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Sharpening a Rusty Blade


Amaroq

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I found this story on friday morning whilst trawling the stories. (all this in works time i may add) I spent most of my day friday reading it and even printed off a copy so i could read it at home over the weekend i was so gripped. One of the best stories ive read. Ive been really engrossed in your lower league plight. Living in the north of England I am firmiliar with Lancaster. I worked at Burnley FC some time ago and Steve Davis is a hero there, but so too is Chris Brass. Great story. KUTGW. icon_smile.gif

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Friday, 21st January, 2005.

What a game!

Two days later, and I'm still feeling the effects. So are my players, and that's not good: its going to be tough to field eleven tomorrow, away to Morecambe.

There was good news on the injury front, though. Jeff Miller said Marc Schofield's injury was merely a bruised shin, which will keep him out of Saturday's match but shouldn't affect him in the long term. The bad news? Backup goalkeeper Chris Porter has stubbed his toe, and won't be able to play if needed on Saturday.

Canvey Island had beaten Tilbury 4-1, so we'd face a fellow Conference side in February rather than a minnow. Still, the Canaries are down in the relegation zone, so unless their form improves, they aren't too frightening.

Elsewhere in the ongoing tapestry of the lower leagues, Stalybridge Celtic have fired manager Peter Wragg, and the rumored favorite to replace him at the Bower Fold is none other than former York manager Chris Brass.

I'd sent an enquiry to see if Lancaster sharp-shooter Ryan Ashington would care to follow his manager to Bootham Crescent - now that some sales have put a token amount of cash in the transfer kitty, I can at least try to participate in the winter transfer window.

He sent me a cordial letter, care of his agent, which explained that he was not going to accept my contract offer, despite the large wage increase. "I am not prepared to quit Lancaster," he explained, "Having only just signed for them as you know. I feel that as part of the Lancaster first team, I should show some loyalty, and stay with them."

Cutting!

But class, too. I do have to respect his loyalty.

"Head Scout" Gary Lloyd accepted a new contract, which would reduce his tenure with the club from June of 2009 to June of 2006, and also accepted a new title, "Advance Scout" - I surely didn't want anybody mistaking his role for a management one, especially as I was going to consign him to scouting future opposition now that Dave Colley was on board.

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Saturday, 22nd January, 2005. Conference National - Match 27, at Morecambe.

A tough away match to third-placed Morecambe was not what we needed, with the majority of the side still exhausted from the F.A. Trophy marathon match on Wednesday. Complicating matters, central defender John Fitzgerald had to miss this match after collecting 5 yellow cards, 3 in his short stint for us, and 2 for Blackburn Reserves.

Tony Caig returned in goal, and Paul Parkin would make his debut at left back. Promising 17-year-old Michael Staley got the call at centre back alongside Chris Clarke, who'd been a forgotten man since Fitzgerald had arrived. Graeme Law impressed me by volunteering to go again at right back, while Gary Pearson came on at defensive midfielder. New signing Alex Benjamin was the most fit right wing available, earning him his first start for York, while 17-year-old Andrew Green would start at left wing. Joe Foote, just 16, started as the attacking mid - he doesn't even have a professional contract yet! He was partnered with Lee Morris, who would provide the veteran presence up front. Since both Bishop and Yalcin had played the full 120 minutes Wednesday, the only striker I could go with was Robbie Haw, who earned his first York senior start.

Morecambe is, of course, the coastal town next over from Lancaster, so this felt like a homecoming, almost, though surely some of the crowd of 1,943 had come just for the purpose of rooting against me, personally. The home side got to wear our preferred red, so we were in blue for the day.

Just as the lads were taking the pitch, Viv asked me, "So, who's captain?"

I'd forgotten that point in choosing my young lineup: there were no true veterans to provide leadership! I chose Alex Benjamin, who'd at least been vocal about his teammates in practice, if noticeably impatient.

From the off, Morecambe exerted a ton of pressure, utilizing that variation of the 4-4-2 which has one forward playing behind a target man. Our lads defended well early on, but showed their lack of experience by picking up a number of fouls. When Pearson was whistled, young Joe Foote picked up a yellow card for arguing with referee Jim Hubbard, and rather than providing a calming experience, captain Benjamin earned his own in the 6th minute. An inauspicious start, and I reminded myself to select a cooler, wiser head as captain in future.

Robbie Haw provided the first spark for either side, with a fantastic breakaway and one-on-one opportunity, but even as Morecambe keeper Adam Sollitt made the save, Hubbard blew the whistle: Haw had been offsides. The resultant Morecambe possession proved disastrous, as David Phillips on the right wing lofted a ball over our defensive line to the run of Sean O'Connor. The English forward had slipped past the mark of young Joe Foote, and there was nobody from our back four anywhere near him. For some reason, Tony Caig stayed on his line, letting O'Connor have a header from six yards out, and the result was a 0-1 deficit.

It could have been worse but for the play of new left back Paul Parkin, whose clearance off the line saved a sure goal from a corner kick. The Scot added two headed clearances from crosses, and was playing a real blinder. Still, O'Connor would have had a brace just before the half but for a brilliant Caig save, which deflected his 16-yard shot off the far post and wide. Over the break, I told the youngsters to start pushing forward: we couldn't take much more of the punishment Morecambe were dishing out, and needed to get a goal back.

It didn't seem to help; the run of play was still thoroughly against us. Having let the youngsters run their hearts out, I brought on Andy Bishop and Kevin Donovan for Haw and erstwhile captain Benjamin on 52 minutes.

The change immediately brought effect, and we earned our first corner kick within minutes. Morris played it beautifully to young Michael Staley, who turned skillfully with it, but Thompson stood him up with a brutal challenge. I was screaming for a penalty as it was cleared, and when the pack of players dispersed, one remained behind. Staley was down, and Morecambe keeper Sollitt was motioning urgently for a physio. I've never seen a challenge more deserving of a straight red and a penalty, but there was still no call.

My last change then, as I sent Billy Manuel on to play defensive mid and take over the captain's armband, pushing Gary Pearson into the back four to replace Staley. I told Manuel to steady the youths at the back, and let Morris and Bishop worry about the attack. It worked perfectly, as Morris fed Bishop through midfield into Morecambe territory. Bishop played it left for youngster Andrew Green, who started to dribble, but when he saw Bishop draw double coverage, he played a long through pass to Joe Foote in the box. The 16-year-old was perhaps 15 yards from goal, and struck a laser back to the left side of goal for his first ever senior goal! More importantly, it equalized for us: 1-1 with 30 minutes remaining!

We switched back defensive, and with Manuel in there and the rain letting up, the defense looked rock solid through 75 minutes. Garry Hunter broke through with a lovely run then, but his shot blazed over the bar. Though I would have been content with a 1-1 draw, we made one more foray forward. This time Foote was the provider, springing Bishop with a vertical pass. The team's leading scorer looked certain to give us the win, but Sollitt made a fingertip save to tip it around the post.

Morecambe sent everybody forward in injury time, creating mad goal-mouth scramble after mad goal-mouth scramble, but somehow Tony Caig kept it all out, and when Hubbard finally blew full time, the 1-1 result was better than I'd expected!

Morecambe 1, York 1

O'Connor 16; Foote 62

MoM: Caig

Tony Caig certainly deserved honors after the match, but I was very impressed with the way our young players had performed, on the road and against quality opposition. We'd only conceded one more shot than we'd taken, and had equalled Morecambe for efforts on target as well as goals scored.

In fact, the draw turned out to be the only blemish on Morecambe's January record: 5 wins, 1 draw, 0 defeats. That certainly seemed to bode well for the future, as did the day's youth result.

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Tuesday, 25th January, 2005.

I'd really dreaded the visit to Jeff Miller's office. Michael Staley is a likeable youngster, and that sickening tackle had left him stretchered off - I still think it should have been a red, and a penalty. You can't just mug a child like that!

However, Miller's report on the injury was encouraging. The youngster had strained his quadriceps, but it wouldn't be a long-term injury. He'd probably be back in training by February, and we could send him to a specialist if I wanted to be careful with it.

I deferred to Jeff on that, and he said there wasn't anything wrong with Staley that he couldn't fix himself, without paying some specialist's fee.

Despite being depleted down to nearly full-amateur status by the call-ups our senior team necessitated, the U-18 team gave a sound 3-0 thumping to Lincoln's youth side, the goals coming on a penalty by 16-year-old Darren Hollingsworth, a corner-kick header from amateur Chris Simpson, and a 12-yard injury time blast from amateur Ian Black.

Perusing the newspapers, I saw that Stafford Rangers manager Phil Robinson was hired to manage Stalybridge Celtic, which didn't elicit nearly the outcry that one might expect from a Rangers' manager leaving to join Celtic. The tabloids did enjoy the headlines, though!

For the York faithful, it did mean that once-beloved Chris Brass was still searching for a position.

In the statistics section, I noted that Gary Pearson was named to the Conference National Team of the Week for his performance against Morecambe. I asked my assistant - secretary, not Viv Busby - to forward the clipping to him.

With the transfer deadline rapidly approaching, I had lots of phone calls to make. I could barely be bothered with the news that York Reserves had won 1-0 over Darlington. Amateur James Smart had scored, with David Stockdale named Man of the Match in goal?

Great.

Tell them to keep up the good work.

In fairness, it was the first of a rough back-to-back games patch for the reservists, but I was much more interested in the transfer prospects - and one in particular, the one Spencer had recommended.

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Friday, 28th January, 2005.

"An' why would I be joinin' you, mon?"

I'd followed Spencer Field's advice, and sent Dave Colley up to watch Tranmere Reserves, where he had discovered that Jamaican international Theodore Whitmore, an attacking midfielder with 126 caps and 29 international goals, was languishing in the Reserves.

How he could have failed to impress manager Brian Little I could never know, as Dave gushed enthusiasically over him - experience, creativity, vision, and exquisite passing... "Tappa" was definitely better than the Conference level.

As well he knew.

At least he was willing to listen to me! I took a deep breath, marshalling my thoughts before giving him his answer.

"First, because the transfer window is closing, and you've had no other offers.

"Second, because playing for York is surely a better way to revive your career than languishing in the Reserves - and from what I hear, your place in the national team is at risk if you don't get some first-team football, and soon.

"And third, because I'll build the team around you. I want to run a 4-5-1 with two attacking midfielders, but I just don't have the player who can make it work. I'm willing to make you the playmaker, literally a free role to do with as you will in the attack, if you'll be my field general, the creative force, my right-hand man on the pitch.

"You don't think I intend languishing in the Conference forever myself, do you?"

He didn't make any committment, but I could tell from his thoughtful tone as we rang off that I'd given the 32-year-old plenty to think about.

I barely spared a thought for the Reserve side which played the second match in two days. Cobbled together primarily of amateurs and the few remaining undesireables on the squad, they did not fare well, losing 2-0 to Halifax and under constant pressure throughout.

Forgotten left back Shaun Smith agreed to terms with fellow Conference side Northwich Victoria for next season. The 33-year-old announced that at this late stage in his career, he is hoping for a move to gain more first team football, which is understandable. I was having no luck arranging transfers, either for the quickly closing January window or for the 2006 season, and only regret that he'll be moving on a free when his contract expires.

Oh, in family news, Stacy has found a place for us to rent, starting February first! She'd put our furniture in storage, when she arrived. I feel somewhat bad about letting her do all the work, but I've been swamped at the office, and its not like she has a job.

She's been able to hire laborers to do the worst of it, of course, and what woman doesn't like having strapping young lads doing her bidding?

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Saturday, 29th January, 2005. Conference National - Match 28, at Woking.

Woking is in the south of England, quite close to London, and consequently a long drive for us. It was cold and windy, with a grey overcast sky that threatened rain at any minute, but it was dry at kickoff. The sky, in fact, looked more threatening than our opposition, the 20th-placed side in the Conference - a perfect club to stop the rot against. We hadn't won a game outright since the 3rd of the month!

With two matches in quick succession, today's and Tuesday, I held back some of my starters, fielding a bit of an odd lineup. Tony Caig returned in goal, while Paul Parkin got a second start at left back. John Fitzgerald and captain Steve Davis returned in the centre of defense, with iron man Graeme Law on the right. Gary Pearson would start at defensive midfield, and Kevin Donovan would pair with young Andrew Green on the wings. Lee Morris and Paul Robinson did the attacking midfield duties, with young star-in-the-making Levent Yalçin up front.

Right from the start, we seemed to have their number, and a flowing buildup through Donovan, Robinson and Morris found Yalçin open at the penalty spot in the opening minutes, but the excitable youngster put too much on it and lofted it over the net.

We looked in complete control through 19 minutes, when Andrew Green took a throw-in from deep in Woking territory. Lee Morris took it, and dribbled menacingly into the box. With numbers of Woking defenders swarming to him, and sure to cover the dangerous Yalçin, nobody noticed Paul Parkin making a stealthy run forward - except Morris. He cut it back for the full back, who volleyed it in off the far post, his first ever professional goal, and in only his second match for York!

Our 1-0 lead elicited a groan from the Woking faithful, a sparse crowd of 840, who seemed to have been sure that it was coming. Eight minutes later, we added worse, as Robinson passed to Lee Morris at the top of the box. With two touches that befuddled his defender, the veteran made space for himself at the top of the box, and launched a 17-yard gem into the top left corner. 2-0, and it looked like a matter for cruise control.

I was considering taking players out early to protect them from injury and possibly have them fresh enough to play on Monday, but the Woking side forced my hand, taking their vengeance the only way they could, with hard tackling. Morris picked up a knock, which he tried to struggle through, while Yalçin was absolutely floored in a crunching tackle by Michael Turner. It was clean - he got the ball - but he also left my youngster in a crumpled heap, clutching his arm and unable to continue. I put Robbie Haw in at striker, with Joe Foote replacing Morris at the half.

Woking came out invigorated in the second half, in an all-out attack formation which forced some backs-to-the-wall defending from my lads for what seemed an interminable period. However, when you're battling relegation, it often seems Lady Luck deserts you, and so it was for Woking. Twice they struck the post, but were denied, and Tony Caig made a fingertip save to turn aside their best effort, from a corner kick.

Finally, our counter-attack penetrated, with a long ball over the top by Graeme Law springing Haw and his fresh legs past their defense. Onside for certain, he bore down on goal, and rifled one in, but just put it over the bar.

When the rain started at about 70 minutes, that was the sign for most of the crowd to file for the exits. The few fans that remained reminded me of a Conference North crowd, which seemed where this team were headed. They couldn't even mount much pressure through the final minutes as the pitch turned rapidly to mud.

Woking 0, York 2

----; Parkin 20, Morris 28

MoM: Fitzgerald.

It felt good to put an end to our winless streak at five, if you count the penalty shoot-out win as a draw, and it was validating to see loanee John Fitzgerald named Man of the Match.

I gave the lads a short speech on a job well done, but reminded them that they were expected to beat the relegation sides, and would face a tougher task on Monday. As quickly as I could with decorum, I made for the physio's room to see what had happened to Levent Yalçin.

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Saturday, 29th January, 2005.

"No good," Jeff told me. "His arm's broke, for sure. We sent him to hospital for x-rays, but I'm sure."

"How quickly can you have him patched up?"

"Well, he'll need a plaster cast for at least a month. After that, he can start training again, with a plastic brace, but he'll be in danger of re-injuring it."

"I'm just glad it wasn't one of his knees. That was a vicious tackle."

"I didn't see it."

"What about Lee?"

"He's fine. Bruised his knee a bit, but we should be able to have the swelling down enough for a light practice on Monday."

I would desperately need Yalcin to return, for my constant purging of the players I considered deadwood had left me with only three true strikers, Bishop, Yalcin, and then Haw, whom I haven't made up my mind on.

There was still a day or two left of the transfer window - perhaps I could find somebody in a hurry, though that's never a good bargaining position.

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Monday, 31st January, 2005.

Of course the final day of the transfer window is the busiest. The first piece of news came around 7:00am: we'd managed to sign pacey striker Mark Rawle from Oxford for £2,000. I intended him to provide short-term support for Andy Bishop while Yalcin was injured, which would cost me £30,000 p/a through the end of 2006.

He repaid me by sounding off to journalists, telling them to tell the club's fans that his ability with a football will leave them drooling. "If you've been getting bored at Bootham Crescent over recent months," he added, "I'm about to show you how football should be played!"

S C Mark Rawle, 25, England, uncapped:

Pacey, with blinding acceleration, but a poor passer. Abysmal with his head, and his decision-making and concentration leave a lot to be desired. In short, with my injury crisis at striker and the window closing, I'd pursued him too quickly, before he was fully and properly scouted. I'd trusted instead to rumour to identify him as a target, and was quickly second-guessing myself.

I could see why the Oxford manager had been willing to let him go so easily, and was already regretting my decision when I learned that the deal clashed with my arranged transfer acquisition of Welsh right back Alan Neilson for £3,000 from Luton. I'd only had £3,000 in available transfer funds to begin with, and hadn't been able to sell anybody else to raise more. The deal fell through; Graeme Law would have to do for the rest of the season.

At noon, I got tremendous news: Jamaican international Theodore Whitmore accepted my offer!! It would cost the last £1,000 of my transfer budget to take him off Tranmere Rovers' hands, but he was all set to join! He'd signed a three-year contract!

I was ecstatic!

We also added talented Macclesfield attacking midfielder Danny Whitaker, a brilliant shooter, on a 3-month loan, which would conveniently take us right through the final match of the Conference season. With Lee Morris likely to leave at the end of his loan in mid-February, and Lee Nogan still out injured for most of the season, I'd been struggling to find anybody else who played a competent attacking midfield. Whitaker would do fine - and if Morris renewed his loan through the season's end, we'd have a potent offense.

AM C Danny Whitaker, 24, England, uncapped:

A pinpoint marksman, Whitaker is deadly in attack, especially from long range, with great composure. His first touch and passing impress, and he has a flair for the dramatic. The rap on him is that he isn't a very hard worker, especially when the team doesn't have the ball, one of those players who prefers to go forward and ignores his defensive responsibilities.

In the flurry of changes, I almost missed a news article, but luckily Viv brought it to my attention: Gary Pearson and Lee Morris were selected to the Conference Team of Week, though none of our players were selected for the monthly awards.

In the afternoon, I called the Home Office. I still hadn't received the work permit for Tappa Whitmore. I was told that they were swamped with major transfers - the supercilious voice hinted 'transfers that matter' - and couldn't give us an answer until tomorrow. That's after the close of the transfer window! He hung up on me before I could complain.

With no way to expedite the process, I was terribly frustrated at the bureaucracy. I vented to Viv - maybe 'raged around the office with Viv in the room' is more accurate.

He told me it wouldn't be the first transfer which had failed for the same reason, and assured me that no, the fact that Whitmore has a work permit for Tranmere at the moment doesn't guarantee one for us.

I was so bitterly disappointed. I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up! He's such class it was always unlikely he'd wind up at Bootham Crescent - but I'd so badly wanted him!

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Tuesday, 1st February, 2005.

Wow, what a hectic first month it had been!

I'd sent 7 players packing, dropping the wage budget beneath the board's target and raising enough transfer funds to bring in 5 more, which pushed us well back above the wage budget. We'd filled up the club's complement of loans, and started reshaping the staff with the addition of a new Coach and a new Scout.

A number of contracts would run through June of 2006, but after that it would truly be 'my' team, with no baggage left over from the previous management. On the pitch, we'd gone three wins, four draws and only one loss, to climb into the top ten in the Conference.

Somehow, I found time to review my players' progress with my coaches. I certainly hadn't been watching that carefully, but that's what we have subordinates for, right?

Levent Yalçin had been improving quite nicely before his injury, but right back Graeme Law had definitely shown the most improvement, both in training form and on the pitch. Youngster Joe Foote was showing good mental development, my youth coaches informed me.

Captain Steve Davis had responded quite nicely to the change in managers, and said he felt a lot more comfortable with me than he had previously, while Billy Manuel was probably our best overall player now that he'd shaken off the depression which he'd been mired in before my arrival.

Of the loanees, of course Lee Morris was doing fantastically, but the coaches raved about what Danny Whitaker and John Fitzgerald were capable of.

Though a disturbing number of our players appeared fairly stagnant, I felt it was a good month. We hadn't really had time for as many training sessions as I'd have liked, with 8 senior matches plus a scattering of Reserve and youth clashes.

My mood was raised even further when I read the press reaction this morning to the signing of Mark Rawle: the fans were quite welcoming about him, and the columnists referred to him as an 'exciting player on the pitch'. To my surprise, there were even letters to the editor praising me for acquiring him!

Maybe he wouldn't be so bad, I thought to myself as Viv stepped into the room.

"You should read this," he said, handing me a fax.

We're happy to inform you that Theodore Whitmore's work permit has been approved, effective February 1st, 2005, and extending through June 30th, 2007.

It took me several minutes of confusion, but Viv straightened me out. All of my stress and worry over the delay had been for naught: I'd forgotten that the transfer window didn't apply for lower-division transfers within the same nation, so Whitmore was able to join us despite it all!

It was a home game today, and Tappa was already in York .. he'd be here in time to suit up for today's match!

AMC Theodore Whitmore, 32, Jamaica, 126 caps, 29 goals:

After making his international debut in 1993, Tappa was one of the stars of Jamaica's sensational 1998 World Cup side, scoring both goals in Jamaica's 2-1 victory over Japan. He spent some time as their captain, and is a dynamic player with a good understanding of the game, good natural fitness, and the sort of flair and dribbling abililty that belonged at his former League One side. Watching him eccentrically choose the number 99, and step onto the field with his long dreadlocks, I was convinced we'd found the creative genius we would need to compete for promotion, and hoped that the long-time Jamaica international would be a key building block for my plans in the years to come. He has weaknesses in the air and defensively, and doesn't take free kicks particularly well, but you can't ask for everything at the Conference level.

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Tuesday, 1st February, 2005. Conference National - Match 29, vs Halifax.

The Board called me up to the luxury box before the match this evening to tell me how hopeful everyone was of a long and successful era with me at the helm. I got the sense that they approved of my vigorous housecleaning efforts, and of course, the face that we'd lost just one game helped! They reminded me that tonight's match was to be televised on the BBC as part of their commitment to cover lower-division football, a point I'd completely forgotten.

What better venue to run out my new signings?

Here was my starting lineup, with fully seven changes from Saturday's: Tony Caig made his 10th York start in goal, with Dave Merris fresh at left back, and Davis, Fitzgerald, and Law filling out the back four. Billy Manuel returned at defensive midfield, with Alex Benjamin at right wing and Bryan Stewart on the left wing. New signings Tappa Whitmore and Danny Whitaker would debut at their attacking midfield roles, with star striker Andy Bishop up front. With Mark Rawle and Lee Morris were available from the bench if needed, for the first time since starting as a manager, I felt I had the luxury of offensive options!

For the first time all season, I sent the lads out with the 'aggressive' instructions to start a regular-season game, and when Halifax sent a 4-3-3 out against us, I could tell a high-scoring match was imminent, and the rain only guaranteed it. Early on, Halifax showed the great touch passing game which had earned them their high league position in the early minutes, creating several chances to the dismay of the partisan crowd, who had come to see this sort of thing from their new signings, not the opposition.

In the 18th minute, with our defense still holding stout, Whitmore launched a corner kick into the box to Whitaker, who managed to turn his back on Mark Hughes as the Halifax captain came in for the tackle. It looked bad, and referee Phil Sharp pointed straight to the spot! Penalty!

Tappa stepped up to take it, and the Jamaican drilled it into the lower left corner of the net. He'd netted a goal merely 18 minutes into his debut!

Prior to the match, I'd told Whitaker he could feel free to shoot from wherever he felt like, and I was regretting those orders as I watched him try four amazingly long-range efforts: one audacious shot from all of forty yards away, and the others not much closer. None troubled the Halifax keeper, and I vowed to keep him under reign later. Still, we held Halifax well in check, and took the 1-0 lead to the intermission. I told the lads to switch to the conservative approach at halftime: let the three attacking players venture forwards, but everybody else mind defense first, and go forward only at a good opportunity.

For the next thirty minutes, they followed those orders, soaking up wave after wave of Halifax attack, and offering back a few of their own. I enjoyed bringing on a fresh Lee Morris for Whitaker at 62 minutes, and he nearly immediately had a goal, putting his shot narrowly over.

Finally, in the 78th minute, Whitmore ran down an aerial backpass aimed to the Halifax left back. He managed to head it beyond the Halifax defensive line, where the opportunistic Andy Bishop pounced on his first chance of the game. One on one with keeper Matthew Andrews, Bishop adroitly dribbled around the hapless goaltender, and coolly slotted it home to make it 2-0. The crowd roared its approval.

Seconds later, even as I was warming up Mark Rawle on the sideline, Bishop broke free again, this time after a long ball played from our defense. Another one-on-one ensued, and he tried to go around the other side, but put the finish wide.

Rawle took no more than a few minutes to make his impact, darting out wide for a long pass, and then feeding a low pass to Lee Morris in the box. From 16 yards out, the talented attacker curled it into the top right corner, the final nail in a 3-0 coffin!

York 3, Halifax 0

Whitmore pen 18, Bishop 79, Morris 81; ----

MoM: Whitmore

Jamaican international Theodore "Tappa" Whitmore had led his new club to a convincing 3-0 thrashing of a quality side with a goal and an assist in his debut!!

The Man of the Match would doubtless be the talk of the town for weeks.

In the dressing room, everybody was very pleased, slapping each other on the backs and Tappa was blaring a boom-box of reggae tunes. I had never particularly liked the reggae beat before, but I had a feeling I was going to come to love it in a very short time!

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Glad you were able to do a decent sized update. I know how difficult it is to find the time to keep these stories going, but a lot of people are really enjoying this one, and I'm not the only one who's tantalised by the fact that you've played all the way up to 2013! Looking forward as always to the next post(s)!

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Friday, 4th Feburary, 2005.

The buzz and excitement that filled York were unmistakable - the fans were really exited about the club! For the first time in ages, the Minstermen were worth talking about for their play on the field, not their financial struggles. There was even talk of gatecrashing the promotion party - the win had moved us up to 7th in the Conference, merely 3 points away from a playoff spot and eleven back of the leaders with 13 matches yet to play.

Jeff warned me that captain Steve Davis was in need of a rest, having made 30 starts thus far this season. I knew - I'd been alternating him at centre back with some of the reserve players, but the older man's legs were really going dead under him. Later in the week, reserve forward Paul Robinson joined the disabled list, suffering a groin strain in training.

Stacy has moved us into our new place, a pleasant little cottage with a nice yard, out on the edge of town, sort of on the border between 'town' and 'rural', if you know what I mean. It looks like a beautiful home: white picket fence, white with cute yellow trim. I think she'll be a lot happier with it - and doubly so now that our luckless cats are out of quarantine!

They couldn't have been happier to be reunited with us.. alternating between 'punishing' us by refusing to pay attention to us, and almost pathetically needy for attention. I wish I had more time to spend with them, especially my favourite, the littlest black, but work still consumes my every waking moment.

Running a club is so much work. Why did I ever think this would be any more fun or less stressful than my software development career?

On the bright side, my scouting program was really starting to turn up gems: I had a number of players I was interested in pursuing during the summer window, but for now I was content with the squad I could field. I did get amusement out of Dave Colley's recommendation that "young Lancaster starlet Joe McMahon would be a decent acquisition for the club."

No, no he wouldn't - that 7.23 average rating disguised some fairly poor play, and a lack of coachability. At least now I knew to calibrate "decent" as "Not worth my attention."

On Wednesday, the Reserves beat Accrington 3-1 on the strength of 2 goals in 4 minutes by Robbie Haw, with a late goal by amateur forward James Smart for good measure. Andrew Green earned Man of the Match honors.

But today, today was an exciting day, as I received my first notice from an international federation that a player had been called up for international duty. No, not Tappa Whitmore!

The official-stationary fax said that Irish player John Fitzgerald had been called up for Tuesday's Under-21 friendly against Luxembourg.

His fax beat Tappa's by about seven hours.

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Saturday, 5th February, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Fourth Round, at Canvey Island

Canvey Island is situated in the mouth of the Thames, where the river opens up into the English Channel. The club are not nearly so scenically located, sitting 19th, just two points clear of relegation in the Conference, but again I had to deal with my predecessor's loan arrangements, which left some of my players ineligible for the Cup tie.

The lineup I selected included David Stockdale in goal for the ineligible Caig, and Chris Clarke replacing our exhausted captain in central defense. Dave Merris, John Fitzgerald, and Graeme Law would provide stability across the rest of the back four, with Gary Pearson ahead of them in the key defensive midfield role. Bryan Stewart and Kevin Donovan started on the wings, while Tappa Whitmore was partnered by 16-year-old Joe Foote in the attacking midfield roles. New signing Mark Rawle made his first start at striker, which gave me Andy Bishop and Danny Whitaker on the bench if needed.

I again sent out the side with attacking instructions, and they met a standard 4-4-2 formation. There was a strong wind blowing in off the Channel, and a steady rain had been falling all day, but 1,600 Canary faithful showed up to Park Lane. The Canvey Island jerseys are a bright canary yellow, which truly stood out against the grey day.

It took just five minutes for Mark Rawle to stand out. Whitmore played a long ball down the left wing for Bryan Stewart, who launched a perfect cross into the box, where Rawle had somehow shaken free of his mark. With plenty of time, he knocked a textbook header into the back of the net, his first ever goal for York and a 1-0 dream start for the side!

With the Canaries now committed to the attack, it was a wide-open game, plenty of opportunities and real end-to-end stuff. Rawle seemed to be the sort of player who generated plenty of space with his speed and acceleration. He took many shots, and though most of them were well off target, he put a lot of stress on the defense.

In the 33rd minute, the Islanders came very close to equalizing, as Junior McDougald broke free down the left wing, and sent in the cross. Neil Gregory leaped above fullback Dave Merris, but his header hit the crossbar. The rebound fell to Irish defender John Fitzgerald, who cleared out of danger.

Amazingly, in the 44th minute, a similar play developed, this time with Scott Goodwin down the left, crossing to McDougald, who leaped above veteran Gary Pearson. He, too hit the bar, but Gregory pounced on the rebound. Just as he looked odds-on to score, Graeme Law made a great tackle - but the loose ball rolled towards the goal mouth! David Stockdale desperately dove upon it, just in the nick of time, to halt the ball literally on the line! We had to be grateful to escape to the break with a 1-0 advantage.

I made one halftime change, bringing Darren Dunning in for left wing Bryan Stewart, who had been playing phenomenally well but seemed to be reaching exhaustion already. Canvey Island continued to press through the opening minutes of the second half, and just as I was thinking I should tell the players to stop pushing forward for a second goal, I saw referee Lee Probert blow his whistle. Gregory, who had picked up a yellow in the first half for pulling on Stewart's shirt, had been whistled for the same infraction against Dunning. Though he fervently pleaded his case, Probert shook his head, and showed him a second yellow, then a red card! With 30 minutes to go, we had a man advantage, and I shouted encouragement to go get a second goal!

I brought in the more polished Andy Bishop and Danny Whitaker to replace Rawle and young Joe Foote, figuring both had served their purpose by running the defense raw. Still, it was the Canaries who pushed forward, generating several chances despite being a man down. In the 73rd minute, Ty Gooden made a great shot, which deflected off of Chris Clarke on its way to goal. Somehow, Stockdale reacted in time to push it across the goal mouth, straight to Oliver Berquez. Law again made a fantastic tackle in the six-yard box to protect the open goal, conceding a corner. I'd seen enough of the attacking formation, and told the lads to fall back, mind their defensive responsibilities and consolidate the lead.

Canvey Island reacted by switching to a 3-2-4, sending most of their available players forward and abandoning defense, but our line held strong, and the best of their chances resulted in shots that fortunately went high or wide. Finally, deep into injury time, they sent all 11 men forward, even the keeper, on a last-ditch corner kick. Defensive hero Law headed it clear, where Tappa Whitmore picked it up. Unable to find space to launch the long ball on the open net, he played it to Andy Bishop out on the left wing. Bishop's defender knew he had to prevent the shot, as the keeper sprinted backwards, which left him no choice but to let Bishop dribble unopposed into the corner. Rather than run out time, Bishop sent in the cross, which was headed back out of the box to Darren Dunning. Dunning fed it forward to Whitmore, unmarked at the penalty spot, and though the keeper had had a chance to get back to his line, he never had a chance. 2-0, and we were through to the Fifth Round!

Canvey Island 0, York 2

----; Rawle 5, Whitmore 90

MoM: Whitmore

Again the reggae beat of victory pounded through the clubhouse, and though I knew no names other than 'Bob Marley', who this certainly wasn't, even I found myself moving to the beat. Tappa Whitmore was again named Man of the Match by acclaim, with a '10' rating, though personally I was most impressed with right back Graeme Law, who had saved two sure goals. I hadn't been convinced Law could cut the grade when I first took over the team, but I was certainly convinced by his play.

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Tuesday, 8th February, 2005.

I was disappointed to see that Lancaster had been knocked out by non-conference opposition Gateshead, 0-1. I'd been secretly hoping to return to the Giant Axe with my new side, though I knew the fans wouldn't give me a warm reception.

There were only 16 teams left in the F.A. Trophy, 8 of them from the Conference, and the rest from lower divisions. I listened to today's draw with interest: we drew an away match against non-Conference side Colwyn Bay for the Fifth Round.

The Under-18 side drew 2-2 against Morecambe, wasting another goal by amateur James Smart and a late goal from fellow am Chris Simpson by conceding an equalizer in injury time. This put them two points clear of Scunthorpe with 5 youth matches to play.

I spent most of the week interviewing coach and scout candidates. Though I was getting a ton of resumes, it looks like most of the people I would consider 'competent' aren't interviewing for York City! I'd still like to poach either of my scouts from Lancaster, and bring them up the footballing ladder with me.

Tappa Whitmore - who would miss tomorrow's match for Jamaica's friendly against Cuba - was named to the Conference National Team of the Week for his two Man-of-the-Match performances.

I was lauded in the local press as "a genius" for picking him up so cheaply from Tranmere's discard pile. Isn't that a bit premature?

It remains to be seen how we'll do without him!

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Wednesday, 9th February, 2005. Conference National - Match 30, at Gravesend and Northfleet.

With two of my best players away on international duty, and two more injured, it was not an ideal time to draw the top team in the Conference, a side nominally our superiors to begin with.

I fielded the best XI available to me: Tony Caig in goal, Merris, Clarke, Davis, and Law across the back four, with Billy Manuel at defensive midfield. Bryan Stewart started at left wing, while young Alex Benjamin might be the weak link at right wing. Loanees Lee Morris and Danny Whitaker were paired in the attacking midfield role, with Andy Bishop up front at striker.

Gravesend is a port town, also out near the mouth of the Thames. If I'd realized that, I might have suggested we find somewhere to train down here, and save the long return trip!

The same strong wind was blowing in off the Channel, and it was cold and overcast, but at least the weather was dry. With a road match against a dangerous opponent, I'd reverted to the more conservative, defense-first orientation, while Gravesend came out with a dangerous 4-3-3.

With the wind at our backs, we built the first chance, with Stewart and Bishop teaming up to free Lee Morris in the box, but he fired wide. Both sides were tight at the back, and through the first twenty minutes, shots were fairly few and far between, though there were plenty of promising build-ups by both sides.

After Danny Whitaker's 20th minute shot went wide, Gravesend goalkeeper Paul Wilkerson looked to play the goal kick to left back Tom Davis. The strong wind brought the ball a bit short, allowing Morris to step in front of the defender, and head the ball upfield. Andy Bishop ran onto it with Lee Shearer trying to interpose himself, but Bishop dribbled around both Shearer and Wilkerson with a single turn, and buried it into an open net for a 1-0 York lead!

Gifted by that momentary lapse, we settled down to defend, and controlled the midfield through the remainder of the half. Just five minutes before the break, Shearer tried a long ball from central defense for Blair Sturrock down the Gravesend left wing. Graeme Law, beaten for once, scrambled back and got a head on it, wildly clearing it towards the center of the park, but over our back line and well out from goalkeeper Tony Caig. It made a perfect leading cross for Emmanuel Omoyinmi, who raced onto it, dribbled into the area, and slotted it home to level at 1-1.

It remained level through halftime, and for all the offensive firepower on the pitch, it was defensive errors which had led to the two goals. I reminded the lads of that, and predicted that the side which stayed error-free in the second half would take the points.

Omoyonmi nearly made it a brace just after the restart, but Caig made an acrobatic save to tip it over the bar. At the other end, despite going into the wind, we had two chances. The first came when Morris found Bryan Stewart in the box after a rebound, but the winger's half-volley was blocked out by Jay Saunders.

Ten minutes later, it was Stewart and Morris again. This time, Stewart gathered posession in the York half after a Gravesend attack, and played it to Morris. Morris looked up to spot Andy Bishop beginning a run, and launched a lovely ball over the top. Bishop broke clear of the defense, onside, and as Paul Wilkerson cheated off his line to get a few extra steps into a one-on-one, Bishop pulled up and chipped the ball over him to put us ahead 2-1!

Celebration was shortlived, as goal-spinning hero Morris was booked twice in three minutes, both times for tripping Tom Davis on plays out near midfield, hardly dangerous situations worth risking a card for. Referee Jim Hubbard wasted no time sending him off, and 3,991 Gravesend fans bayed for York blood.

I pulled Danny Whitaker off, meaning I had both my attacking midfielders out, and put in Gary Pearson as a second defensive midfielder alongside Billy Manuel, with Bishop now the only attacking threat.

It didn't seem to help, as Gravesend poured forward, with almost no threat of the counterattack to keep them honest. We got a heartstopper in the 75th minute as Tony Caig made the save, but it fell away from him, and he scrambled well wide of the net trying to recover it, eventually winding up to the left of the 6-yard box, with his goal wide open when Steve Jenkins helped it across the goal mouth. Nobody was there to apply the finish.

Finally, I knew I had to find a way to generate some hint of an offense, and I had just the weapon to do that: speedster Mark Rawle. He went in for Bishop, and the change was immediately obvious. After he forged two near chances, Gravesend resorted to keeping four defenders back to cover this solitary threat, and though he could not penetrate their net, it meant that their attacks were only six against nine, odds which worked out well to the defender.

Still, both sides had chances, and as injury time ticked away, Gravesend made one last bid, a 3-on-2 breakaway after a corner kick in their own zone. Tony Caig made the save, and at last I could celebrate a 2-1 victory!

I can remember it all as though in slow motion: Caig punted the ball back out into play, but it didn't clear the last attacker, substitute Tafazzul Islam, only 30 yards from goal. It came to him like a gift, and he dribbled into the area. Caig came out, but Islam nestled it into the tiny space available at the near post for a deep-in-injury time equalizer!!

I couldn't believe it, and the crowd's disbelieving roar covered the "IDIOT!" I yelled at my heartbroken keeper.

Gravesend 2, York 2

Omoyinmi 40, Islam 90; Bishop 21, 59

MoM: Wilkerson (Gravesend GK)

There was no celebratory music in the dressing room this evening, and absolutely nobody was speaking to the distraught goalkeeper.

I wanted to ask what he'd been thinking, and imagined hundreds of excuses for him. He'd forgotten that Gravesend were wearing our normal reds, and we were in blue. He'd heard a false full-time whistle from the crowd and thought the match was over. He'd been the victim of some James Bond villain's mind-control ray. Anything!

I alternated between raging against him, feeling sorry for him, and just wishing I could understand.

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Friday, 11th February, 2005.

The media was unforgiving.

Caig's egregious error conceded two hard-earned points which the team may well rue come April.

It has doubtless cost his teammates' trust, and Ian Richards would do well to send him back to Newcastle, and return to David Stockdale in goal. The youngster is certainly the future, and little good is done by keeping him in the Reserves at this stage of his career.

"I hope Tony hasn't seen this," I'd said to Viv, folding the paper and tossing it into the trash.

He wasn't our only keeper on bad form, though. David Stockdale conceded three in the the York Reserves' 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. A goal and an assist by the woeful Trevor Snowden came as a complete shock to the coaching staff, giving us an early lead, with amateur Ian Black scoring the second. It was Bournemouth striker Alan Connell who put on the show, however, with a hat trick over only ten minutes in the second half to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. He was certainly one to have a scout investigate further! Amateur David Yates notched a late equalizer for the 3-3 final.

The news came in from National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica: the Reggae Boyz had beaten Cuba 2-0, and our man Tappa Whitmore had come in as a second-half substitute, after the outcome was already decided. Our first international appearance! I was thrilled for him, though I'd hoped to have a victory of our own to report on his return.

John Fitzgerald had spent the entire match on the substitutes' bench as Ireland U-21's waltzed past Luxembourg, 4-0.

Before practice today, I finally learned what had happened to Tony Caig Wednesday night.

He, I, and coach John Richards sat down to discuss the incident. The wind, which had been blowing strong into our faces throughout the entire second half, had built into a near-gale by the end of the match. Tony had been looking over the top for left winger Bryan Stewart, but a powerful gust took it at least 25 yards off of his intended trajectory, and played it right to Islam.

With understanding comes forgiveness, and I tried to comfort him, but he was inconsolable. I could see from the bags under his eyes that it the lad had gotten no sleep the past two nights. He was still blaming himself for the loss of the points, and had replayed it over and over in his mind.

A keeper has to have a short memory - but I was left with a tough, tough decision: the disconsolate Caig or the promising David Stockdale for tomorrow's match at Bootham Crescent?

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Saturday, 12th February, 2005. Conference National - Match 31, Dagenham & Redbridge

I decided on Tony Caig - he needed a vote of confidence from his manager, and hopefully a match, any match, would help him to forget. The fans, memory of his game-costing gaffe fresh in their minds, booed him lustily when his name was announced over the loudspeaker.

For the rest of the lineup, Paul Parkin would give Merris a rest at left back, while John Fitzgerald's return would let me rest tired captain Steve Davis. Chris Clarke and Graeme Law would partner those two in the back line. Billy Manuel remained my defensive midfielder, with Kevin Donovan and Darren Dunning on the wings. Lee Morris had to miss the match due to suspension - its an automatic one-match ban for a red card - but Tappa Whitmore and Danny Whitaker were a more-than-capable pair of attacking midfielders in my view. I put the exciting Mark Rawle up front for the home fans, though I'd have the more consistent Andy Bishop available if needed.

I sent the lads out with orders to push up and play aggressively. "The steady rain will make for mistakes," I told them. "Take advantage."

The first mistake was ours. Glen Wilkie sent a long ball down the Dag & Red left wing, and Grame Law and Chris Moore chased after it. They both went down in a tumble on the edge of the box - both had been holding each other's jersey a bit, and it looked like they just intertwined legs, but the referee's assistant had the flag up. After consulting with him, Kevin Pike awarded a penalty!

If we'd had TV cameras, I didn't think the replays would show it had even happened in the box, and how could you decide which player to call the foul on? It was a harsh decision, but Moore showed no sign of mercy, and buried the spot kick to put us 0-1 down in the 2nd minute.

The next ten minutes were a veritable waste, with a few throw-ins but nothing dangerous. But with Mark Rawle on the field, we're always dangerous. Law dropped a header to Tappa Whitmore deep in his own zone. My Jamaican creative force strode forward through the rain, then played a delicious 40-yard ball over the top of the defense. Rawle split the two central defenders, running past them as though they were stuck in first gear, and buried the ball past the keeper to equalize 1-1 after only 13 minutes.

The same three players combined again on 27 minutes. This time, Wilkie made a long clearance from the visitor's zone, but Graeme Law, sneaking up the right side as I'd instructed, held the loose ball in their half. He dribbled around one man, then tried to launch a long ball to the far post. He overshot, and it looked certain to go out for a goal kick. Somehow, Whitmore ran it down, and, turning his back to the goal line, leapt in the hair to head it back into play as he tumbled across the by-line! It fell straight to Rawle at the penalty spot, and as half the defense had let up, thinking it was safe, Rawle was unmarked. He let it drop, used one touch of his right to settle, then buried it with his left foot! A nigh-on-to-miraculous goal to put us ahead 2-1 and send the 1,866 Minstermen faithful into a frenzy!!

I saw that goal happen, and I still don't believe it!!

Even harder to describe is the feeling of invincibility it gave us. From the moment Tappa and Rawle had joined the team, it seemed nobody could beat us. Certainly the crowd and our players believed so, and any doubters were appeased when Dag & Red broke off a 5-on-4 rush. Micky Preston sprang Matthew Judge into the box on the right side, but there was left back Paul Parkin, who made an inch-perfect tackle in the box to defuse the danger. No penalty for this tackle!

As it ticked towards half-time, I was content with the lead, but then Danny Whitaker picked out Rawle with a superb pass in the center of the pitch. This time, Rawle showed off his dribbling, making three men miss as he worked his way into the penalty area. From the corner of the 6-yard box he took a tight-angled shot, and somehow found the back of the net to complete his hat trick! 3-1!

The rain continued without pause, and it was a relief to get into the dry at the break. I was getting concerned with Danny Whitaker's inability to last 90 minutes, as again he looked fatigued. Well, it would give Bryan Stewart some playing time, and with a two goal lead, I pulled back to the conservative outlook for the second half.

Rawle came off to a standing ovation in the 60th minute, and Dagenham and Redbridge really weren't looking threatening any more. They played like a side that just wanted to get out of the cold and wet until the final ten minutes, when they started to push forward with a bit more enthusiasm.

We nearly dampened that, too, on a throw-in from their territory, where Whitmore played it through the box to right wing Marc Schofield - on as a substitute, out of position. Unmarked in the box, about 10 yards out, he hesitated too long, trying to set up the perfect shot, and didn't even get the shot off.

When the ref blew 90 minutes, the players ran for the dry sanctity of the tunnel - but the crowd, chanting his name, forced Rawle to go back out for a curtain call. A roar greeted him when he stepped out into the rain to give them a big wave.

York 3, Dagenham & Redbridge 1

Rawle 13, 27, 45; Moore pen 2

MoM: Rawle

The joyous reggae beat again sluiced through our locker room, and the jubilation was unbounded. Even the normally self-serving Mark Rawle passed the praise, saying he couldn't have done a thing without such great service.

He was, of course, Man of the Match for his hat-trick heroics, while the magnificent Tappa Whitmore hadn't scored a rating less than 9 since joining the side!

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Wednesday, 16th February, 2005.

I made time to see my neglected wife, leaving the club Saturday afternoon, and not returning until Tuesday afternoon's practice. She'd found a great bed and breakfast to 'get away' to for Valentine's Day, which we always celebrate in that fashion, and she made sure that we had no cell phone access. I didn't even pick up a sports page with breakfast!

Seriously, we had a fabulous time, and I won't tell you where save to remind you that Americans are always suckers for castles.

When I returned, of course, the standings were the first thing I checked. Almost all of the other top teams had won, but with eleven games to play, that had put us up to sixth, only 2 points behind 5th-placed Stevenage - the side with the best offense and worst defense in the Conference:

Pos Team        Pts   W  T  L   GD
1  Hereford     58  16 10  5  +21
2  Gravesend    56  15 11  5  +10
3  Halifax      52  14 10  7  + 2
4  Morecambe    51  13 12  6  + 9
5  Stevenage    49  16  1 14  + 7
6  York         47  13  8 10  + 7

Tappa Whitmore again won selection to the English Conference National Team of the Week, and I was surprised that Mark Rawle didn't. Perhaps his goal-less substitute appearance in the Wednesday game hurt him in the eyes of the voters?

In other good news, Leicester City have accepted our offer to extend the loan for Lee Morris through the end of the season, and the midfielder has agreed to stay on. He told me "I want to see it through to the end," which I could respect. I'd asked him to stay on because didn't want to break up a good thing, and with Nogan injured, it makes sense to keep one of my prolific attacking midfielders for as long as possible.

The deal did consume my final allocated loan of the season, which means that when Tony Caig's loan expires in March, we'll have to make do with the goalkeepers we have on hand.

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Thursday, 17th February, 2005.

With a full week off, I devoted myself to improving the training at the club, finally getting to watch each of my players' work habits and try to tailor the training to match their needs.

Young Steven Collins hurt himself in training, a groin strain which would rule him out until March, and might dent the Under-18's hopes of lifting their league trophy.

Wednesday afternoon, the Reserves hosted Morecambe at Bootham Crescent, and I managed from the touchline myself. It was a soggy mess, which they lost 0-1 without any standout players.

In the locker room afterwards some of the 17-year-olds whom I'd promoted to the Reserves approached me and petitioned to be added to the U-18 roster for the final five matches of the campaign. Considering how hard they've worked for that trophy, it seemed only fair to agree.

On the home front, Stacy's pretty much decided she's done being bored stiff, there's only so many times you can watch "Friends" - she's applying to get back into university.

She's got a Bachelor's, of course, from a small American college, and she had a good career in finance up until she agreed to move with me.

I've been feeling a bit of guilt about the changes she's had to live with, so I'm quite glad to see her reasserting herself.

A challenge will be good for her.

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Saturday, 19th February, 2005. Conference National - Match 32, vs Leigh RMI.

A home match against lowly Leigh RMI was something we needed to produce 3 points from, and for me personally, a chance to avenge their rude dismisall of Lancaster from the F.A. Cup while under my management earlier in the season. But I could not let that temptation lure me into using too many of my best players: we would face a much tougher challenge on Tuesday, a televised away match against first placed Hereford.

With that in mind, I sent out an under-strength side, with little changes from the previous Saturday and many big names reserved for the next match. Tony Caig was in goal, with Parkin, Clarke, Fitzgerald, and Law across the back to ensure that Merris and Davis were fit for the Hereford match. Kevin Donovan and Darren Dunning started on the wings, and crucially, I chose to rest the talismanic Tappa. Instead, I paired 16-year-old Joe Foote with Danny Whitaker in the attacking midfield positions, with Mark Rawle up front after his hat trick performance last week.

It was cold and raining, and last-placed Leigh drew a crowd of only 1,391 to Bootham Crescent. From their opening stance, it looked like they were in a 5-3-2 with the watchword 'defend'.

As expected, we got off to the better start, and 10 minutes in, Dunning put Rawle into the box. For the first time that I'd seen, Rawle made the unselfish play, laying it off for Joe Foote 16 yards from goal and out wide to the left. The youth launched a nice shot, but caught the side netting.

Ten minutes later, Foote returned the favor, launching a long ball over the defense which set Rawle free on one of his trademark runs, but his shot went sailing high over the bar. He wasn't the only one to miss - Danny Whitaker tried his luck from thirty yards at least three times that I remember, failing to put a single one on target.

It seemed that Leigh was content to do no more than defend. As halftime rolled around they'd had only a single shot, which Paul Parkin had blocked, but we'd had no more luck breaking down their defense than my Lancaster sides had earlier. At the intermission, it was still scoreless.

The only change I made was to reduce the number of long shots. Whitaker, in particular, fancies himself a rifleman, willing to shoot from anywhere, and I asked him to tone it down.

"Get inside their defense," I told them. "Then finish it off."

That didn't seem to work, either - we just didn't have the creativity to put any sort of danger ball in. By 60 minutes, when I still wasn't seeing the sort of offensive production I was used to, I turned to my substitutes' bench, bringing in Jamaican playmaker Tappa Whitmore for young Foote. The crowd greeted him with an enthusiastic roar.

The Leigh defense just tightened up - by this point they weren't even making a pretense of going forward, and the rain was a steady drumming that was reducing both side's mobility.

In particular, they did a good job marking Tappa out of the game entirely, using some form of double coverage to ensure that there was always one man between him and the ball, and another between him and the goal. That sort of blanket should have left a gap somewhere, but in the 4-5-1, we weren't able to find and exploit it.

When it was still scoreless at 80 minutes, I switched to the 3-5-2 variation, bringing on striker Andy Bishop for defender Paul Parkin.

Still nothing, and 3 minutes of injury time passed without a whisper to draw the match to a dreary, scoreless tie.

York 0, Leigh RMI 0

----; ----

MoM: Daniel (Leigh RMI MC)

Leigh's 19-year-old central midfielder Mario Daniel was named Man of the Match for helping keep us at bay, especially for his job marking Tappa, though I might have chosen any of their defenders, myself.

There was no satisfaction with the draw in our locker room, and I added to their embarrassment by lambasting them for their performance, calling it the worst I'd seen since taking over as manager. We had thoroughly outshot our opposition, but only 2 of our shots were sufficiently on target to force a save from the Leigh keeper.

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Monday, 21st February, 2005.

With just two days to prepare for a huge match, it was rest-on-Sunday, videos-on-Monday, with some light workout, mostly Pig-in-the-Middle, that sort of thing.

One thing you won't have gathered from my account so far is what a godsend Tappa Whitmore has been off the pitch as well as on. He's a cheerful presence, always happy, upbeat, and smiling - like a Jamaican Ronaldinho, his smile seems to light up the practice ground. Even after the frustration of the Leigh game, he was a positive inspiration to all.

Sunday, Liverpool chairman David Moores sacked Rafa Benitez. A bitterly disappointing season had seen Liverpool knocked out of the Champions League, and sitting all the way down in 13th place in the Premier League table, with only one game in hand. Chelsea were running away with it, 6 points clear, but Liverpool had been expected to challenge among the top four.

Rumour linked West Brom manager Gery Megson with the job, along with, notably, Kevin Keegan. I smiled to myself, thinking how much my former Lancaster players must be in a tizzy over the news.

We had a bit of good news, ourselves. Today, both Levent Yalcin and Lee Morris returned to the practice pitch for their first gentle workouts. Neither is anywhere near ready to put into a match, but they should both be by sometime in March.

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Tuesday, 22nd February, 2005. Conference National - Match 33, at Halesowen

I selected nearly my first-choice XI for the televised match against league leaders Halesowen. Tony Caig was again in goal, with Dave Merris, John Fitzgerald, captain Steve Davis, and Graeme Law across the back four. Billy Manuel took the defensive midfield role, with Bryan Stewart on the left wing. On the right, young Alex Benjamin would get only his fourth start. Danny Whitaker and 'Tappa' Whitmore took the creative attacking midfield positions, with Andy Bishop at the fore.

On the road, against quality opposition, I told them to be very conservative: defense first, but that they could go forward if they saw the opportunity.

It was raining, a driving rain, but a crowd of 3,858 were undeterred, out to watch their heroes take one step closer to the League. They got an early scare when Tappa Whitmore's pinpoint pass from midfield sprung Andy Bishop into the box. The team's leading scorer went one-on-one with Hereford keeper Jonathan Brian , getting just far enough around him to get the shot off, but it rolled inches wide of the far post.

A minute later, Bryan Stewart had to be carted off the field after a hard tackle by Hereford midfielder Robert Purdie; I brought Marc Schofield on in his stead.

The remainder of the first half was a constant fencing battle, defensive, with neither side willing to expose itself and so taking few risks. It was played primarily along the sidelines, with numerous throws. Bishop put another shot wide on 40 minutes, and in injury time, Whitmore fed Whitaker, who played it ahead to Bishop. This time his shot was on target, but Brian kept it in play, and his defense cleared the rebound.

At halftime, I told the lads to keep up the good work. Though it was slow going, it looked like we'd been in control more than Hereford in the first half, and I would make no changes. At 50 minutes, we had a gorgeous buildup: Benjamin on the right wing squared it to Whitaker, who switched it over to Schofield on the left wing. Schofield worked a one-two with Andy Bishop that left his marker for dead on the wet surface, and then crossed it over to Tappa Whitmore on the right side. He'd who timed his run perfectly to slip behind the defense, and launched a great shot, but somehow Brian made the save. The Jamaican stared dumbfounded; he'd been sure that he'd scored!

There was no lucky escape for the keeper at 57 minutes, though: Danny Whitaker was in the box, back to goal and looking for anybody to pass to, when Mark Peters stuck out his leg and brought him down. Referee Ben Butler awarded the penalty, and a yellow card for good measure. Veteran left back Dave Merris stepped up, and buried it to the left side. 1-0 York, and the sizable crowd were silent.

By six minutes later, they were on their feet and going crazy. First, on their possession from the kickoff, Hereford wound up with left back Mark Robinson slowly dribbling it forward, about 40 yards from goal and near the sideline. He spotted the run of substitute Danny Carey-Bertram into the box, and launched a long pass. Tony Caig came out to play the man instead of the ball, and when Carey-Bertram misjudged it, so did he! It bounced once, then it was in the back of the net for a lucky goal!! The scores were level at 1-1, but Hereford weren't done yet.

On 63 minutes, left wing Ross McLeod took it around young Benjamin, and sent a cross in for Carey-Bertram about 15 yards from goal. Originally unmarked, the 20-year-old striker took too long to settle it, letting Graeme Law close and slide through his legs. No whistle, and the ball skittered across the wet surface, out of the box. It was teed up perfectly for midfielder Jamie Pitman, nearly centered in the pitch, with nobody between him and goal, and 20 yards out. He struck it left footed, and a more beautiful curling shot you'll not see in Conference play: Caig had no chance. In just six minutes, Hereford had gone from trailing to a 1-2 lead!

The fans were going wild, as you might expect, and it was tough for the players to hear my shouted instructions, but the hand gestures for 'press forward' are pretty clear. Hereford fell back into a defensive stance, and they are tough to break down; the rain wasn't making it any easier.

We were getting nowhere, until at 78 minutes, I made my final throw of the dice. Mark Rawle came on for Dave Merris as we went to the 3-5-2 formation to push for the equalizing goal. It looked a treat on 87 minutes, when we had a huge rush, maybe 6 on 3, and when Rawle's pass put Bishop into the box with the last defender, I expected him to cut it back for the unmarked Tappa Whitmore, but instead Bishop let loose an embarassing effort, weak and well wide.

The Hereford offsides trap was working to perfection, and we were whistled numerous times during those final minutes and, as injury time slipped away, I was more and more certain of defeat. Finally, in the dying minutes of injury time, Bishop spotted Rawle on a run. They timed it perfectly, and his lifted pass over the defense put Rawle free. With a perfect pass, he might have had a chance, but it was off to the left, which let Mark Peters get back to defend. Rawle dribbled around him, but the defender did enough to put him off, and Rawle's shot went wide as well. I knew that signalled the end, and the referee's whistle confirmed it seconds later.

Hereford 2, York 1

Robinson 59, Pitman 63; Merris pen 57

MoM: Fitzgerald

It was a glum locker room, and though I tried to tell them that there was no shame in losing to the first-placed side, I knew that the combination of conceding a lead here plus failing to score against a weak Leigh side might have disastrous consequences for morale.

John Fitzgerald had been a rock in central defense, winning every tackle he attempted, and making numerous headed clearances, several at key times. Neither goal had been his fault by any stretch, and he earned Man of the Match honors.

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Thursday, 24th February, 2005.

It had to end sometime - but now it seemed the honeymoon was over. The gaffe at Gravesend, the scoreless drear against Leigh, and now the second-half collapse at Halesowen seemed to have taken the shine off of the promising spring which our January transfers had so tantalizingly hinted at.

"These are the times that test your mettle, lads," I told them. "Determination and hard work will out, if you only believe in yourself."

Tony Robbins I'm not - Wednesday's practice looked pretty miserable, and with a cold wet rain falling, today's was not much better.

The local media was abuzz with the news that former York boss Chris Brass was finally hired Wednesday, after nearly two months out of work, at Wetherby Road, by local rivals Harrogate Town - just up the road from York. Ironically, they were placed 15th in the Conference North, so after being fired for 15th-placed performance, he gets to pick up right where he left off. I offered him a few of my unwanted players, in the faint hope that he'd liked them better than I had.

Today's news was much bigger nationally: Kevin Keegan of Manchester City was awarded the vacant Liverpool managerial position. Though this was universally considered a step up the managing ladder, he actually stepped down in the Premier League standings, abandoning a 9th place side to join one struggling at 13th. He'll have no shot at a Champions League place, and with only ten matches left in his season has lots of work to do to salvage even a UEFA Cup qualifying position. He'll definitely need the revenues from Europe next season. His first match in charge was a 2-1 UEFA Cup victory in Copenhagen this evening which saw his new side advance 5-1 on aggregate against FC København.

Champions League results were in: the first leg of the first knockout round. Arsenal, at home, hammered Valencia 3-0, while Manchester United were never troubled by Werder Bremen, winning 4-0 at Old Trafford. Top-of-the-Premireship Chelsea were beaten 0-2 in Barcelona, while Celtic were pounded in Italy 0-4 by Inter Milan.

Not that I'd gotten to watch much of it: I'd been put to work around the house, unpacking "my" things, which were still in boxes, as Stacy had already finished her half.

In York news, the Reserve side Wednesday was very sparse - primarily amateur - as all the youngsters were focused on Under-18 glory. It was mildly notable that goalkeeper Chris Porter got his first match action of my tenure. An odd match saw two first-half penalties awarded, one to each team. Veteran left back Shaun Smith, due to transfer at season's end, converted the first one for York, while Porter amazingly saved Yeovil's effort. That was the difference, as the Reserves won 1-0.

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Saturday, 26th February, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Fifth Round, at Colwyn Bay.

An F.A. Trophy tie against lower-division Welsh side Colwyn Bay was an opportunity either to stop the rot, or rest my regulars. Instead, I tried to balance a tightrope between the two, and ran out half my 'B' squad side-by-side with the regulars.

David Stockdale started in goal for the ineligible Cain, Paul Parkin and Chris Clarke joined Fitzgerald and Law in the back line, and Gary Pearson took on defensive midfield duties. Kevin Donovan and Darren Dunning had the wings, with Danny Whitaker and Theodore Whitmore at attacking midfield. I figured the speedy Mark Rawle would prove a handful up front, and with Bishop, Manuel and a recovering Morris on the bench, I had depth to spare.

Colwyn Bay is a picturesque little town on the north shore of Wales, which made it a bit of a drive from York, and it seemed like half the townsfolk had turned out to watch the match - which made an audience of 2,198 screaming Welshmen. It was surprisingly warm, and the sun shone out over the Irish Sea through patches of cloud.

To nobody's surprise, Colwyn Bay came out working hard, and they gave as good as they got in the first ten minutes. I wasn't too worried when they earned a 12th-minute corner kick, but captain Robbie Williams slipped free of John Fitzgerald's mark, and climbed into the air unopposed about 8 yards out from goal. His header had the look of a world-class superstar, and just that quickly we were down 0-1.

The crowd, hoping for a 'giant-killing' - if our Conference National side can be a 'giant' - were delirious. Their incessant cheering kept their side motivated and aggressive, and we were lucky not to go two down in the 28th minute when striker David Nottage got free in the 6-yard-box. I thought he was offsides, but no whistle blew, and only a spectacular fingertip save by David Stockdale kept us in the match.

We got ours back two minutes later, when Darren Dunning launched a 40-yard-pass into the box for the sprinter, Mark Rawle. The keeper froze, paralyzed on his line, letting Rawle try to control it with his first touch at the 6 yard box. At that pace, he couldn't quite, but he knocked it goalward, and it struck the post. As the keeper dove towards the post, the ball rolled across the mouth of the goal, and Rawle was able to tap it in. It was a bizarre goal - it looked like he'd worked a give-and-go with the post! - but every goal counts, and we were level 1-1.

About five minutes before the half, Dean Williams beat Chris Clarke, getting free in the box, and only our good fortune saw his half-volley from 8 yards out sail over the bar. That took us through halftime, where I made a minor change to shore up the defense. Unhappy with Clarke's play, I pulled him off, moved Gary Pearson into the back line, and brought Billy Manuel in at defensive mid.

That shored things up a bit, but Colwyn Bay continued to press into the second half, and we weren't getting forward much. Our best shot was Kevin Donovan's on 65 minutes, when Rawle sprang him into the box with a long side-switching ball. From 10 yards out, Donovan hit the post, and the keeper pushed the rebound clear.

In the final fifteen minutes, you would have been hard-pressed to identify us as the Conference side. We'd abandoned all pretense of an attacking shape, and the Welshmen surged forward in wave after wave. The crowd were as raucous as they'd been in goal celebration - are all Welshman that loud?!

Solid defensive play limited their opportunities, and David Stockdale proved up to anything that they could put on target, but there were a few heartstopping moments. Four minutes of injury time passed breathlessly, and we felt lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw and a replay when the ref blew for full time.

Colwyn Bay 1, York 1

Williams 13; Rawle 30

MoM: Williams (Colwyn Bay MC)

The Welsh side and their captain, Man of the Match Robbie Williams were cheered off the field by their adoring fans, and surely they deserved it: they'd worked hard all match and shown no intimidation. They'd have to come to Bootham Crescent for a replay on Wednesday, and I wouldn't make the mistake of giving them a 'B' side in the rematch.

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Sunday, 27th February, 2005.

The headline news today was the League Cup Final, where the ultimate Cinderella story played out!

Stoke City, a side battling against relegation from the Championship, had managed the improbable: qualifying for Europe!!

Their opponents, Manchester City, had been the heavy favorites, as a solid mid-table Premier League club, and the prospect of European play had both sides fielding full-strength lineups. The relegation battlers were outclassed individually, but showed a much better understanding of the team concept than their regarded opposition, and battled to a 2-1 victory on teamwork and heart.

One can only wonder how much the departure of Kevin Keegan hurt City's cohesion .. but what a day for the Potters and their fans! And what a windfall for their coffers!

I missed the match, unfortunately - I hadn't expected it to be close, to be honest, and had still had too much unpacking to do. I think after a full day's work today, we're finally unpacked, and settled in our third domicile of the past seven months.

I did, however, check in on our Under-18s. In a side full of professionals, it was amateur substitute James Smart who scored the only goal - and the youth side had pulled off the free kick trick which our senior side does so well! A 1-0 victory over Halifax U-18's, and they were 3 points clear with four games to play - though 3rd placed Macclesfield was only 3 points behind with a match in hand, and so could stand even with us after their next match.

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Tuesday, 1st March, 2005.

The board of directors remained confident and upbeat at this month's meeting. I received a lot of acclaim for the addition of Tappa Whitmore, who was named English Conference Player of the Month for February! The board were quite happy to have an international player on the side again after the recent drought.

There was also celebration over Andy Bishop's second goal against Gravesend back on the 9th being named English Conference Goal of the Month!

Chief Financial Officer Sophie McGill did soberly point out that with Whitmore and Rawle on the books, we're now almost 20% over our wage budget, and the team has lost £325,000 this year, leaving us just over £30,000 in the bank. I couldn't tell her I was hoping for end-of-year revenues to pull us out of that tailspin.

Then we gathered around the radio for the FA Trophy Sixth Round draw. With only 8 'balls' left in the hopper (though 13 teams, as five of the 8 games had been tied), we were fifth drawn, a home match: "Colwyn Bay or York versus Farsley".

In other news, I've arranged our first summer transfer. Basingstoke goalkeeper Mark Zawadski first caught my eye with a phenomenal performance in the F.A. Trophy while I was at Lancaster.

Dave Colley agreed that, though he's 25, he's sill a player with some potential. "Goalkeepers peak late," he reminded me.

I offered Zawadksi a contract as a theoretical replacement for Chris Porter, though I still haven't found any takers for Porter's salary, and he put pen to paper yesterday.

On the physical front, although Mark Rawle had played the entire second half of the away match with a strained neck, the doctors prescribed a week's rest, and that meant he wouldn't be available for the replay.

Central defender Chris Clarke would also miss the match, having picked up enough yellow cards that he was suspended for one match.

At least Levent Yalçin was back in full training, after missing a month. Though I couldn't imagine him being fully match fit, I decided to select him to the substitute's bench.

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Wednesday, 2nd March, 2005. FA Trophy - Round 5 Replay, vs Colwyn Bay.

Before we could worry about Farsley, we would have to take care of business against Colwyn Bay. The Welsh side had been very hard-working and aggressive in the opening match, and I fielded the best lineup I could against them.

David Stockdale was in goal again, as Cain remained ineligible for Cup games. From left to right, the back line was my usual quartet of Merris, Davis, Fitzgerald, and Law. Billy Manuel came on at defensive midfield, with Donovan on the right and Bryan Stewart on the left. Up front, Lee Morris would partner Whitmore, and leading scorer Andy Bishop would be the striker.

I came out with one wrinkle for the upcoming match. Again, I used the 4-5-1 in its 'pushing forward' configuration, but this time I turned Tappa Whitmore loose in a free role as a 'playmaker'.

A steady rain had been falling all day, and was still coming down at kick-off, and with a Wednesday afternoon start time, we'd drawn a fairly small crowd of 1,231. They would get quite a show, however!

Right from the off, we were the pressing, attacking side, and on 8 minutes, had earned our first corner kick. Lee Morris took it, and rather than bomb it into the 6-yard box, he cut it out and relatively short, to Kevin Donovan, who had come towards him. About fifteen yards from goal, and well to the left of the near post, Donovan turned with one touch, and launched a left-footed blast which careened through the mass of players milling in front of goal, and nestled into the back of the net. His first ever goal for York, and it had given us a 1-0 advantage!

I let the lads continue to press, and merely four minutes later, after a weak clearance left us with players in the box, Billy Manuel set our offense, and sprayed it out left to Bryan Stewart. Stewart sent in the cross, and though there were six blue jerseys within about 2 yards of him, somehow Morris rose above them all and headed home from the six-yard box! He was having a dream return to the lineup, with a goal and an assist already, and it was 2-0!

Colwyn Bay were starting to get frustrated, and let it show by picking up a pair of yellow cards. Another corner kick at 27 mintues, and this time it was Manuel who rose above the defenders, but somehow Colwyn Bay keeper Matthew Parry made the save.

Five minutes later, he was not so lucky. Tappa Whitmore took yet another corner, and this one was straight to Morris with space about 12 yards out. He blasted a scorching shot on goal, but it carombed off of defender Paul Roberts. Like a pinball, it bounced off several players, but then it fell in front of John Fitzgerald. Merely 4 yards from goal, he poked it home, and that was his first for the Minstermen as well. 3-0, and only 32 minutes in!

I was quite content to take that lead to halftime, but in injury time, Manuel launched a beautiful long ball down the left wing. Stewart ran it down, and sent in a wicked cross. Andy Bishop was there, having lost his marker, and he had time to use his first touch to control the cross about 8 yards out, and the hapless Parry had no chance when he took the shot. 4-0, and the crowd were going wild!!

I had never presided over such an offensive explosion, and I was stunned: I'd played the same formation against them on the road, to a 1-1 draw.

Colwyn Bay were clearly demoralized, trudging into the locker room. With a four goal lead, I told the lads they could stop pushing forward, and just concentrate on defense. 4-0 would do, and there was no need to embarrass the Welsh side any further. I also took the opportunity to make some second half substitutions: Stewart and Morris would come off after great performances to give Alex Benjamin and Danny Whitaker some work. At about 53 minutes, I brought on Levent Yalçin for Bishop to get him some match fitness as he recovers from his injury.

Despite my mercy instructions, on 63 minutes, Yalçin launched a cross into the box. Welsh midfielder Chris Edge headed it clear, but it fell right to Benjamin just outside the box. He launched a 20-yard laser strike which Parry could only just get a finger to, but couldn't keep out of the net. 5-0, and the rout was truly on. Would you believe that was Benjamin's first goal for York?

I'd hoped to preserve the shutout, and was already imagining how good '5-0' would look on my 'biggest victories' cabinet, and my defense must have let their thoughts wander similarly, because they let the Welsh side build up an attack. Several attempted clearances got nowhere, and finally it was Paul Wilson who took the shot. Captain Steve Davis blocked it, but the ball rolled out to the top of the box, where Phil Johnson blasted a curling 18-yarder. It was their first shot on target, and so must have caught Stockdale by surprise, for it got past him to make it 5-1. Ironically, at this point, it was Johnson's first goal for Colwyn Bay!

Five minutes later, Manuel took a free kick about forty yards from goal. He sent it into the box for Tappa, 16 yards out with his back to goal. The Jamaican star made an absolutely sick turn, leaving Chris Roberts sliding through the mud without laying a boot on him, and launched a curling 18-yarder which hit the right post and caromed just barely across the line. Somehow it had gone in, and his favoured reggae began blaring from the loudspeakers! 6-1!

The scoring wasn't yet over - in the 87th minute, Colwyn Bay got some measure of respect by beating our defense yet again. This time, it was a cross from Steve Jones which caught Graeme Law trying to cover two men on the right side. That trick never works, and this time it was David Nottage who made us pay, rising above him to head home from close range. That would make the final score, at 6-2.

York 6, Colwyn Bay 2

Donovan 8, Morris 12, Fitzgerald 32, Bishop 45, Benjamin 63, Whitmore 83; Johnson 77, Nottage 87

MoM: Manuel

Ahh, the sweet sounds of reggae blasted through the locker room as the side celebrated again!

The six goal outburst was the most one of my teams had ever tallied, and to have the goals come from six different scorers made it all the more sweet: Three of them had just opened their tally for York!

How one could chose a Man of the Match from thirteen excellent performances, I may not know, but defensive midfielder Billy Manuel was the selection.

In fact, the only player who had played poorly was young netminder David Stockdale, who had faced just three shots, and stopped only one. I made sure to buck him up after, remembering what a poor morale he had been in coming in.

"Keep your chin up, lad. Tony Caig goes back to Newcastle on the eighteenth, and I'm expecting you to carry the starting job the rest of the way.

"Its your chance to impress: do well, and you'll be staking claim to the starter's role for next year, too."

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Friday, 4th March, 2005.

"See! I told you that free role was going to unlock the offense!"

John Richards was ecstatic at the six-goal bonanza. So were we all, I think, but it had been his idea.

Viv settled us. "Sure, it worked once when it was unexpected. Colwyn Bay had no idea what hit 'em. But you think Scarborough didn't have a scout there to watch what we were doing?

"I do think we should keep Tappa in the playmaker role, though."

"I liked that, too," I answered, "But I'm inclined to keep the free role too, at least until somebody shows they've figured out how to stop it."

. . .

I was confronted by the press for the first time today. Apparently Scarborough manager Nick Henry had declared that his team would be "going all-out for victory" against York tomorrow, as "There is nothing more satisfactory than getting a good result over our rivals."

I offered little to the gathered media, despite the rivalry between the team.

"We'll do all our talking on the pitch," I think was the most memorable quote from the lot.

However, I had the same questions the press did: could we do it again?

Did this signal a new era in York, or was it an aberration?

Had I been a tactical genius in naming Theodore Whitmore to the 'playmaker' role, or was that just a fortuitous coincidence?

Could this side continue to compete once our loans expired?

Were we really promotion candidates this year, or should I just be satisfied with the turnaround that had made relegation-battling a distant memory in only two months?

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Saturday, 5th March, 2005. Conference National - Match 34, vs Scarborough.

With only eight fixtures left in the schedule, we lay 10th, but only 5 points abaft of the 5th-place playoff spot. Our rivals Scarborough were down in 18th, merely 2 points clear of relegation.

Scarborough is a coastal town just up the A64 east-north-east of York, and our natural rivals in the Conference. It had rained almost constantly since Wednesday, and the pitch was quite thoroughly waterlogged despite the best efforts of the grounds crew. Still, 2,201 fans were excited enough by our victory and the prospect of a derby to brave the rain and attend.

There were quite a number of changes in my lineup, as two days off had hardly been sufficient to recover from the exciting mid-week match. Tony Caig returned in goal, though he appeared demoralized in practice this week - he knows as well as anyone that his time at Bootham Crescent is coming to a close.

Paul Parkin would make a spot start at left back, with Davis, Fitzgeralnd, and an exhausted Graeme Law finishing out the back four. Gary Pearson would replace Man-of-the-Match Manuel at defensive midfield, while Alex Benjamin and Darren Dunning would take over at the wings. Danny Whitaker replaced Whitmore alongside Lee Morris at attacking midfield, while Andy Bishop remained the starting striker.

The first half seemed a battle of corner kicks: any time either side had posession deep, a defender would put it out for a corner - both sides in fact saw series of corners in a row, each resulting in another corner. By 21 minutes in, I had noticed that Lee Morris was playing with a bit of a limp, and I was discussing with Viv whether or not we should take him off, when Paul Parkin fell to the pitch. He'd been dribbling up the left sideline when Jacob Burns, on loan to Scarborough from Barnsley, hustled over. Using his left arm, he nearly turned Parkin around as he stabbed his left leg in front of Parkin's thigh. The Scottish back fell heavily, and lay in the mud in pain, clutching his face. Mild-mannered ref Keith Wilkinson merely blew the whistle for obstruction!

Sending defensive midfielder Billy Manuel in at left back was not my favorite plan, and it also made me feel uncomfortable about bringing Morris off to evaluate his injury.

The soggy match continued scoreless through halftime, though Whitaker clipped the bar on a header from one of our many corner kicks, and Andy Bishop nearly scored with a header on Graeme Law's cross.

I had physio Jeff Miller examine Morris at halftime, and he pronounced him fit to go back out, though I worried, and decided to give him only 8 to 12 minutes of the second half.

Just barely into the second half, Morris earned a throw-in deep in Scarborough territory on our left side. Manuel came up to take it, and placed it at the feet of left wing Darren Dunning. Dunning fed it back to Manuel, and the experienced midfielder sent a cross into the box. Four players were jockeying for position, and a stricter ref might have whistled any of the four for pushing off, but no whistle blew. It was Bishop who reached the end of the cross, with a diving header which sailed cleanly into the back of the net. The crowd voiced their approval: 1-0!!

Our leading scorer had now tallied fifteen, and that let me bring Morris off for Tappa Whitmore, and I switched to a defensive style. Now the steadily-increasing rain became our ally, as Scarborough could barely seem to advance through it. Our determined defense held firm, giving little window of opportunity.

More than one ball splashed to a halt in the heavy standing water, and it is perhaps best personified by action in the 82nd minute, when defender Luke Middleton launched a beautiful long ball into our territory. Striker Steve Burton had split our defenders, and the ball looked to lead him perfectly.. until it bogged down in the mud literally at his feet. Burton tripped over it, the stoppage was so unexpected, and though he managed to get a shot off, it was weak and wide.

My only concern late in the match was how exhausted Danny Whitaker had become: he clearly lacked anywhere near the stamina required to last a full ninety minutes, especially slogging through the mud, but I'd not had another midfielder to replace him with.

York 1, Scarborough 0

Bishop 48; ----

MoM: Burns (Scarborough MR)

It wasn't six goals, but it was a win, and again the reggae played over the loudspeakers as the ref blew full time, though honestly in the locker room, every player was more interested in a hot shower than in celebration.

I was unimpressed when I learned that hitman Jacob Burns had earned Man of the Match honors: after his brutal 'obstruction' of Paul Parkin, I thought he should have been ejected, not lauded.

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Tuesday, 8th March, 2005.

The win had lifted us to ninth, two points away from the playoff spot, and with a game on hand over most of the intervening sides. Honestly, however, from 5th to 13th, there were nine teams within five points of that spot.

   Team        Pts    W   D   L   GD   GP
1 Hereford     65   18  11   5  +25  (34)
2 Gravesend    61   16  13   5  +12  (34)
3 Halifax      59   16  11   8  + 3  (35)
4 Exter        58   17   7  11  +14  (35)
5 Barnet       53   14  11  10  + 9  (35)
6 Stevenage    53   17   2  16  + 6  (35)
7 Morecambe    52   13  13   8  + 5  (34)
8 Carlisle     52   13  13   9  + 0  (35)
9 YORK         51   14   9  11  + 7  (34)
10 Burton       50   13  11  11  + 8  (35)

Fans of Conference football were getting quite a run-in! Our fans could take some delight that our victory had dropped Scarborough down into the relegation zone.

Left back Paul Parkin had dislocated his jaw, which would keep him out through the end of March or thereabouts, while physio Jeff Miller also recommended that Steve Davis be given a week's rest.

Lee Morris's injury turned out to be minor, a twisted ankle which was responding nicely to treatment. He would be in better shape by mid-week than the exhausted Whitaker would.

Player/coach Lee Nogan worked out for the first time today. The forward has been struggling with a hip injury since early January, and his 'work out' consisted of some very light passing and jogging, but its a step towards returning to the pitch. Physio Jeff Miller thinks he's on track to return by the first of April.

The Reserve side, playing the first of two matches in two days, faced Leigh RMI reserves today. I fielded a very weak side, containing none of the 'young stars' I planned to use the following day. They played as you'd expect a side starring Trevor Snowden to: in a dreary, soggy match punctuated only by off-target shooting, we drew 0-0.

In other news, my old side, Lancaster, have appointed a manager: like me, another unknown, 38-year-old Micky Engwell. I was disappointed that my old assistant Kevin Hull hadn't gotten the shot, but under his leadership the side had lost their last five straight, and eight of the previous ten. It sounded like he had abandoned the 4-5-1 to go to his preferred 4-4-2, and so the 'gutting' of the central midfield which I had performed had left him woefully undermanned.

At any rate, it is Engwell's first major management position: he hasn't even served as a coach or assistant anywhere, so I'll be watching with interest.

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Thank you! I'm glad I decided he and I got along then - can't afford to alienate a reader! icon_biggrin.gif

Reading about why he was brought to York got me thinking about how nice it would have been had he could play a guiding role in-game.

IRL Brass was sacked in November, not December, and Viv took over York for some three months before giving way to current manager Billy McEwan.

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Wednesday, 9th March, 2005. Conference National - Match 35, at Farnborough.

Farnborough is a bit west of London, which made for a fairly long mid-week drive. At least the weather was dry - it was still raining up in York, so that was a bit of a relief. They were 13th in the table, not exactly easy, but a winnable match - especially as I fielded the strongest eleven who were fit to take the field.

Caig remained in goal, with Dave Merris returning at left back. 17-year-old Michael Staley made only his fourth start of the year in central defense, alongside John Fitzgerald. Ironman Graeme Law started again at right back, with veteran Billy Manuel back in the defensive midfield role. Kevin Donovan and Bryan Stewart remained paired on the wings, while Tappa Whitmore returned to partner Lee Morris behind striker Andy Bishop.

Tappa sparked some early excitement, launching two strong shots from 18 yards out in the first ten minutes. The first went narrowly over, while the other was saved by Farnborough keeper Craig Holloway.

On fifteen minutes, however, Farnborough right back Ben Townsend launched a long pass upfield, where striker Lloyd Blackman leaped above young Michael Staley. He was 22 yards out, and his header knocked it on goal. Tony Caig, who had been rushing out to collect the pass, was utterly stranded and could only watch in despair. Just that quickly, we trailed 0-1.

We replied six minutes later, with Lee Morris launching a long pass up the left sideline. Andy Bishop ran it down, and then sent a cross all the way beyond the goal to Kevin Donovan, who had somehow snuck into the box unmarked at the far post. From the corner of the 6-yard box, he settled it, and coolly slipped it past Holloway to equalize, 1-1 at 21 minutes.

Shortly thereafter, Morris' low pass sprang Bishop free in the box, but his shot from 10 yards clanged off the crossbar. Tappa nearly got there for the rebound, but it was cleared away by defenseman Lee Miles. Farnborough followed with a breakaway eerily similar to our own goal-scoring opportunity earlier, with Tony Taggart up the left wing, and sending a cross in for Lee Riddell, unmarked at the far post. Riddell's shot was abysmally wide.

Farnborough definitely had the better pressure as the first half drew to a close, and Staley redeemed his earlier mistake by clearing a dangerous rebound from the 6-yard box on 37 minutes.

In injury time of the first half, Farnborough earned a corner. They played it short, and back to corner-taker Stephen Hughes, who launched it into the box. Miles was there, unmarked about 10 yards out, and he headed home from that range to send us into the break trailing 1-2.

Farnborough came out more defensively minded in the second half, while I kept the aggressive tactic we'd started the match with. It wasn't as successful against their defense, generating few chances until the 60th minute, when Billy Manuel launched a long pass. Andy Bishop outran their defenders to earn a one-on-one with Holloway - but the keeper proved up to the task, stopping his shot cold.

As the match progressed, I made progressively more aggressive changes, bringing on Whitaker for Morris and Benjamin for Donovan to see if fresh legs would help, and then changing to a 3-5-2 by pulling the fatigued Grame Law for Levent Yalçin. The young Turk didn't help up front, but with one less defenseman, we were vulnerable at the back, which Farnborough exploited in injury time.

Substitute Joe Austin had the ball near midfield, and three York players challenged him. He beat them all, sending a low pass forward to fellow substitute Jermaine Hamilton. One touch from the 20-year-old striker beat John Fitzgerald, and he was free in the box. He easily slotted it home past Caig, and made the final score 1-3.

Farnborough 3, York 1

Blackman 15, Miles 45, Hamilton 90; Donovan 21

MoM: Hughes (Farnborough MC)

It was a rough day: nobody on our side had played well, but goalkeeper Tony Caig had played worst of all. With his loan about to expire, and David Stockdale in much better form and morale, I decided that I would make the switch for Saturday's match rather than waiting for Caig's loan to expire.

Farnborough's Stephen Hughes, with an assist on one goal and solid play in midfield, earned Man of the Match accolades.

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Thursday, 10th March, 2005.

My decision to change goalkeepers was solidified when I learned that David Stockdale had earned Man of the Match honours back in York during the Reserve's 2-0 victory over Scunthorpe Reserves yesterday. I'd had John Richards start all of our top young players for that one, a much stronger side than that of the day before. Striker Robbie Haw scored one goal in the first half, before giving way to Mark Rawle midway through the second half. Rawle, in rehabilitation action as he recovered from his neck injury, added the second just minutes after taking the field.

In Champions League action, the second leg of the first knockout round was completed yesterday. Celtic was formally eliminated by Inter Milan with a 2-1 defeat for a 6-1 aggregate.

Chelsea, at home but trailing 2-0 to Barcelona, conceded three goals in the first fifteen minutes to put the outcome beyond doubt, though they did score 2 second half goals to make it a 3-2 final, 5-2 on aggregate.

Arsenal beat Valencia 1-0 to advance on a 4-0 aggregate, while Manchester United rested their star players, taking a 2-0 loss to Werder Bremen but advancing on a 4-2 aggregate score.

FC Bayern München eliminated Spanish giants Real Madrid with a 2-0 win (3-1), while Ajax drew with Roma 2-2, defeating the Italian club on away goals (2-2). A.C. Milan overcame a 2-0 loss to Turkish side Fenerbahce in the first leg with a powerful 5-0 thrashing at home, for a 5-2 aggregate, while Juventus also advanced to the round of eight after a 4-0 win over Swiss side Basel.

Not only were the three Italian giants - Inter, Milan, and Juve - through to the Quarter-Finals, they're locked in a titanic three-way battle for the Serie A. Juventus stand top of the table, but both of the Milanese sides are within six points of the lead, with key matches against Juve in the final weeks.

For us, it was another trip south, to face the Canaries of Canvey Island.

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Saturday, 12th March, 2005. Conference National - Match 36, at Canvey Island

This was our second visit to Park Lane in just over a month - we'd won the previous match 2-0 in the FA Trophy. Canvey Island is situated on the north bank of the Thames, near the river's mouth, and last time there had been a heavy wind blowing, but there was almost no wind this time.

Despite the defeat the previous week, morale was still fairly high, and with a full week off until our next match, I started some players who really could have used a rest. David Stockdale replaced Caig in goal, as promised, with Dave Merris, John Fitzgerald, and captain Steve Davis along the back row - but an exhausted Graeme Law earned a well-deserved ten-day off, and in his stead I gave 17-year-old prospect Nathan Kamara his first career start. Gary Pearson would replace Manuel at defensive midfield, while Darren Dunning would join Donovan on the wings. Whitmore and Morris remained in the attacking midfield roles, while Levent Yalçin made his return to the starting lineup for the first time since his injury on the 29th of January.

Unfortunately, strict referee Gary Chapman was in charge, and he dominated the early going, handing out three yellow cards in the first six minutes, including one to young Kamara. He made it worse on 12 minutes, when he blew the whistle to cite Kevin Donovan for obstruction - an offense which he felt merited a straight red! Donovan trudged off, shaking his head, to the jeers of 2,461 Canary faithful.

After a quick consultation with Viv, I decided to leave the lineup 'as is', just missing the right winger, despite the awful weakness that would leave along the right with Kamara all alone to cover that side (though in practice, Pearson and Fitzgerald would help him cover the wing). I could expect only disaster from that point.

To my surprise, we continued to control the play despite the man distadvantage. Tappa Whitmore launched a long pass for Levent Yalçin, and the Turk broke into the box one-on-one with Shaun Allaway. Allway saved, but the ball rolled away from him, and trickled just wide of the far post. At 30 minutes, Whitmore did it again, this time stealing the ball deep in Canvey Island territory. He dribbled to the end line, and then cut the ball back to the left post for Darren Dunning. He had Allaway badly out of position, but somehow Jon Keeling threw himself in the way to block the shot.

In injury time, it was David Stockdale who launched a long kick from our area over the top of everybody. Tappa outran Canary captain Dominic Sterling to chase it into the box, and Allaway stayed back on his line, allowing the Jamaican to reach the corner of the 6-yard box unchallenged, and it was an easy shot from such close range that gave us a 1-0 advantage!

I left things as they were at the half, and despite having only four attackers, we were right back on the offensive to open the second half. Whitmore and Dunning exchanged passes, with Whitmore then teeing the ball up for Levent Yalçin on the arc. From 20 yards away, the Turk lifted a curling shot at the bar, and though Allaway was well positioned, he couldn't stop the powerful aerial shot, and it was 2-0 for the side with ten men!!

Canvey Island pressed forward in search of a reply, and at 66 minutes, it took last-ditch tackles by Gary Pearson and Nathan Kamara to avert danger. Neither merited a penalty. The Canaries nearly had one on 70 minutes when left wing Chris Bourne used the space left by our missing wing to send a beautiful ball into the box. Lee Boylan had gotten into the box unmarked, and struck the ball on the half volley from 6 yards out. Somehow, Stockdale came up with an amazing reflex save, and knocked it wide.

With less than a quarter-hour remaining, Junior McDougald tripped Darren Dunning, and Chapman gave him a second yellow card!! That evened the sides at ten men apiece, and it was all but over, with running out the remaining minutes a mere formality.

Canvey Island 0, York 2

Whitmore 45, Yalcin 48; ----

MoM: Whitmore

All told, nine yellow cards and two red cards were awarded, but we could be pleased - it had been a brave battle with ten men, on the road and outnumbered, to secure three points at a crucial stage of the season.

It had been another Man of the Match performance from Jamaican hero Tappa Whitmore, who had a goal and an assist, but I was most impressed with the composure of Nathan Kamara. The young right back had kept a level head for 87 minutes after earning his early yellow card, and that was a promising sign for the 17-year-old's future.

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Monday, 14th March, 2005.

Chairman Steve Beck called me after the match to declare himself 'extremely pleased' with the result, and asked if I had seen the league table. I hadn't - and when I did, to my shock, we'd risen to 6th place with 6 matches remaining: all of the other games, it seemed, had broken 'our way' save one, so the table stood as follows:

   Team       Pts    W   D   L   GD   GP
1 Hereford    71   20  11   5  +28  (36)
-- ----------  --   --  --  --  ---  -----
2 Gravesend   64   17  13   6  +12  (36)
3 Halifax     60   16  12   8  + 3  (36)
4 Exeter      59   17   8  11  +14  (36)
5 Barnet      56   15  11  10  +11  (36)
-- ----------  --   --  --  --  ---  -----
6 York        54   15   9  12  + 7  (36)
7 Stevenage   54   17   3  16  + 6  (36)
8 Morecambe   53   13  14   9  + 4  (36)

We were only one place shy of the playoff zone, with crucial away matches against Barnet, Exeter, and Stevenage coming up, interspersed with three easier home ties.

On the pitch, my captain and player/coach Steve Davis twisted an ankle, which would see him out at least two weeks. He had been needing a rest anyways, but we would miss him sorely in the Trophy match.

Kevin Donovan, of course, would have to serve a one-match ban, which would keep him out of our FA Trophy tie, but none of the serious league ties.

Worse, however, for his morale were the media stories, which suggested that he might no longer be suitable as a first team player for us. A number of columnists stated that he was past his best and should "consider retiring gracefully before further poor performances cause him embarassment."

Privately, that dovetails with my opinion of him, but he is the best right wing on the roster, and other positions had been more important in my quest for loan players.

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Friday, 18th March, 2005.

I spent the week thinking about next season. Even with all my expiring contracts, I would be just £13,000 per-annum under my current wage budget, and I was definitely of the opinion that my side would need significant help next year. With Whitmore, Bishop, Rawle, and Yalçin up front, the attack feels secure, but I have weaknesses in the wings and on back through the defense and goal.

Wise use of our four year-long loans would be needed to address the worst issues, and I restrained myself from making any offers to players of expiring contract if it would require me to pay compensation to their club. This had the annoying effect of filtering my shortlist down to two goalkeepers, one of whom I'd already signed.

I also arranged a friendly schedule for next year: vs Sheffield Utd, vs Colwyn Bay, at Lancaster, at Harrogate Town, vs Leeds, and vs Barnet. My Reserves drew Leeds, Wolverhampton, and Manchester United, while my Under-18 side drew Norwich, Leicester, and Leeds. Most of the Reserve and U-18 matches were set for August, after the regular season starts for the senior side but before their season begins.

Mid-week, I took a minute to accompany the Reserve team to Blackpool. It was a weakened side, as I held out all of our top youth players for the weekend's U-18 match. However, knowing their manager was in the stands and this might be one of their few opportunities to get back off of the Reserve side, the XI selected played with heart and passion, beating the formidable Blackpool side 1-0. Trevor Snowden scored the goal, Chris Porter played out of his gourd in net, making a number of good saves, and central defender Chris Clarke earned Man of the Match honours.

Tony Caig's three-month loan deal expired. I shook the 30-year-old's hand as he left to return to Newcastle.

Tony Caig, GK, 30: December 2004-March 2005: 16 apps, 18 conceded, 6 clean, 1 MoM, 6.88 AvR

He certainly hadn't been spectacular, but he'd done exactly what Chris Brass had hoped he would: provide a stable alternative to the temperamental David Stockdale while the club staunched the bleeding.

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Saturday, 19th March, 2005. F.A. Trophy - 6th Round, vs Farsley Celtic.

We'd had a week's rest, and we were just two victories away from the F.A. Trophy final, so I sent out my strongest available XI after the week's rest, despite facing a side from two divisions below us, in the Northern Premier League.

David Stockdale was the only real option in goal, with Merris, Fitzgerald, young Michael Staley, and Law across the back. Veteran Billy Manuel was the defensive midfielder, with Darren Dunning and Alex Benjamin on the wings. Up front, Lee Morris and Tappa Whitmore would support leading scorer Andy Bishop.

Only 1,240 fans braved the rain at Bootham Crescent, but they got to see a dream start for the Minstermen. Left back Dave Merris launched a long ball upfield for Tappa Whitmore, who raced up the middle, drawing both central defenders to him. He beat the first man, but Henry McStay tackled it away from him at the top of the arc. The loose ball rolled right to Lee Morris, who dribbled into the area with no defender anywhere near him. He closed to about six yards, then slotted it home past Farsley keeper Neil Blackburn. Just over two minutes in, and we were ahead 1-0!

We continued to dominate throughout the first half, with most of the possession, and forcing the Leeds side to defend with 8 men in their box much of the time. Honestly, with some of the miscues, poor passes, and lack of control, we should have scored two or three more before the half was out.

Though we had the majority of the chances, the Celts had a good one in the 38th minute on a quick counter-attack. Danny Spence took it up the right wing, then sent the cross in to Ian Blackstone. He headed on goal from a mere six yards out, but somehow David Stockdale kept it out, and we went to the halftime break with the 1-0 lead.

Tappa earned a second assist just after the intermission, again drawing defenders to himself, then sizzling a low through ball ahead for Andy Bishop. Unmarked, Bishop dribbled in to about 10 yards, and hapless Blackburn could do nothing about his laser shot from that range. At 2-0, the crowd were as certain of victory as I was! The Villagers certainly hadn't looked like a side capable of threatening us in any respect.

Lee Morris added two more close chances in the next five minutes, and then I decided to switch things around, resting a few of the regulars (Whitmore, Bishop and right wing Benjamin), and switching to a more conservative motif tactically. That held the scores level for another ten minutes, and then it looked like it was all over. Mark Rawle broke into the box on the right side, and did some fancy footwork, drawing Blackburn to him in anticipation of another close-range shot. Instead, Rawle passed off to Paul Robinson, playing on the right, and Robinson launched an 18-yard shot at a wide open goal. Midfielder Gary Lynch managed to block it, barely keeping the game in reach.

With time running out, Farsley began to push forward in earnest. They still weren't putting many shots on target, but got a lucky break in the 77th minute. James French beat Graeme Law down the left wing, but rather than dribbling into the corner and crossing, he sent a low ball into the center of the park. That found Rudi Coleano, who skillfully turned around John Fitzgerald and launched an 18-yard strike. Michael Staley was able to interpose himself, but the deflection left keeper David Stockdale wrong-footed, and the crowd let out a groan of dismay as it rolled slowly into the back of the net: it was a mere 2-1, and the visitors had hope!

Farsley thoroughly committed themselves to the attack at that point, and it was hardly a surprise that we broke through on the counter-attack. The speedy Rawle and Danny Whitaker, both with fresh legs, broke through into the box with only one defender between them. Rawle played it to Whitaker, who sent a perfect ball back across into Rawle's path. I thought he might have been offsides - you never see a man that wide open at the six-yard line! Though Blackburn charged out, and actually got a hand on Rawle's shot, it was always going to reach the net, and that made the final scoreline 3-1.

York 3, Farsley 1

Morris 3, Bishop 51, Rawle 81; Coleano 78

MoM: Whitmore

Tappa Whitmore was again the Man of the Match - the fans had given him a standing ovation when I brought him off.

Again, the reggae tunes belted through our jovial locker room, and I couldn't help but compare the team's current attitude with that which had befallen in the last few weeks of Chris Brass' tenure.

It was like a different group of men!

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