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Amaroq

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  1. Thanks for taking the time to say so, davidmccain. Quite appreciated!
  2. 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!"
  3. Thanks, guys! irishregan, I'm glad its kept your interest this long, and I've plenty more yet to post. Jammer, thanks much for the kind compliments, and I'm quite pleased to hear you appreciate the detail!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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"
  11. 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.
  12. 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."
  13. Tuesday, 12th December, 2006. Michael Staley twisted his knee painfully during training on Sunday, which will lay him up for a week or so. Other than that, we were in very good shape for the F.A. Cup replay. In the League, our victory had put us co-equal for first with Cambridge, both on 40 points and a +14 goal differential. We had a tough run of matches coming up after the F.A. Cup match, though: away to 3rd placed Port Vale, then at home to 4th placed Walsall and 6th placed Cheltenham, all in a ten-day span. It would be a definite proving ground for our title chances.
  14. Monday, 11th December, 2006. "Can we talk?" I'd let myself into Chairman Steve Beck's office My heart was beating a little harder - it wasn't an easy conversation I expected. I held my peace until the door closed firmly behind him. "I'd like to talk about a contract extension." "Oh." "You know my current deal expires at the end of the year, and with the club doing so well, .. well .." I shrugged, rather than completing the sentence. "You know what the finances look like," he answered. "I know, I really do, but with this latest sale in place.. well, I'd like to have something sorted out becomes a distraction to the side." "Okay, give me a couple weeks," he said, and I left it like that. That hadn't been so bad.
  15. Saturday, 9th December, 2006. League Two - Game 19, at Chesterfield. Chesterfield is a small city south-east of High Peak, just south of Sheffield. Interstingly, they were facing Sheffield United in the FA Cup Second Round, and we'd drawn the winner of that match for our Third Round tie. For the past 25 years, Chesterfield have been bouncing between the bottom of League One and the top of League Two. Their most recent stint in League One had lasted just five years, with a 10th, an 18th, and two 20th-place finishes before last year's 21st saw them relegated to League Two. This year's club has been badly hit by injuries, with no fewer than five key players out with injury for our match, and forced to rely on loanings Nuno Morais, Chris Jones, and Simon Brown. Consequently, they lie in 15th place. Former Minsterman Darren Dunning is the captain, and leads the club in assists - they've moved him to a central role rather than playing him on the wing, and I'm sure he'd love to excel against his former manager. With the F.A. Cup replay to follow mid-week, I chose a decidedly second-string side for this match. 17-year-old Nick McDonald made his York debut in goal, but would face a challenge on the road with a weak defense in front of him. Adam Eckersley was the veteran anchor of a line that included struggling youngster Michael Staley, transferred central defender Mark Wright, and low-morale youngster Mark Dixon. Ian Bannister was the defensive midfielder. Richard Fox and Mark Goodwin would handle the wings, with Micah Richards and Jamal Campbell-Ryce in the attacking midfielder roles and loanee Thomas Carroll making only his second York start at striker. It sounded like a recipe for ending our six-game League winning streak, but from the opening kickoff it was clear that we were having the better chances: Campbell-Ryce's second minute shot was saved, and Thomas Carroll had a long dribble on a counterattack in the 8th, but shot too early and wide. In the 25th minute, Mark Goodwin's shot to the left post was denied on a brilliant save by Chesterfield keeper Rob Burch. Our defense was playing admirably well, and though Dunning was all over the field against his former mates, he was getting little help from the rest of the side. In the 35th minute, Micah Richards's long pass put Campbell-Ryce through on goal, but he again shot wide: the steady rain falling seemed to be hampering our shooting, and it was still scoreless at the interval. The second half was more of the same, with Carroll coming close again but the shot saved by Burch. Mark Wright was playing exceptional defense, making two key challenges, one a tackle and one a header, to blunt the best Chesterfield attacks - he, like so many of this second-team squad, seemed intent on making an impression when given the chance. Near the hour, I made my full complement of substitutions, bringing on talented veterans Paul Edwards, Tappa Whitmore, and John McGrath, but we were still struggling to break down Chesterfield's defense. They seemed loathe to come forward to us, so in the 75th minute I told everyone to start pushing forward. It paid immediate dividends, as Edwards played a ball down the right wing. Goodwin outmuscled Eugene Francis for it, and sent in the cross. Edwards took it on the half-volley at the near post, putting it into the net from a tight angle, and we led 1-0 with ten minutes to play! That stunned the Chesterfield crowd, and the side was left with no choice but to push forward for an equalizer. They had eight men forward in the 83rd minute when Michael Staley headed a ball clear. Mark Goodwin collected it, and as he looked up from well in his own half, he saw Edwards streaking for the half-way line. He launched a spectacular long pass over the two defenders, catching Edwards perfectly in stride and well behind the exhausted defenders. With time and space, he made Burch miss, and a three-minute double had made it 2-0! Chesterfield weren't quite done, and I was content to hold men back and defend. Consequently, our box was packed with players of both sides when Mark Innes sent a cross in in the 87th minute. Mark Allott fell to the turf, and Dixon was whistled for pushing him. It was a dubious decision, as there had been much pushing in the box by both sides and Allott hadn't even had a play on the ball, but the referee was pointing to the spot. Ashley Foyle hammered home the penalty, then sprinted into the net to pick the ball up and carry it back to the centre circle. That made the final minutes a terse affair, but our defense was up to the challenge, and full-time was whistled with us still ahead, 2-1. Chesterfield 1, York 2 Foyle pen 88; Edwards 80, 83 MoM: Dixon It may have been a bit dubious to select Mark Dixon, who had conceded the penalty, as Man of the Match ahead of Mark Wright, who had played so well in defense, Paul Edwards, who had scored twice, or Mark Goodwin, whose incredible vision and creativity had created both goals, but there you have it: the young right back was it, and our unbeaten League streak continued.
  16. Saturday, 9th December, 2006. <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Citizens Nab Shepherd! Manchester City swooped to pluck promising striker Jon Shepherd from Bootham Crescent. Announced yesterday, but arranged for the January transfer window, the sale will net £350,000. The Premiership side outbid Scottish club Celtic for the rights to his signature in a spirited bidding war which reportedly doubled the price. The youngster, who has scored four goals in League Two play this year, said "Its a dream come true to play for such an illustrious club!" For fans of York City, it has been a frustrating season. With the club second in League Two and chasing a promotion spot, manager Ian Richards has still been forced to sell players to make ends meet. The financial situation has led to a fire-sale of promising young talent, with Shepherd following Levent Yalcin, Richard Fox, and Adam Corbett to greener pastures - though Shepherd fetched more than any of the previous prospects. </div></BLOCKQUOTE> It had been a stressful and tiring week, playing hardball with City and Celtic - as the stakes rose, I'd worried that they might both pull out. He hasn't shown that much yet! When Celtic finally withdrew, I'd let out a big sight of relief. I'd also received another bid from AFC Bournemouth for starting right winger Jon Paul McGovern, but the price they were offering was very low. With the Shepherd deal inked, I told them that I'm not willing to let him go for less than his minimum-release fee of £250,000; they'd offered about a fifth of that. The Saturday morning match was York Under-18s versus Chesterfield U-18s. Things looked grim for the all-amateur home side when Ian Black was sent off in the 6th minute for a clumsy challenge on the rain-soaked surface, but our 10-man side exploded for four goals, one by Aaron Dennis, one on a free kick from Keith Spencer, and two by second-half substitute James Smart, to run away with the match 4-1.
  17. Well, maybe not that draw dropping, Damien...
  18. Wednesday, 6th December, 2006. The final matches of Champions League group play took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. In Group A, it was a simple task at the Weserstadion: win and you're in, draw goes to Newcastle United. Werder Bremen got off to a great start, with goals by Frank Baumann and Benjamin Lauth in the first ten minutes. They extended the lead to 4-1 before Newcastle began to fight back late in the second half, but goals from Jermaine Jenas and Fernando Cavenaghi left the Tyneside club tantalizingly close, 4-3, as time expired. Real Madrid finished off a perfect campaign - unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon! - with a 2-0 victory over Ferencvaros. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Pos Club Pts W D L GF GA GD Q 1 Real Madrid 18 6 0 0 15 0 +15 Q 2 Weder Bremen 8 2 2 2 8 11 - 3 U 3 Newcastle Utd 6 2 0 4 8 10 - 2 4 Ferencvaros 2 0 2 4 4 14 -10</pre> Group B's outcome had already been determined, so the big result - AC Milan 2, Bayern Leverkusen 0 - was merely cosmetic. The other match, however, in Prague, would determine the UEFA Cup berth for the group, and Lyon defeated their hosts 1-0. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 AC Milan 16 5 1 0 10 2 + 8 Q 2 B Leverkusen 11 3 2 1 11 5 + 6 U 3 Lyon 4 1 1 4 4 12 - 8 4 Sparta Prague 2 0 2 4 4 10 - 6</pre> In Group C, Juventus and Barcelona had already guaranteed their place in the next round, but Juventus romped to a 5-0 victory over Panathinaikos at Delle Alpi, piling in three goals in the first 16 minutes. Barcelona finished their campaign with a 2-0 victory over FC do Porto despite a 19th-minute red card which forced them to play shorthanded for most of the match until Porto lost a man in the 83rd. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Barcelona 15 5 0 1 11 2 + 9 Q 2 Juventus 13 4 1 1 14 5 + 9 U 3 Panathinaikos 4 1 1 4 2 12 -10 4 FC do Porto 2 0 2 4 2 10 - 8</pre> Arsenal's task was simple in Group D: defeat PSV at home, and nothing else mattered. Oh, there were tie-breaking scenarios enough to fill several small tabloid publications if they failed to win, but 54,463 were hoping to see them advance. Patrick Viera put the hosts ahead on 19 minutes, and Fredrik Ljungberg made it 2-0 by halftime. Claudio Pizarro rounded out the scoring in injury time and a 3-0 victory saw Arsenal through as group winners. In Istanbul, Brazilian star Robinho had a hat-trick in another 2-red-card match, as Fenerbahçe built a 4-1 first-half lead and held that score through full time against hapless Dinamo Bucharest. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Arsenal 12 4 0 2 17 3 +14 Q 2 Fenerbahçe 12 4 0 2 13 11 + 2 3 PSV Eindhoven 9 3 0 3 9 9 0 4 Din. Bucharest 3 1 0 5 5 21 -16</pre> Group E's matches were on Wednesday. Chelsea were already through, but facing a determined Maccabi Haifa, who needed a win and help in front of a sell-out home crowd. 22-year-old attacking midfielder Arjen Robben scored the only goal in the 17th minute, and Chelsea won 1-0 to secure first in the group. Valencia needed only that result, or a draw on the road, to get through, but came out motivated against Slovenian side NK Gorica. Salva scored his first two goals of the tournament in the first seven minutes, and the Spanish side cruised to a 4-0 halftime lead and eventually a 6-0 victory. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Chelsea 13 4 1 1 9 1 + 8 Q 2 Valencia 12 4 0 2 13 4 + 9 U 3 Maccabi Haifa 6 1 3 2 3 6 - 3 4 NK Gorica 2 0 2 4 2 16 -14</pre> In Group F, Liverpool could get through with either a win or draw against last-placed Ajax, or with help from Roma in their match at Basel. As it turned out, they got both, as Ajax attacking midfielder Steven Pienaar was sent off in the 17th minute. Despite peppering the goal with 16 shots, Liverpool couldn't put one away, but they didn't need to: a 0-0 draw got them to the next round. Roma's 2-0 victory over Basel would have seen the Reds through even in defeat. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Roma 13 4 1 1 7 4 + 3 Q 2 Liverpool 10 3 1 2 8 6 + 2 U 3 FC Basel 7 2 1 3 6 9 - 3 4 Ajax 4 1 1 4 6 8 - 2</pre> Group G leaders FC Bayern München had already clinched a berth in the knock-out rounds, but after a German national paper had accused them of being "weak", they had a point to prove. An authoritative 5-0 victory over FC København in Munich made the point in spades. Roque Santa Cruz continued to build on his incredible World Cup performance, scoring two goals to leave him with 7 goals on 7 appearances in the Champions League to go with 5 goals on 5 appearances in the World Cup. Deportivo la Coruña defeated Banik Ostrava 3-1 to claim the other spot from the group, though Bayern's victory would also have guaranteed them the place. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Bayern München 16 5 1 0 20 3 +17 Q 2 Deportivo 11 3 2 1 9 8 + 1 U 3 FC København 5 1 2 3 5 11 - 6 4 Banik Ostrava 1 0 1 5 4 16 -12</pre> In the final group, the elimination-round contenders had already been decided, and those teams - Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan - played a meaningless exhibition at the Parc des Princes, a match featuring many second-choice players for both sides. It ended a dispirited 0-0 draw. The other encounter determined the UEFA Cup berth, and Turkish squad Trabzonspor, at home, appeared in complete control, cruising to a 2-0 victory over Portugese side Benfica. <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Inter Milan 16 5 1 0 14 1 +13 Q 2 Paris S-G 11 3 2 1 4 4 0 U 3 Trabzonspor 4 1 1 4 3 7 - 4 4 Benfica 3 1 0 5 2 11 - 9</pre> In a match which generated much less interest Wednesday night, York Reserves were held to a scoreless draw by Gravesend Reserves despite having a man advantage from the 16th minute due to a reckless yellow card. Colin Hart played well in goal, and Daniel Smith made his return from injury with a 35-minute substitute appearance in the second half. Meanwhile, I'd received a jaw-dropping offer from Manchester City ...
  19. Monday, 4th December, 2006. My first concern after the match was to get a physio report from Jeff Miller. Jon Paul McGovern had merely bruised a shin, and Robert Cousins, who had been limping heavily at the end of the match, had a bruised quad. Both would be out of training for most of the week, but should be recovered nicely by next weekend's matches. The physio also reminded me that youngster Daniel Smith was fit and should be resuming full training this week. In other action, our Under-18s had defeated the highly-rated Blackburn U-18s, on the road. Kevin Butler had played a fantastic game in goal to maintain a clean sheet despite piles of Blackburn pressure, and then in injury time amateur substitute striker James Smart had scored against the run of play to lift our lads to a 1-0 victory. The result left them still six points adrift of first-placed Blackburn. The draw for the F.A. Cup Third Round was on Monday afternoon, and the board and my staff gathered in the bar to watch the draw. Again, we were hoping for a money-spinning tie against a Premier League club, or easy fodder against a non-League club. We got neither, though tiny club Chippenham drew a home tie against Liverpool. The "York City / Carlisle United" ball drew an away tie against the "Chesterfield / Sheffield United" ball. The former are in League Two with us, while the latter - what were the odds? They're the familiar Yorkshire side who had just knocked our second-string out of the Vans Trophy.
  20. Saturday, 2nd December, 2006. F.A. Cup - Second Round, vs Carlisle United. Fellow League Two side Carlisle United were a familiar opponent. Relegated from the League in 2004, they'd played two campaigns in the Conference National, earning promotion last year the same as we had. We'd met four times since I'd taken over at Bootham Crescent, and York had won all of the encounters, including a 3-0 drubbing at Carlisle in late August. I was starting our strongest XI, having rested them in the LDV Vans Trophy to save them for this match. Alan Blayney was in goal, Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and Graeme Law were across the back, with Alan Navarro the holding midfielder. John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern were the wingers, with Robert Cousins and Theodore Whitmore attacking and prolific loanee Marc Walton as the striker. The steady rain falling did not discourage 3,887 from packing into Bootham Crescent, some 600 of those standing. They witnessed a hard-tackling match whose tone was set in the 16th minute when Carlisle striker Elvis Hammond was stretchered off after a crunching tackle by Alan Navarro. With both defenses flying around the place with abandon, chances were few and far between: the first wasn't until Joe Keenan's long ball put Marc Walton behind the Carlisle defense in the 35th minute, but he put it over from 18 yards. Carlos Roca had two fine chances for Carlisle at the end of the half, but the first, a 25-yard shot, was diverted by Alan Blayney's fingertip save. The second came in injury time, as Jamie Cooper carelessly gave the ball away to Roca while he was the last York defender, but Cooper hustled back to tackle it away from Roca as he lined up his shot at the 18-yard line. I began to push players forward for the second half, and a beautiful interplay between John McGrath and Tappa Whitmore created space for Marc Walton in the box. McGrath's pass picked him out, and the striker was unlucky to put it over from 16 yards - unfortunately, it was too be one of the few chances of the day, and frankly only a brilliant save by Blayney kept the scores knotted at zero when Roca split our central defenders. The scrap was dragging towards a scoreless draw - one of those games where supporters and managers alike are begging for a moment of magic from anyone. For a moment, it looked like we had it, as Walton took Tappa's pass and broke towards the box. The defense committed, and the striker's clever square pass found Robert Cousins open at the 18-yard line. The 17-year-old had every chance to be a hero - but his first-touch shot skimmed just over the top of the bar. Finally, in the 85th minute, Jon Paul McGovern was injured on a vicious yellow-card challenge by Peter Murphy. With all my substitutions made, we were stuck at ten men, and I had the side fall back into a defensive shell to play for a draw and subsequent replay. York 0, Carlisle 0 ----; ---- MoM: Grand (Carlisle DC) Neither crowd nor manager was pleased with a scrappy nil-nil draw against a side we'd so handily controlled earlier in the year, and conceding the home-field advantage so loosely did not bode well for the replay, which was scheduled for Wednesday the 13th.
  21. Friday, 1st December, 2006. "What do you mean, telling the press we could 'contend for the title'?" It was the monthly board meeting, and I was nearly shouting at Chairman Steve Beck for his inane comments to the Post. He recoiled from the vehemence of my argument. "I.. Uh.. " "I thought we'd agreed that we have no hope but rebuilding the side this year, and comments like that only raise expectations we won't be able to meet!" "I.. But.. " Sophie McGill intervened. "Ian, we are in second place.. aren't we?" "I know," I said. "I apologize. If the season ended now, we'd be in League One. But I still don't think its fair to raise the fans' hopes based on a winning streak that has us performing well beyond what we have any right to expect. We're still way over the wage budget, and I'm practically holding a fire sale with future transfers. Even if we do promote, we won't have half a squad worth competing with - I've been half thinking of putting out half-strength sides for League matches and concentrating on Cups this season, just to ensure we don't promote too early!" "No, you're right," Steve answered. "I apologize. Its just that everyone is so delighted with your performance to date, and I got carried away." "Everyone except me," Sophie said. "We're now..." She checked her figures. "...£2,000 a week over our wage budget, and we just can't keep up that sort of expenditure. Terry?" Terry Doyle, Director of Marketing, spoke up. "We lost our sponsorship at the start of this season, as you know - our last payment was July of this year. For a time, that had been offsetting our loan payment schedule, but we've been unable to find a corporate sponsor to replace them. Your continued success on the pitch is helping, but you'll have to keep it up until we land somebody." "I'm just not sure I can," I told them, "If we have to keep selling off our top talent." "Until we land that sponsorship," Sophie continued, "The financial picture does look fairly bleak. Last month, however, we made a very tidy profit, a full £109,000, and primarily on gate receipts, not sale of players. That left us less than £4,000 shy of break-even - until the loan payment hit for this month." "Is there any word on the stadium situation?" I asked. Jason McGill spoke - it was the first time I'd heard from him, and I hadn't known what his role was. "Not yet. The Planning Comission seems to be stalling, and at the moment, I'm not sure we have the funding in place to support anything even if we do suddenly get approvals. We'd need a lot more financial stability, I think, to assure ourselves of anything." "So we'll be staying in Bootham Crescent for the foreseeable future?" I clarified. The original plan had been for the club to purchase Bootham Crescent, and then to build a new stadium in the same Burton Stone Lane location, but that had thus far failed to materialize. "Yes. We aren't frequently going over our 3,248 seat capacity, and when we do there's capacity for 9,459. Obviously, if we were to reach League One with a reasonable assurance of staying there, we'd have to do something, but for now it looks acceptable." "There is one other thing," Ian McAndrews spoke up. "In light of the improving financial situation at the club, we've decided to make 75% of your arranged transfers available to you as transfer budget. Try not to spend it all at once - we're counting on you to maintain the fiscal responsibility you've demonstrated..." "... everywhere but the wage budget ..." Sophie couldn't resist interjecting, though she said it with a smile. "... in your previous transfers, I was going to say," Ian finished. "Well, with the business concluded, there's something we have to celebrate," Steve Beck announced. As everyone turned to him expectantly, he pointed to me. "Ian has been named League Two Manager of the Month for November, for winning all five our our games over the month!" A wave of applause greeted the pronouncement, and on that note, we broke up the monthly board meeting. Jon Shepherd's injury-time strike against Bristol Rovers had won Goal of the Month as well, accompanied as it had been by a 35-yard dribble in which he made two defenders miss to put the final goal in during our 3-1 victory November 18th. League Two Table: <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Pos Team Pts W D L GD 1 Cambridge 40 13 1 4 +16 2 YORK 37 12 1 5 +13 3 Walsall 35 10 5 3 +21 ------------------------------------ 4 Port Vale 34 9 7 2 +12 5 Cheltenham 34 10 4 4 + 9 6 Lincoln 33 9 6 3 +13 7 Exeter 31 8 7 3 +10 ------------------------------------ 8 Boston Utd 31 9 4 5 + 7 9 Leyton O. 30 8 6 4 + 5 10 Rotherham 27 7 6 5 + 1</pre> The review of training with Viv Busby was amazing. The juggling of training schedules which we'd undertaken last month had worked wonders. A number of our players were showing dramatic improvement and/or were performing at their peak ability. Right back Mark Dixon had made astounding improvement, especially to the mental aspect of his game, and was now one of our most improved players all-time. Robert Cousins had begun demonstrating the fantastic potential with a huge improvement of his own, including a fantastic development of the technical aspect of his game. Adam Corbett and Mark Wright were both showing why other clubs should be interested in them, while Mark Goodwin, Paul Edwards, and Ian Bannister had all shown steady improvement reaching career peaks. Goalkeeper Kevin Butler had done quite well also, with a good balance between physical and mental improvement. The only disappointment on the roster, really, was Tappa Whitmore. Both Viv and I had hoped that he might reclaim some of his earlier form, but he hadn't really been himself on the practice pitch. Oh, his play on the pitch has been as stellar as ever, but in training it appeared that the losses he'd suffered while out injured were of a more permanent nature.
  22. Thursday, 30th November, 2006. Wednesday's Reserve match against local rivals Harrogate Town was an ugly affair - by the 20th minute Nick McDonald had saved a penalty, and I'd made two substitutions, bringing off Jon Shepherd injured and Mark Wright because he looked in dire danger of receiving a second yellow card. Seven yellow cards were given to Harrogate players alone, including a red card in the 82nd minute that left them a man down, and Simon Roberts scored a late equalizer for us in a 1-1 draw before twisting his knee. Roberts would miss a week, though Shepherd was back in training the next day. Micah Richards would be unavailable for our F.A. Cup match due to receiving a yellow card against Sheffield United - it was his fifth already this season, and that meant an automatic one-match suspension for the 18-year-old attacking midfielder. I wasn't too upset by that, but it underscored our lack of depth at the position: I wouldn't have a natural attacking midfielder on the bench, as we only have three on the roster.
  23. Tuesday, 28th November, 2006. LDV Vans Trophy - North Quarterfinal, vs Sheffield United. Sheffield United are less than 15 years removed from the Premier League, having been relegated after the 1993/94 season. They were a strong side in the Championship, with nine top-ten finishes in their first eleven seasons, but then fell to 22nd last year and were relegated to League One. In their first campaign at the third tier of English football, they were expected to promote straight back up, but instead, have struggled mightily. They have barely more victories than defeats, and currently lurk 13th. Their key threat will be striker Michael Chopra, who has 10 goals in 21 starts, but Yorkshire fans are all well aware that they seriously upgraded their defense this month with a £2M raid on Crewe Alexandra for both the Railwaymen's starting centre-backs. I caught the eye of chairman Derek Dooley gimping around during pre-game warmups, and was rewarded with a friendly wave - he remembers me! That brought a smile to my face; opposition or no, he seems an amiable sort. With a hard-fought League match just behind us, and the F.A. Cup Second Round match to follow, I felt forced to run out a second-string side against the upper-division opposition. Knowing it would likely end in defeat, I chose Kevin Butler for his first match of the season in goal, Adam Eckersley at left back. Jamie Cooper would be captain from the centre-back position, partnered with Michael Staley. Mark Dixon took the right back, and Ian Bannister would be the defensive midfielder. Jamal Campbell-Ryce started on left wing, with Mark Goodwin making his first start of the year at right wing. Up front, Tappa Whitmore and Micah Richards in support of striker Paul Edwards was a reasonably familiar configuration. 3,357 fans came in attendance at Bootham Crescent, ignoring the low-status stigma of the Vans Trophy to cheer us on for our long unbeaten run. If they were disappointed by my choice of starting lineup, they didn't show it, cheering lustily for Tappa when he was introduced. The early posession was mostly to the bigger club, but, like Lincoln, though they could advance through our midfield relatively easily, they had trouble breaking down our defensive formation to get off a good shot. In the 12th minute, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who was playing very well on left wing, had a 14-yard shot to the near post knocked away at the last instant by goalkeeper Phil Barnes. In the 16th and 17th minutes, the Blades won a series of corner kicks. Newly-signed defenseman Chris Morgan took my breath away with a diving header on the first, but Kevin Butler made an acrobatic save to tip it over the bar. The second fell to Alan Quinn, whose shot was hacked off the line by Adam Eckersley. The third went to Morgan again, but Jamie Cooper blocked his left-footed shot, and finally the fourth was cleared away by Campbell-Ryce. We weren't so fortunate in the 32nd minute, as Butler showed his inexperience with a failed clearance that fell to the dangerous Michael Chopra. He settled it right for defender Chris Sedgwick, who played a wonderful diagonal ball forward from the right wing. Dene Cropper had slipped Cooper's coverage, and collected the pass beautifully. Butler came off his line, but the tall striker adroitly rounded him, and put us behind, 0-1. United may have still been celebrating when Whitmore played a wonderful baul for Paul Edwards, who was clear through behind the defense. He shot from 14 yards, but Barnes made a fingertip save to divert it wide. Late in the first half, Ian Bannister sent a free kick into the area for Edwards. Everybody thought he was going to shoot, but instead he knocked it down for right winger Mark Goodwin, who tried a spectacular half volley. What a shot! It had Barnes beat - but cannoned back off the crossbar!! Richards tried the follow-up, but Morgan threw himself in front of the shot, and we went to halftime trailing 0-1. I tried switching to the "patient buildup" tactic I'd devised in the second half, letting more players go forward adventurously, but taking our time trying to break down the Sheffield defense. The Blades began to fall back, content to defend the one-goal lead, and it became harder and harder to get a shot off. We were being stifled, and every change I tried, whether substitution or tactical adjustment, seemed to be of little assistance. The crowd held out hope until the very end, but it was Sheffield substitute Jack Lester who came closest to scoring, breaking through our offsides trap when I'd committed almost everyone to the attack, and only a spectacular one-on-one save by Kevin Butler kept the final score 0-1. York 0, Sheffield United 1 ----; Cropper 32 MoM: Campbell-Ryce Jamal Campbell-Ryce had impressed, at any rate, with a Man of the Match performance on the left wing. There hadn't been much we could do, creatively, in the second half with as little talent as I'd selected - I could only wonder if we would have won with my first-choice lineup out there. Still, it was good experience for a younger crop of players, and we hadn't embarassed ourselves despite facing a very strong side. I just hoped the end of our 8-game winning streak wouldn't impact morale too tremendously for the upcoming F.A. Cup match.
  24. Sunday, 26th November, 2006. In an interesting turn of fate, that defeat turned out to be manager Keith Alexander's last match with Lincoln City, and not because he'd been fired: he had been hired away by Championship side Wigan Athletic, sitting 20th and in danger of relegation. I hadn't thought we League Two managers were candidates for positions at the Championship level, it was quite a surprise! Jeff Miller's report the next morning was that unlucky Phil Townley had torn a groin muscle. The injury would keep him out through Christmas, and made me very glad we'd added Campbell-Ryce on the wing. Left wing John McGrath's contract was due to expire at the end of the season, so I'd been floating him to other clubs, much the way I'd done with my younger wingers. AFC Bournemouth offered £40,000 for him, and were willing to wait until the June transfer window, which was ideal for us: we'd get full use from him over the Irishman's current contract, and still get compensation when he left.
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