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Amaroq

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  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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 ...


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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.


  9. 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.


  10. 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.


  11. 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.


  12. Saturday, 25th November, 2006. League Two - Game 18, vs Lincoln City.

    We returned home the following weekend for a key match against sixth-placed Lincoln. A League Two side since 1988, they were coming off of a 16th-placed season, but were doing quite well so far this year with only two defeats and a +14 goal differential. 19-year-old Serge Makofo is the side's potent offensive threat, a striker with 12 goals from 18 starts this season.

    I countered with just about the best side I can field, many of them well-rested. Alan Blayney held the spot between the posts. Joe Keenan, Mark Wright, Liam Fontaine, and Graeme Law made up the defense, with Alan Navarro ahead of them. John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern held the wings, with Theodore Whitmore and Robert Cousins the attacking midfielders. Marc Walton, with four goals on only three games thus far, was the striker. I incorporated my tactical changes as tested out against Darlington to see how they would look with my starting lineup against a top team.

    A super pass by Robert Cousins merely ninety seconds in sprang Marc Walton past the Lincoln back line on a fast break. Only a fine save by Alan Marriott diverted it wide. A few minutes later, Cousins's 25-yard shot from beyond the arc was dealt with as well. It turned out that just set up Cousins's next move, as the next time he had a dangerous ball in the same vicinity, he faked a shot, which drew three defenders in to block. Instead, he passed low into the area they'd just vacated. Walton was first to it, and curled an excellent strike to the far post, unleashing a roar of approval from the Bootham Crescent crowd of 3,271.

    The tactical changes to my defense were working wonders: not once did I see a central defender abandon his man to "close down" somebody in the defensive midfielder's area of responsibility, and a similar change to Navarro's instructions meant that he no longer ranged from sideline to sideline as David Fox had in the Conference. We weren't getting many more chances ourselves, but that was okay. In the 39th minute, Lincoln midfielder Robbie Simpson sent a header just over from 9 yards out, and it was the best chance they had of the first half.

    We were hard-pressed in the second half, but the defense stood firm through the hour mark. Then the game took a sharp turn, as Jon Paul McGovern slid in on Eddie Anaclet, earning his second yellow of the game: red card! Reduced to ten men, I changed to our 'defensive' formation, pulling Tappa Whitmore off for Phil Townley to keep our defensive shape.

    A few minutes later, I brought Jon Shepherd on for Marc Walton, and believe it or not, it seemed like the best chances that ensued were his on the short-handed counterattack. Lincoln had posession in our territory for most of the next thirty minutes, but they seemed unable to get into our penalty area, and unable to hit the target when they shot from long range. In the 70th, Shepherd broke back the other way, but Marriott saved his 16-yard effort. In the 79th, it was Shepherd again, this time seeing his shot acrobatically tipped over from 12 yards away. In the 86th, he got behind the defense on the end of a long pass, and looked to have Marriott beat at last, only to put the shot wide.

    In the 89th minute, Phil Townley went down in a scrum just outside our penalty area. Mark Wright cleared it, but Townley had to come off, leaving us with only nine men, one of whom (McGrath) was limping badly. It was nail-biting watching Lincoln send wave after wave forward in injury time, dancing around our depleted midfield, but they seemed unable to deal with our back four and Alan Blayney, and we held on for the 1-0 victory.

    York 1, Lincoln 0

    Walton 15; ----

    MoM: Marriott (Lincoln GK)

    The crowd had stayed, to a man, and they broke out in celebration - in the York City locker room, the reaction was more muted: we'd done well in the first half, but I was very disappointed with the second half.

    The tactical changes had worked wonders, though: with our central defenders more likely to stay home and cover their man, we'd held a clean sheet against a top side, even with ten men. There was no question; I decided to keep them.


  13. Wednesday, 22nd November, 2006.

    York City chairman Steve Beck piled on the pressure in a post-match interview with the Yorkshire Post, telling them "Many fans now feel that the club has proven its ability to battle with the big boys for the title, and are hopeful that the team can sustain its magnificent form into the final third of the season."

    For a side predicted to finish in mid-table anonymity, we were starting to draw high expectations!

    Michael Ballack scored a hat trick as Chelsea exploded for a 4-0 win over NK Gorica in the Champions League matches Tuesday night. Coupled with Valencia's 3-0 win over Israeli side Maccabi Haifa, the result guaranteed Chelsea a place in the knock-out rounds with 10 points to Valencia's nine and Maccabi Haifa's six.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Chelsea 10 3 1 1 + 7

    2 Valencia 9 3 0 2 + 3

    3 Maccabi Haifa 6 1 3 2 - 2

    - 4 NK Gorica 2 0 2 3 - 8</pre>

    In Group F, Roma defeated Liverpool 2-0, a result which would have been devastating for the English club had not Dutch side Ajax finally emerged from their slump with a 3-1 win over Swiss side FC Basel. This meant that Liverpool remained in control of their own destiny, needing a win or draw at home against Ajax to advance, or for Roma to win or draw against Basel in Switzerland - coincidentally, the results Roma needed to guarantee advancement.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 Roma 10 3 1 1 + 1

    2 Liverpool 9 3 0 2 + 2

    3 FC Basel 7 2 1 2 - 1

    - 4 Ajax 3 1 0 4 - 2</pre>

    On Wednesday night, Newcastle United defeated Ferencvaros 3-1 in a steady rain at St. James's Park. First-placed Real Madrid crushed Werder Bremen 3-0, which would set up the simplest of scenarios in the final match. Facing Werder Bremen in Germany, Newcastle would advance with a win or a draw, while the Germans would advance if they could win.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">Q 1 Real Madrid 15 5 0 0 +13

    2 Newcastle Utd 6 2 0 3 - 1

    3 Werder Bremen 5 1 2 2 - 4

    4 Ferencvaros 2 0 2 3 - 8</pre>

    In Group D, Arsenal got off to a fantastic start in Bucharest when Thierry Henry scored in the first minute of play, and they rode that momentum to a 3-0 victory over Dinamo Bucharest. In Holland, PSV defeated first-placed Fenerbahçe to set up a wild finish, with three teams tied at nine points:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 PSV Eindhoven 9 3 0 2 + 3

    2 Fenerbahçe 9 3 0 2 - 1

    3 Arsenal 9 3 0 2 +11

    - 4 Din. Bucharest 3 1 0 4 -13</pre>

    Despite their tremendous goal difference, the Gunners trailed the other two on tie-breaker: they would need a win at home against PSV in the last match to guarantee a berth in the next round.

    Bournemouth Reserves and York City Reserves drew 2-2 in a wild match, which saw the ball come back off the woodwork no less than four times, once to deny Ian Black in injury time. Amateurs Chris Simpson and Ian Foster scored in a four-minute period for us, but the game ended all square.


  14. Tuesday, 21st November, 2006. League Two - Game 17, at Darlington.

    Darlington were coming off of one of the worst defeats in League Two this season, a 5-0 drubbing by Cheltenham which had dropped them from mid-table down to 19th in the league. Where we were riding a six-game winning streak, they were on six consecutive defeats - and by an aggregate score of 16-1! They've been a League Two club since 1992/93, and last year's sixth place was one of their best finishes in that stretch, but had to seem like a distant memory at this juncture. Darlington is one of the northern towns, north of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, situated astride the A1.

    With a Tuesday match against weakened opposition, I aimed to rest some of my bigger names, which gave me the following lineup: Alan Blayney in goal, Adam Eckersley at left back, Jamie Cooper and Michael Staley at centre back, and captain Graeme Law on the right. Ian Bannister spelled Navarro at defensive midfield, while Jamal Campbell-Ryce made his debut at left wing opposite Jon Paul McGovern. Theodore Whitmore and Micah Richards were the attacking midfielders, with Paul Edwards starting at striker.

    I could see right from the off how Darlington had conceded five goals in a match: they were running a narrow 4-3-3, with three forwards, no wingers, and all of their central midfielders willing to push forward at the drop of a hat. We nearly got a fine start in the sixth minute, as Jon Paul McGovern sent a corner kick in which new loanee Jamal Campbell-Ryce headed on goal. It was cleared off the line by Brian Close, or he'd have had a goal on his debut!

    The home side came straight back at as, with that 4-3-3 overwhelming us with numbers forward. Sam Gardner sent a lovely 25-yard pass for Kyle Patterson, whose run split our central defenders. He dribbled around Alan Blayney, and put it in the net, sending 3,342 fans into ecstasy as the home side took an early 0-1 lead.

    In the 17th minute, a Darlington deep throw-in was played to Chris Killen in the 6-yard box. Before he could turn, Alan Blayney slid into him, allowing Whitmore to put it out for a corner. The crowd booed lustily, wishing for a penalty, but none was forthcoming.

    I was getting worried: we weren't showing much creativity, so I shouted instructions to change to our more adventurous outlook, letting the fullbacks and wingers press forward. Our first posession after the change saw Campbell-Ryce up the left wing. He played an aerial ball ahead for Paul Edwards, who rose at the edge of the 6-yard box and put a header to the near post, equalizing it at 1-1.

    Tappa Whitmore nearly made it two-one, sending it just wide from 18 yards in the 23rd minute, but then it settled down into a give-and-take game over the next twenty minutes. Both sides had chances, but neither could finish them off, and our more adventurous outlook seemed to be forcing Darlington to play more defensively. It was still 1-1 at halftime, and neither manager made any changes.

    So often, one team or the other gets caught napping after the break, and today, it was Darlington. Young midfielder Micah Richards lifted an incredible 50-yard pass over the top of everyone for Edwards. The speedy striker outran the defenders to it, juked around goalkeeper Colin Reid, and scored his second of the night to put us ahead 2-1!

    A few minutes later, McGovern's long pass picked out Edwards up the right wing. He cut it back for Richards, and instead of shooting Richards teed it up for Whitmore in the area, From 12 yards, it looked a sure goal for the unmarked Jamaican, but Reid made an acrobatic save to deny him.

    Just after the hour, Darlington sent 10 men forward on a throw-in. We gained control, and Edwards played it to substitute Robert Cousins, who would have been offsides but was still in his own half. The star of the future released on a long, speedy dribble, racing into the area, but he rushed his shot wide.

    In the 68th, speedy Phil Townley, another substitute, broke up the left wing on a counter-attack. He faked the big aerial cross, then passed low to Cousins. Despite close attendance from Joey Hutchinson, Cousins was able to play it for his stronger right foot, then drill it into the net from 12 yards to put us solidly ahead 3-1.

    I figured that would do it for the match as a contest, but Darlington didn't fold the way many a club with a long losing streak might. They continued to press forward, though with a healthy respect for our countering ability. In the 74th minute, substitute Tim Sherwood sent a cross into our 6-yard-box. Alun Armstrong rose above Staley, Law, and Blayney to head it home: a fine team effort to cut the deficit to 3-2.

    That convinced me to go to our defensive shell formation, and Darlington pounded our perimeter as best as they could. There were several tough plays for Alan Blayney in the final minutes, but the veteran keeper was up to all of them. Cousins had another breakaway on the counter in the dying seconds of regulation time, but put it just over the bar from 16 yards. Injury time consisted mostly of York City time-wasting, and eventually referee Tony Green blew for full time.

    Darlington 2, York 3

    Patterson 11, Armstrong 74; Edwards 20, 47, Cousins 68

    MoM: Richards

    It had been an entertaining match with chances at both ends, but I was very pleased to find that a half-strength side could play as well as they had. On a side with plenty of midfield talent, young Michah Richards's play had earned him Man of the Match.

    I'd been experimenting with something - instructing our central defenders to do less "Closing Down", as Viv calls it, and though we'd conceded one goal after I made that change, for the most part I'd liked the effect, as it seemed to encourage them to stay home.


  15. Monday, 20th November, 2006.

    We were in fifth place, but the top of the division was incredibly tight: all seven promotion or playoff teams were separated by a mere four points, and four of them with the same goal differential! There was a wider gap between seventh and eighth than there was spread between first and seventh:

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

    1 Cambridge Utd 34 11 1 4 +13

    2 Cheltenham 33 10 3 3 +11

    3 Lincoln 32 9 5 2 +14

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

    4 Walsall 31 9 4 3 +19

    5 YORK CITY 31 10 1 5 +11

    6 Exeter 30 8 6 2 +11

    7 Port Vale 30 8 6 2 +11

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

    8 Boston United 25 7 4 5 + 3</pre>

    Saturday evening after the match I completed another deal I'd been arranging, this one to bring in our second Jamaican international, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, in on a 3-month loan from Charlton Athletic. In the last two seasons he'd played only one time for Charlton, but two loan stints with Cambridge in League Two had seen him make 25 starts, with 2 goals, 6 assists, and 4 Man of the Match awards.

    AM RL Jamal Campbell-Ryce, 23, Jamaica, 7 caps, 0 goals: Agile, hard-working, and determined, this winger shows the combination of pace, crossing, and dribbling which I'm looking for in a winger, but he does have some real weaknesses both defensively and aerially, and his decision-making is well short of the standard his Premier League side will require.

    Sunday's Under-18s match was a fairly dreary affair, a 1-1 draw with Macclesfield Town U-18s, with our goal scored by amateur midfielder Ian Sutton, his second goal in as many matches.

    Finally, this morning we completed the deal which would send talented young winger Richard Fox to Premier League side Southampton for £85,000 and another lucrative home friendly this summer. Again, this was a future deal, this one arranged for January 1st.

    Between Corbett and Fox, we had taken care of the brightest young talents whom I'd been unable to sign but unwilling to see leave on a free.

    It was frustrating, as I knew I was letting go of two true talents, and probably for less than they were truly worth. On the other hand, £230,000 should take care of a lot of our financial difficulties, and the home friendlies should pack Bootham Crescent for a bit more revenue.


  16. Saturday, 18th November, 2006. League Two - Game 16, vs Bristol Rovers.

    Bristol Rovers have been in League Two since 2001/02, when, after relegation from League One the previous year, they narrowly avoided relegation out of the League entirely. They've been steadily improving the side, and finished fifth last season. We got a bit lucky as leading scorer Junior Agogo was out with torn ankle ligaments, and stellar central defendar Steve Elliott was suspended for accumulating his fifth yellow card in their previous match. The latter would promote a former Minsterman, 17-year-old Kevin West, into the starting lineup.

    With a five-game winning streak, I saw fit to make only one change from the side which had beaten Watford the previous weekend: letting Tappa Whitmore rest after his mid-week flight to the Caribbean. The lineup then was Blayney in goal, Keenan, Cooper, Fontaine, and Law in defense, Navarro at defensive midfield, McGrath and McGovern on the wings, Cousins and Micah Richards attacking, with Marc Walton at striker.

    With our side on-form, Bristol Rovers came out very cautiously, playing defensively and often sending as many as ten men back. This worked fairly well through the first twenty-five minutes, as they conceded merely two long-range shots by Richards, both of which went over. In the 25th, Walton broke up the right wing, then cut it inside for Robert Cousins. The attacking midfielder dribbled past Kevin West as though the 17-year-old weren't even there, sprinted into the area, and went to dribble around goalkeeper Matthew Kerr. It looked like he had Kerr beaten, but fullback Lee Dukes recovered in time to slide through at the corner of the six, putting it out for a corner.

    West won the first corner, but could only head it behind for another corner, which Jon Paul McGovern took from the right side. Walton took it on the bounce just outside the six-yard box at the near post, pivoting on his left foot as he launched a right-footed half-volley which buried itself in the back of the net. The crowd of 3,407, one of our best gates of the season, let out a throaty roar as we took a 1-0 lead.

    The fans were happy to jeer when West picked up a yellow card just before halftime, and Walton nearly made it two-nil with a viciously curving strike early in the second half - only Kerr's great save denied him. In the 58th, Cousins slipped unmarked into the area, but once again Kerr came up huge, single-handedly keeping his side in the game at this point.

    In the 61st and 64th minutes, respectively, Jon Shepherd and Tappa Whitmore came on as substitutes, and in the 71st they combined to create a great chance. Whitmore played a wonderful 20-yard through ball int othe area for Shepherd, who shot from 12 yards. Kerr made a great reflex save to push it away, but the rebound fell straight to a perfectly placed Robert Cousins, unmarked in the area, and he was left with an easy finish that did make it 2-0.

    In the 78th, Whitmore's fine dribbling sparked another quick breakaway for the York offense, and West made a fine tackle under pressure to stop him. At the time, it hardly seemed to matter, but with ten minutes remaining, Bristol earned a corner kick. David Savage floated it into the area, and captain Aaron Brown powered a header into the net from fully 12 yards out, cutting the deficit to 2-1 with ten minutes remaining.

    Now Bristol were truly sending men forward, leaving gaping holes in their defensive alignment as they desperately sought an equalizer. In the 86th minute, Whitmore and Cousins teamed up to start a fast break, and Cousins pinpoint passing exploited one of those holes to play Shepherd into space. As he entered the area, he rushed the shot to put it just inches wide. Twice more in the next 60 seconds he had more golden chances, but the first shot went straight to Kerr and the second went well wide.

    Bristol seemed unable to break down our defense, and had only two shots thus far, but it took until injury time for the issue to be settled. Finally, Shepherd took the ball at the halfway line, dribbled around two men on the fast break, and this time found the back of the net, making Kerr miss, for a magnificent goal to make the 3-1 final score.

    York 3, Bristol Rovers 1

    Walton 26, Cousins 71, Shepherd 90; Brown 80

    MoM: Cousins

    Our customary reggae victory celebration ensued to mark the sixth consecutive victory in our run, and Shepherd's magnificent close was guaranteed to make every fan forget his earlier misses. We had peppered the Bristol goal with 20 shots, conceding merely two against, but again the issue had been in doubt until the final seconds, a trend I was finding quite disturbing.

    Young midfielder Robert Cousins was the Man of the Match, and I made sure to single him out for some well-deserved praise: what a find he's been!


  17. Friday, 17th November, 2006.

    I returned to the club on Friday evening, tanned, relaxed, and much happier than I had been. My desk was flooded with mail - I actually worked until just about midnight Friday night to catch up.

    In the interim, we'd earned £12,000 prize money from our FA Cup victory, and had drawn a home match against fellow League Two side Carlisle United for the Second Round.

    Right back Mark Dixon had agreed to contract terms which would keep him at Bootham Crescent through 2010.

    Right wing Mark Goodwin had returned from his loan down to Conference National side Harrogate Town, where he'd had no goals, no assists, and a 5.83 average rating for 12 matches. According to an article in the Yorkshire Post, he had arrogantly claimed it was because the players at that level were not of the standard that a player of his talent should be associated with.

    Lovely.

    Goalkeeper Kevin Butler had also returned after conceding 21 goals in a mere 12 matches at Poole Borough, hardly a convincing performance as he'd managed to conced a goal in every match with an average rating of 6.25.

    In our non-competitive matches, on Saturday at Bootham Crescent, our Under-18s had drawn nil-nil with Rotherham U-18s. My glut of options at striker had let me move Simon Roberts down to the youth side, but he had to come out injured after 62 minutes. Fortunately, the injury wasn't serious.

    Mid-week, our Reserve side had had two matches in back-to-back days. They lost the first to Darlington Reserves by a score of 0-1, a match in which winger Richard Fox had damaged his shoulder, costing him about a week of training. In the second, Thomas Carroll, Simon Roberts, and amateur Ian Sutton had each scored in a 3-0 rout of Bradford City Reserves.

    Finally, waiting on my desk was the final approval for the transfer of promising left winger Adam Corbett. The 17-year-old had been unwilling to negotiate a new contract at the prices I could afford to pay, and didn't yet have the polish to justify a move into the starting lineup to replace John McGrath next season, so I had instead accepted offers from Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers before leaving on vacation.

    The youngster had agreed terms with Celtic, and all I had to do was sign - he would finish out the season with us, and move to Scotland in early June. In return we would make £150,000, plus 10% of his next sale and a guaranteed home friendly against one of the Old Firm next summer.


  18. Wednesday, 15th November, 2006.

    "Hey boss!"

    Speak of the devil, Tappa called my mobile Wednesday afternoon. I'd read that he had been selected to the League Two Team of the Week, and offered him congratulations, but that wasn't what he was calling about.

    "Guess where I am?"

    I had no clue, of course. "London?"

    "Even better," he told me excitedly. "Kingston!"

    He'd been called up to the Jamaica side for Wednesday's home friendly against Guyana, a late replacement due to injury. It would be his first international appearance in over a year!

    I later learned that he was selected to the starting lineup, played 60 minutes and got one assist in an easy 4-0 victory. We had all thought his international career was over, but he was enjoying a true Indian summer this year!

    There was another full slate of international friendlies Wednesday. England took care of the Czech Republic in London, 2-0, on goals by Wayne Rooney and substitute David Prutton of Southampton. The Czech defense is disciplined and solid, with Petr Cech in goal, and it took a lot of patience before the Three Lions finally broke it down.

    Scotland beat New Zealand 1-0, and Ireland took care of Poland by the same score. Wales knocked off Switzerland 2-1, and Northern Ireland were uncompetitive in a 0-2 defeat by Belgium.

    In other matches, Brazil beat Russia 2-0 in Moscow, Italy and Argentina drew 1-1 in Buenos Aires, Germany beat Turkey 2-1, France took care of Chile 3-0, and Holland trounced Morocco 4-0.

    I made a point of making sure Stacy knew there was "soccer" on the telly that I was ignoring to focus on her.


  19. Sunday, 12th November, 2006.

    There wouldn't be time for me to savor the victory with the club, as I didn't even accompany them back north to York. Instead, I headed south for Heathrow and a flight to Barcelona. There I met my wife for our abbreviated second honeymoon.

    It was a blissful week: late to rise, cappucino and breakfast overlooking the Mediterranean, the beaches - topless still such a shock to an American - in the afternoon, fine dining in the evening, and drinking and dancing at night in the tremendous Barcelona club scene.

    Of course, I had plenty of time to savor Tappa's resplendent recovery, replaying his goals in my mind, as I lay on the beach!


  20. Saturday, 11th November, 2006. F.A. Cup - First Round, at Watford.

    Just seven years ago, Watford were in the Premier League, having qualified via the Championship playoffs. They lasted only one season in the top flight, and then in 2004/05 were relegated from the Championship. During last season's League One campaign, they came 4th but lost in the playoffs, but this season they are a dismal 20th place with only 3 victories from 15 matches. Two of their three first-choice strikers are missing, as Elliott Frost (4 goals) is suspended and Heidar Helguson (5 goals) has a torn calf which will keep him out until February.

    We made the familiar trip down to London - Watford is effectively a satellite just north of London - the morning of the match. I had what I consider my first choice XI all ready and, if not rested, at least not overworked, for the key Cup match. Alan Blayney made his 18th start in goal, matched by Joe Keenan at left back for most starts in the squad. Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and captain Graeme Law rounded out the back four, with Alan Navarro at defensive midfield. John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern were on the wings, with Robert Cousins and Tappa Whitmore partnered in the attacking midfield roles. Marc Walton made his second start at striker.

    The Vicarage Road crowd of 15,131 was huge by York standards, and a number of our younger players appeared nervous in the opening minutes, allowing the League One side a few opportunities. A steady rain was falling, which made defending difficult, as players were likely to slip in reaction to other's moves. In the 14th minute, Cousins and Whitmore took advantage of this, exchanging four or five passes between each other, and eventually Whitmore played it over to Walton in the area. He put it over the bar from 16 yards out.

    In the 18th, Joe Keenan launched a free kick from his own half, a long ball into space behind the Watford defense. Walton was the first one there, and he struck left-footed from the point where the penalty arc connects with the 18-yard line. Despite a diving effort from keeper Joe Murphy, it found the back of the net, Walton's third goal in two games and a 1-0 York lead.

    In the 25th, Walton again sparked our offense, breaking up the right sideline on McGovern's long pass. He cut it back for Robert Cousins when he reached the byline, but Martin Cranie made an excellent last ditch tackle in the box to take it away without a penalty.

    The next significant action was in the 40th minute, as Paul Weaver sent a cross over from the left-side byline. Alan Blayney missed it at the near post, leaving Joe Keenan with a dangerous header less than a yard away from the goal mouth. He managed to put it behind rather than into his own net, and it was a good thing as Danny Webber had been lurking there if he had not touched it. The resultant corner kick found the head of Watford captain Dom Blizzard, but his header struck the post and bounced clear. The counter-attack that followed earned us another mid-field free kick.

    Again Keenan took, and Tappa Whitmore collected James Pugh's half-clearance. He dribbled to the middle of the park, and took a shot from fully 30 yards out. There was a defender between the Jamaican and Murphy, and the unsighted keeper couldn't react in time - goal!! A stunning strike from our inspirational leader! Against all the odds, we led 2-0 going to halftime!

    I switched things around at halftime, instructing the lads to be extra defensive, keeping four men back on our corners, and packing eleven in the box for theirs. It looked almost like we were playing a bunker defense for the first minutes of the second half, as Watford constantly had posession down near our area, but couldn't penetrate our tight perimeter. In the 53rd minute, I brought Jon Shepherd on for the tiring Walton.

    Fresh legs made an amazing difference. He hadn't been on three minutes when Robert Cousins started a move, coming upfield a third of the width of the field from the right sideline. When defenders finally challenged him, he cut it left for the unmarked Whitmore about 35 yards from goal. The Jamaican star played a first-touch forward into the run of Shepherd, who had darted past the last defenders. No offsides flag! Murphy came out to challenge, but Shepherd slotted it past him, and into the net: it was a rampant 3-0 lead for York City!

    Whitmore nearly added a fourth on the hour, sending a left-footed volley inches wide from 16 yards after a free kick on the left wing, and the subdued Vicarage Road crowd were already filing for the exits - save our visiting support, nearly 1500 strong, who were making noise like it was their home ground!

    I brought Whitmore and McGrath off to rest for the final thirty minutes, and honestly Watford never looked threatening. Seconds into injury time, substitute left wing Phil Townley, just past the half-way line on the left sideline, launched a long pass over the defense for Shepherd on the right. He'd beaten a disconsolate captain Blizzard, and from 15 yards laced a shot to the far post to make the final score a shocking 4-0.

    Watford 0, York 4

    ----; Walton 18, Whitmore 42, Shepherd 56, 90

    MoM: Whitmore

    The lads had every right to celebrate in the locker room afterwards! What an upset!

    Tappa Whitmore was the official Man of the Match - it was hard to say whether his goal or assist on the third score was more brilliant!

    Honestly, I could have seen giving it to any member of the defense, which had limited Watford to merely one shot on target, or to just about any member of an offense which had put four goals through a League One defense.


  21. Friday, 10th November, 2006.

    Stacy tells me - I've learned to call her every night, when we're apart, and at least that I can remember to do! - that she's having a wonderful time without me. The Mediterranean beach is infinitely warmer than northern England, in her opinion.

    I decided not to mention that its been sunny and decently warm since she left!

    The process of trying to sell our talented youngsters whose contracts are expiring has begun. Adam Corbett is drawing the most interest, as expected, and I have two solid bids from Celtic and Rangers - he's not Scottish, but I'm hoping I can wrangle a home friendly out of one of the Old Firm sides for next summer.

    We did get one piece of good news: 17-year-old central defender Kevin Eaton, back in training after his injury, renewed his contract through 2010.


  22. Wednesday, 8th November, 2006. League Two - Game 15, vs Leyton Orient.

    Leyton Orient have been a League side since 1905. They had suffered their worst-ever finish last season, 22nd in League Two, narrowly avoiding relegation out of the League for the first time. This season, they were doing much better, sitting eighth, two points back of us for seventh place and the final playoff berth. Goalkeeper Glenn Morris is one of the strengths of the side, allowing only a goal per game, with shutouts in seven of his 18 matches thus far this season and an average rating of 7.61. We would have to do much better than we had against Chris Weale to put a goal past him.

    Again, it was a side selection as much governed by who was available and rested as by choice. Alan Blayney remained in goal after a fine performance, with my top four defenders: Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and Graeme Law. Ian Bannister returned at defensive midfielder to spell Navarro, while on the wings first choice John McGrath was partnered with speedy loanee Phil Townley. Tappa Whitmore would spell Cousins, partnering with Micah Richards up front, and new loanee Marc Walton made his York City debut at striker.

    2,591 fans filled most of the Bootham Crescent seats for this important tie. Through the first fifteen minutes, it was an open affair with an even number of chances at either end. The best of these came to the visitors in the 8th minute, as Dale Tonge took a free kick from 21 yards. He curled it over the wall to Blayney's right, but the goalkeeper made a diving catch at full extension to make the save.

    In the 23rd minute, Tappa Whitmore took a corner kick for us. His first effort was headed clear by Anthony Grant, but Whitmore tracked it down and sent a second cross in. Marc Walton turned it to the far post from 14 yards out, and it caromed in off the woodwork - a goal on his debut, and a 1-0 lead!

    In the 29th minute, Micah Richards was the creative one, leading a fast break with his dribbling skills. As he reached the arc, he cut it back and left for Whitmore, who was trailing the play. With his first touch, the Jamaican sent it forward into the area, where Walton was running to space, kept onside by the near side fullback. At the penalty spot, Walton took one touch to control the pass, then launched a left footed shot past Glenn Morris! The crowd were loving this: it was 2-0, and they were on their feet!

    Tappa nearly made it two goals in three miuntes when young Richards's pass set him loose in the area. The Jamaican, looking like his old self, launched a blistering shot at the near post. This time, Morris was able to get across to tip it wide.

    Five minutes later, Marc Walton led a fast break up the right wing. As he entered the box, cutting diagonally towards the goal, he drew three defenders to him. From the corner of the six, instead of shooting he cut it back for McGrath at the top of the area. The Irishman drew two more defenders to him, but stepped over Walton's pass, letting it roll through to the unmarked Micah Richards! Richards took one touch to settle, then launched a 20-yard scorcher which Morris could not keep out!! Magnificent! We'd looked, for just a moment, like a Premiership side, but and seemed in complete control at 3-0.

    The fans were baying for more just a minute later, as Whitmore's pass put Walton into the area. Gabriel Zakuani brought him down, but the referee's whistle was for diving rather than to indicate a penalty, which drew plenty of boos from the crowd. Walton received a yellow card, and I wound up pulling him and John McGrath out at halftime to keep them rested for our Cup match.

    That decision worried me momentarily after the events of the 55th minute. Orient midfielder Michael Simpson played a pass ahead to Donny Barnard, normally a fulllback but playing up front today. Our defense was in perfect shape, and Barnard nearly thirty five yards from goal, but for some reason Liam Fontaine stepped away from Ian Moore as though to lend Jamie Cooper assistance with Barnard. The 22-year-old played a great ball into the sudden gap in our defense. Moore's first deft touch changed Blayney's angle just enough to leave Moore an easy finish from 15 yards out. They'd cut the deficit to 3-1.

    I brought Tappa Whitmore off to a standing ovation from the partisan crowd, bringing on Robert Cousins in his place with an instruction to stiffen up the defense. In the 68th minute, Moore nearly got a second, sending a header just over the bar.

    In the 70th, we had our best chance of the second half. Cousins held up the ball just beyond the arc, doing this nasty stepover dribble a.la Kleiberson or Cristiano Ronaldo. It was top-class, and the crowd loved it! Instead of shooting, he then passed right to a wide open Micah Richards. The youngster took the shot, but Morris pushed it away. The rebound fell right to substitute forward Paul Edwards, but Zakuani got there to make the clutch tackle and knock it away.

    That turned out to have little consequence, Orient defender Matt Lockwood was injured in the late going, forcing Orient to finish up with only 10 men, and they didn't threaten again.

    York 3, Leyton Orient 1

    Walton 23, 29, Richards 37; Moore 55

    MoM: Whitmore

    Tappa Whitmore was again the Man of the Match after a two-assist performance, and with a solid victory over our closest competitor we were looking like a real contender for the playoffs.

    Marc Walton, the £1.4 million man from Newcastle had had a spectacular debut, with a brace in just 45 minutes of play. He looked like he'd played with us for a year rather than a single week!

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