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Sharpening a Rusty Blade


Amaroq

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Sunday, 10th December, 2004.

There was no real harm in the Chris Beech negotiations: the same four teams again offered to acquire him for free, and this time I accepted their offers - even without a transfer free, getting his salary off the books will be another boon for the side.

The Champions League Group Stage had its exciting conclusion Tuesday and Wednesday:

In Group A, Inter Milan had already qualified, but advanced Barcelona's cause by beating second-placed Bayern Leverkusen 2-1, while Barcelona took care of business by beating Olympiakos 3-1 to advance.

In Group B, where Roma and Real Madrid had already clinched advancing, Liverpool and Lyon got consolation victories at home against decidedly 'B' sides. (Liverpool 1, Roma 0).

In Group C, FC Bayern had long ago clinched, but Ajax and Monaco were in a head-to-head fight, winner advance, and Ajax won a thriller 4-2 at the Amsterdam Arena.

From Group D, Celtic and Chelsea had already secured advancement; Celtic beat Benfica 2-1, while Cheslea's 'B' side drew at home against Dinamo Bucharest 1-1.

In Group E, Manchester United had already clinched advancement, but they put a dent in PSV's hopes by holding the Dutch side to a 1-1 draw - a result which saw them knocked out when Fenerbahçe defeated Paris Saint-Germain 2-0.

Arsenal made the most exciting comeback - needing only a draw to advance against third-placed Porto, they were trailing 3-1 after an 84th minute goal. They brought the Highbury faithful to their feet when Claudio Pizarro responded with an immediate goal, a header from Fredrik Ljungberg's cross. Then Thierry Henry scored in injury time to bring it back level, and the crowd went wild. It was one of his trademark runs - using his speed to break past the defense, then dribbling around the keeper and slotting it home! The 3-3 draw secured Arsenal's advancement, but allowed Juventus to slip past them into first with a 3-0 victory over Lokomotiv (Plovdiv).

In Group G, Rangers needed a win at Basel to advance. A wide-open first half saw them go to the break level at 3-3, and when Roger Meier was sent off for Basel at 53 minutes, it seemed sure the Old Firm side had a real chance. But the Swiss bunkered down and defended well, and finally scored on the counter-attack in the 89th minute, sealing Rangers' demise with a 4-3 win. Valencia had already clinched first in the group, but lest anybody miss how well they were doing, they pounded Panathinaikos 4-0.

In the final group, Werder Bremen needed a point at home against Italian champions A.C. Milan to guarantee advancement. As Milan played a weakened side, the Germans had little difficulty securing a 1-0 win to join the Italians in advancing.

I turned my attention to Carl Richardson's scouting report on Stalybridge Celtic. I must confess a certain fondness for them due to a web story I read about them, but tomorrow the 7th-placed side would be our opposition. Carl rates their side as "Reasonable", and suggested that their attacking pace might cause problems for our back four.

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Saturday, 11th December, 2004. Conference North - Game 16, at Stalybridge Celtic

It was a long-ish drive north to the Bower Fold, where we experienced our first match in below-freezing temperatures. I started Jamie Speare, Andy Scott, Martin Clark, Joe McMahon, and Neil Uberschar, my usual defense. Steve Birks would play defensive midfield, with my favorite wingers, Brian Cash and David Mellor right and left respectively. Ryan Ashington would pair with Ryan-Zico Black in the attacking midfield roles, with Michael Yates, our leading scorer, up front.

It was a rough match from the beginning, but Ashington made a good showing, with his shot from a free kick forcing the first save from Hallworth, and his later shot going just wide. The mood on our sideline got ugly when Dave Bathgate injured the youngster with what looked a vicious tackle, but no foul was called. When he also injured Black, I was off the bench screaming at the ref for a caution, and received one - a warning to me to stay civil on the touchline!

It went to the half 0-0, a brutal dogfight of a match. I had to pull Ashington off - he was limping badly by this point - and sent Shane Tolley on in his place. I also told the lads that if the ref wasn't going to call anything, they could tackle as hard as they liked. That brought grim smiles all around, and when they went back out, there was a steely glint in every eye.

Still, it was Stalybridge with the first real chance at 55 minutes, as Hayward launched a curling shot to the top corner - Speare made a great save to keep it scoreless. Michael Yates had a great opportunity at the other end, but launched it high and wide. Stalybridge kept up the pressure, with Hayward heading over the bar on 65 minutes, and then Kevin Parr broke through our defense, on goal. Martin Clark made a great tackle from behind, getting all ball but tumbling Parr to the earth - the veteran midfielder came up screaming for a penalty, but the ref waved play on. It was around that point that I sent in Phil Bartholomew for Yates up front.

At 70 minutes, Hall broke through the defense. Speare came out, one-on-one, and got a hand to it, but Hall charged down, with an open net. Just as he slotted it home, the ref blew the whistle: he had been offside! Parr was visibly upset again, and in the 79th minute, when the ref whistled a foul on his captain Stuart McLean, Parr blew up, arguing the call. The ref warned him, and then showed him a yellow card, but that just enraged him more, and he launched into a profanity-last string of invective which left the ref no choice but to issue the second yellow, the red, and send him off!! What a break: a man advantage in a scoreless draw!

I shouted at the lads to press up in our aggressive formation, and put Mark Platts on the right wing for Cash. The moves drew immediate results. Black launched a long ball down the right side for Platts, who took it to the corner, and then sent the cross into the box. McLean headed it clear, but Steve Birks, trailing the play, held it in the attacking zone, and switched it left for Tolley, who struck it home from 18 yards out. 1-0, Lancaster!

Despite their disadvantage, Stalybridge tried to send everybody forward, a move which created space and chances at both ends, though I had of course reverted to our opening defensive formation. Good defending nullified their opportunities, and when Carl Sheard had to be taken aside for treatment in injury time, we had an eleven-on-nine.

Still, Celtic gamely pushed forward, and when we counterattacked, our attackers vastly outnumbered their defense. It was just a matter of finding the open man, and Mellor fed it to Bartholomew, whose shot beat the keeper but ricocheted off the bar. The rebound fell directly to Ryan-Zico Black, who put it easily into the open net for a 2-0 advantage!

Seeing that Sheard was not able to continue, and the outcome was no longer in doubt, the ref whistled full time immediately.

Stalybridge 0, Lancaster 2

----; Tolley 82, Black 90

MoM: Black

Ryan-Zico Black had immediately justified his new contract with a Man of the Match performance, setting up the first goal and scoring the second. He's been quite a force this season, and I was pleased to see him earn his due.

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Sunday, 12th December, 2004.

Stacy showed me the local Lancaster newspaper this morning. I'd normally stopped reading the local Sports section: the commentary was invariably critical during the first month, and I realized that I was better off reading one of the national papers to follow what's happening the the world-at-large. But this story was worth reading!

Somebody on the board had leaked to the paper how pleased the board were with the 2-0 win over Stalybridge, and the columnist went on from there:

Better form in recent weeks has catapulted The Dolly Blues into the top half of the table. A strong series of results has seen the club emerge as one of the form sides of the division and whilst they are not expected to seriously challenge for the title, it is pleasing for many fans to see progress being made at the club.

Surely the manager's request for a reasonable salary increase and an extension beyond the season's end cannot fall on deaf ears. Though the threat of Administration always looms, Richards has done more than simply battle relegation, and it is clear that he has a long-term plan, if he is only given time to execute it.

That certainly brought a smile to face!

Our 5-game winning streak had made it a run of eight games unbeaten, our 2-0 win was a record league victory for my tenure - and to top it off, we were up to 8th in the Conference North, climbing steadily up the ladder.

In fact, if we hadn't spotted everybody those first six games, we'd be in the hunt for those elusive promotion spots, and maybe even the title!

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Taken me a couple of weeks but am finally up-to-date.

You don't half leave it late on occasions, 80th+ minute goals.

Best of Luck with Lancaster, although since you've played up until 2013 you don't really need it.

KUTGW icon_smile.gif

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You're just saying that cause nine of our 19 goals to date have come in the 80th minute or beyond ..

Guess those extra wind sprints in July are paying dividends! icon_biggrin.gif

Thanks for the kind words.. and using italics, very observant!

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Tuesday, 14th December, 2004.

Amazing!

I met with my coaches for my routine monthly summary of training improvement, and was shocked when they told me that almost every one of my players had made tremendous strides in the past month - many of them exceeding my previous 'best' month of improvement!

I was stunned, and at first thought I might be seeing an effect of the exceptionally high morale at the club boosting their abilities through improved training effectiveness, but that didn't fit the data - we'd had a high-morale run before without a dramatic increase of this nature.

Gary Bauress, who has been reduced to a pure coaching role due to his injury, finally suggested the answer to me.

"Boss? I think it might be that you reduced how many sessions each coach is responsible for. We used to be responsible for 5 or 6 sessions each, and they could be anywhere on the pitch. Now, we're only responsible for 3 at most, and usually its an 'offense versus defense' drill. So we have more time and attention to devote to the individual players."

His theory made sense, and it fit the data - I'd keep it in mind.

Chris Beech dropped by my office in the evening with paperwork in hand. He told me he had signed with Poole Borough, with the transfer due to be completed on January 1st at the next transfer window. If I would just sign the paperwork? I did so, and that completed the slashing of my central midfield: four players out, and fully £50,000 per-annum savings against the bottom line.

Knowing how much that would put me beneath the board's suggested wage budget, I couldn't resist bringing in on trial a promising Scottish striker I'd had my eye on. I also made some contract renewal offers to the small group of players whose contracts were due to expire at season's end, but whose contributions I approved of.

Stacy left for California this evening - we're going back for Christmas, though with matches on the 21st and 26th, I can't spare much time for it. She's been really struggling - I think she's been going a bit stir crazy with no work permit, homesick for all of her friends, and distressed at the cold northern weather.

Hopefully a lengthy holiday will lift her spirits - she's not planning on coming home until sometime in January.

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Saturday, 18th December, 2004. Conference North - Game 17, vs Southport.

The next fixture on the schedule was at home in the Giant Axe against Southport. It was warmer at home, and the sun poked out several times through the match.

I made four changes from the side which had beaten Stalybridge: young Ricky Mercer took over the holding midfield role, Lee Clitheroe came in on the right wing, with Scott Davis on the left, and Phil Bartholomew up front, leaving me with: Jamie Speare in net, a defense of Andy Scott, Martin Clark, Joe McMahon, and Neil Uberschar, with Mercer at defensive midfield. Clitheroe and Davis were the wings, as I said, with Shane Tolley and Ryan-Zico Black supporting Bartholomew in attack.

The announced crowd of 1,984 was our largest to date, and most were in the standing-room-only sections. The side were met with a loud roar of approval as they took to the field, and came out firing early. Shane Tolley's 18-yard blast 3 minutes in forced a fine save from Southport keeper Steve Dickinson, and Tolley was foiled twice more before the 20 minute mark. Southport seemed content to sit back and soak up our pressure, however, not once venturing forward and concentrating on keeping men behind the ball. It was an anaconda-like strategy, and we hadn't figured it out by halftime.

One thing was clear, though: Lee Clitheroe was having an absolute embarassment of a game on the right wing. I let him go back out to start the second half, and in fact didn't make any changes, expecting that we were the better side and would prevail. No such luck: things continued at the same pedestrian pace, until in frustration I pulled off the ineffectual Clitheroe and striker Bartholomew in favor of Mark Platts and Peter Thomson.

Still nothing - not even a shot from either side, and we were starting to hear catcalls from the home supporters. I shifted to our aggressive formation, sending the fullbacks forwards and being more agressive with the DMC and wingers on 75 minutes.

This produced a few chances at both ends - the two Southport shots that resulted were off-target, but on 84 minutes Mercer's shot from the top of the box just skimmed the crossbar. In injury time, Thomson had our best chance from about 8 yards out, but when Dickinson proved equal to the task, it sealed a dreary 0-0 draw.

Did we ever hear it from the crowd, at least those who had stuck throughout the full tedium of the ninety minutes - they were less than pleased, and not shy about expressing it.

Lancaster 0, Southport 0

----; ----

MoM: Dickinson (Southport GK)

Southport keeper Steve Dickinson was a deserved Man of the Match, having made four saves on a day when nobody else on either team did anything of note.

Except Lee Clitheroe, of course, who had the dubious distinction of going 0-for-13 on attempts to make a header: he was thoroughly outplayed by his counterpart, and probably should have earned Man of the Match himself - for Southport!

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Monday, 20th December, 2004.

"Ian, have you considered applying to other jobs?"

With the house to myself, I'd needed some company, and I'd found myself taking a long walk with player/coach Gary Bauress prior to training Monday evening. One thing led to another, and suddenly I found myself dumping my troubles - firstly concern for my homesick wife, and that lead to our financial situation - on my subordinate, who I'm sure makes less than I do.

Inappropriate, really, but I was discovering I'd really needed a sympathetic ear to talk to.

This was his advice.

"Well, have you?"

"No, not really. Who would want me? I haven't done much."

"Are you kidding me? You've turned this team around. You think you haven't caught some notice from some of the professional clubs?"

"I can't just leave."

"No. If a club wanted you, they'd have to buy out your contract, paying compensation to Lancaster. It happens all the time, just like transferring a player.

"Listen, we both know Lancaster can't afford to give you a raise, and to be honest, the club isn't going anywhere - we'll be lucky to stave off receivership for the next three years. If that story in the paper is true, and the board aren't even willing to renew your contract, you're doing your career a real disservice by not at least considering your options."

"I don't know, Gary. It just doesn't feel right."

"Just, think about it, will you?"

We were coming up on my favourite coffee-shop, and with other ears around, the conversation turned to other things, such as Carl Richardson's report on our next opponents, Bradford Park Avenue. He mentioned that they normally play a defensive 5-3-2 formation, and have an average team. He did warn that Danny Ogunmade is a potent threat in their pacey attacking line, and their midfield is creative.

Over the weekend, three of my players renewed their contract. Young goalkeeper Ryan Yeomans renewed through June of 2007 on the same terms, Phil Bartholomew renewed through next season at a large raise, and aging captain Martin Clark, actually renewed through '06 at a pay cut - though the net owed to him over two years would be more than it had been over the second half of this season.

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Tuesday, 21st December, 2004. Conference North - Game 18, vs Bradford Park Avenue.

After the big crowd Saturday at the Giant Axe, it was a bit disappointing that only 898 showed up for the next game, especially given the unseasonably warm weather. Understandable, sure, for a Tuesday night following such a stinker of a game, but disappointing nonetheless.

At the back, it was Jamie Speare in goal, with Martin Clark, Joe McMahon and Neil Uberscahr in defense. Loanee Alan Morgan came on to spell left back Andy Scott, while the front six were complete change from the previous game: Steve Birks at defensive midfield, Brian Cash on the right wing, David Mellor on the left, Ryan Ashington and Phil Clarkson up front, with Michael Yates returning as the sole striker.

Clarkson started off the game by earning an almost immediate yellow card, a fairly dubious one. Young Ryan Ashington really impressed me with an incredible 40-yard shot, which looked to be dipping on target before it was barely tipped over by Bradford keeper Michael Price.

That was nothing compared to his next chance: A mere 10 minutes in Michael Yates sent a cross into the box. It was picked out by Bradford defender Danny Ogunmade, who tried to head it back to Price. The goalkeeper was nowhere near it, and very lucky when it rebounded off the post - but right to a wide-open Ashington. With a clear shot on a half-open goal, he instead opted to pass, not shoot! The ball rolled out of the box untouched by anyone, and the defense had enough time to set up for our next assault, which Neil Uberschar wasted by blasting it over the bar from long range.

We limped to halftime from that point - like Southport, Bradford seemed content to just sit back and defend, and hadn't taken a shot yet. I told the guys to start pressing forward, even if it ruins our defensive shape: we didn't need another 0-0 draw. It appeared that we got a big break at 57 minutes, when Price collided with one of his own players, and had to go off injured, but it turned out that reserve goalkeeper Glenn Johnstone was really their starter, being given the night off! He was immediately in fine form, tipping over Clarkson's header.

Time ticked away, and even our aggressive formation wasn't helping against their tough 5-3-2, so at 74 minutes I made three substitutions, bringing on Thomson for Yates and Black for Ashington. The last was Ricky Mercer, on for Alan Morgan with instructions to shift the back to a 3-man line, and join Birks at DMC. We hadn't practiced this formation, but a 3-2-2-2-1 certainly looked like creating more chances.

It paid off after merely six minutes. Clarkson found David Mellor down the left wing, and Mellor faked one of his trademark crosses, sucking all the defenders back to cut off the close-range headers. Instead, he cut it back to Clarkson, who launched a 20-yard blast which curled into the far corner of the net: a more beautiful goal you won't ever see, and it put us ahead 1-0.

Bradford switched to an aggressive 4-4-2 as we fell back to our original defensive 4-5-1, and yet we nearly made it more from the ensuing kickoff. Black stole the ball in midfield, dribbled around the only defender, and launched a fine shot on goal, but Johnstone was up to the challenge and caught it.

For the next six minutes, Bradford continued to push forward, but we had no problem defending their weak challenge until the 86th, when captain Neil Grayston - moved up to midfield after starting in the back five - passed low up the middle for substitute forward Steve Oleksewycz, who had managed to briefly turn around our captain Martin Clark. Speare came out to challenge him, but the 21-year-old coolly dribbled around him, and slotted it home to equalise at 1-1.

Immediately, Bradford switched back to their 5-3-2, content with the draw, and no matter how many men I sent forward in injury time, they nullified the attack with clearance after clearance. The ref blew full time, 1-1, and again our fans went home unimpressed, even if our unbeaten streak had run to ten games.

Lancaster 1, Bradford PA 1

Clarkson 80; Oleksewycz 86

MoM: Johnstone (Bradford PA substitute GK)

I didn't agree with the newspaper's choice of Glenn Johnstone as MoM despite only 33 minutes in goal. He had fewer saves than his teammate Price, had, and personally I felt Clarkson had played a fine game. That creative midfield I'd been warned about? It took only six minutes for them to create an opportunity in the 4-4-2 confuiguration after 80 dreary minutes in the 5-3-2, and I wondered if manager Carl Shutt realizes how little he is getting out of his team.

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Saturday, 25th December, 2005.

Merry Christmas from sunny San Diego!

I told the lads to take the rest of the holiday season off - no training until Sunday's game on Boxing Day. They laughed when I jokingly told them not to forget it: the side's morale was so much improved that they'd been readily taking some joking from their manager, which I hadn't been comfortable with in the first few months.

I flew back to San Diego, where Stacy and I both have family, to join my wife and make a big production out of Christmas. My closest friends can still hardly believe I was truly managing a 'soccer' team, and I had a hard time explaining the plight of the lower leagues to them: old, decrepit stadiums without sufficient seats and a bunch of fans standing for every match; the bus, which seemed like it was about to break down on every away game, but somehow made it through each time; the players, who all play part-time and have either work or school during the day. They didn't really understand it, and I'm sure they all thought it was a matter of just a few years before I'd be managing in the Premiership. It seems so far away!

The weather here was stunning; it couldn't be a bigger change from northern England and the chill off the Irish Sea: it was sunny and in the high sixties (F) today, though the nights are getting just cold enough to put frost on the windshields of cars. I hadn't realized how much I missed good weather: I'd stood outside in so much fog and rain since taking this job, it had come to seem natural.

I did, of course, take my mobile, and there was some news from the club. Physio David Hughes called me with the bad news that young midfielder Ryan Ashington had played a light pick-up game with his family, which had resulted in a torn groin that would keep him out for two full months at least! I was annoyed - the kid had been showing real promise.

I'd also left orders to sign Scottish striker Robert Tompson off of his trial period, and Kevin Hull called to inform me that that was done, and arrangements were ready for Sunday's game. I gave him my flight information, and asked him to have somebody pick me up from the airport.

Finally, I got Carl Richardson's scouting report: Redditch are a reasonable team, and their pace is something we'll have to watch out for.

He must think we're slow.

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Sunday, 26th December, 2004. Conference North - Game 19, at Redditch.

The day my football career began its dramatic turnaround started late on Christmas, as I boarded a flight to San Francisco, where I'd change to an intercontinental red-eye. By the time I arrived at Heathrow, it was morning of the 26th, and I was exhausted. That fatigued half-sleep you get on a plane does so litle good when you're undergoing an eight-hour time change, and I was getting all too familiar with that flight. From Heathrow, I caught the connector to Birmingham.

When I got to curbside, I saw that it was raining, and just above freezing: a total shock compared with the fine California weather - the coldest day I'd experienced in San Diego was about the warmest day I'd seen in Lancaster since October. Player/coach Gary Bauress pulled up in a car to pick me up, and we started on the short drive south to Redditch. I took the opprtunity to ask how he was recovering, and he said he could probably play some off the bench this week in an emergency, but that it would be better to wait for January.

Valley Stadium was actually a nice venue, with good changing facilities for a change. I returned to my usual back line: Jamie Speare in goal, with Andy Scott, Martin Clark, Joe McMahon, and Neil Uberschar four abreast. Ricky Mercer would start at defensive midfield, with Lee Clitheroe and Mark Platts on the wings, Ryan-Zico Black and Shane Tolley at attacking midfield, and new signing Robert Thompson making his debut on the pitch before his first day of practice with the squad! Again, I went to start with the defensive formation my players were used to.

It hardly mattered. Just minutes into the match, Redditch forward Luke Prince launched a drive from 20 yards through the rain. Jamie Speare caught it easily. However, his clearance went straight to Sean Flynn, and the tricky winger chested it down to his feet. Joe McMahon charged forward to challenge him, leaving his man Norman Sylla wide open in the box. Flynn played it forward to Sylla, with McMahon stranded between them, and the striker made no mistake, slotting it home for an early 0-1 Redditch lead.

Six minutes later, it was our midfield creating the chance, and Lee Clitheroe in particular who earned some measure redemption for his awful performance against Southport. He played the ball up from the right wing to Shane Tolley, who took two touches to the top of the box, with his defender backing off of him. That left enough space to launch a 25-yard shot across the goalmouth to the far post. Karl Keating leaped up and parried it, but the rebound fell right to the feet of Robert Thompson, who had an easy finish. A dream debut for the new signing, and we were even 1-1!

The rest of the half followed with a flurry of chances, at both ends, too many to list here. For a change, we were playing an attacking side, and both sides had plenty of opportunities, almost taking turns. Black sent a freekick just over the bar; Sylla missed on at the other end. Black sent a wonderful ball through the rain to Thompson, who looked odds on to get a brace, except for a wonderful tackle by Andrew Penny. Black shot wide from 16 yards, then Redditch fullback Matt Clarke's pass put Simon Hollis free on goal - he hit side netting.

And that was all by twenty minutes in! Was it the rain making defending difficult? The match continued in that vein until just before the half, when Tolley headed Black's free kick wide. The half finished 1-1.

Redditch substituted off Simon Hollis, who had taken a knock from Lee Clitheroe, but both sides kept the same formation and tactics, and Black opened the second half with a sitter from 8 yards out, but he slipped in the rain and put the easy chance wide. The pace of the game was slowing down, however - the torrid flurry of chances was too much to sustatin.

Around 69 minutes, at the other end, Speare made a great save from Mark Taylor's header, and then I made changes, bringing on Bartholomew, Clarkson, and Cash up front. Bartholomew had a number of opportunities, but couldn't seem to put one in.

Into injury time it went, and it seemed inconceivable that neither side would find the net. Sylla nearly had his second against us, but like Black slipped and missed badly on what should have been an easy chance.

The final whistle blew - it had to have been the most riveting 1-1 draw in team history!

Redditch 1, Lancaster 1

Sylla 4; Thompson 10

MoM: Keating (Redditch GK)

Karl Keating, the Redditch keeper, was named Man of the Match, though there were any number of worthy candidates on both sides.

Elsewhere, after a dismal showing in a 2-3 loss to Stevenage, their fourth loss in a row, York City manager Chris Brass was fired with the team in 15th place of the Conference National.

Yes.

I applied for the job.

Gary's words from before Christmas were still ringing in my ears, and I've always had a soft spot for the Minstermen, even before I came to England.

If nothing else, the Conference would be a step up the career ladder for me - there's more than one way to earn promotion!

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Monday, 27th December, 2004.

Today I left the Lancaster training session in the hands of my assistant, and went to interview at York City with Chairman Steve Beck.

I loved the facilities: there's a good training ground, and the Bootham Crescent is a great little stadium - room for 9,459, with fully 3,248 seats! I was very impressed: the club is fully professional, and it was clear to see in every respect.

Beck and I had a good conversation - I think he liked my ambitions for the club, which would be not merely to right the ship, but to eventually return the club to the League. That was ambitious: League status is highly coveted, and only two teams are relegated from League Two at the end of each season. To get there would mean either coming first in the Conference, or winning the playoffs to claim the second promotion berth.

I liked what he described to me about the club's business model. After years of private ownership, the York City Football Club had been run to the brink of closure, and the people of York formed a Supporter's Trust, which attempted to purchase the club. Their first bid failed to generate sufficient support, and the club went through one last disastrous ownership; the Supporter's Trust had continued to build, and in March of 2003 were able to purchase the club with a financial package that guaranteed its continued solvency.

They'd installed popular captains Chris Brass and Lee Nogan as Manager and Assistant Manager for the 03/04 season, both continuing to carry playing roles as well, and that season's drama was around saving Bootham Crescent, which had been the team's home since August 31st, 1932.

After a desperate battle, a finance plan was cobbled together to save the stadium. With the team sitting mid-table of Division 3 (now known as League Two) at December, and things seemed in place.. but then the side went on a run of 20 games without a victory to slump out of the League and down to Conference National.

Nogan had stepped down as Assistant Manager for a chap named Viv Busby, an older man with previous managing experience who could help mentor Brass, with Nogan staying on as Coach, but things obviously hadn't improved this year. Mired in a solid losing streak, the players had lost confidence in Brass, and the team looked perilously close to going down yet again.

Yes, there would be work to do - but I very much liked the idea of a Supporter's Trust-owned football club, and would like to support that in any way I can.

I may not be the leading candidate - I wasn't even mentioned in a tabloid rumorsheet about it, you know the sort, that column with one-paragraph summaries of happenings in the lower leagues - but I have high hopes!

I've always interviewed well.

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Tuesday, 28th December, 2004. Conference North - Game 20, vs Altrincham.

It was back to Lancaster for the waiting game, and our league match against Altrincham. Luckily, it didn't seem the media had caught wind of my jaunt, an I hadn't explained my absence as more than "a day off", so there was no unrest amongst the players. Still, there was upset enough: with our second match in three days, it was wholesale changes to my lineup again.

Jamie Speare of course started in net, with Alan Morgan replacing Andy Scott at left fullback - his loan was due to expire before our next match, so I wanted to squeeze one more match out of him. The rest of the usual suspects took their places in the back line: Martin Clark, Joe McMahon, and Neil Uberschar. Steve Birks would start in the defensive midfield, with Brian Cash and David Mellor on the wings, Jason Lay and Steve Jones attacking, and Michael Yates taking his usual striker role.

In contrast to the Redditch match, it was sunny, if a mite cool, at The Giant Axe, and the game kicked off before a crowd of 818. Altrincham's Peter Band opened the scoring just four minutes into the match. The central midfielder was trailing the play, and took a pass from Peter Wright beyond the top of the arc. About 25 yards out, he launched a curling shot on goal with his first touch. Speare broke for it very late, as though he couldn't believe a shot was coming from that far out, or didn't think it was on target, and consequently he couldn't even lay a finger to it. It was 0-1 Altrincham, and clearly I'd have to quit wondering if Steve Beck would call me back and get on with the task at hand!

Altrincham immediately seemed content to defend, and hunkered down to maintain their lead. I was growing ever more frustrated with our inability to penetrate heavily defensive tactics - maybe I need to commit more people forward, or design an alternate formation which abandons the base 4-5-1 configuration? By 30 minutes in, when we'd managed only two shots in retaliation, I switched to our 'aggressive' formation, sending the fullbacks forward, and having the wingers concentrate more on attack than defense.

This brought a fairly quick dividend: David Mellor took a pass down the left wing, dribbled to the corner, and sent in a cross. Graeme Mathie appeared to head it clear, but the ref blew his whistle - Mathie had pushed Michael Yates as he went up for the ball: penalty! Veteran midfielder Steve Birks made no mistake with it, slotting it into the lower right corner, his first ever goal for Lancaster. The sides were equal at 1-1.

At halftime, I told my side to continue pressing forward: I was tired of draws, and wanted them to find a way to cope with the Altrincham strategy. The visitors quickly shifted to an even more defensive outlook, determined to preserve the draw.

No matter what changes I made - bringing on Phil Clarkson and Peter Thomson, for example - we seemed unable to break down their their determined defense, and it was clearly frustrating to everyone: fans, players, and manager alike.

We managed only 2 shots in the second half, to Altrincham's one, and by the final minutes the fans were vocally expressing their displeasure. The ref blew for full time: 1-1.

Lancaster 1, Altrincham 1

Birks pen 39; Band 4

MoM: Birks

Defensive midfielder Steve Birks was named Man of the Match, not just for converting the penalty, but for a solid performance defensively in a match where nobody on either side particularly stood out. In fact, of the 28 men who took the pitch, 26 earned a '7' rating in the paper the following day.

Though it was our fourth straight draw, and dropped us back down to 10th in the standings - right where we'd started the month - it did run our unbeaten streak to 12 games.

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When I saw Bootham Crescent in bold as I was scrolling down I thought "for sure he's taken it", but the part about the interview was fiendish! Now I'll have to wait until tomorrow.

I don't begrudge you stringing out the suspense icon_smile.gif Just hope you get the job because it seems like a club with huge potential.

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Wednesday, 29th December, 2004, mid-afternoon.

The phone rang.

I'd been sitting next to it, waiting for this call, trying not to get my hopes up - and still I jumped like a startled cat!

It took me two more rings to settle down enough to answer. That's just as well, maybe it'll make me sound busy, like I'd had something better to do than wait by the phone all afternoon.

"Hello?"

"Mister Richards?"

"This is he."

"Steve Beck here at York. Do you have a moment?"

I pushed the door closed before answering. "Certainly."

"I just want to say, I believe you are the ideal man to replace Chris Brass."

I was being offered me the York City job!

My heart started racing, and I nearly missed his next words:

"I've spoken with Lancaster Chairman Steve Johnston, and we've arranged a mutually acceptable transfer fee, assuming you and I can come to terms."

Coming to terms wasn't hard: he detailed the financial package, a firm contract through June of 2007, which included a tidy little signing bonus and a big raise from my current salary!! I wouldn't have to sell the Porsche after all!

It was icing on the cake that he made a few promises: the board will be able to offer me a transfer budget in the region of £30,000 to fund the purchase of new players; with the current wage bill standing at around £450,000, the board will also allow me some room within their budget for additional wages. It all sounded too luxurious to be true!

So as not to sound too eager, I didn't say yes right away. I pointed out the mundane problems it would mean for Stacy and I: finding a place on short notice, moving costs, breaking our lease - we'd signed a year-long contract, anticipating at least a full season at Lancaster!

None of that was a problem, he replied. They had a vacant and furnished apartment we could stay in as we settled in, and the club would pay our moving costs, including any penalty for breaking our lease.

What could I do?

I accepted.

That suddenly, I was packing up my office, and thinking through all of the ramifications. We'd only just gotten settled here, and I'd need to hire movers.

The cats were still in quarantine.

I'd need a new work permit!

My God, I'll have to tell Stacy!! Since she was still in San Diego, I hadn't even told her I'd applied for the position, let alone interviewed!

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Wednesday, 29th December, 2004, evening.

I'd asked Kevin to tell even the players from yesterday's match that they needed to come in to practice this evening.

They had stretched, joking and laughing easily, as they had since our run of success began.

"Circle up, lads," I called, my last command.

"I'll make this brief.

"I've been offered the position of Manager at York City."

The sounds of indrawn breathes punctuated my words.

"I've taken it.

"I just wanted to tell you myself. To say 'thanks' for all your hard work, this year, and to wish you luck.

"I'll be checking in on you in the papers. I'll always remain a Lancaster fan in my heart - unless we meet on the pitch."

A few chuckles, a few nods, but for the most part they just looked .. stunned.

I felt ambivalent, excited about the new opportunity, yet near tears at saying farewell.

"I'll turn the reins over to Kevin, now, but I have one more thing to say.

"Remember how well you've been playing: those twelve games unbeaten, that's all you lot. You don't need me to keep it up."

There were handshakes, then, the quiet nods of men realistic enough to know how the world works, disappointed, but hiding it, concerned for the future, but hiding it.

I walked back to the gate, back up the hill to the railway station.

When I looked back from the top, the sun had just broken under the omnipresent clouds, and bathed the Giant Axe in red-hued rays.

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Thursday, 30th December, 2004, morning. Bootham Crescent.

"Viv Busby," he introduced himself. He was a thin older man, with hair more grey than white, and a weathered, sun-beaten face. "Your Assistant Manager."

"Ian Richards." We shook hands. "Nice to meet you."

"The pleasure is mine." Searching his face, I saw things I liked: this was a man I'd be able to trust. "Welcome to Bootham Crescent."

"Thank you. Its nice to be here so quickly. I don't know who you chaps know in the Home Office, but I wasn't expecting the work permit to be granted so quickly."

"They can move quick when they have to," he responded. "I think Steve got the ball rolling right after your interview."

We shared a chuckle.

"Good job against Carlisle," I offered. My new assistant had put an end to the rot with a 2-1 win over Carlisle on Tuesday, while I'd been struggling to that draw against Altrincham.

"Thank you. Let me introduce your coaches.

"This is Lee Nogan."

A younger Welshman stepped forward to shake my hand. "I'm one of your forwards, and also a coach."

I knew the club's former Assistant Manager by reputation, of course, and I liked his quiet confidence.

"Steve Davis. Central defense, player-coach." He, too, looked to be in his thirties, and quite fit, as befit one still in his playing days.

"Brian Neaves," said a Scotsman as I shook his hand. He looked to be in his mid forties, and relatively trim, with a genial smile.

"Those three usually run the senior side, while I work primarily with the younger outfield players."

"Paul Stancliffe is the other youth coach," Viv added. "He's outside, taking the side through their warmup."

"Normally that'd be my job," said a man who looked to be in his early fifties, with a bit of a bald patch and a wrinkled face that bespoke an outdoor life. "But I figured I ought to meet the new gaffer. Jeff Miller, Physio. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise."

The last man stepped forward.

"Gary Lloyd, your head Scout." He's a thin man in his late forties, with a pinched jaw.

"I thought we only had one?"

"We do - but 'head scout' is my title," he sniffed ostentatiously, somehow giving the impression of putting his nose in the air without physically doing so.

"I .. see."

It had taken that little for him to put a foot wrong, and I wondered again if Spencer or Simon might be willing to come with me from Lancaster.

Viv quickly changed the subject.

"Would you like to see the lads, then? They ought to be about ready."

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Thursday, 30th December, 2004, evening.

That afternoon, after practice... Oh, that's a key difference from Lancaster to York! Many, but not all, of the York players are on full-time professional contracts. The entire side at Lancaster were part-time semi-pros. York train during the days!

Anyways, as I was saying, after the afternoon training session, I gathered my new staff together for a discussion of all the players, both strengths and weaknesses. It's a much bigger side than we had at Lancaster. York even have Reserve and Under-18 sides!

Goalkeepers:

GK David Stockdale, 19, England ,uncapped: 21 games, 5 clean sheets, 6.52

He has been the side's starting keeper, with good handling and reflexes, but he's a bit wobbly in aspects like concentration and decision making. Viv says the lad has the potential ability to become very good, but has been in fairly poor form this season and hasn't really looked like improving his performances. My assistant admits to being concerned about the keeper's displays, and wonders how I plan to rectify the situation. Paul Stancliffe adds that we'd been giving him the lad share of first team football in order to aid his development, but that he has been inconsistent all season and there appears to be no sign that his performances are about to improve.

GK Tony Caig, 30, England, uncapped: 3 games, 0 clean sheets, 6.67

With Stockdale struggling, Brass brought Tony Caig in on a three-month loan from Newcastle Unitd to try and provide some support. He didn't play too well in the first two games, but won the third. He also did reasonably (16 conceded in 12 appearances, 6.92) in a loan stint with Chester earlier in the season, up in League Two. He's certainly the best keeper on the side, but since his loan expires March 19th, he's obviously not the long-term solution. Viv agrees, but adds that he's a talented individual whom we ought to make a permanent member of our squad should the opportunity arise.

GK Chris Porter, 25, England, uncapped: 2 games, 0 clean sheets, 6.00

He joined the side on a free last season, and has appeared in only 7 matches since. Most of the coaches agree that he's been with the club for a reasonable period, but hasn't progressed, and there's full support for Chris Brass's decision to transfer him. Watching the evening practice, he certainly didn't match up to Stockdale's ability. Its unfortunate that nobody has been interested in him: he's under contract through 2008.

GK Arran Reid, 17, England, uncapped: No appearances

My coaches are in unanimous agreement that young Arran Reid has a great future at the club. To hear them tell it, he belongs in some Premiership side's development programme. However, they have to admit that he hasn't impressed in the Under-18's, where he's conceded 20 in only 14 starts, with just 1 clean sheet, and earning a paltry 6.47 average rating. He's definitely not yet ready for anything more strenous.

Central Defenders:

D C Steve Davis, 36, England, uncapped: 24 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 2 MoM, 6.75

The captain and player/coach is one of the stars of the side. Despite his age, he still has wonderful talent, and his leadership on the pitch is invaluable in Viv's eyes. However, even Steve had to concede that he'd been playing badly recently and hadn't enjoyed any sort of decent form all season. He's under contract through next year, but I wonder if he'll give up playing at the conclusion of this season, and go to pure coaching. I don't yet know him well enough to ask.

He's one of only two defenders on the side who has played more than a dozen games.

When I asked, "Where are all my starting defenders," Viv sort of laughed.

"Well, we've been starting players on loan," he answered.

D C Gavin Hurren, 19, Wales, uncapped: 12 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 2 MoM, 6.58

Take Gavin Hurren. The youngster is about the quality I'd expect to see at Lancaster. He's been in on loan from Nottingham Forest - and his loan expires tomorrow. Worse, he's injured: a strained calf that will see him out for another two weeks at least. Viv did say he was a very talented youngster with a great future, whom we should try to sign.. but he sort of implied that it might be better to look to do that in a couple years, when the kid has had time to mature.

D C Chris Clarke, 24, England, uncapped: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 5.67

I'm aghast that this player is even on this side - he's a waste of wage budget in my mind. All of my coaches feel he doesn't have enough quality to hold down a place in the side, and support Chris Brass' decision to transfer list him. Still, once Gavin leaves, he's our second-best central defender.

D C Michael Staley, 17, England, uncapped: 1 game, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

He's been starting in the Reserve side, where he's amassed a 6.21 rating over 23 games. My scouts unanimously agree on this one, calling him a player of immense quality who must be given time to develop his fantastic ability. That's high praise, although I can't see any sign of what they're raving about in training: he looks average enough to me. Still, Viv thinks he's a potential star-in-the-making. I may decide to start him instead of Clarke, if he can handle the rigours of the Conference.

D C Gary Anderson, 18, England, uncapped: No appearances

This defender has been with the York side since coming up through the youth programme in 2002. Though I'm happy to learn we have a youth programme, if this is the quality on offer, I'm not convinced. Fifteen reserve matches this season have seen him pick up an average rating of merely 5.93. My coaches agree that that's no mistake: he just isn't developing. He's another one for the transfer list, but I'm afraid there will be no takers.

D C Darren Hollingsworth, 16, England, uncapped: No appearances

This youth player drew mixed reviews from my coaching staff. Some, including Viv Busby, feel he has all the attributes required to become a very good player indeed. The majority feel that he was not improving, and should be released. I think it might be a bit too early to judge, and will keep him - for now. I just hope I never have to play him.

Left Backs:

D/DM L Dave Merris, 24, England, uncapped: 16 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.19

Reasonably talented at left back, and certainly better than what I'm used to from the Conference North. He must have had a run-in with Brass, because he's currently languishing in the Reserves and transfer list. I'll have to change that, I think. My coaches agree he's at least a useful player, but caution me that he's been temperamental and inconsistent this season.

D L Shaun Smith, 33, England, uncapped: 6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.33

I wouldn't have minded seeing him down at Lancaster.. but he's too slow to make up for the fact that he doesn't excel in any portion of his game. He's a roster-filler at best, and at least his contract expires at the end of this season. Most of my coaches recommend putting him up for bid, to get something for him, but I think I'll keep him on as the backup to Dave Merris at left back even if it does mean he leaves on a free come summer.

D/DM L Steven Baynes, 18, England, uncapped: No appearances

Another reservist from the 2002 youth crop, Steven's currently playing in the Reserves, where 14 matches have seen him net one goal with an average rating of 6.07. Worse, my coaches all agree that he isn't developing, and recommend transfer listing him.

Right Backs:

D/DM R Grame Law, 20, Scotland, uncapped: 5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

A young Scot, not yet ready to start by any stretch of the imagination, but all of my coaches agree that he's showing signs of developing into a quality player. He has a goal and an assist in the Reserves this season, which is probably where he belongs. However, unless we can bring somebody in on loan, I'll have to start him.

D/DM R Nathan Kamara, 17, England, uncapped: No appearances

Lee and Viv rate him similarly to Michael Staley - immense quality - while the youth coaches merely said he has all the attributes required to become a very good player indeed. Like Staley, he's been starting in the Reserves, and has the same 6.21 rating, though over 17 games. I certainly wouldn't want him to start any time soon, but we'll want to get him some action to aid his development.

Defensive Midfielders:

D/DM C Gary Pearson, 28, England, uncapped: 19 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

My coaches refer to him as a midfielder, and most agree that he's at least 'useful'. Technically, he's fairly sound, but some of the fundamentals of the mental game are utterly lacking: decision-making, composure, concentration. It's no surprise that he has not been reliable enough this season, although most of my coaches agree that he's been performing better lately. I may have to play him as a central defender, depending how that position sorts itself out.

DM RLC Billy Manuel, 35, England, uncapped: 13 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.15

Another victim of personality conflict with Chris Brass, he should be one of the leaders of the side, a very determined, hard-working player. Instead, my coaches think he has been struggling at this late stage in his career, and that he's been playing badly. Watching him on the training ground, I think he's still reasonable both physically and technically. He should still be able to perform, if I can help address his morose outlook.

Central Midfielders:

M C Paul Groves, 38, England, uncapped: 23 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 MoM, 6.09

A solid veteran, competent in all aspects of the game but no longer excelling in any. My coaches rate him as 'no longer of any use', and all agree that he's been playing poorly over the previous weeks. He draws a heavy wage, and his contract will expire at the end of the season. He's currently transfer-listed, which I think I'll let stand, considering his age and the fact that my 4-5-1 doesn't rely on central midfielders.

M C Matthew Coad, 20, England, uncapped: 7 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 5.43

Most of my coaches held their criticism of Coad to "Will never develop into anything more than a fringe player at the club," but Paul Stancliffe went a step further, telling me outright that he doesn't feel the young midfielder deserves his place in the first team. I'm forced to agree - he wouldn't have impressed me on the Lancaster training pitch, let alone in the Conference National.

M C Kane Ashcroft, 18, England, uncapped: 1 game, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

Another young player who isn't developing, according to my scouts, though he looked at least passable to me in training, if unimpressive. His contract will expire at the end of the year, and I doubt I'll renew it.

M C Byron Webster, 17, England, uncapped: 1 game, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

Chris Brass must have been quite desperate to have started this chap in a league game! None of my coaches think he's worth the time we're wasting on him in training, and I've waded through hundreds of scouting reports on similar-quality scrubs while at Lancaster. Luckily, Poole Borough are interested in his services - I'll see if I can broker a deal. He does have 2 goals and 2 assists in the U-18 side, so maybe that's what impressed them?

Left wingers:

M LC Darren Dunning, 23, England, uncapped: 20 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 MoM, 6.25.

Looks like one of the best players on the side so far, capable of playing both left wing and central mid, and on top of that Viv rates him as having a great deal of yet-untapped potential. My coaches chimed in with warnings that he's been in poor form lately, and wondering how I'm going to rectify the situation. My plan, "Play him", met with Viv's approval at least.

F LC Bryan Stewart, 19, England, uncapped: 11 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.18

He scored two goals in a Cup game against lower-division opponents, but has only one other goal to his credit. To be fair, he has added four more goals in non-competitive matches this year. Though listed in the programme as a forward, my coaches all think of him as a winger, and say he "Has the football world at his feet." He'll have to show a lot of technical improvement before he can begin contributing at the first-team level.

AM L Andrew Green, 17, England, uncapped: 3 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.33

Amazingly, this youngster has knocked in 7 goals in just 15 starts for the U-18 side. Despite the statistics, he's malingering on the sidelines with a neck injury which physio Jeff Miller thinks may be psychological rather than physical, and I'm quite willing to believe my coaches when they say he just isn't showing the determination and dedication required to improve beyond his current level.

AM LC Steven Collins, 16, England, uncapped: No appearances

Has 1 goal and 3 assists in his matches with the Reserve and U-18 sides this season, but he doesn't have the pace or God-given crossing talent that you might hope for in a winger, and my coaches are unanimous in slating him, decrying his ability to progress beyond his current level.

Right wingers:

Here's a problem. Much like Lancaster, we don't have any real starting-quality right wing. In fact, the guys who currently man the right have played just five games between them; apparently, the fall starter was in on-loan, and the loan has since expired.

AM R Kevin Donovan, 33, England, uncapped: 1 game, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

He does have 3 goals and 2 assists in the reserves this season, but aside from that, he no longer seems to have what it takes to contribute on this level. He may rate the description "useful" as a reserve, but his contract expires at season's end, and I don't plan to renew it.

AM/F RC Adam Arthur, 19, England, uncapped: 4 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.50

He tore a hamstring back in November, which has sidelined him ever since. My coaches agree that its a shame he's missing development time, as he has the potential ability to become very good. According to Jeff, he could come back by the end of January, but risks re-injuring it if he doesn't go in for a season-ending surgery.

Forwards / Attacking Midfielders:

FLC Lee Morris, 24, England, 1 U-21 cap, 0 goals: 8 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, 2 MoM, 7.00

On loan from Leicester, Morris definitely looks like one of the most talented players on the pitch in practice: he's quick, agile, and has a great first touch, and seems to have a good understanding of the game. Unfortunately, his loan will expire February 16th, and he's well more expensive than we could afford to purchase. Nonetheless, all of my coaches recommend that we sign him if we ever get the chance; I'll have to see if I can get Leicester to extend the loan.

F C Lee Nogan, 35, Wales, 2 caps, 0 goals: 20 games, 4 goals, 1 assist, 2 MoM, 6.85

The one player on the side who has been capped internationally, my second player/coach has been starting up front as a striker in a 4-4-2 arrangement. He's second on the team in goals, despite no longer having the pace to be a true breakaway threat or the aerial ability to threaten as a target man. My coaches - even Lee himself - agree that he is looking more and more like a bit player on the side, though Paul Stancliffe does stand up for him, describing him as a 'useful member of the first-team who adds depth to the squad.'

AM C Joe Foote, 16, England, uncapped: No appearances Has 1 goal and 3 assists with the U-18 side this year, but my coaches don't think he'll develop beyond that level. Still, he's better than a couple of 'senior' players at the same position already. Given that he's only sixteen, shouldn't he have some room to grow?

F RC Paul Robinson, 26, England, uncapped: 10 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 5.90

Physically acceptable, but technically and mentally abysmal. I can hardly see why he's under contract through 2006, and my assistants all agree. After some ghastly performances to start the year, he's been transfer listed and rotting on the bench for two months. Nobody seems to think he'll draw any more interest now than he has yet.

F LC Trevor Snowden, 31, England, uncapped: 2 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.50

Similar to Robinson, a relatively late signing this year, who doesn't look like he has what it will take to contribute anything to the club. I'm quite glad he's only on a single-year contract; it'll be tough to convince anybody to buy him if I'm not willing to play him.

Strikers:

S C Andy Bishop, 22, England, uncapped: 20 games, 7 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.55

The team's leading scorer thus far, Bishop looks reasonable. Not incredible, but definitely a strong spot on the squad. My coaches think he's shown a great deal of potential, but aren't sure he'll be able to work through his recent inconsistent performances. I'll talk to him: I'm taking Viv's recommendation that he remain in the first team despite his fluctuating form. I can't afford to let my leading scorer rot on the bench!

S C Levent Yalçin, 19, Turkey/England, uncapped: 7 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

The Turk may be number two on the depth chart, but he's certainly not too impressive at the moment. I'm mollified somewhat when my scouts unanimously rate him an "Outstanding prospect for the club," and stress how happy they are that he is under long-term contract through 2008. He's scored 4 goals in 12 Reserve matches thus far, and Viv rates him as a 'Potential Star', but cautions me against expecting too much too soon. Be that as it may, if I go to the 4-5-1, he'll need to be available in the first team.

S C Robbie Haw, 18, England, uncapped: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 MoM, 6.00

The young York native is absolutely lighting up the Reserve league, with 14 goals in 23 starts. Despite this apparent stardom, he isn't very impressive on the training pitch, and my coaches nearly to a man suggest that we transfer him: the lone exception is Lee Nogan, who feels he has the potential to be a very good player. He's under contract through 2006, which will give me plenty of time to see if he is improving or not.

S C Steve Lyon, 17, England, uncapped: No appearances

Steve is the leading scorer on the York Under-18 side, where he's scored 8 goals in 24 matches. Nonetheless, my coaches are all worried that he isn't progressing beyond his current level, and I don't see anything which would make me overrule that in training. His contract expires at year's end, is that soon enough?

. . .

Dear God. There isn't a player on the side with an average rating above 7.00. Maybe I should have stayed at Lancaster!

We have a lot of weak spots, and it all starts in goal. Can I salvage 19-year-old David Stockdale's ego sufficiently to tap into his wealth of potential, or has irretrievable damage been done? Should I rely on loanee Tony Caig to stop the rot, or demonstrate confidence in Stockdale?

The defense looks as porous as the sieve I used to make spaghetti this evening, and Dave Merris, one the two quality defenders, is coming out of a rocky relationship with his former boss. Will he be able to trust management at all? Likewise for Billy Manuel, whose experience could be an asset in the holding midfield role, if only he could snap out of a rut of poor performance and accompanying depression.

We don't have any one to cover the right wing, and though Darren Dunning looks solid, he's been mired in the team's general slump as well.

Up front, we've only two players that I consider reasonable threats. Leading scorer Andy Bishop has been inconsistent, and the next-best threat, Lee Morris is leaving when his loan expires in six weeks. Add to that a dilemma about how much to play Levent Yalçin, and how soon - this is not going to be easy.

On the staff side of things, judging from some of his comments in the meeting, Gary Lloyd isn't going to be much of an asset as "head" Scout. It looks like Viv is going to be very useful, but most of the other coaches I could take or leave.

I have a lot of work to do to salvage this side. No wonder Brass was struggling!

I closed the meeting by drawing the 4-5-1 formations I'd been running at Lancaster, pointing out how solid they were defensively, though it seems to sacrifice some attacking power with a weak side. I told the staff we'd introduce it to the players tomorrow morning.

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Love rebuilding jobs like this, you've really got your work cut out. Though with your policy of sorting out the defence first, you should be all right.

There's not too many good stories around these days, that's why I'm hoping you stick with this one right the way till 2013, or wherever it is you've played until.

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It's a good challenge, all right!

I've got stuff written that far, so unless you folks get bored to tears, or I drop off the face of the earth, its just a matter of polish, bold tags, and posting.

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Friday, 31st December, 2004.

"Right, listen up.

"I know this hasn't been an easy season for you. Some of you are worried, new manager and all that.

"Some of you may have had disagreements with Mister Brass, some of you may not have got the playing time you think you deserve, and some of you have simply been inconsistent this year.

"Here's your chance for a fresh start.

"I'm going to make you three promises:

"One, we work hard. I do, and I expect you to. If you're not willing to do the work, you'll be watching a lot of matches this spring.

"Two, you'll each get your chance to prove yourself to me - I rely on a lot of squad rotation, so don't worry if you're not in my first lineup. If you do prove yourself, you'll keep playing. I'm not just talking in competitive matches: training, youth and Reserve matches - I pay attention to it all.

"Three, if you're not in my plans, I'll let you know, and we'll try to sell you on or loan you out to somewhere that you will play."

After my venture into motivational speaking, I moved into outlining our 'new tactic' to the players, a real chalkboard session as they were used to the 4-4-2. That's okay, I said, and reminded them that the 4-4-2 has produced a bunch of despair: relegation last season, a sacked manager this season, and fifteenth in the table: I don't need to stick with something that's not working.

"The first key to winning," I told them, "Is to keep your opponent from scoring.

"To do that, you must defend."

The formation, for those of you just joining us, is a 4-5-1, like this: a flat four at the back, with a defensive midfielder just in front of them. The wingers, left and right, both collapse almost back to a wingback position, just ahead of the fullbacks, in defense, but have the freedom to range far forward when we have the ball. There are two attacking midfielders, who both fall back to almost central midfield positions in defense, but spring forward in attack when we gain posession.

There's two ways to play the lone striker: either with a target man who distributes to the AMC's via head, or a pacey blazer with good stamina, taking creative passes from the AMC's.

There are two styles of attack. Normally, I'll employ the 'counter': high tempo, direct passing up the field - either along the wings, or to one of the attacking midfielders, dropping back to collect.

When the opposition is determined to defend, we'll go to the 'patient buildup': slower tempo, short passing, with the wings and fullbacks both encouraged to get far forward, and the defensive midfielder becoming almost a central midfielder.

Then, I spent some time outlining who I wanted on the first team, reserves, and youth side. Here's how it broke down:

First Team

GK: Caig, Porter

D: Davis, Merris, Smith, Law, Clarke

DMC: Pearson, Manuel

ML: Dunning, Stewart

MR: Donovan

AMC: Morris, Nogan, Robinson, Snowden

SC: Bishop, Yalcin

Reserves

GK: Stockdale

D: Staley, Kamara, Baynes, Anderson

MC: Groves, Coad

ML: Green

MR: Arthur* - injured

SC: Haw

Under-18's

GK: Reid

D: Hollingsworth

MC: Ashcroft, Webster

ML: Collins

AMC: Foote

SC: Lyon

I made sure to take David Stockdale aside and assure him that I see him as the long-term answer between the sticks; the demotion to the Reserves is purely temporary, as I'd rather see him playing regularly than sitting on the substitutes bench week in and week out. He doesn't seem thrilled by the idea, but I could see that my assurances that I'd been a 'keeper myself, emphasis on defense, and promise that he'd get his chance, and this year, were offering him some measure of comfort.

The rest of the list obviously isn't going to be sufficient depth at most positions in the Reserves and U-18's. I asked Viv what they'd been doing about that, and he answered that there are some locals who will come down and play, but aren't serious about their football careers. They're unpaid, and due to FA restrictions are also unable to practice with us. Well, I figured those sides would fill up eventually - I'd want to bring in a lot more talent.

The next thing I did was send Adam Arthur, the youngster with the hamstring tear, in for surgery. Its nearly criminal that the previous management team hadn't.

Then it was off to work the telephones for most of the day. I didn't even watch practice. Its actually a nearly perfect time to take over a team, as so many players are just entering the final six months of their contracts, and consequently are available on a Bosman transfer. (The football equivalent of free agency.)

I started by speaking with some of my former staff from Lancaster.

Scout Simon Clifford indicated that he was happy there, and committed to the side - oh, I caught the veiled barb, the unsaid "Unlike some people." That stung. I'd hoped that he would more personally loyal to me for giving him his first big break than bitter at my departure.

Spencer Field was more accomodating. He wasn't willing to move, either, but he was at least understanding. "York's a good side, a lot of potential there. You should hook up with Dave C. He's the York researcher for that game I worked on. Good guy.

"Hey, I stumbled across a player you should send your York scouts to look at."

"Spencer! Isn't that conflict of interest?"

"No, no. I didn't mention him while you were down here, because there's no way he'd come play semi-pro. Now you've got a chance. All I'm saying is, get a scout up to watch Tranmere Reserves."

It was a cryptic clue, but any lead is better than none!

Gary Bauress wasn't interested in joining me, either, despite it having been his advice that I consider moving in the first place. Apparently, he's just bought a house in Lancaster, and is content and comfortable.

"Besides," he told me, "Somebody's got to make sure we don't fall to pieces without our charismatic manager." I could hear his grin over the phone; I'll quite miss him.

I like Viv Busby as Assistant Manager, so I didn't make an offer to bring young Kevin Hull with me. I hope he'll get a shot as Lancaster's manager - Mr. Johnston could do a lot worse.

I couldn't afford to purchase any of the Lancastrian players, and had made sure to lock up all the players I liked to long-term contracts, so couldn't prise them away on a free transfer, either.

I stopped by the Job Centre to place advertisements for both Coaches and Scouts. If I can get as lucky with that as I did at Lancaster, we'll be in good shape.

Then I went through my own side, working the phones to see if I could find any interest in the players I'd identified as doing more harm than good. Those I put up for transfer were: GK Chris Porter and FC Paul Robinson from the senior side, plus reservists DC Gary Anderson, DL Steven Baynes, MC Matthew Coad, MC Paul Groves, AML Andrew Green, and U-18s MC Kane Ashcroft, MC Byron Webster, AML Steven Collins, and SC Steve Lyon.

I also tried to see if I could find anybody interested in taking either reserve GK David Stockdale or U-18 GK Arran Reid on loan.

I'd given a lot of thought to contract extensions, and there were a number of players with expiring contracts who I figured I would keep - and even play - through the remainder of this season, but would let their contract expire in June: DL Shaun Smith, DC Chris Clarke, DMC Gary Pearson, DMC Billy Manuel, and FC Trevor Snowden.

There were only five players I wanted to offer immediate contract extensions to, and three of those my goal was primarily to convert them from part-time to full time.

Right wing Kevin Donovan was the best at the position; there's no reason to let it get any weaker by seeing him leave.

Left back Dave Merris I also want to keep, but he is currently unwilling to negotiate due to being transfer listed by Chris Brass' administration.

The part-timers I wanted to change to full-time were defender Michael Staley, fullback Natahn Kamara, and promising goalkeeper Arran Reid.

Finally, that evening I met with my staff to outline my new training schedules.

It had been a ton of work, but by the end of the day, I felt settled in my new side.

Right, when was our next match?

Ah, tomorrow.

Nothing like having time to prepare!

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Saturday, 1st January, 2005.

A new year, a new challenge!

But before I could take the bus to that first match, I had a morning meeting with the Board of Directors.

Steve Beck, the Chairman introduced me to Terry Doyle, Sophie McGill, Jason McGill, and Ian McAndrew. All were key members of the Supporters Trust as they took over the team, and they are all looking forward to long and successful era under my management.

First task, as they see it, is to keep the team in the Conference National, which means building on the win Viv had managed against Carlisle and getting some breathing room between us and the relegation zone. I can live with that.

"Sophie McGill is the Chief Financial Officer," was the first introduction.

"You and I should review the books together," she said, "But I'll give you a summary. There's a £2 million bank loan, which will cost us £20k/month through 2013, but is offset by a similar-sized sponsorship - which unfortunately expires next season. We have a positive balance of over £180,000, but have lost a total of £176,675 on the season - not good. The wage bill doesn't look too bad - £443,820 per-annum, which is somewhat over the target of £400,000 p/a, but £130,000 of that are in players that former Manager Chris Brass had listed as 'not needed'."

Her husband, Jason McGill, is the Director of Stadium Operations. "I ran the campaign to save Bootham Crescent," he explains. "Sophie and I have been season ticket holders for years, and we just couldn't stand to lose the club, or to see the club without a home. For now I'm in charge of the day-to-day operations of the stadium, from groundskeeping to the weight room to ticket sales, parking, and security arrangements for large matches. In addition, I represent the club to the local planning commission."

Terry Doyle is the Director of Marketing. "There are three basic areas under my domain," he told me, "Basically I'm in charge of merchandise sales via the Club Shop, advertising - not that we've had an advertising budget - and sponsorships. There's not much to do at the moment, so I've been helping Jason out."

Ian McAndrews spoke last. "I'm the Director of Football Operations.

"No, no!" he rushed on, seeing my look of horror. "Its not like on the Continent! I expect you to deal with all the transfers, contract negotiations, et cetera, though I'm willing to consult with you on prices for players. My primary responsibility is traveling arrangements, settling all of the details for visiting teams, and working out the details on the friendly schedule."

"I'm the barrister," Chairman Beck added, "So I'll review the language of any contracts, but honestly the terms are up to you."

"So, what transfer budget is available?" I asked.

Sophie McGill answered. "There is none."

"What?" I turned to glare at Mister Beck. "I thought you promised me a budget of at least £30,000, during the interview!"

"Well," he hemmed and hawed. "That must have been a miscommunication. That was our budget for the season, but its been spent already."

I must have looked livid, because he went on hurriedly, "However, I'd be willing to make 65% of any outgoing transfers available for you to spend."

He caught a glare from Sophie for that, and hedged himself, warning, "That percentage might need to change. I'll review it with the other board members."

All in all, it was a rocky start to my reign, but the board meeting had to be cut short: I had a bus to catch, as our first match was this afternoon.

Today's mid-afternoon Under-18 match was equally rocky, as they took a heavy 3-0 beating at Mansfield Town. Obviously, only two days of practice with the 4-5-1 - familiar to me but new to the whole team - hand't been sufficient for the youngsters, and promoting the best of the lot to the Reserves hadn't helped. Brian reported the result to me by cell, as I was heading to Burton with the senior squad, and it worried me.

Was I trying to change too much, too soon?

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Saturday, 1st January, 2005. Conference National - Match 23, at Burton.

My first match in charge of York City FC was at Burton-upon-Trent, in central England, north-east of Birmingham, between Birmingham and Nottingham. I didn't have a scouting report, but the side are struggling down in the relegation zone, at 21st. It's a perfect opportunity to start with a win!

I decided to start the players I think will make up my starting XI, even if they're all a little tired from the recent run of matches. That is, loanee Tony Caig in goal, the back four from left to right Dave Merris, player/coach Steve Davis, Chris Clarke, and Graeme Law. Gary Pearson will be my DMC, with Darren Dunning on the left wing and Kevin Donovan on the right. Talented loanee Lee Morris will start at AMC alongside player/coach Lee Nogan, and leading scorer Andy Bishop will be the lone striker.

I was distressed when Lee Nogan, off the kickoff, tried some fancy step-over move that turned possession over to Burton, but we got it back right away. It looked like we were making a great start, when Andy Bishop broke free of the Burton back line. He dribbled through the rain, one-on-one with their keeper, but his shot was saved. Then, disaster. Burton earned a corner, and David Borley floated it into the six-yard box, where central defender Ian Wright leaped above our desperate defenders to head it home. Not two minutes into my first match, and we trailed 0-1!! It was, of course, Wright's first goal of the season, and the crowd of 1874 did their best to turn Eton Park into bedlam for a minute.

On 18 minutes, we got a serious break. Burton's Aaron Webster had possession, and Bishop made a nifty move to take it away from him, knocking Webster to the ground - but a clean tackle. Webster got up, and recklessly brought Bishop to the turf from behind. Referee Gary Chapman showed no hesitation giving Webster a straight red card!

Of course, Burton shifted immediately to a defensive stance, while I shifted around to the 'aggressive' version of the 4-5-1. We hadn't even had time to practice it, so I just shouted the instructions onto the field. It seemed to be working - we made numerous chances throughout the remainder of the half, but our finishing was nothing short of abysmal. I saw one shot go at least fifteen yards wide of net, while at the other end left back Dave Merris failed to impress with a backpass that went at least that far wide of keeper Tony Caig.

I held my temper through halftime, though I wanted to say "If this is how you lot played for Chris Brass, I can see why he was fired, and it wasn't his fault!" But I held my tongue, and instead spent the time reviewing what I expected of them tactically in the attacking configuration. Still, it seemed no avail - we had chances aplenty through the start of the second half, but the finishing remained ridiculous. By the 68th minute, we were getting some tired legs up front, so I brought on Paul Robinson for Donovan on the right wing, Bryan Stewart for Nogan at AMC, and young Levent Yalçin for Andy Bishop up front.

On 70 minutes, we earned a free kick from out wide right. Right back Law took it, and put it into the six-yard box, where Yalçin had managed to time his run perfectly, on-sides but behind the defense by the time the ball arrived. The 19-year-old Turk had a tight angle, but he slotted it home for his first-ever goal for York! Level, 1-1, with 20 minutes to play!

He looked like making it a brace three minutes later when a long clearance out of defense split the tiring Burton defenders, and he simply outran them to the ball, but he blasted his shot wide of the net.

A dozen minutes passed without another chance, and I thought we were destined for a draw, but then Robinson got free, unmarked down the right side. Some moments are magical, and this one is still frozen in my mind's eye like a photograph: he drifted a cross in. There was Yalçin, rising above the defenders six yards out to head it home - an instant hero in his manager's eyes! We'd stolen a late 2-1 lead!!

Burton started sending men forward, but, a man down, they could only generate one good chance, which captain Steve Davis turned aside with an inch-perfect tackle in the penalty box. The ref blew full time, and my York career was off to a winning start!

Burton 1, York 2

Wright 2; Yalçin 71, 86

MoM: Law

Though the substitution of Levent Yalçin's had electrified the team, it was Graeme Law who earned Man of the Match honours. His free kick provided the assist on one goal, and his steady play at right back throughout the match earned him the consideration. That was two youngsters I'd been concerned about, both come good, and that could only bode well for the future!

On the other hand, I had plenty to concern me: the lack of finishing displayed by top scorers Nogan and Bishop, the odd play of left back Merrin, and the '5' rating earned by goalkeeper Tony Caig. Though a win against a 10-man side battling relegation might do wonders for the players' morale, I couldn't delude myself into thinking I had solved any of York's underlying problems.

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Sunday, 2nd Januray, 2005.

Amazingly, with the win - and the side's win on the 28th under Assistant Manager Viv Busby - we were up to 10th place. The league table was that tight, with only 12 points separating the the bottom playoff spot (5th place) from the top relegation slot (20th). Even better, it looked like we had great morale throughout the starting XI. Morale was certainly helped by the selection of Lee Morris and Levent Yalçin to the 'Conference Team of the Week'.

Still, with two games in three days, I'd get an early indication of my side's fitness tomorrow.

I spent the better part of the day working the phones, trying to find buyers for the players whom I'd decided I didn't want, so that I could obtain some transfer funds to bring in a few better players. I must have heard some variations of 'No', 'Not interested', or 'Not if he was the last player on earth' five hundred times, but there were some promising deals in the works.

Two of the player's I'd offered contract extensions to accepted. 33-year-old right wing Kevin Donovan accepted an extension through next season. Though I hoped he'd be a backup player by then, it was safest to make sure I had the position covered.

17-year-old right back Nathan Kamara accepted my offer to move up to full-time status and stay with the club through 2007. The other two young players did not accept similar offers, asking for more wages if they were going to commit to the club.

Evening was quickly upon me, and tomorrow ... my Bootham Crescent debut!

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Monday, 3rd January. Conference National - Match 24, vs Aldershot.

Despite our home-field advantage, 9th-placed Aldershot promised a much bigger challenge than 10-man Burton had been. With two games in three days, I had to make a number of changes as well.

Tony Caig remained in goal, but Shaun Smith replaced Dave Merris at left back, and captain Steve Davis was too exhausted to start in center, so I brought up young Michael Staley from the Reserves for only his second start of the year. Chris Clarke and Graeme Law would provide some stability in the back line. Billy Manuel replaced Gary Pearson at DMC, and Bryan Stewart took over at left wing from Darren Dunning. Kevin Donovan remained on right wing, and Lee Nogan again got the start at AMC, this time partnered with Trevor Snowden. Andy Bishop would again start at striker, but I'd have him on a short leash, willing to give most of the second half to Levent Yalçin if Bishop wasn't producing results. Five changes from Saturday's side, in total.

It was breezy and chilly, but that didn't stop 2,388 fans from coming out to cheer on their heroes and take a look at their new manager's quixotic tactics. They were in for quite a show, as only six minutes in Lee Nogan sprang Andy Bishop in the Aldershot box. Rather than shooting - though he was past the last man - Bishop passed back to Trevor Snowden, who blasted his shot over the bar.

Bishop wouldn't make that mistake twice: just a minute later, Billy Manuel's pass found Bryan Stewart down the left wing. Rather than dribble, Stewart put a precision low pass ahead to a Bishop, who had gotten open in the box! He took one touch to settle, then knocked it home from 15 yards out! 1-0, York, and the crowd roared their approval.

On the 20 minute mark, referee Gary Chapman awarded a yellow card to the Shots' Jon Challinor for an awkward tackle, giving us a free kick about forty yards from goal on the left sideline. Stewart took it, and just as Law had the previous match, he played it past the back line. Bishop ran onto it, timing his run flawlessly, took one touch to steady himself, and then hammered home his second of the match! We were up 2-0, and looking thoroughly in control!

Lee Nogan was injured in the 25th minute, a vicious tackle by Steve Watson leaving the captain writhing on the ground in pain. I brought Darren Dunning on at left wing, and moved Stewart up to an AMC role. It didn't look good: our player/coach was stretchered off, and reportedly bound for hospital.

Despite the pall that cast over the crowd, it couldn't slow our momentum, and on 34 minutes we earned a corner kick. Kevin Donovan took it, and found who else but Andy Bishop unmarked, just outside of the scrum in the 6-yard box. He volleyed it with his left foot from 8 yards out, a perfect strike to complete his hat trick! 3-0!!

Bishop took a bit of a knock shortly before the half. With the outcome no longer in doubt, rather than let him continue, I brought Levent Yalçin in at the break. The young Turk nearly got his name on the scoresheet at the 54 minute mark, when Manuel launched a long ball past the defense and the speedster ran it down, but his shot was saved - one of the few times Aldershot keeper Nikki Bull got his hands on the ball all match.

From that point on, it was just a matter of defending, which we did, aided by abysmal Aldershot finishing. They seemed to be having real trouble with the wind, which had really picked up in the second half. Though they wound up outshooting us 10-7, most of their shots were long-range efforts blown well off target, and none gave Tony Caig any trouble.

York 3, Aldershot 0

Bishop 8, 20, 35; ----

MoM: Bishop

There was no denying that Andy Bishop had been the Man of the Match with his hat-trick performance, and I couldn't help but think to myself that the threat of competition from Levent Yalçin had really helped his focus. Billy Manuel's performance at DMC was also noteworthy, and in fact the entire side had done quite well with the exception of Snowden.

His performance is best summed up by the fact that the attacking midfielder once dribbled down our right wing, behind our fullbacks, pursued by two Aldershot players, unable or unwilling to pass. If one of them hadn't fouled him, he might have taken it all the way out for a corner. He'd also finished the match thoroughly knackered, despite starting in better condition than any other player on the side. Abysmal.

Worse, there was no news from hospital about Lee Nogan.

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Wednesday, 5th January, 2005.

York Hospital is just down the street from Bootham Crescent, an easy walk over to Wigginton Road. Such is my lack of notoriety in town that I was able to walk there, through revelling fans who had left the ground in delight, without drawing much attention: the claps on the back were as one fan to another, not in adulation of sudden celebrity. It helped that I was wearing a scarf in the club colours, a wool cap, a jacket, and sunglasses. I looked like many another fan leaving the ground.

The hospital was nice: beautiful, clean, state of the art equipment, competent physicians. The news, however, was ugly. Lee Nogan's injury was a hip pointer. The necessary surgery will keep him out for at least three months, and probably through the end of the season. Not only second on the team in goals scored, the former Assistant Manager is also a tremendous leadership presence on the field. He'll be sorely missed - it may be a month before he's even able to walk enough to join us at the training ground!

So, 3-0 win or not, I went to bed that night with a sick feeling in my stomach.

Even Steve Beck's evident joy at our victory, at the office today, couldn't help ease the stress. Neither could the news that, with three wins in a row, we were up to ninth place, even with Exeter but behind on goal difference.

That merely meant we were only 9 points clear of relegation: the three wins were all that stood between us and 20th, and I knew we could concede that gap as easily as we'd made it up.

I brought in three players on trial: right wing Alex Benjamin, Scottish left back Paul Parkin, and 19-year-old left wing Marc Schofield. Benjamin and Parkin both played in the Reserve match today, which we won 2-0 on goals by Steven Collins and Kane Ashcroft. Neither trialist was impressive.

At least Andy Bishop's injury turned out to be no more than a bruise, which shouldn't prevent the hat-trick hero from starting on Saturday.

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Friday, 7th January, 2005.

It was a busy week in the transfer market, as I started the housecleaning. The biggest move was that talented veteran Paul Groves, the 38-year-old central midfielder, went to Macclesfield on a free transfer that cleared his £30,000 p/a salary off our books. I don't plan on using a pure central midfielder, and I have other options at attacking and defensive midfield positions, so it was classic addition by subtraction.

20-year-old central midfielder Matthew Coad went to Aylesbury for £2,000. None of my coaches thought he would improve very much, so I was glad to get anything for him.

I sold 18-year-old left back Steven Baynes to my former club, Lancaster, for £1,000 - apparently the transfer fee from ME was available to Kevin Hull to use on players! Baynes's contract was expiring, so again it was a good move, reducing our wage bill and bringing in some income. It made sense for the Dolly Blues as well: Baynes would replace Alan Morgan, whose three-month loan had come to its conclusion on the first of January, as the backup to Paul Sparrow.

In return, I'd offered a contract to my former striker Robert Thompson, but was snubbed - he said he'd rather be playing first team football for the side he's just joined than follow his manager up the league pyramid.

Disturbingly, two clubs had made offers to defensive midfielder Gary Pearson, whose contract was expiring. As I had with Kevin Donovan, I'd changed my mind, deciding I did want to keep the 28-year old, who had been transfer listed under Chris Brass' regime, so I made him a contract offer through 2007. I hoped the raise would be more than the other two clubs could bid.

17-year-old centre back Michael Staley did agree to make the jump up to 'Full Time' status with the squad, renewing his contract through 2009. I really think he can be a big contributor in the future. Aaran Reid, the 17-year-old keeper, renewed through 2007, also making the step up to Full Time status.

Despite the raises those players both received, by the end of the week we were only £4,000 p/a over our wage budget.

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Saturday, 8th January, 2005. Conference National - Match 25, vs Northwich

18th-placed Northwich Victoria was our next opponent, and with two wins already on the books, I expected an easy home win.

I kept a similar lineup, with Caig in net, Dave Merris returning at left back and Steve Davis returning as captain in central defense alongside Clarke and Law. Manuel would again start at defensive mid, with Donovan and Stewart on the wings. Up front, Lee Morris and Paul Robinson would replace the injured Nogan and ineffective Snowden. Hat-trick hero Andy Bishop would again start at striker. The side were in the best shape I'd seen them in since arriving, and it was definitely my first choice XI that went out, with the exception of the injured Nogan of course.

2,581 York faithful braved the rain and cold to cheer us on. Our first chance started with a Northwich corner kick, which was defended well, and a long clearance sprang Andy Bishop past the last defender. His first shot was saved by keeper Andy Ralph, but Bishop pounced on the rebound and shot on the open net. I thought it was a sure goal, but defender Martyn Lancaster somehow threw himself in front of the ball and deflected it wide. An amazing effort, truly, and how poetic on so many levels, for a Lancaster to so deny those of us from York.

At the other end, Dave Merris redeemed some of his poor play last week by blocking a header on goal, following a cross - he got his body in the way and knocked it aside for a corner. Paul Robinson had two chances, but one was saved and the other went over, so it was scoreless at the half.

Our best chance was probably Andy Bishop's wicked 16-yard shot on 49 minutes, but Ralph made an acrobatic save to tip it just over. Robinson had another effort saved on 51 minutes, and it was becoming every more clear that Northwich were willing to play defense and let their incredible keeper continue to save the day. It was especially difficult as those green-and-white kits had become green-and-mud, which made it very difficult to spot their defenders, as though they were wearing camoflauge. I switched the lads into our attacking 4-5-1 for a while, and even tried bringing on super-sub Levent Yalçin. The young Turk came close twice, narrowly missing each time, but was unable to find the net.

Finally, on 84 minutes, I grabbed Trevor Snowden, and sketched a 3-5-2 for him, using our basic formation but replacing one of the defenders with a second striker. I sent him on, and pulled off Merris, but I should have known better: the only effort Snowden made went well over the bar. The attacking formation did create a few other openings at either end, but neither side could take advantage, and when the referee blew full time it was a 0-0 draw.

York 0, Northwich 0

----; ----

MoM: Ralph (Northwich GK)

I thought Martyn Lancaster, their central defender, should have earned Man of the Match honors, not just for his gravity-defying, goal-rejecting block in the first few minutes, but for playing a solid game throughout: he always seemed to be at the right place to make a key interception or a clean tackle. However, the papers awarded the honour to Northwich Vics goalkeeper Andy Ralph, whom we had peppered with 16 shots, but had nonetheless kept a clean sheet.

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Originally posted by Amaroq:

Thank you both!

cms - because I'm expressing it in per-annum, not per-week. I apologise for not being explicit. It comes out about 7700 p/w.

Ahhhh, now it makes sense! i was thinking, my Forest team in the prem only gets 125k per week! thx for the clarification kutgw icon_smile.gif

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Monday, 10th January, 2005.

I met Stacy at the airport yesterday, and if you're not married you better believe I had a big boquet of flowers by way of apology for making such a big decision without her.

Not that I let it come all as a surprise to her - I'd told her over the phone back on New Year's Eve.

At first, she'd been very angry that I'd made such a big decision for both of us without consulting her, but now that she's had time to reflect, she had to admit it wasn't like we'd had enough time to put roots down.

She was also overjoyed at the financial impact - on our limited budget, there certainly hadn't been much available for 'fun' shopping. Plus, I think she was happier to be in a city of 186,000 than a small town; she's alway been more of a 'city girl', while I preferred the countryside.

At any rate, she would have to deal with packing up and moving our things from the place in Lancaster; I hadn't had time to do much more than get a suitcase ready and ask Gary to look after the plants.

Our goalkeeper, Tony Caig, was selected to the Conference National Team of the Week, having pitched two shutouts for the week - but the big news was on the contracts front. 28-year-old midfielder Gary Pearson rejected the two offers from lower-division sides, and signed with us through 2007, at a raise of course.

Even more important, Blackburn central defender John Fitzgerald, an Irish 20-year-old, has joined York on a 3-month loan that should be a significant improvement to our back line. With only one goal conceded from our first three games, that may not be as big of a problem area as I expected it might be, but it could certainly use some strengthening.

DC John Fitzgerald, 20, Ireland, 7 U-21 caps:

This young Blackburn star-in-the-making is one of the most brave, determined, hard working defenders you'll ever see. His pace and aerial ability won't cut it in the Premiership yet, and he needs to work on some of his decisions and concentration, but he'll be the best player on the side from the moment he signs to the moment his loan expires.

The exodus of unwanted players continued, with 3 more departures.

18-year-old central midfielder Kane Ashcroft joined Poole Borough on a free transfer, the second of my former players to join Poole. I was amused to note that their fans wore worried about him disrupting the harmony of the dressing room - he'd left the side in such a hurry that he didn't have time to cause any problems here.

17-year-old Byron Webster, my last pure central midfielder, joined Bourneview, also on a free, and 18-year old central defender Gary Anderson went to Newcastle the same way. No, not Newcastle United; the semi-pro club Newcastle Town.

I was fairly pleased with the day's work, until I saw physio Jeff Miller in my doorway. He'd come to tell me that Paul Robinson had twisted his knee, and would miss at least the next two matches. Anything which puts Trevor Snowden closer to the lineup is very bad news indeed, and with Nogan already hurt, the ranks of my attacking midfielders were getting perilously thin.

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Tuesday, 11th January, 2005. Conference National - Match 26, at Crawley.

Crawley is a town in West Sussex, south of London, which made it the longest trip any of my teams had taken this year.

I stayed fairly conservative with the lineup: Tony Caig in goal with a 268-minute scoreless streak. Loanee John Fitzgerald would make his first start at central defense, with Merris, Clarke, and Law filling out the back four. Gary Pearson returned to the lineup at DMC, with Donovan and Stewart on the wings. I solved my attacking-midfield dilemna by bringing up 16-year-old Joe Foote from the U-18 side for his senior debut, and starting him alongside Lee Morris. Levent Yalçin earned his first start of my reign, his third of the season, at striker.

Yalçin maintained his electric reputation by starting us off at ten minutes, when he broke into the area, and his shot from about 8 yards beat the keeper.. but bounced off the far post, staying in play but going well wide of the goal mouth.

Fitzgerald was playing well, with a headed clearance from a dangerous cross, and at one point breaking up a 2-on-1 breakaway with a well-timed foot. He did pick up a yellow card, but by halftime I was quite pleased with my Premiership acquisition. I was less pleased to note that Yalçin had picked up a knock, but I did have Andy Bishop on the bench, so it wasn't too painful to switch strikers at the break.

It looked headed for another scoreless draw, until on 62 minutes, Crawley finally broke through. Charlie MacDonald passed left to Allan Tait in the box. Caig made a brilliant reflex save to parry Tait's shot, but unfortunately it caromed straight to MacDonald. Despite heavy traffic, the open net made it a bit of an easy finish for the striker, and just like that it was 0-1.

I shouted out to the pitch to move up into our more aggressive formation, but it was to no avail. Crawley had complete control of the match, and most of the remaining chances were theirs. They might have added a second at 73 minutes, when Tait got the ball at the corner of the six-yard box, but Graeme Law made a fantastic saving tackle to blunt his attack.

There was no such six luck minutes later, as a Crawley corner kick floated through the box. Caig came out to play it, but could only get a hand on it. It dropped behind him to the feet of luckily positioned substitute Kevin Hemsley. With such a wide open net, not even a reserve central defender could miss, and his first career goal for Crawley made it 0-2.

We tried desperately for the final ten minutes, but there was no break coming: it seemed few enough chances could get through the Crawley midfield, in particular central midfielder Steve Walters. The few that did went nowhere: Foote's best effort went high and wide, while Bishop's was saved.

The referee blew full time to the raucous approval of 2,422 home fans, and we were sent to our first defeat under my stewardship.

Crawley 2, York 0

MacDonald 62, Hemsley 79; ----

MoM: Walters (Crawley MC)

Steve Walters earned Man of the Match honors, after being solid in midfield throughout the match, and a veritable brick wall in the final ten minutes.

The lads were very quiet on the way back to the changing room, and I watched with interest: I needed to know if they'd be able to shrug off a setback, or if they'd concede to the mood of utter despair which had accompanied the previous manager's last days.

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Wednesday, 12th January, 2005.

It was a silent bus ride home, not quite gloomy, but certainly pensive, and I had a hard time reading the club's character. With an F.A. Trophy match coming up, followed by a tough away match to high-flying Morecambe, I was about to find out.

Did you know Airbus operates a team? I didn't - until I had somebody on the line offering to buy Steve Lyon from me for £2,000. I agreed to the deal - the 17-year-old has exceptional decision-making, but I don't think he has the pace, creativity, or finishing to contribute in the long term. He left for the Wingmakers - what a great name! - on Wednesday.

After bidding him farewll, I'd gone up to Carlisle - just this side of the Scottish border, on the west coast - to watch the Reserve match on Wednesday. It was odd to me to watch a game with Yates and Black in it again - though this time they were amateur players for the York Reserves named David Yates and Ian Black, I kept thinking of my favorite Lancaster players. I didn't have enough built up in the transfer kitty to make an offer for either of the real Yates and Black, but I could make a few more offers. The Reserves drew 0-0, and right back Nathan Kamara was Man of the Match, though perhaps more importantly, David Stockdale had two straight confidence-building shutouts.

Sitting next to me, coincidencentally, was Dave Colley, a huge York fan, and ironically the very same "Dave C" that Spencer had told me to look up! Degree in paleontology or no, he's a very knowledgeable football guy, and the world's biggest York fan - as evidenced by the fact that he'd come all the way up to Carlisle to watch a Reserve match. I think he and I were two of perhaps eight fans who did, and the other six were mothers of the players.

I like him. He's abrasive and opinionated, brash almost to the point of feeling "American" to me - you certainly know where you stand with him! He reminded me of a good friend from back in my Santa Cruz days.

Better, he's got a real eye for talent. His judgment of our players dovetailed almost exactly with my own opinions, both for those who were present and those back at Bootham Crescent. He places the same emphasis on mental toughness - determination, concentration, anticipation, and work ethic - that I do.

"Anybody can develop the physical skills," as he said, "But only the great ones have the mental discipline."

We agreed pretty much point for point on the Carlisle players, and he'd only seen them for a few hours.

I invited him to join me at a pub Friday night, and to catch Saturday's F.A. Trophy match as a guest of the team.

I was disappointed to hear on the BBC lower-league scores rundown that Worksop had beaten Lancaster 2-0, ending my former side's unbeaten run at 15 matches. Still, they'd beaten Hinckley and Barrow in their previous two matches, so they were well positioned in the top ten of the Conference North, and still looked a threat for promotion next year: I'd laid a good foundation.

Stacy and the moving truck should arrive tomorrow, though I've no idea where we're going to put a houseful of stuff. Its not like I've had time to find a place to rent!

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Saturday, 15th Januray, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Third Round, at Halifax.

Viv found me before the match, as I was drawing up my starting lineup, and glanced down at the sheet.

"Oh, no," he said, pointing at where I'd written Tony Caig in as the starter. "Tony Caig and Lee Morris are ineligible."

"What!?" I exclaimed, nearly shouting at the man.

"Well, um, the loan terms Chris arranged, they're not eligible to play in Cup matches."

That certainly threw a wrinkle into my plans: with young Joe Foote already on his way to Scunthorpe for an U-18 match, I had almost nobody left who could play attacking midfield!

Here's the lineup I would up fielding: David Stockdale returned to goal for his first senior-side start of my tenure. I protected him with the best defense I could throw out there: Dave Merris at left back, John Fitzgerald partnering Steve Davis at center defense, Graeme Law at right back. Billy Manuel would play the defensive midfield role, with Darren Dunning at left wing and Kevin Donovan on the right. To avoid starting Trevor Snowden, I moved Bryan Stewart up to AMC from his usual spot at left wing, and dropped Levent Yalçin into the other AMC role. Andy Bishop started up front.

Halifax is a little off the M62, between Manchester and Leeds, slightly south of the Yorkshire Dales, which made it nearly a home game for us, and against fellow Conference opposition. The day was dry but overcast, not too windy and not freezing, but definitely what a Californian considers cold!

The crowd was, as expected for such a minor tournament, fairly paltry. Halifax came out in a 4-3-3 which would test our defense throughout. I'm not one to believe in omens, but I got a chill as my side walked out onto the field and I realized young Stockdale had chosen number 13 for his jersey.

It was a defensive struggle from the off, and adding to the tension referee Richard Beeby was calling a very close game. He gave three yellow cards to Halifax players in the first 20 minutes, which meant there had been more cards than shots at that point.

In the 27th minute, I saw the first bad luck I could attribute to my keeper's kit number. A Halifax corner kick was knocked on through most of the box, and Dave Merris took posession on the left, about 16 yards from goal and a few yards in from the edge of the box. He stupidly gave the ball away to Denny Ingram, and then compounded his mistake by tripping Ingram to try and get it back. In such a tightly called game, there was no hope of leniency, and Beeby pointed to the spot, and then hauled out the yellow card for Merris. Ingram took the penalty himself, and made no mistake, giving the home side an 0-1 lead.

We did have two chances, both started by long goal kicks off Stockdale's foot springing Bishop between the two central defenders. Both times, Bishop was caught from behind and had the ball tackled away, but I was given the glimmer of an idea, imagining Yalçin's speed at the end of those kicks. I'd yet to see him caught from behind. At halftime, though, I did not make that change, instead moving the team to the aggressive 4-5-1.

This opened up the game a bit, creating shots at both ends in the early part of the second half. We were also catching up in the yellow card stakes - the score there was up to 3-3. Bishop, now playing injured, made his best effort on 60 minutes, but a diving save by Matthew Andrews - his only save of the day, in fact - tipped the ball just wide.

In the 65th minute, a free kick 40 yards out on the left wing was taken by goat-of-the-day Merris, and he stroked the ball perfectly behind the defensive line to the right side. Young Turk Levent Yalçin pounced on it, and drove it back across the goal mouth to the left corner, catching Andrews going the wrong direction. Just that quickly, we had equalized 1-1, and I loved the way our free kicks were working.

In the 69th minute, Darren Dunning had to be carted off, and young Andrew Green, finally recovered from his mythical neck injury, took the field at left wing. With a sparse bench, it was the only substitution I would make on the day, and with my side back to conservative tactics after equalizing, it was again a defensive struggle.

Halifax threw everything but the kitchen sink at us in injury time, creating several chances, but Merris and Stockdale helped blunt the assault. The referee blew full time, and we'd forced a home replay, 1-1.

Halifax 1, York 1

Ingram pen 29; Yalcin 66

MoM: Law

Right back Graeme Law was named Man of the Match for his consistent work shutting down the Halifax left wing; in fact, he'd never gotten in trouble anywhere near as much as his counterpart had at right back. Despite the assist and the fine plays in the last few minutes, I was coming to think that a change at left back needed to be my highest priority, above even finding another attacking midfielder to cover in Nogan's injury absence.

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Tuesday, 18th January, 2005.

The news on Darren Dunning was unfortunate, and forced my hand about one of my trialists. Dunning was going to be out for at least two weeks with a pulled hamstring. "It really could have been much worse," Jeff told me, as I discussed it with my physio. "I was afraid he'd torn it when we first got him to the sideline."

Sunday's paper revealed that Lancaster had beaten Grantham 2-1 in the F.A. Trophy, so they at least had advanced, and there was still a remote possibility that I might face my former side this season.

The draw for the Fourth Round was this afternoon, and the ball for Halifax/York drew the ball for Canvey Island/Tilbury. Tiny Tilbury had nearly beaten the Conference side, and only an 87th-minute goal by Kevin Dobinson had forced a replay, 2-2. Even though they'd be home for the second match, Tilbury were still 20-1 against to win advancement. I noted with interest that Lancaster had drawn a home match against Gateshead, a lower-division side which I figured they should beat easily.

On a different pitch, I learned that the York U-18 side takes real pride in what they've been doing this season. It wasn't clear from the 3-0 trouncing they'd received last time, after I'd gutted the team by sending the top 17-year-olds up to the Reserve side, but they're actually second placed in their Youth league. The players remaining on the side proved that they deserved it Saturday morning against the first-placed Scunthorpe side, battling back from a first-half deficit to win 2-1 on the road. Robbie Haw scored the equalizer, with the tastefully named amateur Ian Black getting the winner in the 87th minute. Nathan Kamara again played very well, according to Coach Paul Stancliffe, who had accompanied them.

The most important work of the week came in the signings department. I hadn't wanted to rush things too much, but I had signed 35-year-old John Richards as a coach through 2009. When I'd failed to poach either of my scouts from Lancaster, I'd placed an advertisement down at the job centre for a scout.

Richards had applied, thinking his experience coaching youngsters at youth academy the past six years had made him a good judge of talent. He wasn't wrong, but listening to him describe his teaching methods, I could hear that he was a better coach than anybody I had on staff. A good coach who's a great judge of talent? That was too good to waste on a scouting role - and when I offered him double what he was asking for a scouting position, he couldn't exactly say no.

Even better, I'd convinced Dave Colley to "put on hold" his career in paleontology, and instead to join us as a scout. He's determined, tactically aware, a better judge of talent than Richards was - and best of all, I could count on him to give his own judgement without telling me what I 'want to hear'. I'd had to offer him the maximum contract the board would allow, to prise him away from academia, and even so I think only the quick rapport we'd acheived over drinks Friday and the fact that it was a dream-come-true to work for York convinced him to accept. He's signed through 2010.

I still wanted to add a second scout, and plan to reduce Gary Lloyd's contract down to expire in 2006, letting him scout our upcoming opposition or something useless like that until then. 'Head Scout' indeed!

We also added three warm bodies to the roster. None were players I was tremendously excited about, but they did offer some upside and could help tide the team over through the end of this season. They were all players originally discovered by my scouting team at Lancaster, but deemed not quite worthy of bringing in on trial, or too 'potential' and not 'now' enough to be worthy of signing after their trial period.

D L Paul Parkin, 21, Scotland, uncapped:

The Scottish left back is young, with good potential. He is reasonable physically and mentally, but has some gaps technically and needs to work on his decision making and positioning. He won't challenge Dave Merris for the starter's role immediately, but he may have better upside over the long term. He joined the side for a mere pittance through 2008.

AM L Marc Schofield, 19, England, uncapped:

Though my Lancaster scouts had pointed out that he doesn't have the pace or stamina to last on the wings, he's very hard-working and demonstrates good decision making and crossing. He helped set up a goal in an U-18 match while on trial, but was thoroughly knackered by about 70 minutes. Still, having an extra left winger will give me coverage while Dunning is injured, and should let me move Brian Stewart up as an attacking midfielder until Lee Nogan recovers from his injury. FA regulations prevented me from signing him through June at this late stage of the season, so he's under contract through 2006.

AM R Alex Benjamin, 23, England, uncapped:

Faster and more technically adept than either of the other signings, Benjamin commanded the largest salary on a contract through 2006. However, he is prone to poor decisions and complete lapses of concentration which would be unacceptable even in a much younger player, and are probably incurable at this stage of his career. I don't expect much from him.

None of the three were the ideal additions I would hope for in remaking the side, but they each had two traits in common: my best Lancaster scout, Spencer, had recommended them, and they would join the side full-time for a cheap salary with no signing bonus.

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Wednesday, 19th January, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Round Three Replay, vs Halifax.

There was no delay in the F.A. Trophy: the re-match against Halifax came just four days after our original 1-1 draw with them.

I went with very close to the same lineup, since all of the senior players whom I wanted to have see playing time were either in the lineup, injured, or ineligible. I made just one change, and that was due to injury. David Stockdale again started in goal for the ineligible Cain, with Merris, Fitzgerald, Davis, and Law across the back four and Manuel at DMC. Donovan started at right wing, while Marc Schofield would make his debut at left wing for the injured Dunning. Yalçin and Stewart would again be my attacking midfielders, and Bishop would be the striker.

1,220 York City faithful braved a near-freezing rain to cheer us on, and they were treated to a real doozy of a match. Schofield was laid low only a minute into the match, colliding heavily with defender Denny Ingram, and that left me few options. I moved Bryan Stewart back to left wing, and, reluctantly sent in Trevor Snowden as an attacking mid. On the fifth minute, Snowden placed a shot on target, to my amazement, but pretty much directly at goalkeeper Matthew Andrews, who had no problem stopping it. Halifax had again come out attacking, and I was content to let my side sit back and absorb their attack, which we did through the first 20 minutes, containing every foray they made.

Then the tide began to turn, and Billy Manuel drove one through the rain and just over the bar. Two minutes later, Andy Bishop's shot forced a fine save from Andrews. Snowden put our next two chances wide, but it was clear Halifax was being forced back. Shortly after the half-hour mark, Bishop and Snowden teamed up on a well executed one-two to the left of the arc, which put Bishop through into the box. As everyone converged on him, he laid it off for Levent Yalçin near the penalty spot. Andrews desperately cut to his left, where the goal directly in front of Yalçin was wide open, but the young Turk cleverly put it back to the keeper's right. With the wet footing, Andrews had no chance of making a play, and the crowd roared their appreciation as Yalçin put York ahead 1-0!

Halifax switched back to the 4-3-3 which had caused us troubles in the first match, but we continued to look like the dominant side through halftime.

"Look at them," Viv told me, "They're exhausted. They've nothing left."

It certainly appeared correct - in the run of play, they were definitely not as quick as they'd been in the first twenty minutes.

Just after the re-start, Halifax earned a dangerous free kick about 30 yards out. Darren Hockenhull, their right back, who had been having a fine game already, took the kick, and he turned my favorite play against us. Rather than shoot, he lofted it over the defensive line into the space between it and our keeper. Derek Holmes made his run, and to my dismay Graeme Law let him go. Snowden, of all people, desperately tracked back to cover, but he was already several steps behind, and though he closed the gap, he could do nothing as Holmes buried it past the stranded David Stockdale. They were level at 1-1.

The exhausted visitors dropped back into a defensive stance again, and stopped looking dangerous at all - but so had we. The rain had turned Bootham Crescent into a waterlogged morass which seemed determined to keep either side from getting any chances. By 74 minutes, I'd noticed that we were being beaten on both wings. Stewart was just getting badly outplayed on the left, while Kevin Donovan was utterly knackered on the right side.

I only had two substitutions left, and, mindful of extra time, I didn't want to use them both just yet, so I contented myself with bringing on new signing Alex Benjamin on the right, dropping Snowden back to the left wing, and pushing Stewart up to attacking midfield. Snowden did better than I expected in that role: he wasn't able to put in the sort of service I expect from a winger, but his tenacious nature got him to many a free ball. Still, as injury time ticked away, the match looked destined for extra-time, until the 93rd minute.

It was deep in injury time when a Halifax clearance got over the top of my defensive line. Sam Agar got past captain Steve Davis, and ran it down through the rain. One-on-one with Stockdale, Agar somehow put it wide, and the match went to extra time as the crowd exhaled a sigh of relief.

As our coaches dispensed Gatorade, and Jeff Miller stretched hamstrings, I exhorted the lads.

"They look like a punch-drunk fighter dazed and stumbling around the ring in the 10th round," I told them. "Now we're going to go for the knock-out punch."

I put them in the 'aggressive' 4-5-1, pushing the fullbacks and defensive midfielder up every time we touched the ball. I also brought young Andrew Green in for Snowden on the left wing, the last change either side could make. From the re-start, it was clear that the entire Halifax side was utterly knackered, and two of their number were playing hurt. We kept constant pressure on them, but every time we lost possession, they booted a long clearance. It took until the 105th minute for us to get a clear chance, and then it was Byran Stewart through on goal, with a chance to redeem his poor play on the wing. His effort went wide, and it was into the second half of extra time, still 1-1.

I don't think Halifax got it out of their own half the rest of the match: Merris, Law, and Manuel did a fine job keeping the ball "in the zone" to borrow a phrase from hockey. Anytime the ball came out of our attacking third, they collected it and put it right back in, as Halifax were reduced to an eleven-man defensive wall. They'd abandoned any pretense of offense, and were clearly playing for penalties. When Green launched a cross over the box and found Andy Bishop at the far post, I thought we had it, but the prolific striker's header hit side netting!!!

Halifax ran out the final two minutes, content to pass around their own defensive line, and the match would, indeed, go to penalties!

I was on pins and needles as Halifax started things off with Gordon Watson. Stockdale dove to his right, only to look back as Watson drove it directly through the space he'd just vacated: we trailed 0-1.

On-loanee centre-half John Fitzgerald took first for us, but he missed his footing on the wet turf and lofted it over: Halifax had the early advantage, 0-1.

Denny Ingram followed, placing a saveable shot to the right side, but Stockdale moved too late: we were in real trouble early, down 0-2.

Dave Merris may have been giving me trouble on the pitch, but in practice his penalties were always sure. The left-footer stepped up, and buried a perfect drive into the lower-right corner: our first of the shootout made it 1-2.

Halifax answered with fellow lefty Kirk Hilton, who nestled it into the left side netting, leaving Stockdale no chance: we were on the ropes at 1-3.

The pressure was really on now, and Grame Law was up. The right back drilled it into the right side-netting, a beautiful effort! We were back in with a shout at 2-3!

Russell Perrett followed for the visitors, and when his shot went wide, the crowd let out a tremendous cheer: his mistake had given us a lifeline at 2-3! Not a one of the 1,220 had left, it seemed, despite the dismal weather!!

Turkish striker Levent Yalçin was next, and I hoped the 19-year-old could cope with the pressure. Again, he opted for trickery and finess, lobbing a soft ball right were Matthew Andrews was standing.. but Andrews had already chosen a side, and dove out of the way of a ball an old man could have saved: it was 3-3!! My laughter was covered by the crowd's cheer: I couldn't believe the youngster's cheek!

It was down to 'sudden death' from there. With the sides level after four kicks each, the next side to make when the other missed would win. Left-footed Dean Howell stepped up for Halifax, and shanked it horribly to the right: 3-3, and we had the chance to win!!

My best penalty taker, captain/coach Steve Davis strode confidently to the line. I held my breath, and silence filled Bootham Crescent as he ran up ... he coolly launched a beauty to the left side, and hapless Andrews dove right!! We'd won, 4-3, and we were through to the Fourth Round!!!

York 1, Halfiax 1, AET

York win 4-3 on penalties

Yalcin 34; Holmes 48

MoM: Hockenhull (Halifax DR)

I was exhausted as we walked off the field, and I hadn't even taken to the pitch! Though I might have to register myself, if this injury crisis grows any worse.

Halifax captain Darren Hockenhull was named Man of the Match. There weren't many heroes on our side, unless you count the penalty-takers, while one had to admit that the Halifax defense had done an impressive job to stonewall us for the final seventy minutes of play. Still, it must come as little consolation to him.

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