, Graeme Law, Adam Corbett, John McGrath, Liam Fontaine, and steady improver Paul Edwards. Among the goalkeepers, Alan Blayney had made the biggest improvement he'd had since joining the club. He seemed to have resolved whatever issue was slowing his progress before, and youngster Colin Hart was making rapid progress as well.

    In other news, Arsenal striker Thierry Henry was named World Footballer of the Year. Despite his fantastic performances in the World Cup and Champions League, Roque Santa Cruz really missed out on the major awards, though he did collect third place in the European Striker of the Year balloting.


  8. Monday, 1st January, 2007. League Two - Game 25, at Mansfield Town.

    A visit to 22nd-placed Mansfield was just what the doctor ordered after two defeats, but the ten outfield players who'd been on the pitch just two days prior would be too tired to go again. Mansfield have bounced around League One and League Two since 1958, with only a one-year appearance in the Championship back in the seventies after winning the Division Two title the previous year. They narrowly missed relegation last season, coming 21st, and this season they are 22nd, four points clear of the relegation zone.

    With wholesale changes, the lineup was: Kevin Butler starting for the injured Blayney in goal, with Joe Keenan, Michael Staley, Jamie Cooper, and Mark Dixon across the back four. Ian Bannister was the defensive midfielder, with John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern, in his 50th league showing for York, providing some veteran leadership from the wings. Exhausted attacking midfielders Robert Cousins and Lee Croft were asked to start anyways, and Paul Edwards was the striker. Mansfield had opted to start their exhausted starting lineup nearly across the board: it would be an interesting test of talent versus condition.

    Mansfield tried a pressing, active defense, closing down with multiple players in all areas of the pitch. No wonder their starters were so fatigued! For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, while they had fresh legs, this gave us fits - it was tough to get anything done with two defenders charging down on you.

    The other aspect of their defense was some hard tackling, and by the twentieth minute, Viv Busby pointed out that Robert Cousins had picked up a knock and seemed to be limping. I couldn't risk further injury to our leading scorer and star player, so I took him off, putting Mark Goodwin on the right wing and moving McGovern up to attacking midfield.

    In the 28th minute, John McGrath's pass sprang loanee Lee Croft into the area unmarked - the danger of the closing-down strategy was that it always seemed to leave somebody unmarked. Croft's shot was deflected by goalkeeper David Lucas, and trickled across the goalmouth before rolling just wide of the far post. McGovern took the corner kick, and played to to Croft. His shot was blocked, and ricocheted back wide to McGovern, who laid it back for Ian Bannister unmarked at the top of the area. The young defensive midfielder drilled it to the near post, a shot that threaded its way through three defenders and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead!

    For the most part, we were controlling the ball in midfield, but a throw-in deep down our left flank for Mansfield led to a great chance. Simon Ramsden sent it in to Chris Brown, who'd found an unmarked pocket of space just outside of the six-yard box. Butler dover to tip away his effort, and Mark Dixon cleared the rebound off the line. Andy Parkinson got the rebound on our left flank, and crossed for Kevin Warner at the opposite post. With Butler still picking himself up off the turf, Warner headed on goal, but somehow Dixon had scrambled back across the goalmouth to interpose himself between Warner and the open net. Desperate defending, but the youngster had really impressed - and his play got a counter-attack started, a beautiful 5-on-3 chance. John McGrath was the unmarked man entering the area, but he blazed it over.

    In injury time of the first half, Lee Croft and Paul Mitchell went in hard for a loose ball, and both wound up writhing on the ground as the referee whistled for half-time. Physio Jeff Miller had about five minutes with Croft, but then told me he'd cracked ribs, and I'd have to change him off. Two injuries already! I put Jamal Campbell-Ryce on, and that made two wingers playing attacking midfield.

    We had another 5-on-3 break early in the second half, but Campbell-Ryce struck the post from 16 yards. We were still looking in complete control, but on the 56th minute, Campbell-Ryce collided with Alex Neil, and went down clutching his knee. Our third injury of the afternoon left the Jamaican unable to continue, and I was out of midfielders of any description on my bench. I brought on young striker Simon Roberts as an attacking midfielder.

    Both he and Paul Edwards were denied by Lucas's goalkeeping between the 60th and 69th minutes, and it was still a 1-0 game at the 70-minute mark. That was when Mansfield brought three pairs of fresh legs on, mostly in the attacking third, and I told the lads to hole up and play defensively, only looking for the counterattack if opportunity presented itself.

    Opportunity did, in the 76th, as after a Mansfield corner kick, six York players streamed forward in the counter. Mark Goodwin's superb pass fed the unmarked McGovern into the area, but David Lucas did very well to parry the Scotsman's shot. The rebound fell directly to Mark Dixon, with a great chance at his first professional goal, but he hurried the shot and put it wide. He was absolutely kicking himself as he hurried back to get in position, but it turned out not to matter.

    Two minutes later, McGovern's excellent craft and vision found Edwards with one man to beat. The striker's deft first touch made space for himself, and he slipped a cheeky shot through the keeper's legs to make the final score 2-0.

    Mansfield 0, York 2

    ----; Bannister 29, Edwards 78

    MoM: McGrath

    We'd utterly controlled the match, especially in the midfield, and had peppered the Mansfield goal with shots. Hard-working John McGrath was Man of the Match, though McGovern, Dixon, or Staley might have been my choice. It was a relief to put our brief losing streak behind us, and a boost to the side's faltering morale to get a win on the road, but I was in no mood to celebrate with the prospect of being reduced to just one healthy attacking midfielder on the roster.


  9. Monday, 1st January, 2007.

    Before leaving for our afternoon match against Mansfield, I had the monthly meeting with the board. Despite our three-games-without-a-goal streak, they are very excited about our prospects: we're still first place in the League! I told them I'd expected our run of victories to come to an end with a few losses like this, and that it was a natural correction; we hadn't been as good as we'd been showing in November, honestly.

    The recent slump of form by the top two teams had dramatically closed up the top of the table: only 5 points separated the top spot from the 8th-placed, don't-even-make-the-playoffs position. It was shaping up to be a dramatic second half of the season!

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

    1 YORK 45 14 3 7 34 21 +13

    2 Cambridge 44 14 2 8 38 29 + 9

    3 Boston United 43 13 4 7 32 30 +12

    -----------------------------------------------

    4 Leyton Orient 43 12 7 5 32 22 +10

    5 Walsall 41 11 8 5 41 20 +21

    6 Lincoln 41 11 8 5 34 21 +13

    7 Cheltenham 41 11 8 5 31 21 +10

    -----------------------------------------------

    8 Bristol Rovers 40 11 7 6 34 23 +11

    9 Port Vale 39 10 9 5 31 23 + 8

    10 Chesterfield 37 10 7 7 37 30 + 7</pre>

    Chief Financial Officer Sophie McGill was quite pleased. For the month of December, we'd earned about £50,000 on merit, plus our transfer income, which gave us a monthly net of £504,000, leaving us up three-quarters of a million for the season, with a healthy £500,000 in the club's coffers prior to our January loan payment.

    Per the Supporter's Trust arrangement, most of that was released back to the club as transfer budget, leaving me with £337,000 to spend - but a reminder that we're already over the wage budget, and I won't be allowed to increase the wage bill dramatically.

    I figured that made a contract renewal a shoe-in, so it came as a real slap in the face when Steve told me otherwise, and in front of the entire board!

    "Listen, Ian, we've talked over your request for a contract extension, and we'd like to place that discussion on hold until the end of the season."

    "What?!"

    "Your current contract runs through the end of June. We'll talk extension in May after the season is over, you have my word."


  10. Sunday, 31st December, 2006.

    After the match, we held a going-away party for those players who were stepping on from Bootham Crescent to bigger and better things. After two straight defeats and my tongue-lashing postmatch talk, you might have thought the atmosphere was down, but the news had come in that Cambridge had been hammered 4-0 by Bristol Rovers, so we remained top of the table.

    The players we were bidding adieu to were Jon Shepherd, sold to Manchester City on a Supporter's Trust-record £350,000 (the club's overall record is the £950,000 transfer received from Sheffield Wednesday for Richard Cresswell back in 1998), Mark Wright, off to Inverness CT for £100,000, and Richard Fox, sold to Southampton for £85,000.

    Our net wasn't as simple as summing the totals, however, as Montrose earned 25% of Shepherd's transfer fee, a mammoth sum for such a small club, and Walsall had a 20% sell-on clause on Richard Fox, while we had a friendly with Premiership side Southampton to look forward to next summer.

    Still, the total sale value was £535,000, of which £427,000 accrued to the club's coffers immediately.

    Jon Shepherd, SC, 19: July 2006-December 2006: 1 seasons, 19 games, 4 goals, 5 assists, 7.21

    Mark Wright, DC, 19: August 2005-December 2006: 2 seasons, 48 games, 2 goals, 7.08

    Richard Fox, AM RL, 17: August 2006-December 2006: 1 season, 9 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 MoM, 7.00

    I gave them a speech about how much we at York City were grateful for their contributions, and told the assembled group that I didn't want to stand in anybody's way, professionally: that though we as a team might miss the individuals, both on and off the pitch, that these steps up were the best thing for their budding careers, and I wouldn't have agreed the deals if I didn't think so.


  11. Saturday, 30th December, 2006. League Two - Game 24, vs Rochdale.

    Rochdale have been a perennial League Two side, literally occupying a spot in that division since 1959 for all but a brief 5-year stint in League One during the early '70's. They've been struggling lately, finishing somewhere between 18th and 21st the past four seasons, but they've avoided relegation each time. They lie 18th now, and we'd beaten them twice already this season, once in the season opener and once in the Vans Trophy, by a combined score of 4-1.

    It was a swan-song for two of our players, as I gave Mark Wright and Jon Shepherd the honour of starting in their final match at Bootham Crescent. Kevin Butler started in goal for the injured Blayney. His defense was Adam Eckersley, Liam Fontaine, Wright, and Graeme Law. Alan Navarro was the defensive midfielder, while two loanees, Phil Townley and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, played right and left wings respectively. Micah Richards and Lee Croft were partnered in the attacking midfield, and Shepherd was the striker. There was added buzz in the locker room before the game, as it was rumored that a scout from Newcastle United had come to watch Robert Cousins.

    At home against a weak team, we were the pressuring side from the opening kick-off, but Rochdale's defense held tough through the first ten minutes, giving us few good opportunities. We were missing a lot of our veterans up front, and that final killer ball was lacking.

    In the 13th minute, Graeme Law took a throw-in deep in Rochdale territory on the right side. Jamie Clarke intercepted for the visitors, and sent a long pass through the rain, over everyone. Despite three defenders back and well-positioned, Rochdale number nine Grant Holt outran them all to the ball. Mark Wright was in close attendance as he reached the arc, and Kevin Butler was rushing out, but Holt shielded Wright off the ball and shot from the eighteen, catching Butler mid-stride and it was 0-1, not the start we'd hoped for by any means.

    We maintained constant pressure throughout the first half, but couldn't get any results. Our best chance may have come in the 42nd minute, when Lee Croft launched a blistering first-touch shot from the top of the arc, but it clipped the bar on its way over the net.

    At halftime, I told the wings and fullbacks to begin pushing forward, and the second half was played almost entirely in the Rochdale half.

    With no goal by the 65th minute, I made all three substitutions, and the fans cheered as young phenom Simon Roberts and leading scorer Robert Cousins took the field. The cheer was even louder seven minutes later, however, when Rochdale countered by putting on a 40-year-old Teddy Sheringham. He was well past his prime, but can still use that wonderful touch and his years of experience to cause trouble for an inexperienced side.

    Despite the creative presence of my two young starlets, we still couldn't penetrate the stalwart Rochdale defense, though Cousins came close twice from long range. A desperation switch to a 2-3-5 in injury time piled on yet more pressure, but the result was the same: our second straight defeat. It was poor reward for the 2,764 faithful who had braved the rain to support us.

    York 0, Rochdale 1

    ----; Holt 13

    MoM: Hughes (Rochdale MC)

    Three goalless outings in a row; lack of targeted finishing was again our problem. There had been only one shot on target by either side all afternoon, and that was the game winner by Holt. Despite our tons of pressure, our shooting had gone awry every time, and I vocally expressed my displeasure with that to the lads.


  12. Friday, 29th December, 2006.

    Alan Blayney's gashed leg was successfully stitched closed, and though the doctors recommended a week's rest, he wouldn't miss more than two matches over it.

    When we learned more about the Cambridge game, it turned out that Yeovil's Polish striker Bartosz Tarachulski had scored two goals in the final twelve minutes to lift Yeovil above Cambridge 2-1.

    At Bootham Crescent, the York Reserves had matches in back-to-back days on the 26th and 27th. Its doubly frustrating to see fixture congestion in a Reserve league that is primarily about keeping match fitness, not exhausting the players. With our injury situation, I would up fielding an all-amateur side, and they conceded a pair of 0-2 defeats to Blackpool Reserves and Yeovil Reserves.

    Friday afternoon, amateur midfielder Aaron Dennis played the game of his life for York Under-18s, scoring two goals in the first 15 minutes, and completing his hat trick in the second half after Boston United U-18s had clawed one back. James Smart added a late goal to make the final score 4-1.

    In other news, Burnley withdrew their transfer bids for Joe Keenan and Jon Paul McGovern, being unwilling to match the minimum-release fees for those two. I wasn't willing to let such key members of my successful squad go for less - it would be hard to find replacements of a similar quality without investing real money both in transfer fee, which I could afford, and wage budget, which I could not.


  13. Tuesday, 26th December, 2006. League Two - Game 23, at Milton Keynes Dons.

    Milton Keynes were one of the black sheep of English football, with supporters and F.A. alike annoyed that new ownership had purchased the old Wimbledon side, and 'stolen' the team, spiriting it away to a new city with a new stadium. This has been fairly common - if unpopular - practice in the United States over the past fifty years, but it seems to have really offended the British psyche. Neutrals across England had rejoiced to see "The Franchise" relegated from League One at the end of 2004/05. The city itself is north-west of London along the M1, and home to the Red Bull Racing factory, formerly the Jaguar Formula One team.

    Despite two days of rest and celebration with their families, most of our players were still mightily fatigued, and my lineup for the match which marked the mid-way point of the season was dictated by necessity. Alan Blayney returned in goal behind Michael Staley, Jamie Cooper, who wore the captain's armband, and young Mark Dixon. Joe Keenan was making his 100th league appearance at left back, and Ian Bannister was the defensive midfielder. In contrast to our weakened defense, we had our top wingers, John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern. Robert Cousins would hold one attacking midfield role, but of the other four attacking midfielders on the roster, two were injured and two were too fatigued to start a match after playing most of Saturday's tie. I'd have tried a 4-4-2, but the situation at striker was just as bad. Therefore, Richard Fox got to play a little out of position. Paul Edwards was the lone striker.

    Milton Keynes came out in the same 3-5-2 formation which we'd had such trouble with lately. At least it was familiar, and the lads up front were playing together very well. Edwards picked out Cousins in the box, to the left of goal, in merely the 5th minute. He shot from a tight angle, and Scott Bevan deflected it - players and fans alike could only watch, breath held, as it trickled inches wide of the far post.

    At the quarter hour, Fox made an exciting long dribble, but shot narrowly over - he was looking very dangerous, especially considering he was out of his natural position. A minute later, Keenan's long ball sprang Cousins beyond the Milton Keynes defense, but Nigerian international Shola Oyedale tracked back to cover, and put it out for a throw. Full credit to the speedy fullback; it was the first time I'd seen Cousins caught from behind.

    The electrifying Cousins was denied again in the 37th minute on another Bevan save, and at halftime it felt like we were in complete control. We'd really been peppering the Dons' goal, and it looked like it was just a matter of time.

    On the hour, we got a scary moment, as Alan Blayney discovered that he was bleeding from his leg, and the physio had to bring him off for treatment. Apparently he'd injured it a few minutes earlier when he came out to punch a ball away, and had caught some spikes. After several minutes, he had to come off, and young Kevin Butler came in - but after Butler's Man of the Match performance on Saturday, that didn't worry me much.

    Perhaps it should have. In the 67th minute, 16-year-old winger Richard Pearson sent a long pass forward from the left. It looked like it would carry into the six-yard box, and Butler went to catch it at the edge of that box, but Andy Farrell cut between the young goalkeeper and the cross. The young striker leaped high into the air, and headed home from about eight yards out! 3,011 fans cheered in surprised joy, as the goal was completely against the run of play, but 0-1 it was.

    My wingers nearly combined to get it back in the next two minutes, as first Jon Paul McGovern changed fields with a long pass across everyone to John McGrath. The Irishman centered from the left for Edwards, but the Milton Keynes defense put it out for a corner. McGovern's corner came right to McGrath, who drilled a header that looked a certain goal, but somehow Bevan parried it, and Oyedale removed the danger.

    Despite shifting to the 3-5-2, partnering Jon Shepherd with Edwards and sending too many men forward, we were unable to crack the tight 5-3-2 defense Milton Keynes had shifted to, and we were met with defeat.

    Milton Keynes 1, York 0

    Farrell 67; ----

    MoM: Bevan (MK Dons GK)

    There wasn't much more we could have done; we'd dominated possession and shots, and put a solid 70% of our shots on target, while conceding merely 4 shots ourselves. The mood in the locker room after was somber, as in addition to the defeat, we figured we'd lost the League lead, and were waiting for word on the injury to our goalkeeper.

    That's when Viv Busby poked his head in and said, "No, lads, Cambridge lost again - you're still top!"


  14. Monday, 25th December, 2006.

    I gave the lads Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, with the traditional reminder to show up ready to play on Boxing Day, and instructions to enjoy their newly-earned League position.

    On Christmas Day we had a bit of a celebration at Stacy and my home, inviting over our friends Ope, a Nigerian-born Londoner, Elliott and his wife, who had moved from California to England a year or two earlier than we had, and several members of the team who didn't have local family to celebrate with, including Jamal Campbell-Ryce, and Tappa, who was unfortunately in a bit of a neck brace - his injury Saturday was a strained back, and he's experiencing some painful spasms. He assures me that the physio says he'll be better with a few weeks' rest, but it made me very glad we'd gotten Lee Croft in.

    My Assistant Manager, Viv Busby, came for dinner - the older man was becoming quite a mentor and confidant for me. The McGills also joined us, and it was a fun family atmosphere, much more comfortable than travelling 'home' to California. In fact, it was sometime after Christmas dinner, sitting around with my wife, my friends, and a fine glass of port, that I realized York had become "home" for me. It was as stunning a realization, I think, as when I'd first realized that I no longer thought of my parents' house as 'home'.

    I guess I'd already realized that 'home' was wherever my wife was, but this was a new and different feeling: I'd given my loyalty completely over to this club, and this fine city which had adopted me as much as I had adopted it - I was a Minsterman to the core.


  15. Saturday, 23rd December, 2006. League Two - Game 22, vs Cheltenham Town.

    Cheltenham Town are a small side which had been non-league since their inception, and in fact were a poster child for 'how to grow a small club', going from non-Conference lower-division play in 1996/97, qualifying for the Conference in 1997/98, winning it in 1998/99, promoting into Division Three and turning full professional. In 2001/02, they finished fourth, to move on up into League One - a blinding climb. Unfortunately, that's where they hit a wall, and fell back down to League Two the following year, but they'd avoided the typical mistake of overspending, so they remained a contender, in 7th place in League Two this season. They had been higher up, but they have a very defensive club which is struggling to score, and though they've had a number of 0-0 ties, they haven't won in their last five outings.

    Our squad were suffering from exhaustion, and I had to name several players in the starting lineup who were more tired than I'd have preferred to start. Kevin Butler was nominated for his second start in goal despite the importance of the match. His defense was Adam Eckersley, a tired Liam Fontaine, Mark Wright, and captain Graeme Law. Alan Navarro held the defensive midfield position, with Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Mark Goodwin on the left and right wings respectively. Lee Croft would make his debut appearance alongside club legend Theodore Whitmore, and Jon Shepherd was the only fit and rested striker on the side.

    It was quite warm for a December afternoon - fully 71 degrees, but there was a bit of a breeze and sporadic rain, it was odd weather truthfully. One thing I'd missed in my analysis of Cheltenham was how hard-nosed their defense is. In the 6th minute, that was reinforced when Tappa Whitmore was sent to the earth on a crunching tackle by Gary Cahill. The Jamaican didn't get back up, and as our physio came on to attend to him, the crowd booed Cahill and the referee, who hadn't even awarded a foul, equally.

    Chances were few and far between, and the next point of interest was when right wing Mark Goodwin was injured. Though he was eventually able to continue, he was never as effective as he had been. Cheltenham's best chance of the half came in the 31st minute, when a long ball down the right wing set David McNiven loose behind Eckersley. His cross got caught in the wind, carrying over Butler and curling towards the net, but luckily for York it cannoned back off the crossbar.

    At halftime, I decided we needed to change tactics, and set the lads on our 'patient buildup' tactic, pushing both wings and fullbacks forward but also slowing down the tempo and looking for a short-passing buildup. This almost paid instant dividends, as in the 46th minute a series of passes spotted Jamal Campbell-Ryce free on the left side, and his aerial ball forward into the 6-yard box nearly found Jon Shepherd, but was headed away by Craig Baxter.

    Around the hour, Walsall defender Paul O'Donoghue played a long ball over the top for McNiven. He was about 20 miles offsides, but to the amazement of everyone in the stadium, there was no call! All alone, McNiven came into the box for Butler, who was still on his line, glancing incredulously at the ref. McNiven rolled it straight and slow to Butler, as though giving up on the play himself, and luckily the 17-year-old picked it up. It was the most oddly mis-played piece of action I've ever seen, with mistakes all around.

    Determined not to go to a 0-0 draw, I brought on my final two substitutes and switched our side to our full attacking instructions with about 25 minutes to go. In the 70th, Navarro's corner kick picked out new signing Lee Croft unmarked in the area, and he launched a spectacular right-footed volley that carried just over the crossbar.

    Our late substitutes made a great bid in the 81st minute, with left back Joe Keenan overlapping Adam Eckersley, whom I had moved up to left wing. Keenan crossed into the area for Paul Edwards, who jumped above Graham Ward, but couldn't direct his header. Both sides were exhausted, and Cheltenham were fully concentrated on defense, so nil-nil was how it ended.

    York 0, Cheltenham 0

    ----; ----

    MoM: Butler

    A lusty cheer went up from the crowd of 3,148 just before full time, as the scoreboard operator updated the Cambridge score to a 'final', and it was Christmas come two days early: Cambridge 0, Leyton Orient 2. With one point from the draw here, we moved into first place in League Two! There was celebration as though we'd won the match in our locker room after the lads had showered and the news had gotten around.

    Despite facing just three shots all match - and one of them that odd play at the hour - Kevin Butler was named Man of the Match, but I was distressed that we'd failed to put a single shot on target.


  16. Friday, 22nd December, 2006.

    Physio Jeff Miller reported that Marc Walton's injury was a groin strain, and that he really ought to have two weeks off to ensure that he doesn't re-injure it and make it worse. That's an unfortunate injury with the fixture congestion around Christmas and the pending sale of Jon Shepherd on January 1st, but I thought we should have sufficient cover - until Thomas Carroll strained his groin during a training session on Thursday. Suddenly, we have a budding injury crisis, and Simon Roberts is going to find himself in the first team again.

    On the plus side, we added Manchester City attacking midfielder Lee Croft on loan through the season's end. The 21-year-old says he's looking forward to getting some first-team experience, and I had been wanting to purchase him for the past nine months or so. Instead, it was a six-month loan which would see him at the club through June.

    AM C Lee Croft, 21, English: A hard-working youngster who crosses well and takes a fine penalty, Croft has been on the fringe of City's lineup the past five seasons, making only one start. He's just come off of a loan spell with my former club Lancaster City, where he scored 2 goals in 10 appearances. He's not flawless - his decision-making is weak, he doesn't help much defensively, and he's weak in the air - but I think the depth he'll provide at attacking midfield is important, as we'd only had three players filling that role lately, and they were all getting exhausted.

    Defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker returned to Bootham Crescent after a three month loan to Ossett Town, where he'd started 15 games but done fairly poorly. He started Friday's Under-18 match against Mansfield U-18s, and earned Man of the Match - I think maybe Ossett Town were using him incorrectly. Adam Corbett got the assist on amateur Ian Black's goal in the 1-0 win.

    Championship side Burnley are down in 23rd place, and seem to be getting desperate. They came in with an offer totalling £240,000 for Joe Keenan and Jon Paul McGovern together. I think of both players as key members of the side, but they do each have minimum-fee release clauses, so I told Burnley what those are and indicated that I wasn't willing to negotiate below that.

    Joe Foote's loan to Guiseley had completed - he had 1 goal and 2 assists in 11 matches with the lower-division English side. Unfortunately, he had suffered a groin injury as well - what is it with that area? - and after physio Jeff Miller examined him, he recommended that we send the 18-year-old off for rehabilitation. I grudgingly agreed, and the specialist suggested that he should be recovered by mid-to-late January.


  17. Wednesday, 20th December, 2006. League Two - Game 21, vs Walsall.

    The last meeting between York and Walsall predated my reign - it was a friendly encounter back in July of 2004 which York had won 2-0. Not that that mattered, as only three players from the side I'd taken over still remained on the York City roster.

    Only one of them was in my starting XI: captain Graeme Law, at right back. He was partnered with Jamie Cooper, Liam Fontaine, and Joe Keenan in the back four, ahead of goalkeeper Alan Blayney. Ian Bannister had the holding midfielder duties, giving Navarro a rest, and John McGrath was the left wing. Jon Paul McGovern was making his 100th league appearance on the right wing. Up front, team scoring leader Robert Cousins partnered Theodore Whitmore up front, and Paul Edwards was the striker, looking to build on his 5-goal total.

    It was a cold, rainy night, and both sides came out tentative. Tappa had 2 bad misses in the first 15 minutes - once a fantastic asset on this squad, I was defeinitely feeling how 'past his prime' he is now.

    In the 30th minute, Cousins broke free up the right wing, then as he reached the area, he cut it back for the striker Edwards. With time and space from 16 yards, I thought it was a sure goal, but somehow Walsall keeper Mark Paston got to it and pushed it wide. What a save - and how unlucky for Edwards.

    In the 41st minute, Whitmore reminded me why he's still in the starting lineup, sending a fantastic long ball ahead of Cousins. This time working from the left of center, Cousins pulled one of his trademark speedy dribbles - I'd swear he can dribble faster than I can run - racing 30 yards into the box. He shot for the far corner, but again Paston made a diving save. He couldn't keep hold of the wet ball, and it trickled agonizingly towards the far post..

    .. but one of his defenders came sliding in to clear, just in the nick of time.

    It was still scoreless at halftime, and I was starting to consider changes. When we didn't have any good chances by the 58th minute, I brought on three new faces and switched to our 'aggressive' formation, sending the wings and backs further up the pitch. Instantly, there was tons of pressure, with a flurry of balls into and through the Walsall area. The third of these in less than a minute found substitute striker Marc Walton in the 6-yard box. He rose above two defenders to hammer a header on net. As 3,741 fans rose in appreciation, the ball carombed back off the crossbar - the fans sat back down with a groan, their seats now wet with the weather.

    We kept the pressure on for twenty minutes without a break, but Walsall had clearly given up all thought of scoring and were constantly in defense, creating a tough nut we just could not seem to crack. I was starting to think it would finish nil-nil; I had no changes left to make, and was just as much a spectator as the chap in row H.

    In the 82nd minute, John McGrath played a tricky through ball to a limping Walton in the box. Too hurt to shoot, he layed it off for Robert Cousins, who blistered a half-volley into the net at the near post. From 10 yards out, Cousins's right foot was too powerful to be stopped, and his ninth goal of the season put us ahead 1-0!!

    The long-suffering crowd finally got to give their roar of approval, and the pent-up emotion lent extra strength to their voices. Surely that was the game-winner, and it was just a matter of falling back defensively and waiting for full time.

    I got a scare in injury time, when Walsall midfielder David Perpetuini cracked a 20-yarder, but it skimmed just over the bar. With that chance weathered, the victory was ours.

    York 1, Walsall 0

    Cousins 82; ----

    MoM: McGrath

    With as many victories as we've strung together in our time, the lads don't frequently celebrate with the abandon they once did, but this night, after a tough victory over a good team, they were blowing off some steam in the locker room when somebody broke out a radio for the League scores rundown. Cambridge had won - they were still ahead of us by a narrow margin.


  18. Monday, 18th December, 2006.

    After his fine performance, Richard Fox was also selected to the English League Two Team of the Week, the first time he'd been awarded such an honour. It made me really regret the necessity of selling him, but there just wasn't budget to keep him on past the end of the season.

    Me?

    I spent Sunday running around the stores trying to get my Christmas shopping finished - why do I always wait until the last minute?

    It was an interesting comparison, though: in the States, the Christmas rush is a time of rude shoppers and harried shop personnel which really seems against the whole spirit of the day. There was some sense of urgency around my fellow shoppers, but on the whole there was much more good cheer here.

    I was occasionally asked for an autograph, and was also given some friendly advice for how to handle fourth-placed Walsall on Wednesday.

    Goalkeeper Nick McDonald strained a calf during training this week. It isn't too serious, just bad enough that I've sent him home for the holidays - he should be back in full training in early January.


  19. Saturday, 16th December, 2006. League Two - Game 20, at Port Vale.

    The first game of our critical three-game stretch was away to Port Vale, a strong team which sat third in League Two and desperately seeking promotion. We'd beaten them at Bootham Crescent 2-0 in our F.A. Cup encounter last season - but that was a half-beaten team on their way to relegation, not the confident title contender we would face this year. They are only 6 years removed from the Championship, having been relegated at the end of the 1999/00 season. They also have a ton of history, having been in operation since 1892. Vale Park, in Stoke-on-Trent, is a fine facility, a 16,000 all-seater with professional facilities which were almost overwhelmingly comfortable when compared to what we usually enjoy.

    I chose as many healthy veterans as I could, but there was a lot of fatigue in our legs. The lineup I wound up with was this: Alan Blayney in goal, with Mark Wright joining Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, and Graeme Law on the back row. Alan Navarro would last about sixty minutes at defensive midfielder, with Jamal Campbell-Ryce on left wing and Richard Fox on the right. The attacking midfielders were Tappa Whitmore and Micah Richards, with Jon Shepherd starting at striker. I knew it wasn't my first-choice side, but Port Vale looked pretty tired as well, and the wet conditions would make the second half a fitness test.

    Port Vale decided to play a variation of the 3-5-2 which had given us such trouble against Carlisle - I had to commend their scouting staff, as that wasn't their default formation.

    Still, we almost scored in the first three minutes, when Tappa sent a great pass to Fox up the right wing. He dribbled into the box before shooting from close range. It was saved by Port Vale goalkeeper Mark Goodlad, but the rebound floated tantalizingly in the air, where Tappa was able to head it on an open net. It went just over.

    We also had a great chance in the 20th minute, when young Fox took a corner kick and played it to Graeme Law. Only an amazing save by Goodlad denied the captain a goal.

    We reached halftime confident, with a solid advantage in the shots department, and I told the lads to stick with it - it looked like the steady rain was tiring out our hosts more than it was affecting us.

    There was no accounting for an individual effort by Billy Paynter, who curled a superb 25-yard shot into the top left corner from beyond the arc, despite the close attentions of Joe Keenan and a good effort by the well-positioned Alan Blayney. There was just nothing that could be done about a perfect shot, and the Vale Park crowd of 4,630 went wild for the 0-1 lead.

    Port Vale fell back immediately into a very defensive 5-3-2 formation, and we ,weren't able to get anywhere against it. I made all three of my substitutions, and began sending the wingers and fullbacks forward, but it just seemed impossible to break down their wall.

    With ten minutes left, I was starting to get desperate, but then substitute right wing Mark Goodwin broke into the corner. He sent the cross over everyone in the area to the unmarked Richard Fox wide of the far post. Fox, who had switched sides when Goodwin came on, headed the ball back central, where Thomas Carroll had made a momentary bit of space. Carroll put a second header on it to what was now the near post, and Goodlad wasn't able to get back across the face of goal in time. Carroll's first-ever York goal couldn't have come at a better time or in a more classic way.

    Port Vale 1, York 1

    Paynter 49; Carroll 81

    MoM: Fox

    His inspired choice to head back into play rather than trying to play it on goal from a tight angle alone might have made Richard Fox worthy of Man of the Match honours - but he'd also played very well throughout, switching from the right wing to the left without missing a beat.


  20. Thank you so much, BobBev - I've certainly been concentrating on them, and I'm glad you appreciate them.

    I think it does take the reader deciding to care - every match matters to a fan IRL, and I decided to write it that way.

    Interestingly, I think its made me a much better FM player; you'll catch hints of the tactical adjustments I make as we go along, but all of them have been based on something specific I noticed to call out in a match report!

    As for the Americanisms, I'm going to have to claim they're "in character" icon_wink.gif


  21. Friday, 15th December, 2006.

    There was a fairly chill air in York City after our defeat at Carlisle: I think many, from fans to players alike, had been counting on another long F.A. Cup run, and losing to a team we had beaten four consecutive times prior to the two Cup matches was thoroughly unexpected. Alan Blayney had won Man of the Match for his performance in goal, but it was little consolation.

    I was pleased to hear that Mark Goodwin had created another goal, this time an injury-time feed to Adam Corbett, who had scored a spectacular 25-yard game-winner at Bootham Crescent as York Reserves beat Huddersfield Reserves 1-0 in a steady drizzle. Young goalkeeper Kevin Butler was named Man of the Match.

    We sold 17-year-old goalkeeper Paul Carruthers to Conference National side Macclesfield Town today. Though he has all sorts of potential, I was finding him out of luck as the fifth keeper in our side, behind Blayney, Butler, McDonald, and Hart - and with wage budget trouble I just couldn't justify keeping a fifth keeper here any more than I'd been able to at Lancaster. The transfer was immediate, for a total of £20,000, 50% of which would go to his former club Torquay United as part of our purchase agreement with them.

    Paul Carruthers, GK, 17: June 2006-December 2006: 1 season, 1 game, 6.00

    I did my best to focus the lads: we couldn't dwell on the defeat with three important League matches between now and Christmas.


  22. Wednesday, 13th December, 2006. F.A. Cup - Second Round Replay, at Carlisle United.

    We knew Carlisle United all too well, having played them twice already this season and five times since I took over the reigns at Bootham Crescent. The trip up through the Inglewood Forest to the Scottish border was a familiar one, and even Brunton Park was starting to feel like a familiar venue.

    With the possibility of extra-time and even a penalty shootout lurking in the background, I was glad my top side had had ten days rest since the first encounter. Alan Blayney returned in goal, with Joe Keenan, Jamie Cooper, Liam Fontaine and Graeme Law his stalwart foursome. Alan Navarro was in superb condition and ready at defensive midfielder, with John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern on the wings. Jamaican international Tappa Whitmore would run the attack, partnered with Robert Cousins, and Marc Walton would get another chance to crack the Carlisle defense from the lone striker position.

    An incredible crowd of 14,394 was crammed into Brunton Park, a festival atmosphere the like of which we'd not seen. Carlisle came out in full attack, playing a 3-5-2 that featured Carlos Roca as a central attacking midfielder behind the two strikers. This open formation generated chances for both sides, as Carlisle keeper Matty Glennon covered Whitmore's long ball for Walton, and Roca missed wide from 15 yards.

    Referee Michael Ryan had a big part to play in the first half, as 3 times in the first 20 minutes, he awarded a yellow card to a Carlisle player for dissent. Supporters and players alike were boiling over, and it seemed very call he made was cause for more barking from the Carlisle players.

    In the 20th minute, Jon Paul McGovern's dangerous cross into the 6-yard box for Robert Cousins was bravely fisted away by Glennon, and in the 24th minute Alan Navarro's header off a McGovern corner kick went inches wide. Carlisle were getting their chances as well, and a fantastic tackle by Liam Fontaine denied Roca what appeared to be a great shooting chance. By the 30th minute, Carlisle tally was up to 5 yellow cards for dissent, and it seemed we were getting the ball moved forward ten yards after every foul.

    In the 38th minute, Matthew Mills, already with one yellow, was the last defender with Walton charging into the Carlisle area. Mills brought him down, and the crowd groaned in unison - surely the way Ryan was calling the game, that was a penalty.

    .. No?!

    Ryan ruled that Mills had got the ball cleanly, and no penalty was given - in retrospect, given the fraying tempers on the Carlisle bench, it was a moment that could have all but ended the match if the call had gone the other way.

    It was still scoreless at halftime, and neither side made any changes. Just after the restart, Cousins skinned Mills with a spectacular dribble, but Glennon saved the shot and Marlon Dill cleared the rebound.

    In the 58th minute, Paul Arnison, already carrying a yellow, went in on McGovern with a reckless 2-footed challenge. Ryan beckoned him over with the crowd booing an ugly growl I've only heard once before in my life..

    .. but Ryan let him go with only a warning.

    I've seen that called a straight red by other referees - somebody from the F.A. must have spoken to Mr. Ryan in the halls between halves. If that hadn't been proof enough, ten minutes later, Mills vociferously argued a call, and got away with only a warning of his own.

    A minute later, the game took another sudden shift: Carlisle substitute Brendan McGill lined up a free kick from the right side of our penalty area. He played it all the way through out to the other side. There was nobody there, but Patrick Boyle tracked it down, and sent a cross back in. Alan Blayney and Joe Keenan both misjudged the flight of the ball as it carried through the 6-yard box to McGill, charging in towards the right-side corner of the keeper's demesne. McGill leaped in the air and powered a picturesque header in at the far post! The big crowd went delirious in celebration - from appearing on the verge of a red card, suddenly their heroes were ahead 0-1, and with just twenty minutes to play.

    Off the restart, we appeared stunned, staggering as though from a body-blow, and Carlisle captain Scott Fitzgerald nearly made it 0-2 with a 12-yard shot that Blayney barely turned over the bar. I began to make the substitutions I'd been saving in case of extra time: there was nothing to save them for now, and Paul Edwards, Micah Richards, and Jamal Campbell-Ryce came on in short order. They did seem to reinvigorate us - in the 83rd minute Edwards's 18-yard shot was saved by Glennon, our first real chance since the goal.

    Moments later, Chris Lumdson got up to meet a long clearance from the Carlisle back line was met with a sily flick-on header. Suddenly, it was a footrace, and Brendan McGill outran our heavy-footed defense as the crowd rose to their feet again. Alan Blayney came off his line, and only an amazing save near the eighteen kept our faltering hopes alive.

    We got one last break as injury time loomed: Paul Weller was injured, leaving the hosts with only ten men, but despite my sending more and more men forward in desperation, we couldn't find an equalizer and went crashing out of the F.A. Cup.

    Carlisle United 1, York 0

    McGill 69; ----

    MoM: Blayney

    The refereeing was a sore point in our locker room afterwards, with Walton claiming he should have had a penalty and drawn a red card in the first half, and everybody noting how different the standard had been in the second half.

    Veteran winger Jon Paul McGovern drew a laugh or two with his quip: "If something hadn't changed, Mr. Ryan wouldn't have left the stadium alive."

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