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Sharpening a Rusty Blade

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

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

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

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Sunday, 25th February, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 27th February, 2007.

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

"Hi, Tom, any news?"

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

"What's that mean?"

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

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

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


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

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

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Wednesday, 28th February, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, 1st March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There didn't seem to be any response required.

He sighed.

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

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

That was predictable.

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

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

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


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

"I .. suppose..."

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

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

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

Nothing's ever simple, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York 1, Shrewsbury 0

Shakes 48; ----

MoM: Shakes

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

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

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

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Sunday, 4th March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was worried.

For a minute and fifteen seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leyton Orient 1, York 2

Alexander 90; Edwards 2, 87

MoM: Edwards

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

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

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Wednesday, 7th March, 2007.

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

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

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

Heady words!

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

He just shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, 8th March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York 0, Yeovil 1

----; Jevons pen 5

MoM: Weale (Yeovil GK)

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

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Friday, 16th March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York 2, Darlington 0

Edwards 39, Cousins 58; ----

MoM: Campbell-Ryce

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

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

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Monday, 19th March, 2007.

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

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

1 Cheltenham 76 21 13 5 +26

2 YORK 75 23 6 10 +25

3 Walsall 65 17 14 8 +26


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

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

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

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

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

I told Tom to rebuff any overtures from Vicarage Road.

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Friday, 23rd March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, 24th March, 2007.

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

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

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

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

1 Georgia 8 2 2 0 8 6 + 2

2 England 7 2 1 0 12 2 +10

3 Poland 5 1 2 0 6 5 + 1

4 Denmark 1 0 1 2 3 7 - 4

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

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

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

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

1 Sweden 10 3 1 0 8 3 + 5

2 Turkey 9 3 0 1 9 3 + 6

3 Cyprus 6 2 0 2 6 7 - 1

4 Slovenia 6 2 0 2 6 7 - 1

5 Scotland 3 1 0 3 4 7 - 3

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

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

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

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

1 Ireland 10 3 1 0 11 1 +10

2 Bulgaria 10 3 1 0 10 4 + 6

3 Spain 9 3 0 1 13 1 +12

4 Macedonia 6 2 0 2 5 9 - 4

5 Armenia 0 0 0 4 2 11 - 9

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

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

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

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

1 Italy 9 3 0 0 7 0 + 7

2 Russia 6 2 0 1 4 2 + 2

3 Israel 4 1 1 1 3 5 - 2

4 Wales 3 1 0 2 5 6 - 1

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

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

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Tuesday, 27th March, 2007.

The phone rang.

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

"Richards here."

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

"Hi. What have you got for me?"

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


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

.. why was I so disappointed?

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

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

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

I guess that's good news.

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


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Some story m8, easily the best on the website, it must take you a good while to right si much on every day, week, match, transfer, board meeting etc.

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Thanks, Kev. Yeah, its a labour of love, all right icon_wink.gif I started with it because I had a very slow computer, so I had a lot of time to kill when I pressed "Continue".. and then discovered I enjoyed the writing of it so much I kept at it even once I had a better machine.

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Wednesday, 28th March, 2007.

Our two right backs, Graeme Law and Mark Dixon, had both been seeing specialists in London for their respective injuries. They both returned to training on Monday morning, with their physiotherapists confident of a full recovery.

Law made his return to the pitch Wednesday evening in the York Reserves' contest against Morecambe Reserves, in a lineup that included a recovering John McGrath, and a recuperating Joe Foote as well. Amateur Paul Garner scored early, thanks to a superb assist by Ricky Shakes. Law added a goal on a penalty, amateur Jamie With made it three, and Law scored his second of the game on a 25-yard free kick, leaving the score 4-0 at halftime. Foote made a fine play to set up amateur Chris Simpson in the second half, and that made the final score 5-0. Foote was Man of the Match, though with two goals from the fullback slot, I thought Graeme Law sould have earned that honour. That was the largest victory in the three-year history of Reserve Group 6.

Winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce was called up to Jamaica's friendly Wednesday, and secured an assist in a 5-0 drubbing of the British Virgin Islands, playing for 59 minutes.

Alan Blayney made his Northern Ireland debut in an 0-2 friendly defeat to Belarus 0-2.

England beat Switzerland in Basel, 3-1, behind a Dean Ashton hat trick. The Middlesbrough striker made an incredible statement after being subbed on at halftime for his first international cap.

Scotland's free-fall continued with a 0-2 defeat by Egypt, Wales lost to Chile 1-3, and Ireland managed a 1-1 draw with Belgium despite appearing to be outplayed throughout the match.

In other notable results, France defeated Russia 2-1 in Moscow, Holland handled Turkey 2-0, and Italy dealt with Poland 3-1. The Czech Republic surprised Portugal 2-1, while Morocco earned a shock nil-nil draw against a languid Spain, which increased the national calls for the firing of manager Irureta.

On the other side of the pond, the U.S.A. beat Ecuador 2-0, while Argentina beat Greece 2-0, and Brazil beat Norway by the same score.

In a bit of a surprise move, Championship side Gillingham, in the midst of a battle for promotion to the Premier League, stepped down to cherry-pick one of our promising young players. Ian Bannister, whom I had been attempting to convince to sign a new contract, instead left to join the Championship side. He moved immediately upon signing the contract, and a tribunal set our compensation at a meagre £10,000.

I'd known that was a risk of not locking the youngster up earlier, but his contract demands had been more than we could really afford for a player who was in the lineup only in spot rotation duty, no matter how bright a future he appeared to have. I was genuinely sorry to see the youngster go, though he was excited at the propsect of playing for a bigger club. The compensation was exactly what we'd paid for him earlier in the season, leaving us with only his accomplishments to be richer by:

Ian Bannister, DMC, 17: August 2006-March 2007: 1 season, 16 games, 2 goals, 7.00

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Friday, 30th March, 2007.

"Did you see this?" Viv said, tossing the evening paper on my desk.

I scanned the article.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Watford Tap Watson

League One side Watford F.C. have secured the services of Cheltenham Town manager John Watson.

Mired in a relegation battle, the former Premiership club were desperate to secure a talent who could save them from the embarrassment of dropping three divisions in just eight years.

Watson, a rising star who has taken Cheltenham to the verge of this year's League Two title ... </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

I snorted at that - they're only a point ahead of us!

"Well, good for him," I told Viv. "Watford's got a much better stadium and training facilities, so it should be a real move up for him."

"But good for us, too," my assistant countered with a grin. "If there's any disarray in the transition..."

He left dangling the same thought which had crossed my mind: this may be exactly what we need to slip past Cheltenham and into the League Two title.

As the transfer window for English lower-league clubs closed, Yeovil Town strengthened themselves dramatically by bringing in four potential starters on loan for the final push. With seven matches left, they wanted to take no chances on slipping below 21st place and down to the relegation zone, and I was glad we'd already faced them for the last time.

We stood pat; there was nobody I felt worth the price to bring them in, and I remained mindful of our wage budget issues.

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Saturday, 31st March, 2007. League Two - Game 40, at Lincoln City.

Lincoln were a team scrabbling for one of the playoff spots. At the moment, they lay 8th, one place and two points adrift, but they have the fourth best goal differential in the league, and the third-best offense. They were dangerous, they were at home, and they needed the win more than we did. Still, their leading scorer, striker Serge Makofo, had broken his leg at the start of the month, and was out through September. Makofo had accounted for 22 goals this season, and their next-leading scorer had just five.

Our lineup was a bit of a mixture, with our regulars well rested after the two-week break, but some three players returning from injury and either lacking in match fitness or feeling a bit tired. Alan Blayney was quite out of practice, but returned in goal. Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, and Jamie Cooper were joined by captain Graeme Law, fresh off of his spectacular Reserve tune-up match. Alan Navarro took the defensive midfield role. Phil Townley lined up on the left wing, and Jon Paul McGovern made his return to the starting lineup on the right. Robert Cousins and Micah Richards were my attacking midfield pair, and Paul Edwards was the striker.

Lincoln came out in a very conservative 4-4-2, dropping all eight midfielders back at any sign of attack, and bringing everybody back on corner kicks. They looked like an away team hoping to survive with a 0-0 draw, and it was an impressive sign of our reputation preceding us. They weren't even trying to hit us on the counter, simply soaking up the pressure and hoofing it clear.

It was tough to break down such a determined defense, and our best effort seemed to be Robert Cousins's blast over the bar at the 39th minute. By halftime, the hosts had managed only a single shot on goal, but I could tell that tactical adjustment was required on our part. I switched to the 'aggressive' tactic, pushing Navarro, the wings, and the fullbacks forward.

In the 58th minute, Navarro was instrumental in getting the ball forward to Paul Edwards, who dodged around the last defender and had a brilliant chance, but Lincoln goalkeeper Alan Marriott had come rushing out, and by the time Edwards got the shot off, Marriott was close enough to parry.

We were definitely creating more chances, but with that as the sole exception, none seemed to be particularly dangerous. In the 66th minute, I brought Tappa Whitmore on to provide a creative spark, and when that failed to provide a breakthrough, I followed him with the fresh legs of Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Thomas Carroll.

With ten minutes to play, I noticed that Lincoln were shifting to a more aggressive tactic, starting to push forward in search of a late winner. I called Navarro over and gave the new instructions: a return to our conservative, counterattacking tactic to counter their shift.

In the 84th minute, Jon Paul McGovern sparked the counterattack I was looking for. He came up the right sideline, then passed low for Cousins, who moved it on to Whitmore in the center, outside of the arc. It looked like the Jamaican might let fly with a 25-yard shot, but instead he played a first-touch ball into the area for Thomas Carroll, to the right of goal. Marriott again came rushing out, but never touched it, appearing to misjudge it, as though he'd played what he expected Carroll to do rather than where the ball was. Neither touched it. The pass continued to roll through the six-yard box, and looked destined to go out for a goal kick, but Carroll was able to stop it just shy of the end-line, and direct it at a narrow angle into the wide-open net!

"The Forgotten Man" had come through in the clutch, when we truly needed a goal, and from there it was only a matter of defending. Lincoln of course came to an all-out attack, getting a pair of shots off, both of which Alan Blayney dealt with easily. In injury time, we looked the most dangerous side, and Carroll nearly scored a second time, this from 16 yards. A series of corner kicks followed, and though we were unable to score, each ran more time off the clock until the final whistle was blown.

Lincoln 0, York 1

----; Carroll 84

MoM: McGovern

Cheltenham were definitely struggling after the shock departure of their manager: they suffered a crushing blow to their psyche, 0-4, at Chesterfield. That shocking defeat, their worst of the season, combined with our 1-0 victory had put us into the League Two lead!

When Viv broke the news, our locker room, already festive, became absolutely jubilant. I had to remind the lads that we weren't done yet - there were still six matches remaining.

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Sunday, 1st April, 2007.

"You're not a manager, you're a wizard!"

No April Fool's joke, this.

Chairman Steve Beck, exulting in our victory, and our league lead, was laying it on thick. He wanted to lay all the credit at my feet. "How did you know? Whitmore.. and Thomas Carroll? But it worked!"

I didn't want to tell him I'd only selected Carroll because I could see that Paul Edwards was tiring, not because I knew "The Forgotten Man" had a magical game-winner in him. He'd been with the club on a full-season loan since September, appearing in only seven matches, and had scored but one goal - until yesterday, when he got the crucial game-winner.

I was a genius for bringing him on?

I'd been desperate.

I started to say something humble, but Mister Beck cut me off.

"And the Mirror voters think so too. You've been named League Two Manager of the Month."

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

1 YORK CITY 78 24 6 10 56 30 +26 (40)

2 Cheltenham 76 21 13 6 60 38 +22 (40)

3 Walsall 68 18 14 8 58 30 +28 (40)


4 Cambridge 67 20 7 13 64 49 +15 (40)

5 Boston United 67 20 7 13 64 50 +14 (40)

6 Bristol Rovers 66 17 15 8 61 43 +18 (40)

7 Port Vale 65 18 11 11 52 41 +11 (40)


8 Chesterfield 63 17 12 11 58 43 +15 (40)

9 Lincoln 61 16 13 11 61 45 +16 (40)

10 Torquay Utd 61 17 10 13 66 52 +14 (40)</pre>

We've gone from hoping to stay above the relegation zone, to fighting for a playoff spot, to now all but assured of promotion and top of the table with six matches left to play - it's been a heady year.

Sophie McGill offered the usual warnings: we're still over the wage budget by about 12%, and that concerns her, but seems to be acceptable given our performance on the pitch. We lost another £42,000 last month, but still have a positive balance of £340,000, all of which is available to me as transfer budget, and we've turned a net profit of £553,103 for the year to date, mostly because we've sold nearly £1M worth of players this year - without that, we'd be miles in the red.

When she had finished, I stood and spoke.

"I'd like to turn our attention to the future, and start discussing next season. Whether we win the title or not, it looks certain that we will promote to League One at the end of the season.

"We have four players leaving - " (Adam Corbett and John McGrath transferring, Daniel Smith's contract expiring, and Tappa Whitmore retiring) - "Which should free up £77,000 per annum in salary. Also, the contracts of physio Jeff Miller and coach Paul Stancliffe are expiring - I'll need to either renew them or place an ad for new men at each of those positions.

"Our existing wage budget isn't going to support adding a whole lot of new players, but I'm not convinced that we'll be able to survive in League One without some help. In particular, I'll need a left wing to replace McGrath, and I'd like to add a creative attacking midfielder to replace Whitmore.

"There are other weaknesses as well, especially up front where we have only two strikers under contract."

A bit of a debate broke out after that. The general sense I got was that the board members acknowledged our financial trouble, but were understandably perplexed about what to do, pointing out that we lost money last year, and would have lost money again this year if weren't for our player sales - that certainly makes it hard to justify increasing spending, which is about what I was asking for.

Nothing was decided, but the board did promise to take it all under consideration as they prepared the budgets for next season.

The question of my contract went entirely unmentioned.

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Monday, 2nd April, 2007.

After the board meeting adjourned, I met with Viv Busby to review the progress of our players in training. What he had to say on Thomas Carroll was surprising: the striker had finally begun to come good, and was our most improved player for the month, a move he'd capped off with the game-winning goal. Viv recommended a continuing to feature him through the final month of the season.

Right back Mark Dixon was making great strides since his return from injury, particularly in his mental understanding of the game. Jamie Cooper continued his slow steady improvement. Most of our players were stagnant, holding steady but no longer progressing, and a few were actively deteriorating.

Tappa Whitmore was definitely trending downward, and though I'd been careful to protect him from the rigors of starting, 16-year-old Simon Roberts was beginning to struggle with the length of the season and the pressure of public expectations after his spectacular debut. The media, fickle as always, seemed to find fault in every little mistake.

With the monthly meetings out of the way, I could turn my eye towards the month of April. It promised to be our toughest month of football yet, with games against five of our seven closest competitors:

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">4/ 7 at Bristol Rovers (6th)

4/14 Chesterfield (8th)

4/17 at Walsall (3rd)

4/21 Port Vale (7th)

4/28 at Cheltenham (2nd)</pre>

That's a brutal run, and I could only hope the players were in good shape for it - a bobble of form here could see us down into the playoff battle. Luckily, it seemed many of our players were returning from the injuries that had plagued us of late.

Scanning the papers on Sunday, I noted that fellow Yorkshire club Leeds United, with a 0-0 draw at home coupled with the right results elsewhere, had clinched the League One title. With five matches still remaining, they had 85 points, with second-placed Crewe Alexandra on 69.

The Premier League has become a tight race also: Chelsea on 64 points after 32 matches, Liverpool on 62 from 31, and Manchester United and Newcastle close behind with 59 and 58, respectively.

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Tuesday, 3rd April, 2007.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Spurs Catch Klinsmann

Famous London side Tottenham Hotspur unveiled their new manager this morning: former Spurs player Jürgen Klinsmann, 42, a German legend.

After a stellar playing career that included 108 international caps and 47 goals for his country, and 30 goals from 56 matches for Spurs, Klinsmann jumped into management at the deep end, taking the helm for Germany in 2004 as they prepared to host the 2006 World Cup.

A strong performance in the Confederations Cup, where they finished runners-up to Brazil, and an undefeated, unscored upon campaign of friendlies leading up to the tournament raised public expectation to a fever pitch.

However, an 0-1 opening loss to Italy warned that the team wasn't at the highest level, and though they proceeded through the group with wins over Chile and Saudi Arabia, they crashed out on penalties at the first Knockout Round after a 1-1 draw against France. Klinsmann was sacked 14 days later.

"We're looking forward to having a manager of Jürgen's stature at the helm," chairman Daniel Levy declared. "We hope to consolidate with a mid-table finish next year, and start pushing for a European spot by the end of the 2009/10 season. I'm confident Jürgen is the man to modernize our approach and take us back where we belong."

Tottenham clinched promotion to the Premier League over the weekend's action with their nationally-televised draw against Queen's Park Rangers, but many expressed surprise at Levy's ambition.

"For a recently-relegated club to speak openly of European ambitions," pundit and former Spurs player Gary Linekar said on the BBC, "It seems Levy may be a bit out of touch with the realities. His club may have stormed through the Championship, but the Premiership is going to be a whole different ballgame."

Klinsmann, for all his talent as a player, has no experience as a club manager, and will be, yet again, jumping in at the deep end. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

"That's that, then," I said, setting the paper down on my desk to turn to the day's scouting reports.

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Wednesday, 4th April, 2007.

Nationally, the big news was Wednesday night's Champions League quarterfinal matches. Arsenal started the two-leg contest at home against A.C. Milan. Lethal finisher Andriy Shevchenko silenced the crowd ot 59,913 with two early goals, putting Milan 0-2 up after just eleven minutes. Edu clawed one back in the second half for Arsenal, but after a 1-2 defeat, they will need two tough away goals to keep their hopes of European glory alive.

Chelsea travelled to Munich to face the sole remaining German representative, FC Bayern München, but conceded a goal in each half en route to an 0-2 defeat that leaves them with an uphill battle in the return match as well.

The other two encounters were national battles, as Barcelona and Real Madrid met for the right to represent Spain in the semifinal. Fully 97,925 filled the Nou Camp to witness the two rivals' battle, and for a while the home crowd was happy with Xavi's goal, but Raúl equalized in the 84th minute, and the away goal in the 1-1 draw gives Madrid the advantage as they head home. Italian giants Inter Milan and A.S. Roma met in Rome, but Inter proved the stronger side with an easy 3-1 victory that all but assures their passage to the final four.

Wednesday night's Reserve match - poorly attended due to the conflict with the European clashes - ended in a dreary 0-0 draw. Abysmal finishing was the bane of both sides, as between them they managed only a single shot on target, and that easily dealt with. Adam Eckersley was named Man of the Match despite a distinctly average performance, as there were no real standouts. An injury to Joe Foote turned out to be minor, a stubbed toe which prevented him from finishing the match but caused no lasting harm. John McGrath lasted 73 minutes, and declared himself fit for a senior match afterwards.

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Saturday, 7th April, 2007. League Two - Game 41, at Bristol Rovers.

Our test of fire began with a trip to Bristol to face sixth-placed Bristol Rovers. They're a tough team which has suffered only eight defeats all season, but an inability to get three points from games they've played well in has kept them out of the title hunt. They're in fine spirits, coming off of a 6-0 pounding of Peterborough, and riding a five-games unbeaten streak. We did beat them 3-1 at home earlier in the year, so we know they're beatable, but at the moment they have three players with over ten goals, and a rested, healthy lineup. They're looking to improve on a fifth-place finish last season, and their stated goal is to promote back up to League One, from which they were relegated after the 2000/01 season.

Our starting lineup was about as strong as I could hope for. Alan Blayney was the goalkeeper; Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, captain Graeme Law, and holding midfielder Alan Navarro comprised our defensive unit. Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Jon Paul McGovern held down the wings, with Tappa Whitmore and Robert Cousins the attacking midfielders the 4-5-1 configuration we'd been using for three years, now. Up front, Paul Edwards has been a star, playing well and leading the team in scoring.

There was a big crowd at The Memorial Stadium, over a third of whom were in standing room only. The match started off evenly, with chances in both ends. We were getting the better of the midfield play through the first twenty minutes, though, and looked well in control. I was thinking how good it is to have Jon Paul McGovern back - and then the Scotsman started limping. I was just talking with Viv about pulling him off in the 27th minute when a strange sequence unfolded.

Alan Blayney sent a long clearance over everybody, but Paul Edwards had found a pocket where he was on-side, but uncovered. He was held on by former York man Kevin West, who was playing central defense, but had dropped behind the other central defender, Bristol captain Jason De Vos. Edwards ran onto Blayney's ball, and broke into the area one-on-one, only to see Matthew Kerr save his shot. The rebound fell to West, who played it back to Kerr, and the goalkeeper blasted a long clearance. Again, the ball bypassed everyone, and Blayney came rushing out of his area to play it about 30 yards off his line. He launched a long ball back over everyone. Edwards, again held onside by West as they both jogged back towards midfield, was once more wide open. He turned on it, raced into the area, and this time he made no mistake, earning the goal and giving Blayney the assist!

I turned to Viv, and said, "In the States, we call that 'jungle ball'." Not that Americans often talk about 'soccer', but it drew a laugh from the older man. With the lead, I stopped hesitating and brought the injured McGovern off for Phil Townley. In the 40th minute, their leading scorer, Junior Agogo, had a poacher's chance from seven yards, but somehow put his effort wide of the target. In the 45th, midfielder James Beaumont took a brilliant first-time strike from 18 yards, but Blayney met it with a diving save at the post, and it remained 1-0 at halftime. Their left wing, Michael Boulding, was having an awful match, first thoroughly outmuscled by the physical play of McGovern, and then kept off his speed game by the fresh legs of the quick Townley. He'd picked up a yellow card in sheer frustration, arguing with a call.

Bristol came out for the second half with a more aggressive stance, pushing forward and trying to create more chances. For the most part, our defense dealt with them, with Jamie Cooper playing a fine game. In the 64th, however, Tony Craig misplayed West's throw-in, and let David Savage into the six-yard box. Blayney's cat-like reflexes again made a top-drawer save at the near post, and our defense took care of three successive corner kicks that followed.

In the 75th minute, I brought on Lee Croft and last weekend's hero, Thomas Carroll. Less than two minutes after I'd introduced them, Alan Navarro played a ball to Croft, who turned and found Carroll unmarked into the box. A beautiful 16-yard blast to the top left corner, and The Forgotten Man had scored again, giving us a 2-0 lead.

I ordered the lads back into a defensive stance, abandoning the counterattack in favor of keeping men behind the ball. This seemed to stifle the Bristol attack, and in the 87th minute, Graeme Law tracked down an erstwhile pass out near the sideline, about 18 yards from the end line. He launched the ball clear, but Boulding slid in, tripping him after the ball was gone. Despite the chorus of boos from the crowd of 6,440, Bob Pollock showed him a second yellow - red - reducing the hosts to ten men.

Bristol shifted to a defensive damage-control mode, trying to prevent us from running up the score, and that was it for the match.

Bristol Rovers 0, York 2

----; Edwards 27, Carroll 77

MoM: Campbell-Ryce

Jamal Campbell-Ryce was again Man of the Match - I was very glad I'd brought the Jamaican winger back, and this game seemed to be the province of our loan players. The lads were quite amused at Alan Blayney's first-half assist, giving him slaps on the back and calling him their "playmaker".

The media, of course, wanted to talk about Thomas Carroll, asking questions like why this 'gifted goalscorer' had been stuck on the bench all season. Last week I'm a genius for bringing him on, this week I bring him on, he scores in two minutes, and its "Where has he been all season?" There really is no satisfying the press, is there?

I gave them some vanilla answer about how his training pitch performances had earned him a look with the first team, not mentioning the fact that only injury had compelled me to it, and that it seems any striker we bring on in the final minutes performs well - Mark Rawle, Simon Roberts, now Carroll.. I suspect its more that fresh legs running at a tired defense in the waning seconds really suits my tactic.

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Monday, 9th April, 2007.

The Yorkshire Evening Press carried another story about how pleased Steve Beck is with our progress, basically recapping our 'battle against relegation' to 'fight for the title' season. Cheltenham had drawn exactly what they needed to right their listing ship, a match against 22nd-placed Darlington, which they won 3-1 to keep pace with us, but with five matches remaining our destiny was entirely in our own hands.

In Macclesfield, our Under-18 side had had an interesting match. Amateur winger Paul Garner's first-half goal had given them a lead, but after an injury to Adam Corbett, Macclesfield U-18s scored two goals to take a 2-1 lead. Their defense looked impenetrable, but in the 88th minute, a second yellow card reduced them to ten men, and in the 93rd, Ian Foster - an amateur substitute defender playing out of position and pushing forward recklessly - found the net for his first-ever goal, leaving the scores level at 2-2.

Liam Fontaine strained a quad on Sunday during a jog. The injury would keep him out for the week, and might rule him out of our game against Chesterfield, but striker Keith Barker had returned to action, and Jon Paul McGovern's injury against Bristol had proved to be minor.

I still hadn't decided how to handle a three-match sequence which included two home games against good opponents and an away match against 3rd-placed Walsall. I was leaning towards 'saving' some of my best players for the Walsall match, and playing a few more marginal players against Chesterfield, but hadn't fully decided. Chesterfield, had, after all, beaten second-placed Cheltenham Town 4-0 just two weeks ago!

In other news, with three matches left in the Conference National season, Moor Green became the first team of the year guaranteed relegation.

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Thursday, 12th April, 2007.

In Tuesday night's Champions League quarter-final action, Inter Milan and Roma battled to a 2-2 draw. This saw Inter through on a 5-3 aggregate, although Roma had gone to halftime within a goal of equalling things despite conceding the 3-1 defeat in the first leg.

In Madrid, 74,893 crammed into the Bernabeu for the rematch between Real Madrid and Barcelona. They were treated to a brilliant performance by Ronaldo, who scored a hat trick to overcome a goal by his countryman Ronaldinho, and Real Madrid won 3-1, a match they'd had in hand by the 66th minute, and advanced to the semifinals on a 4-2 aggregate.

On Wednesday, Chelsea and Arsenal both attempted to overcome deficits to advance to the semifinals. Chelesa, at home against Bayern München, put on a brilliant show, building a 3-0 lead through goals by Michael Ballack in the 21st, Tomas Rosicky in the 49th, and Damien Duff, whose 72nd-minute goal put them ahead on aggregate, 3-2. There was little time for celebration at Stamford Bridge, for Julio Baptista equalized the aggregate score at the 77th minute, putting Munich ahead on away goals, and then my new favourite player, Roque Santa Cruz, poured home another in the 79th. It was 3-4 on aggregate, and that was how it finished.

Arsenal needed two goals at A.C. Milan after losing at home 2-1, but could not find a way to the net. After a scoreless first half, Andriy Shevchenko scored again to make it 3-1 for the hosts, and Filippo Inzaghi's penalty in injury time made the final 2-0, for a lopsided 4-1 aggregate that sent the last two English clubs crashing out together.

In lesser action, Torquay United defeated Sheffield United for the LDV Vans Trophy, surprising the bigger club in a wild match. Torquay scored first on a soft penalty in the 18th minute, but Sheffield equalized just before the half. Tempers began to fray in the second half, and reached the boiling point in the 54th minute - a pair of red cards were issued over the next four minutes, and both sides were reduced to ten men. The Gulls were further dropped to nine on an injury in the 78th minute, but held on to keep the 1-1 draw through the end of regulation. The match went into extra time, and Dele Adebola's goal put shorthanded Torquay ahead. In frustration, another Sheffield player picked up a red card, and it was nine-on-nine when Martin Phillips scored to make it Torquay 3, Sheffield 1. That would be the final, though another injury, this to Sheffield, reduced the sides even further - the match finished up nine against eight!

In an even less important match, York Reserves faced Bournemouth Reserves, third in Reserve Group Six, on Wednesday. I was saving most of my professional players to be available during the three crucial matches the following week, so it was a side almost entirely amateur. The lads, at home, overcame an early deficit through goals by Chris Simpson and Ian Black, and held on to weather a late onslaught when an injury forced Bournemouth down to ten men. Goalkeeper Kevin Butler picked up a bit of a calf strain in the dying minutes, which Jeff Miller recommended two weeks' rest as a cure for. Plymouth Argyle Reserves had won their match, which left our lot 13 points back with four to play, mathematically eliminated from defending their title. I wasn't surprised - I'd used amateurs often this season, and they couldn't be expected to compete with the powerful professional sides the Reserve teams fielded by bigger clubs.

Two of the three British teams left in the UEFA Cup were knocked out Thursday night. Manchester United were the only survivors, with a 1-1 draw at Udinese sufficient to see them through on a 3-1 aggregate. Newcastle nearly came all the way back against Dortmund, building a 3-1 lead after an 0-2 loss in the first leg. They still trailed on away goals when Dortmund added a late score to make the final aggregate 4-3. Celtic won their match in Stuttgart 2-1, but had suffered a home loss and went out on aggregate 3-2. French side Auxerre were the other semifinalist, beating Feyenoord 3-0 for a 6-3 aggregate.

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Saturday, 14th April, 2007. League Two - Game 42, vs Chesterfield.

The fourth oldest club in the Football League, tracing their history to 1866, Chesterfield had fallen to 10th place with a defeat by Walsall last weekend. We had beaten them 2-1 on the road, so that might make them one of the easiest matchups of the difficult month coming to Bootham Crescent. Their captain was none other than former York captain Darren Dunning, leading the side with 12 assists - two in the big 4-0 win over Cheltenham that had done us such a favour.

We got bad news Saturday morning in warmups for the match, as Jamie Cooper sprained an ankle, and it looked bad. I hadn't even had Liam Fontaine suit up - I was intending to pair Cooper with Michael Staley in central defense, but there was literally nobody else who plays central defense. Liam ran in to change and start a belated warmup, while I pencilled in the rest of the starting lineup: Alan Blayney in goal, Adam Eckersley with Fontaine, Staley, and captain Graeme Law as the defensive four. Malcolm Parker was making his first start of the season at defensive midfield. Phil Townley was on the left wing, with Jon Paul McGovern on the right. Robert Cousins and Lee Croft paired in the attacking midfield, and Paul Edwards was the striker.

Chesterfield started out as the more confident side, sallying forward several times in the first ten minutes before we settled down. Our crowd of 3,560, one of the better of the year, remained supportive and our lads began to assert control. Darren Dunning and Jon Paul McGovern were fighting a titanic battle out wide, which seemed to result in neither being able to get past the other.

When we hadn't gotten a shot off by the half-hour, I decided to start pushing men forward. A minute later, Phil Townley found Robert Cousins. His shot deflected off of Ian Evatt and looked goalbound, but Rob Burch dove on it to make the save. In the 43rd minute, Cousins's low ball forward for Paul Edwards found the striker in space on the eighteen, a golden chance, but he lanced the shot inches wide of the left post.

Chesterfield came straight back the other direction, and when leading scorer Mark De Bolla took the ball about 30 yards from goal, defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker was nowhere to be seen. Michael Staley came forward to challenge De Bolla, who passed left to Stephen Schumacher. Liam Fontaine was left with two men, and he had to choose between challenging the ball and covering Tony Thorpe. He hesitated in an instant of indecision, and covered neither. Schumacher's pass was right to Thorpe's feet in the area, and as Alan Blayney charged out, Thorpe took one touch to his right and found an angle.. No! My groan was drowened out by that of the Bootham Crescent faithful: it was 0-1 going to the break.

In the second half, we continued to push forward looking for the goal, but the visitors fell back into a tough defensive shell. We kept rushing straight into the teeth of the defense, giving possession away far too cheaply. Frustrated with our lack of progress, I told the lads to switch to our patient buildup perimeter game rather than looking for the quick strike. That looked infinitely better, but it was still going nowhere, breaking down in the final third time and time again.

By the 70th minute we had only one shot in the second half, and I had to make a change. The crowd let out a delighted roar when they saw the number of 16-year-old Simon Roberts, whom I brought on for the exhausted Fontaine, shifting to a 3-5-2. That seemed to help, but the Spireites were now in a 5-3-2 bunker, and collapsing all eleven back on corners an free kicks. Though we got a number of shots off in the dying ten minutes, only Roberts's injury time effort was on target, and Burch made just his second save of the night to preserve the shutout and one goal victory for Chesterfield.

York 0, Chesterfield 1

----; Thorpe 44

MoM: Davies (Chesterfield DMC)

We'd outshot the visitors, but managed to put only two shots on target, and I was a bit disturbed at how poorly the side had played. I'd opted to put out a nearly full-strength side for the two home matches, with a weakened side for the away match against Walsall, counting on getting six points from the three games - coming up empty against the weakest team in the group was not in my plan.

Chesterfield defensive midfielder Gareth Davies was named Man of the Match, and Chesterfield would be able to walk proud over the summer after beating the top two teams in League Two during the title run-in.

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Sunday, 15th April, 2007.

Jeff Miller's news from the locker room wasn't good - Jamie Cooper's sprained ankle would keep him out through the end of the season. It doesn't look likely to be a recurring injury, and Jeff expects that Jamie should be in perfect shape by the time camp rejoins in July. That brought to a close a fine campaign for the youngster, who played his way into my starting eleven and has been one of our best developing players all year. It leaves me strapped for central defenders, however - I have only Fontaine and Staley, as Cooper, Kevin Eaton, and Joe Keenan are all out, and I've sold off Mark Wright and Ian Bannister.

The good news was that Cheltenham had faced Walsall, and the 3rd-placed side had earned a 1-0 victory at Whaddon Road on John Mooney's first-half goal. This meant that we were still first, two points ahead of Cheltenham, but Walsall were coming on strong, closing within a shout of the battle for the lead:

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

1 YORK 81 25 6 11 +27

2 Cheltenham 79 22 13 7 +23

3 Walsall 74 20 14 8 +30


4 Cambridge 73 22 7 13 +18</pre>

Despite our defeats, other results throughout the league had gone our way such that we were now guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, even if we lost our last four games. Not a pleasant scenario to consider, but good to know.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur clinched the English Championship title, and Scarborough have locked up the Conference North title. Tranmere Rovers, 24th in the Championship, have been relegated down to League One, where it looks like we'll be one of their competitors.

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Monday, 16th April, 2007.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Sheffield Sack Gregory

Following the team's disappointing 3-0 defeat at Colchester, Sheffield United have sacked their manager, John Gregory.

The Blades, relegated from the Championship last year, sit in seventh place in League One, just outside the playoff spots.

"We need a manager who can acheive promotion," chairman Derek Dooley said at the press conference, "And the team's performances this year have not convinced us that Mister Gregory will be able to deliver."

The club languished mid-table at the start of the season, but after revamping the defense in November, they climbed solidly into the playoff fight by mid-March. A 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth started a wicked slump, however, and Gregory hadn't won a match in over a month. The Blades have compiled an unimpressive 0-2-4 record over that time, including the defeat to Torquay in the LDV Vans Trophy final. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

At Tom's recommendation, I sent in my application.

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Tuesday, 17th April, 2007. League Two - Game 43, at Walsall.

There was no response by Tuesday evening's match. Walsall manager Alan Buckley tried to build his side up for our key late-season encounter by telling the national media that, with a six game winning streak, and after beating Cheltenham 1-0 on the road, his team are very confident of beating York and closing the gap on the leaders to four points. I didn't deign to respond, and some of the lads concluded that we could win the big games without much effort.

I could only hope they didn't underestimate Walsall, though we'd beaten them 2-0 in a friendly in 2004 and 1-0 in league play earlier this season. Both of those matches were at Bootham Crescent, and I tried to stress that it would be much more difficult at their ground. Fortunately, they are missing leading scorer Matty Fryatt, who is out with two fractured ribs.

I brought out the following lineup: Alan Blayney in goal, with Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley, and Mark Dixon across the back four. Alan Navarro returned at defensive midfield and would be captain. John McGrath made his return to the starting lineup on left wing, with Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the right. Micah Richards and Theodore Whitmore partnered in the attacking role, with Keith Barker the striker.

It took Walsall a mere eight minutes to back their manager's statements up. John Mooney came up the right wing utterly unchallenged, as John McGrath seemed unable to keep up with him, and Tony Craig didn't cover him quickly enough. Mooney sent a cross in, but it carried over everyone. David Perpetuini, well wide of the goal, headed it back from the end line, finding Adam Bolder about ten yards from goal. Bolder took it on the bounce and shot, beating Alan Blayney to the near post, and Walsall had a 0-1 lead. The 6,217 fans, who had not been silent for even a second of the match, went wild, and our lads were trudging back to their positions with their heads down. It looked like a dire start.

When things didn't improve by the 30th minute, I was getting frustrated. Again, we'd wasted a third of a match without a shot, and again I made the change to start pushing players forward. In the 39th minute, Jamal Campbell-Ryce broke up our right wing, then tried to cross it to McGrath in the box. McGrath looked dangerous 12 yards from net, but Cooper made a beautiful crunching tackle to knock it away. In the 41st, Tappa Whitmore sent a beautiful long ball up the right wing for Campbell-Ryce. He broke into the box unchallenged, and could have shot, but tried to square it for Keith Barker instead. He couldn't win it from Chris Armstrong, and the ball trickled tamely to goalkeeper Dean Harris.

I gave the lads a thorough tongue-lashing at halftime, telling them if they couldn't motivate themselves to play the most important game of the season so far, what were they doing in professional football?

We came out looking an entirely different side, and the first five minutes were spent entirely in the Walsall end. In the 51st muinute McGrath earned a corner kick. Alan Navarro took it, playing it to Micah Richards at the near corner of the arc, unmarked eighteen yards out. He touched it twice into the area, then shot, a brilliant strike to the top-left corner which threaded its way past a half dozen bodies, including the diving Harris - and it was 1-1.

We nearly took the lead on the 55th minute, as the stunned crowd and Walsall players seemed only to watch. Tappa sent another superb long pass forward, springing Richards into a one-on-one with Dean Harris. The keeper came out to meet him about 12 yards from goal, and somehow Harris made the save. The ball rolled tantalizingly across the six, but Mark Williams arrived just before Thomas Carroll to clear. I'd brought Carroll on at halftime, pulling the uninspired Barker as part of my tirade.

In the 59th minute, Tony Craig stole the ball deep in our half, and started a quick counter up the left sideline, ranging well forward. When we turned it over, that left a gaping hole in our back line, and Walsall was quick to take advantage. David Perpetuini played a beautiful ball for Mark Yeates, who had slipped Liam Fontaine's mark to get into the area. Yeates dribbled past Alan Blayney, and made it 1-2, getting the crowd back into it with thirty minutes remaining.

The additions of Joe Foote and Graeme Law to try and spark some offense didn't seem to help, but in the 74th minute, Richards, McGrath, and Carroll teamed up on a series of lightning-quick passes which saw Carroll into the area and free of a mark. His shot was just saved by Dean Harris, and the rebound trickled just wide of the far post.

We were definitely looking like the dangerous side, putting more shots on and having the lion's share of posession, a big change from the first half, but time was running out.

There were just eight minutes to play when Cooper upended Carroll about 25 yards from goal, and the striker lined up to take it. He curled a superlative shot into the upper-right corner, and we'd stunned the crowd with an equalizer - it was 2-2!

In the 87th minute, Walsall earned a corner kick, but our defense dealt with it well, and we had a quick counterstrike, as much as six on four. Jamal Campbell-Ryce played a stellar ball to spring Richards, and suddenly he was through past the last defender, with Thomas Carroll running hard to keep up with him. They raced into the box 2-on-1 against the stranded keeper, but Richards shot wide rather than passing to Carroll for the sure game-winner. I had my hands in my hair - surely this sort of thing is why so many managers go gray early.

Walsall 2, York 2

Bolder 8, Yeates 59; Richards 51, Carroll 82

MoM: Harris (Walsall GK)

The 2-2 draw seemed a victory, the way our lads were celebrating in the locker room. The requisite reggae blared from a stereo, and Thomas Carroll was the hero again.

The news in from Port Vale was good: they had held Cheltenham to a 0-0 draw, which meant we were still tops with three games remaining. It was a bit odd to see Dean Harris named Man of the Match for Walsall, as he'd stopped merely 60% of our shots on target - I would rather have seen David Perpetuini so honored for his two assists.

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Wednesday, 18th April, 2007.

Cambridge had also earned a draw, so the top four remained unchanged - but with only three matches remaining, our chances of guaranteed promotion were almost certain. It seemed only Cheltenham could beat us, though both Walsall and Cambridge still had a mathematical chance of taking the title.

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

1 YORK 82 25 7 11 +27

2 Cheltenham 80 22 14 7 +23

3 Walsall 75 20 15 8 +30


4 Cambridge 74 22 8 13 +18</pre>

The Cheltenham board have promoted former Assistant Manager Bob Bloomer to manager, offering him a full-time post through 2009. The chairman stated that they hoped his appointment would bring a sense of stability, and end the speculation which has abounded about the vacant managerial position.

This evening, York Reserves captain Joe Foote was named Man of the Match in a 0-0 draw punctuated by frequent shots off target by both sides. It had seemed a demonstration of how not to finish, an exercise in futility, as both sides missed the target on almost 80% of their shots.

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Panpardus - just be glad the story isn't shareware. icon_wink.gif

"If you'd like to read the REST of the story, please send £4.99 to ..."

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Thursday, 19th April, 2007.

I was called down to Bramall Lane to interview for the Sheffield United position today. I hadn't expected them to move so swiftly, but they're in a desperation fight for the playoffs, and Chairman Dooley told me he didn't want to go any longer than he had to without naming a manager. I think that may be a sticking point, honestly, for though he spoke very highly of my tenure at York City, he seemed very disappointed when I said that I wanted to finish out the season and win the title here at Bootham Crescent before considering my options.

I was very impressed with the facility. Its not White Hart Lane, but the Blades have a state-of-the-art four-stand stadium with open sky over the pitch but roofing over each of the four stands. Its a beautiful facility, and they have a wonderful youth academy - it would really be a joy to work for such a well-supported club.

I think the interview went well - I'd already met Mister Dooley, of course, and he hardly grilled me at all. It felt more like he was a salesman, trying to ensure that I was interested in the position. I liked the Assistant Manager, a younger man named Stuart McCall, and even that portion of the interview seemed mostly aimed at figuring out if we would get along.

I was sold; I felt like a kid with his nose against the candy-store window, especially when I returned to the facilities at Bootham Crescent this evening.

Though its homey, and I love the club, seeing the accoutrements of a modern club really drove home just how big a gap there is between the leagues in English football.

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Saturday, 21st April, 2007. League Two - Game 44, vs Port Vale.

With three games to play, this was a crucial match: a win for us would guarantee our promotion to League One, while for Port Vale, lurking in eighth and just a point behind Lincoln for the final playoff position, every point was crucial and escaping with at least one from the league leaders would be a big victory. We've met Port Vale twice before, defeating them 2-0 at Bootham Crescent in our F.A. Cup run of the 2005/06 season, and drawing 1-1 earlier this year at Vale Park. Billy Paynter is their leading scorer with 18 goals, but only two other players have netted more than one, and our focus will be on shutting Paynter down.

For this key game, Alan Blayney remained the goalkeeper, with Adam Eckersley at left back, Liam Fontaine making his 40th start of the season in centre, with his partner Michael Staley making the 50th appearance of his career, and captain Graeme Law on the right. Alan Navarro was the holding midfielder despite short rest. Speedy Phil Townley had the left wing, and Jon Paul McGovern was on the right. Lee Croft partnered with Robert Cousins in the attacking midfield, and leading scorer Paul Edwards was trying to recover his form up front after a poor showing in his last start.

We were in complete control of this match from the very beginning. Lee Croft fired a warning shot in the third minute, when he broke a long dribble into the right corner, then cut it back for Jon Paul McGovern overlapping inside. The Scotsman squared left for the unmarked Phil Townely, whose shot grazed the bar from 16 yards. By the tenth minute, as our dominance became clear, I ordered the fullbacks and wings to start pushing forward aggressively.

In the 13th minute Robert Cousins launched a fantastic long header, connecting with a powerful pass to flick a header some forty yards. The unexpected feat sprang McGovern up the right wing, and he launched a cross into the six yard box. Port Vale goalkeeper Paul Rachubka pushed it away, but the rebound fell to Townley, and this time the speedster hit the net, bringing the Bootham Crescent crowd to their feet as we took a 1-0 lead!

There was no reason to let up, and in the 20th minute Townley nearly turned provider, sending a great aerial ball for Paul Edwards, whose header went just wide. Cousins had a fine shot saved from 18 yards, and as halftime rolled around it was clear that my defensive strategy had Billy Paynter thoroughly marked out of the game; Port Vale hadn't taken a single shot. The news from Milton Keynes was good: the Dons had taken a 2-0 lead over Cheltenham, putting us in an excellent position.

I exhorted the lads to keep up the effort, and to make sure they didn't let their enemy back into the match. They did, in fact, keep the pressure on, with Townley's long cross over everyone to put McGovern into the box in the 57th minute. The Scotsman dribbled close to net, but shot wide.

By the 70th minute, it was a tense affair, with the fans on the edge of their seats every time Port Vale managed posession, almost wondering how we were going to give up the lead, as we just couldn't seem to put them away.

In the 72nd minute, Robert Cousins was knocked out of the game on a vicious tackle by Simon Robinson, and that put the crowd in an ugly mood as the offender escaped without even a yellow card. Port Vale began to push forward, and I retreated first to our counter-attack tactic, and then to a fully defensive one.

In the 82nd minute, McGovern's long pass put Cousins' replacement, Ricky Shakes, through on goal. Rachubka came out to meet him well out of the box, and the ball took a wild bounce away from their collision. Lee Croft got to it first, and tried an audacious 40-yard shot on the empty net, but he couldn't settle and it went narrowly wide.

Finally, a minute into stoppage time, we earned a corner kick. McGovern took it, placing it perfectly for Alan Navarro at the near post. The defensive midfielder buried it with his right foot, and the crowd of 3,407 began to celebrate our second successive promotion!!

York 2, Port Vale 0

Townley 13, Navarro 90; ----

MoM: Townley

The party lasted well into the night, and our lads had thoroughly earned it, having held Port Vale without a shot throughout the entire match. Alan Blayney was joking about how he'd been dying of boredom, and I told them I had never been prouder of a defensive showing.

I might have tried to stop it, but Cheltenham had collapsed again, 0-4, at Milton Keynes, and we'd have a week to clear away any hangovers in time for the key match at Whaddon Road.

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

P 1 YORK 85 26 7 11 +29

2 Cheltenham 80 22 14 8 +19

3 Walsall 78 21 15 8 +31


4 Bristol Rovers 75 20 15 9 +22</pre>

With two matches remaining, even a draw at Cheltenham would see us crowned champions!

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Not had a chance to catch up with this yet but congratulations on promotion, hope you get the titleicon_smile.gif

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Sunday, 22nd April, 2007, early afternoon.

I picked up the phone after just one ring.

"Richards here."

"Mister Richards? Derek Dooley."


"I'm calling to offer you the managerial position here at Bramall Lane. I think you're the ideal person to replace John Gregory."

My heart started racing, and my blood rushed in my ears. "Wow!", I suspect, was all I managed in response.

"I've arranged terms with your agent, and we have a mutually agreeable contract ready, it just needs your signature. Your Work Permit has been approved by the Home Office, providing you qualify for your UEFA 'B' badge over the summer."


"The only hitch is, I need you to start immediately."


The joy which had coursed through me just sixty seconds earlier chilled; I couldn't..

"The coaching badge won't be a problem; we should be able to get you enrolled in one of the June courses and they'll accept that. The question is, are you willing to leave York tonight?"

I thought about that for a moment.

"I'd really like to manage one more match, Mister Dooley. We're away to second-placed Cheltenham next - I'd really like to secure the title before I leave."

"Listen, lad, I appreciate your loyalty, but we're in a desperate scrap for the playoffs here. We need you now."

"I.. I'm sorry, I'll need to think about it."

"Don't take too long - I'd like to have the press conference today, if possible, tomorrow morning at the latest."

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by Amaroq:

Panpardus - just be glad the story isn't shareware. icon_wink.gif

"If you'd like to read the REST of the story, please send £4.99 to ..." </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

I'd pay that.

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