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Sharpening a Rusty Blade


Amaroq

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Sunday, 20th March, 2005.

Shockingly, the other three Conference National sides left in the F.A. Trophy were defeated, as Conference North side Altrincham beat Barnet 1-0, Gateshead shocked Carlisle 4-0, and Eastleigh bettered Hereford 1-0. That left us the strongest side surviving as the competition advanced to its semifinals!

The draw, at noon today, saw us chosen to face Gateshead. Unlucky, as that's the side I'd prefer not to see. The semifinal is a two-legged affair, and we'll be on the road for the first leg, but at home for the finale.

Meanwhile, the Under-18's lost in Boston, as Arran Reid played poorly in net, letting two balls get past him in a 2-1 defeat. 16-year-old Joe Foote scored our goal, while winger Marc Schofield was named Man of the Match despite the defeat. With 19 out of 22 matches played, that tightened up the Under-18 division as follows:

   Under-18s   Pts   W   D   L   GD  GP
1 York         33  10   3   6  + 9  (19)
2 Macclesfield 33  10   3   6  + 0  (19)
3 Scunthorpe   32   9   5   5  + 9  (19)
4 Rochdale     30   8   6   4  + 4  (18)

There's a lot of pressure at the club right now: the seniors are deeply invested in the dream of pulling off a playoff berth, maybe even promoting the club back to the League, "where it belongs," and the youth side are just as invested in their four-way title battle.

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Wednesday, 23rd March, 2005. Conference National - Match 37, vs Tamworth.

A home match against the 19th-placed side Tamworth sounded like just what we needed, and with ten days off to follow, I didn't make many changes from the side which had beaten Farsley. Stockdale was the only choice for keeper, with Merris, Fitzgerald, Staley, and Law across the back, and Manuel at defensive midfield. Kevin Donovan was the only change to the side as he returned on the right wing opposite Dunning, with Tappa Whitmore and Morris attacking, and Bishop as the striker.

It was raining again at Bootham Crescent, and that kept the crowd down to a paltry 1,634. We were clearly the more dangerous side early on, with several opportunities in the first ten minutes; frustratingly, none paid off.

In the 19th minute, it was Andy Bishop streaking up the left side. Rather than send a traditional cross over, he passed low for Lee Morris at the top of the box, and Morris appeared to be setting up for the long shot, but at the last moment, he laid the ball right for Tappa Whitmore. It was a wonderful pass, freeing the Jamaican at the penalty spot, and with the keeper trying to cut off Morris' angle, he had an easy finish to put us ahead 1-0!

The Jamaican nearly created another merely seconds later, this time sending a beautiful through ball for Bishop, who had an easy chance from 8 yards out, and somehow scooped it over.

A rare mistake from our leading scorer, but one we would rue in the 37th minute. Tamworth midfielder Marcus Ebdon tried a shot from about 18 yards out, and Billy Manuel blocked it. The rebound kicked out to central defender Dave Robinson, trailing the play. He let loose a first-time shot from 25 yards that sailed towards the top center of the net. It looked an easy save for David Stockdale, but the wet ball slipped through his hands and over his head, straight into the net. We went to halftime with a 1-1 scoreline on a game we had dominated.

I told the lads to come out firing, and they continued to press the issue through the first twenty minutes of the second half, but Tamworth stiffened in the final third - there was always somebody in our face when we looked to attack.

At 64 minutes, I brought on Rawle, Whitaker, and Stewart, desperately seeking a chink in the Tamworth armor, but the visitors fell back into a very defensive formation, bringing all eleven men back into defense at any hint of a threat.

The final fifteen minutes produced chance after chance for us, but nobody seemed to have the finishing ability to find the net: denied space by the determined defenders, our shots were hurried and wide. Injury time ticked away, and finally the ref blew full time on an unsatisfying 1-1 draw.

York 1, Tamworth 1

Whitmore 19; Robinson 37

MoM: Whitmore

We outshot the visitors 14-3, but one of their three counted. A draw at home against the 19th place side would not do in our quest to earn promotion via the playoffs, and it was small consolation that Jamaican attacking midfielder Tappa Whitmore was named Man of the Match yet again.

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Thursday, 24th March, 2005.

6th-placed Barnet had lost outright, so the result had actually gained us a single point towards our next-nearest competitor, but we needed to reach 5th to qualify for the playoffs, and the relevant standings were:

   Team     Pts   W   D   L   GD  GP
4 Exeter    59  17   8 12  +13  (37)
5 Stevenage 57  18   3 16  +10  (37)
------------------------------------
6 Barnet    56  15  11 11  + 9  (37)
7 York      55  15  10 12  + 7  (37)
8 Burton    53  14  11 12  + 6  (37)

Two points back, with five to play. The point for Tamworth had also led to the relegation of Leigh RMI, who were guaranteed to finish no higher than 20th, and first-placed Hereford were now seven clear and had guaranteed themselves at least a playoff spot. It looked unlikely anybody would deny them the automatic promotion that accompanied winning the Conference outright.

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Saturday, 26th March, 2005.

"You should take a bit of a rest, lad," Viv advised, seeing how frustrated I was with the dropped points against Tamworth.

"You'll give yourself a heart attack, if you keep stressing over everything like this."

He was right, I'd been putting a lot of pressure on myself. It was nice to have a bit of a breather, and with the lads taking at least a few days off, I did as well.

Like most of England, I stretched out at a pub to enjoy the World Cup qualifiers over the weekend. England avoided any embarassment against Northern Ireland, rocking their neighbors 3-0 at Saint James's Park on goals by Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, and Darius Vassell.

Wales beat Austria 3-0 in Cardiff to take over the Group 6 lead, a solitary point ahead of England and two ahead of Austria. Poland won by the same scoreline against Azerbaijan to creep out of last place.

In Group 5, first-place Italy beat second-place Scotland 2-0, which put them nine points clear of the Scots. Though the latter still have a game in hand, Italy haven't yet been scored upon, and have 15 points from 5 matches: they look utterly unbeatable.

In Group 4, France beat Switzerland 4-0, which meant that Ireland's 2-0 win in Israel moved them up level with the Swiss for second in the group, though the Alpine club have a game in hand yet.

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Wednesday, 30th March, 2005.

Attacking midfielders Tappa Whitmore and Lee Morris were selected in the English Conference National Team of the Week for their performances against Tamworth.

With player/coach Lee Nogan resuming full training this week, we should have a bit of a glut of attacking power for the run-in, though he is far from match fit just yet.

Again faced with two Reserve matches in consecutive days, I started a very weak side on the road against Crawley Reserves on Tuesday. Goalkeeper Chris Porter was victimized for a hat-trick in the first 30 minutes by 22-year-old Crawley striker Allan Tait, and that scoreline held, a 3-0 defeat.

The Wednesday game was at home against Torquay Reserves, and I fielded an almost entirely Under-18 side, with Lee Nogan getting a half of action as he worked back towards match fitness. Robbie Haw scored our goal as we drew 1-1 in a heavy rain.

The World Cup qualifiers continued Wednesday, with the same winners from Group 6. Wales defeated Austria 3-0 in Vienna to retain the group lead.

England pounded in a 4-0 win at home against minnows Azerbaijan - no shortage of scoring here! Frank Lampard scored 2 more goals in the first half, but missed a penalty that should have given him a hat-trick. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Owen Hargreaves scored in the second half to complete the rout.

Poland defeated Northern Ireland 2-0, moving up equal to them for fourth place.

              Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 Wales       15   5  0  1  +13  (6)
2 England     14   4  2  0  +10  (6)
3 Austria     10   3  1  2  - 1  (6)
4 Poland       6   2  0  4  - 3  (6)
5 N.Ireland    6   2  0  4  - 6  (6)
6 Azerbaijan   1   0  1  5  -13  (6)

None of the major teams in Group 5 played, save Norway, who earned a 1-1 draw with Moldova; that was a good result for idle Scotland, who are striving to beat Norway to second in the group.

              Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 Italy       15   5  0  0  +10  (5)
2 Norway       6   1  3  1  + 0  (5)
3 Scotland     6   2  0  2  + 0  (4)

At Ramat-Gan, Israel managed a surprise draw with France, 1-1, scoring the first goal the French had conceded in the competition. With Ireland idle and Switzerland taking a shocking 2-1 loss to Cyprus, the French still pulled slightly further away from their competition, now seven points clear.

              Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 France      16   5  1  0  +16  (6)
2 Ireland      9   3  0  2  + 3  (5)
3 Switzerland  9   3  0  2  + 1  (5)
4 Cyprus       9   3  0  3  + 1  (6)

Though he was summoned to the Caribbean for the match, Tappa Whitmore was not needed in Jamaica's 4-0 friendly thumping of Martinique, though he returned to the club in very high spirits as a result!

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Friday, 1st April, 2005.

Into the final month of the season, and as most months, it started with a meeting with the board, who informed me that they are quite pleased with my performance so far. They were all very excited at the prospect of promotion, and after the first half of the season, I felt it only fair to warn them that I wasn't as confident of our prospects this season as they might be.

"It was always a 'stop the rot this year, think about promotion next year' plan," I cautioned, but I don't think they really heard me.

Tappa Whitmore was again the Conference National Player of the Month, as he continued to dominate the competition.

To my surprise, I learned that I had come third in the Mirror's Conference National Manager of the Month voting, on the strength of our four wins, one draw, and one defeat.

Only Chief Financial Officer Sophie McGill was unimpressed with my reign. Despite our successes on the pitch, she reminded me, we'd lost £64,000 for the month, and almost £400,000 for the season, which had us officially in the red for the first time since I took over.

"At least Chris Brass wasn't hemorrhaging money like this," she said, in a quite pointed comment.

She further reminded me that we were a solid £85,000 p/a over the wage budget, and that, combined with our £20,000 per month loan debt pretty much accounted for the operating losses. Promotion certainly would help the financial situation, especially with the League television revenues.

After meeting with the board, I summoned my monthly coaches' meeting to discuss who has been improving and who has not. We'd missed this meeting in March, however, so it was two month's worth of training data to look over. Few of the players were showing dramatic improvement, and in fact aging DMC Billy Manuel was showing a marked decline in ability. Young centre-back Michael Staley, who had been seeing plenty of playing time recently, was showing the most improvement, as one might expect of a talented 17-year-old, and Levent Yalçin was back on the improvement track after recovering from his injury. Danny Whitaker was also showing signs of improvement, though the loanee wasn't seeing much starting action.

Viv also reminded me of the players whose contracts are expiring at season's end:

- DMC Billy Manuel, who has been playing very well despite his 35 years of age;

- D/DM L Dave Merris, who has been starting all season, but whom Viv thinks we could easily replace;

- 24-year-old DC Chris Clarke, who has fallen out of favour and is playing for the Reserves;

- 31-year-old FLC Trevor Snowden, whom I will be only to happy to cease paying;

- and of course DL Shaun Smith, who will be joining Northwich when his contract expires.

I remain firm in my opinion that none of them need to be renewed.

More painful is the imminent loss of central defender John Fitzgerald. After a fine 3-month loan, his last game will be the first leg of the F.A. Trophy Semi-Final against Gateshead. With all eight of my short-term loans concluded, there won't be any way to retain his services through the crucial matches at the close of the season, and I'm afraid we'll be quite exposed at the back.

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Saturday, 2nd April, 2005. Conference National - Match 38, at Barnet.

The first match of the month was the crucial away game against Barnet. All three of our away matches would be against teams in the battle for the final playoff berth, and Barnet stood sixth, one point ahead of us in the standings. A win would keep our destiny in our own hands - we would qualify for the playoffs if we could win all five matches - while a loss would put us on the verge of elimination.

With that in mind as we drove down to London, I elected for a return to the conservative tactics which I'd played at Lancaster, with my strongest XI on the pitch. That meant David Stockdale in goal, with Dave Merris, John Fitzgerald, Steve Davis, and Graeme Law across the back. Billy Manuel remained at DMC, with Darren Dunning on the left wing and Kevin Donovan on the right. Tappa Whitmore and Lee Morris would start at attacking midfield, and Andy Bishop was the striker.

From the off, it was Barnet in complete control, and they had several chances in the first 15 minutes, but though we were conceding control through the middle of the pitch, we always stiffened up with eight and sometimes more back in the box, to thoroughly clog up any orange-clad move.

Still, it was completely against the run of play when Darren Dunning sent a pass into the box for Lee Morris. As the loanee dribbled into shooting range, defender Ismail Yakubu took his legs out from under him, and referee Andy Martin blew the whistle. He took his time pointing to the spot, awarding Yakubu a yellow card first, but more importantly he awarded the penalty!

Andy Bishop slotted it into the lower-left corner, and before the clock read 25:00, we had a 1-0 lead!

The lead lasted all of two minutes. Lloyd Sam, a winger on loan from Charlton, had been giving my backs fits. At this point, he was playing left wing, and really outmatched Graeme Law. He beat Law once again, and sent in a cross which Dave Merris had no choice but to head out for a corner. Sam took it, and he found Antonio Murray unmarked on the perimeter. Murray chested it down, and then launched a left-footed blast into traffic. It was a hit-and-hope sort of effort, with several defenders betwixt him and the net, but somehow it found a way through, and it was equal at 28 minutes, 1-1.

With the crowd of 1,367 right back in it, Barnet continued to press their offensive throughout the remainder of the half, and it was only the solid play of David Stockdale in goal that prevented us from entering the intermission with a deficit. John Fitzgerald was playing well, also, but Sam was having his way with us and forward Liam Hatch had looked very dangerous as well. At halftime, I told the lads to bear down and defend, and look to catch them on the counter, but it was not to work.

The first blow of the half came 10 minutes in, when right wing Kevin Donovan was taken down in a crunching tackle just outside the box. It was Sam who came away with the ball, but Donovan required immediate medical attention, and was carted from the field. While we were still unsettled by the injury, Barnet earned a free kick about 40 yards out. Defender Simon King took it, and launched it into the box, where somehow Hatch had slipped free of Merris' marking. Unmarked from 6 yards out, he was never going to miss, and put Barnet ahead 1-2.

We couldn't settle for a defeat, and three goals down would be as bad as one at this point, so I switched to the more aggressive tactic we'd been using as a default - still the 4-5-1, but pushing forward instead of worrying about defense as thoroughly. That, plus the addition of Mark Rawle for Bishop, helped as we began to attack in earnest for the first time all game.

Barnet was content to absorb our forays, as we had theirs in the first half, and on the 75th minute, they caught us on the counter. Substitute Ben Strevens had come in on the left wing, moving Sam over to the right, where he proved more than a match for Merris. It was Strevens on the counter, however, as he beat Law, and sent in the cross. Hatch beat four defenders, including the hapless Merris, to head it home from short range, and we trailed 1-3 at 75 minutes.

I was thoroughly glum, sitting on the bench and certain of defeat, but Mark Rawle and Tappa Whitmore weren't ready to give up just yet. Right from the kickoff, Billy Manuel sent a long pass ahead of Whitmore, and the Jamaican tracked it down in the box. With the keeper coming out to meet him, and two defenders in close attendance, he somehow managed to flick it left for Rawle, who had a wide open net and an easy finish. Just that quickly, we were back in the match, down only 2-3 with 13 minutes to play!!

Barnet came right back from the ensuing kickoff, and our defense wasn't able to clear. Sam tracked down a loose ball out wide, but still within the confines of the penalty area, and he cut it back in with an aerial cross for Mark Quigley, who leapt above two York defenders to head it home. 80 minutes gone, and we trailed 2-4.

The fans were being treated to a flurry of goals, and the next one went to Rawle. Whitmore sent a beautiful pass over the top, and the speedy Rawle got free in the box, knocking home his second with his left foot, only to have it called back by Martin - his linesman had raised the flag for offsides.

I was screaming at him, "It only looks like offsides because he's so bloody fast!" but there was no reversing that call, and the goal was taken back off the board.

That seemed to take the wind out of our sails, and the next good attempt went to Barnet, as Hatch found himself in space for Strevens' cross. His header beat Stockdale, but cannoned back off the crossbar, right to Quigley. Quigley looked certain to score, but somehow Tappa Whitmore, all the way back on defense, charged down the shot.

On the resulting corner, Sam found Simon Clist in the box, but his shot was cleared off the line by Graeme Law. Nick Bailey pounced on the rebound, but his shot was blocked by Billy Manuel - it was an amazing run which you'd have had to see in slow motion to believe!!

The crowd had been treated to a real cracker of a game, but the final whistle blew without any further to-do.

Barnet 4, York 2

Murray 28, Hatch 58, 76, Quigley 80; Bishop pen 25, Rawle 77

MoM: Sam (Barnet M RL)

Lloyd Sam had demonstrated the value of a key loan, and dominated us from either wing for Man of the Match. Battling against a top side such as Barnet had exposed how poor we really are in the back line and wings.

Those would definitely be the areas I needed to upgrade to make my style of play truly work, and I couldn't help but think Barnet deserved a shot at promotion much more than we did just yet.

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Amaroq, this is excellent, I've just caught up with the full 7 pages and I really have enjoyed it. Your writing style is superb, and the way you write up the matches is good, gets the atmosphere across. Excellent read, keep it up icon_smile.gificon14.gif

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Sunday, 3rd April, 2005.

The news from hospital was stomach-churning.

Right winger Kevin Donovan had broken a thigh bone.

The initial prognosis was that the 33-year-old wouldn't be able to return until Christmas - well into next season - if he could recover at all.

I'd already had him on my list of players to replace, and that would just hasten my search, so it looked likely to be a career-ending injury for the veteran.

For now, however, it left only young Alex Benjamin healthy and qualified on the right wing.

In other news, we added a third scout, James Tracey. He hadn't impressed as much as Dave Colley had - or, to be honest, either of my Lancaster scouts - but after a lengthy search, he seemed to be the best applicant interested, and I definitely wanted another scout for the summer transfer season.

He was certainly better than the abysmal Gary Lloyd, at least!

In fact, signing him would let me run Lloyd off into the 'scout upcoming opposition' role, where he could do the least damage.

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Friday, 8th April, 2005.

The most interesting thing which happened this week was the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. The two remaining English teams had drawn each other, as had two of the three Italian giants remaining.

In the English match, Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 at Highbury.

Barcelona beat Ajax 2-0 at home, while Bayern München was the only away side to win, triumphing over Inter Milan 2-0. Juventus defeated AC Milan 4-2 in a thriller at the Delle Alpi, scoring 3 second-half goals to overcome a 2-1 halftime deficit.

Wednesday evening, our Reserves lost to Plymouth Argyle Reserves 4-2 in a game played despite gale force winds. I'd put out my weakest Reserve side, saving the talented youngsters for the weekend's Under-18 match. Chris Clarke drew my ire by conceding two foolish yellow cards and earning a one-match ban, while little-used right winger Paul Robinson scored a late goal short-handed. Lee Nogan played 59 minutes, as he continued his build-up to match fitness.

Thursday afternoon, I tried my first hand at playing the media a little bit, offering a press release in which I concluded that Tappa Whitmore had been an integral part of the team that has propelled us into a decent league position.

That was well received by the fans, who have been enjoying the Jamaican theme to the Bootham Crescent recently, and seem to utterly adore their new star.

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Saturday, 9th April, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Semi-Final 1st Leg, at Gateshead.

The weekend saw our trip north to Gateshead, just across the Tyne from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the south bank of the river - I had fond memories of my trip to Newcastle that first day in charge of Lancaster, for the friendly with Blyth Spartans. Hopefully this F.A. Trophy Semi-Final would go as well! Its a two-legged affair, with the sum score of each game combining to give an aggregate score, just like in the Champions League or League Cup.

Gary Lloyd's first advance scouting report rated the UniBond Premier club as an average side whose attacking pace might cause us problems. Personally, I was more worried by our side's morale, which seemed to have taken a real hit with the 4-2 defeat to Barnet, especially among the defenders.

Unluckily, Lee Morris injured himself in the morning warmups, pulling a quad muscle, and with it being John Fitzgerald's last match I gave aging player/coach Steve Davis the afternoon off. That left my lineup: Stockdale in goal, Merris, Fitzgerald, Staley, and Law across the back, Gary Pearson at DMC, Dunning and Alex Benjamin on the wings, with Tappa Whitmore and Danny Whitaker attacking, and Mark Rawle the lone striker.

I sent the lads out in our defensive version of the 4-5-1, intending to play for a draw here, and then go for the jugular in the home leg. It was a disastrous start for that strategy, however, as Gateshead right wing Richard Prokas got into the box, but way out by the wing, just 3 minutes into the match. Danny Whitaker stomped on his ankle, a vicious assault - not even his friends would call it a tackle - which left Prokas needing treatment from the physio. There was no question about the penalty after that!

Ben Doane blasted it into the left side of the net, sending the International Stadium crowd into a frenzy. It is an impressive 12,000-seat facility, though best suited as a track-and-field venue, quite the stadium for lower-league football. With the inclement weather, just 1,842 were on hand - all crammed in under the eaves of the Tyne and Wear County Stand. At any rate, merely 5 minutes in, and already we trailed 0-1.

Perhaps the start had been just nerves: we seemed to settle down after that, and had the majority of the control during the rest of the first half. Tappa Whitmore had a few chances, but the wet footing was treacherous and he couldn't put them on target through the steady rainfall: shot after shot went skittering out across the slick red clay of the track which encircles the pitch.

Mark Rawle went down with an injury at 33 minutes, bleeding profusely from the leg. He wanted to continue, but the referee insisted he had to come off - a good call, as it turned out he needed stitches. He give way for Andy Bishop, the side's leading scorer, but Bishop couldn't crack the Tynesiders' defense either. It was 0-1 at halftime, and I gave the lads a piece of my mind, as they were losing to a side two divisions lower than them.

They came out for the second half fired up, and immediately off Gateshead's kickoff, Darren Dunning and Danny Whitaker combined to win possession. After feeding it right to Alex Benjamin, Whitaker went for the return pass. Though he was fully 30 yards from goal, he had a clean shot, and used his first touch to settle it, and his second to launch it on goal. Amazingly, it found the back of the net, and we had equalized on a beautiful goal, 1-1, just a minute into the second half.

Whitaker was still being booed mercilessly anytime he touched the ball, but that at least had redeemed him in his manager's eyes!

At 53 minutes, one of Tappa's fantastic leading passes set Bishop loose in the box, but Gateshead keeper Kearn made a diving save to turn it wide, earning a standing ovation from the Heed Army.

Twenty minutes passed, with both sides worried about defense more than attack, and the run of play broken up by a number of substitutions and several offsides calls either direction.

Bishop came close again in the 79th minute, when his shot from 18 yards seemed to beat Kearn but went just wide of the post - but that was to be the last shot-in-anger of a cold, wet evening.

Both sides were still playing it conservatively: Gateshead didn't want to concede another away goal, and I was content to play for the home crowd in the second leg, so that was how it finished.

Gateshead 1, York 1

Doane pen 5; Whitaker 46

MoM: Benjamin

Right winger Alex Benjamin was named Man of the Match, for filling in admirably in the absence of injured Kevin Donovan.

Unfortunately, he had exhausted himself fully and would not be available for the mid-week Conference match, leaving me quite a dilemma: who the heck do I start in his stead?

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Thank you kindly, irishregan.

As I'm sure has been said a thousand times on this forum, its the support and appreciation from the readers that keeps a tale alive as much as the author.

I'll be trying something a bit different this page - a significant reduction in the use of bold tags. Next time you lads post, let me know if you're finding it easier or harder to read. Thanks!

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Tuesday, 12th April, 2005.

There was good news from the Conference matches of the day: Stevenage and Barnet both lost, while Morecambe drew, leaving us every opportunity to close back into contention. A win Wednesday against 19th-placed Forest Green Rovers would put us up to sixth, and only one point behind Barnet for the final playoff berth. Also, Mark Rawle's gashed leg would keep him out of the mid-week match, but that was all.

In other news, Coach Paul Stancliffe extended his contract by one year, through the end of the 2007 season, at a small discount in salary which would help with our burgeoning wage budget. The money we saved was re-invested in signing young Joe Foote to a four-year professional contract, as he had just turned 17.

Foote has been captain of the U-18 side, and celebrated his new contract by leading the youth team to a 1-0 victory over the youth side of mighty Blackburn Rovers at Bootham Crescent. Robbie Haw scored the only goal, fairly early in the match, and poor finishing cost us several more opportunities. That left the York U-18's tied for first in their group with Macclesfield, and on a collision course for the season finale, which would see Macclesfield come to Bootham Crescent.

A critical blow was struck against our chances this evening, however, as young David Stockdale strained his back, and the injury may rule him out for the remainder of the season. If we're lucky enough to make either of the post-season opportunities available to us, he might be available in May, but without him our chances have just dropped dramatically.

I made a mental note to myself to save one 3-month loan next year until season's end, just in case I needed to bring in an injury replacement at the last minute.

Further weakening the defense, John Fitzgerald left to return to Blackburn. The 20-year-old had been a stalwart in central defense for the three months of his loan, and his departure at this critical juncture of the season would hurt us badly.

John Fitzgerald, DC, 20: January 2005-April 2005: 18 appearances, 1 goal, 0 assists, 2 MoM, 7.22 AvR.

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Wednesday, 13th April, 2005. Conference National - Match 39, vs Forest Green Rovers.

With short rest, numerous injuries, and the departure of another of our loan players, it was a much weakened side that would try to pick up three points against relegation-battling Forest Green, who lay 19th in the table.

17-year-old Arran Reid would make his first professional start in goal, and his defensive line was the youngest we'd fielded all season. 21-year-old Scot Paul Parkin would start at left back, despite severely lacking match practice. Veteran player/coach Steve Davis would start centrally alongside 17-year-old Michael Staley, and another 17-year-old, Nathan Kamara, would make only his second senior start at right back. Billy Manuel would provide some experience in front of the back line, while Darren Dunning would start again at left wing. Paul Robinson, who had seen much more action under Chris Brass' stewardship, would get a rare start on the right wing. Tappa Whitmore and Danny Whitaker again teamed up at attacking midfiled, while 19-year-old Turkish striker Levent Yalcin got the start up front.

With such a young side, and facing a club which was characterized as competent, pacey, and starring a combative and hard-working midfield, I opted for the conservative approach, at least for the first half. It was a cold and rainy afternoon, and there was little excitement through the first 20 minutes.

For a moment, at the 22nd, Rovers' Mark Beesley looked to have drawn a penalty when he went to the turf in the box after Paul Parkin's tackle, but instead he was cited for diving, and given a yellow card for his method acting.

We managed five shots on goal through the half, which was more than our opposition could say: they hadn't taken a single shot by halftime.

I switched to the more aggressive 4-5-1 for the second, pushing players forward especially along the sidelines, but the muddy conditions, the Forest Green defense and that hard-working midfield kept us at bay throughout the second half, and I had no creativity available off the bench - though I did make all three substitutions, as usual.

Though we dominated the posession, holding the ball 65% of the match, and had posession in the visitor's third of the pitch an astonishing 32% of the time, we could not find the pass which would shake loose the Rover's defense. We were held without a single shot throughout the second half, and the 1,446 who had braved the rain gave us a resounding jeer as we trudged off the field at full time.

York 0, Forest Green 0

----; ----

MoM: Lyttle (Forest Green DR)

To be fair, it was only the third scoreless draw we'd experienced under my guidance, which is somewhat surprising considering the defensive stance I've been espousing. Few players had truly excelled in a dreary match, but it was appropriate that one of the Forest Green defenders was named Man of the Match for their second half performance.

Young Arran Reid got a clean sheet in his first professional match without ever facing a shot, and honestly his biggest danger seemed to be of catching a cold, standing in the rain for 90 minutes as he had.

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Thursday, 14th April, 2005.

Part of our problem with the Forest Green match was solved when physio Jeff Miller looked over the squad afterwards. Tappa Whitmore had bruised his thigh, and really hadn't been in shape to play through most of the second half. Unfortunately, I'd already made my substitutions when he picked up the knock, so I'd let him try to play through it, with the result that he would have to miss our next match as well.

In the second leg of the Champions League quarter finals, the results of the first leg were quite thoroughly confirmed. Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford, to advance on a 5-0 aggregate.

Barcelona defeated Ajax 3-0 at the Amsterdam ArenA for another 5-0 aggregate, while Bayern München manhandled Inter Milan 3-1, for a 5-1 aggregate. AC Milan won the day 2-1 at home against Juventus, but lost the tie 5-4 on aggregate scores. For the semifinals, it would be one club each from England, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

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Rob - thank you kindly! I'm looking to swing through the Carolinas this summer, have family and an old friend to visit.

Pan, irish, thanks for all the support!

I'm going to stick with 'debuts, injuries, and transfers' as being bold-worthy for a time, and see how we all like it.

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Saturday, 16th April, 2005. Conference National - Match 40, at Exeter.

After our listless draw, we were down to 10th in the Conference with only 3 games to play, a tantalizing 3 points shy of 5th place and a playoff berth, but with two tough road games remaining.

Today would be the first of those, at Exeter, up in 4th place, five points clear of us, and four clear of being knocked out of the playoff zone. It was an amazing recovery for a side which had started the season managerless to have done so well. In fact, with the correct combination of events, including a win over us, they could clinch a playoff berth today. They have a particularly strong midfield, a quick attack, and what scout Gary Lloyd calls "a very determined outlook."

Our lineup was cobbled together out of anybody who looked fit enough to go, after a tough match midweek. Arran Reid remained in goal for the injured Stockdale, while the back four of Dave Merris, Steve Davis, Michael Staley, and Graeme Law was the strongest I could field. Gary Pearson spelled Manuel at defensive midfield, and youngsters Bryan Stewart and Alex Benjamin would play the wings. With Whitmore injured, Lee Nogan would make his return to the starting lineup alongside Danny Whitaker in the key attacking midfielder roles, and Andy Bishop returned at striker.

Morale was poor, and there was no point in playing for a draw at this juncture of the season, so I returned the side to the aggressive style we'd been playing during our run of success in February and March. Both sides had chances in the first 10 minutes, with Steve Flack launching a half volley just over the bar for Exeter, and Andy Bishop powering a header over the bar for us.

Exeter, true to the scouting, seemed dominant in midfield, and it was a turnover in midfield followed by a quick break which saw Flack play a superb ball out in front of Paul McGregor, who had beaten Pearson and Staley. He had an easy finish to beat young keeper Arran Reid, and we were down 0-1.

It was a hard-fought game, and referee John Pearce handed out several yellow cards in the next twenty minutes, but just when it looked like we were settling down and pursuing an equalizer, Exeter managed to steal the ball in midfield again. Their counterattack caught us out, and this time it was captain Glenn Cronin who played a lovely long ball into the run of Flack. He beat aging defenseman Steve Davis to the ball, and then cut around Reid when the keeper came out to meet him. A solid right-footed strike finished the move, and it was 0-2 at 34 minutes.

There was no point trying to fall back and play defensive, even though they were taking full advantage of our forays forward. This was a game we had to win, quite simply, so I encouraged the lads to push forward, but it was clear that the second goal had taken the wind out of our sails entirely. We had our best chance on a 20-yard free kick by Danny Whitaker at about 40 minutes, but his shot was slightly deflected by the wall, then hit the post and bounced out. The rebound fell to Andy Bishop, but he opted to center rather than take the shot from such an oblique angle, and the Exeter defense cleared it away.

Well into first-half injury time, Exeter left wing Leslie Afful broke down the sideline, dribbled around Graeme Law, and took it into the box. Reid again came out to meet him as Afful shot, and though the keeper got his fingertips to it, he deflected it straight across the 6-yard box, and into the run of Jason Price, who was following the play. With an open net, Price pounded it home even as he was taken down by two defenders. It would have been a penalty if it hadn't already been a goal, and we went to halftime trailing 0-3.

I had to agree with Viv's assessment that the game was out of hand, and that we needed to fall back and play defense to prevent a thorough embarassment. I used the half to make all three of our substitutions, resting Bishop, Whitaker, and Law for the F.A. Trophy semifinal on Wednesday, and switched to our conservative tactic.

On the hour, Exeter made their substitutions, bringing off Afful and McGregor for some younger talent. One of those substitutes was John Neill, a 17-year-old central midfielder, and what he did was just phenomenal. Thirty yards from goal, on a pass coming from his left, he launched a right-footed half volley, which curled spectacularly into the net to a standing ovation from the delighted crowd of 3,101. That made it 0-4, and the outcome was beyond any doubt.

Adding injury to insult, however, young left wing Bryan Stewart was stretchered off in the 85th minute, reducing us to 10 men, and then in injury time, Dave Merris took an elbow going for a header, and that reduced us to 9 men. We were all too glad when the referee finally blew full time on the most disastrous match of my career.

Exeter 4, York 0

McGregor 11, Flack 34, Price 45, Neill 65; ----

MoM: Cronin (Exeter MC)

It had been, frankly, the most flat, dispirited performance I've ever been witness to. Exeter captain Glenn Cronin was named Man of the Match with two assists to bolster his dominant performance in midfield.

As for our locker room, I've never seen it a more glum and disconsolate place. I wanted to scream and rage, but I left that to some of the veteran players, hoping it would do more good coming from Steve Davis, Lee Nolan, and the others.

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Sunday, 17th April, 2005.

I was bitterly disappointed.

I think everybody at the club was.

Promotion - or playoffs at least - had been so tantalizingly within our grasp!

We didn't even have a mathematical chance of advancing after that crushing defeat - no matter how you worked out the final two matches, even if everything broke our way, we'd finish sixth at best. Somebody would wind up a point ahead of us due to the head-to-head matchups.

I was even more disappointed when I read Jeff Miller's post-match physio report. The worst blow was the loss of starting left back Dave Merris, who was done for the season with a back strain. We would be further weakened for the important Gateshead match by the losses of Bryan Stewart, who had sprained his wrist and would miss a week, and Lee Morris, who had a bruised shin.

I blamed myself, of course - there was something I could have done differently surely, even if my starting goalkeeper was injured, my 'stopper' had left at the end of his loan, my best centre back had returned from his loan, and my star playmaker was injured.

I mean, those are the conditions a top manager really shines through, right?

If I hadn't had the support of Stacy, at home, I'd have been despondent, I think.

She wasn't about to let me mope around the house, however, and rightly pointed out that I needed to be an example for the team, who were too used to losing.

"Anybody can lead when you're winning," she reminded me. "But if you go in there looking like your dog just died, it'll snowball. Do you really want to see undone every bit of momentum you've built?"

She was right. We had had something going, which could serve as a springboard for next year.

If I didn't let it wither and die.

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Tuesday, 19th April, 2005.

If you fake a smile long enough, sometimes you can even fool yourself.

I went in there Monday morning with an encouraging smile and a kind word or three, which seemed to catch everybody by surprise.

A good mood can be contagious, though, and with Tappa Whitmore back from his bruised thigh - though still moving a bit gingerly - we did our best to lift the squad's spirits.

The playoffs were one thing, but we were still alive for some silverware in the form of the F.A. Trophy, for which we were the favourites.

It was hard to see if it had done much.

Monday evening after the lads had left, I retired to my office to turn my attention to next season. My active scouts had generated quite a shortlist of players, and I pared it down, setting Outlook reminders for July on the various players I wanted to bid on, and make full-season loans for. I'd forget my wedding anniversary if I hadn't set Outlook to remind me as a 'recurring appointment', every year from now until the end of time.

I also revisited who of my current side I wanted to transfer list for the summer transfer season.

In one of the least cared-about games of the season, all of 74 fans came out to Bootham Crescent on a rainy Tuesday night to watch the 'B' version of our Reserve team lose 2-0 against Bradford City Reserves.

It was the night before the F.A. Trophy Semi-Final, and there was a pensive subdued feeling in Yorkshire, as though of a storm about to break.

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Wednesday, 20th April, 2005. F.A. Trophy - Semi Final 2nd Leg, vs Gateshead.

The F.A. Trophy seemed all we had left to play for this season, a potential piece of silverware to bring home for an otherwise forgettable campaign. We were well positioned with an away goal after the 1-1 draw in the first leg. Unfortunately, we were missing Lee Morris, Kevin Donovan, Dave Merris, and David Stockdale with injury, and inspirational attacker Tappa Whitmore wasn't fully fit and ready to go either.

That left me with the following XI: Chris Porter in goal, making only his second start of the year; Paul Parkin with captain Steve Davis, young Michael Staley, and stalwart Graeme Law across the back four; Billy Manuel at defensive midfield; Darren Dunning on the left wing and Alex Benjamin on the right; Lee Nogan and Danny Whitaker in attacking roles, and young Turkish starlet Levent Yalçin up front.

Morale was, as you might expect, rock-bottom after our 4-0 defeat on Saturday, and even the home crowd, a paltry 1,408 on a rainy evening, were quiet and subdued. With that in mind, and an away goal in hand, I opted to start conservative, to prevent my side from giving up a fatal early goal.

Gateshead had 3 corner kicks in the first four minutes, and we were pressed with our backs to the wall. Only excellent defending by several men, and a fine save by Chris Porter, kept the visitors at bay.

The game evened out after that, and Whitaker and Yalcin both earned chances at the other end, while Porter was forced to tip over a dangerous header by Willie Moat. Still, we made it to halftime with a 0-0 scoreline, which would see us advance on away goals if we could just hold onto it for another 45 minutes.

Gateshead needed a goal, and came out with heavy pressure right from the start of the second half. Within six minutes, they'd seen three good chances, but Terry Burghell shot wide, Moat put his shot wide as well, and David Colvin's header went narrowly over.

Gateshead looked clearly the better side, and slogging through the rain had exhausted several of our players, notably Yalçin and Whitaker, and with Alex Benjamin playing quite poorly on the right side, I decided to take a gamble, and made all three of my substitutions in the 59th minute of a match which could conceivably go 120. I sent on Andy Bishop, Paul Robinson, and the explosive Tappa Whitmore.

The tenor of the match changed instantly, as Whitmore fed Robinson for a 16-yard shot, which Stewart Kearn barely tipped around the post. Then Darren Dunning fed a high ball for Lee Nogan, which Kearn tipped over the bar, and Andy Bishop broke free of the defense but shot wide.

We were clearly pushing Gateshead around, and when Dunning launched a long ball upfield, Tappa Whitmore outran the defenders to chase it down at the top of the box. Kearn charged out one-on-one, and made the save on the first shot, but it fell right back to the Jamaican, who chipped it over the prone keeper and into the back of the net!!!

With 71 minutes played, we took a 1-0 lead!! It was 2-1 on aggregate!

With only 18 minutes left, there was hardly any reason for Gateshead to defend, and they began to push forward in numbers. That just opened gaping holes in their defense, and Whitmore nearly added a second at 73 minutes, hitting the post from 12 yards. Bishop's breakaway attempt at 75 minutes Kearn tipped over the bar, and at 77 minutes, Kearn pushed away a tough shot by Lee Nogan.

It was clear the keeper was under tremendous pressure, and finally, in the 78th minute, Tappa Whitmore played a nice ball through traffic into the box. Andy Bishop buried it, a powerful rocket of a shot from 12 yards that billowed the back of the netting in picturesque fashion!!

Kearn could do nothing to prevent that strike, and the 2-0 lead gave us a solid 3-1 advantage on aggregate!

There was little Gateshead could do in the final minutes, and the final score could have been less balanced except for three uncharacteristic misses by Tappa Whitmore, who caught side netting several times. Still, when the final whistle blew, we had dominated the final 30 minutes of the match, outshooting the opposition 14-0 during that span!

York 2 (3), Gateshead 0 (1)

Whitmore 71, Bishop 79; ----

MoM: Whitmore

With a goal and an assist in only 31 minutes worth of work, Tappa Whitmore was named Man of the Match for the sixth time in three months.

Judging by the ebullient mood in the locker room, the win would go a long way towards restoring our shot confidence: we had qualified for the Final on a 3-1 aggregate!

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Thursday, 21st April, 2005.

Just as happily, we had suffered no further injuries. In the other Semi-Final, non-Conference side Eastleigh held onto a 2-1 lead from the first leg through 80 minutes at Moss Lane in Altrincham, until the Conference North side's Colin Little fell in the penalty box. It looked like he may have stumbled over stumbled on his own, but referee Rob Styles awarded the penalty, citing Daniel Patterson on a very harsh decision, made even more harsh when Robins captain Rod Thornley converted to give Altrincham a 1-0 victory and the victory on away goals.

Elsewhere Wednesday, despite the presence of all of our top U-18 players, our Reserve team lost in Brighton 1-0.

Continuing the cleaning out of my wage budget, I released 17-year-old left wing Steven Collins, who had been struggling at the U-18 and Reserve level. He hadn't made a senior start, but had just 2 goals and 6 assists at the lower level despite 42 appearances, with an average rating of 6.57. He had been on a part-time youth contract, but turned 17 this month, and I didn't want to sign him to a professional contract.

I also transfer listed Alex Benjamin, who had been performing well in spot starts as a backup to Kevin Donovan, but after the 33-year-old's injury, Benjamin had posted ratings of 4 and 5 in our last two matches. He's fast, but can't seem to win anything in the air - I'd be happy to see him off the wage bill over the summer.

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Saturday, 23rd April, 2005. Conference National - Match 41, at Stevenage.

Stevenage is a smaller town a short way north of London, but well clear of the suburban sprawl associated with that city. The 6th-placed side were scouted as a 'determined team' just as Exeter had been, which worried me, but our morale had recovered after winning the semi-final. Still, it was a less-than-full-strength lineup I sent out, as Steve Davis needed a rest, and joined our other stars on the bench.

This left Porter in goal, Parkin, Chris Clarke, Staley, and Law across the back four, Gary Pearson at defensive midfield. 18-year-old Andrew Green would take over the left wing, with Paul Robinson on the right - both were transfer listed, which says how much I rated either of them. Danny Whitaker and speedy Mark Rawle would spearhead the attack, while I was very happy to see Tappa Whitmore return to the starting lineup.

Again, we took the pitch with a conservative, negative outlook, on the road against a top team, while Stevenage turned out in an aggressive 3-4-3 configuration. Predictably, that left chances open for both teams in the first fifteen minutes, but from about the 20th minute Stevenage began to really take control. Chris Porter made a fantastic save to deny Andrew Hall's short-range shot, and then big man Leo Fortune-West rose above Chris Clarke to head it on goal, only to see it cannon back off the crossbar.

It was utterly against the run of play when we earned a corner after 35 minutes, and Stevenage failed to clear it. Gary Pearson held it in the area, playing it left for Danny Whitaker, who managed a neat lift-pass, raising the ball to header height in a pass of only about 6 yards. Tappa Whitmore powered a header into the left corner, and we had shocked the crowd of 1,954 with a 1-0 lead.

That advantage lasted through halftime, but despite the goal I was quite displeased with our performance. Stevenage were outshooting us, and a number of our shots had been spectacularly off target, especially from Mark Rawle and Tappa Whitmore. The lads seemed sure of themselves, almost cocky, but I was unconvinced.

As I'd feared, Stevenage came out for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose. Anthony Elding got the crowd back in it with a breakaway, though he was caught by Pearson as he lined up the shot. At 52 minutes, it was Elding again up the left wing, and he sent a beautiful cross into the box. Dannie Bulman rose above Paul Parkin to head it on goal, and only a phenomenal fingertip save by Chris Porter could tip it over the bar.

There was nothing Porter could do about the resultant corner kick, however, as Andrew Hall found Fortune-West in the box with pinpoint accuracy. Big Leo rose above two defenders to head it home from a mere 5 yards out, and the scores were level at 1-1.

With the crowd cheering their heroes on and promotion in their minds, the home side were far more motivated than we, and Elding had another great chance at 64 minutes, making space in the box just to the right of the penalty spot with his first touch, and only putting it narrowly wide.

Two minutes later, Hall put a great cross into the box, which Rob Quinn headed on goal. The shot took a deflection off of Chris Clarke, but bounced right to Dannie Bulman, who hammered it home to put the home side ahead 1-2.

I started to push men forward, and brought on Billy Manuel and Lee Nogan to seek an advantage, but the veterans couldn't seem to find the net any more than my starters had. We did get a big break from Bulman, however, who was yellow carded twice in six minutes by Chris Foster, both times for tripping young Andrew Green out on the left wing.

With a man advantage, I used my final substitution to change to a 3-5-2, bringing Andy Bishop on for Paul Parkin. Moments later, Rawle had a fantastic chance from 18 yards, but launched it over the bar, and then disaster struck, as Michael Staley went down in pain. The youngster had to come off, leaving us in a cumbersome 2-5-2 formation which produced no chances until deep into injury time.

With Steveange in posession deep in our half, we got control, and set out on a desparate rush, with a 5-on-2 advantage! Rawle dribbled most of the length of the field, into the box but well right of the goal. He had plenty of targets to choose from in the box, but his cross carried over the end line, and with that, the final whistle blew.

Stevenage 2, York 1

Fortune-West 54, Bulman 66; Whitmore 37

MoM: Whitmore

Tappa Whitmore again earned Man of the Match honors, but that could bring little joy to our disconsolate locker room.

We just can't seem to string two results together right now. Its that old saw: "one step forward, two steps back."

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Wednesday, 27th April, 2005.

With two Man-of-the-Match performances in just four days, it was no surprise that Tappa Whitmore was named to the Conference National Team of the Week, and the news from physio Jeff Miller was equally good. Michael Staley would miss our meaningless last match of the regular season with a foot injury, but should be able to return for the F.A. Trophy Final.

It was not a good night for the favorites in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final. Arsenal beat Juventus at Highbury 2-0 behind goals from Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, while Bayern München surprised Barcelona 2-0 in Germany.

In our mid-week Reserve match, a nearly all-amateur side put up no fight in a 0-1 loss to Scarborough Reserves.

I was, however, left with quite a dilemma before the season finale: did I want to promote a bunch of the U-18 side to get some first-team experience, disrupting their run towards the Under-18 league title, or was I willing to keep the team united?

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Saturday, 30th April, 2005. Conference National - Match 42, vs Accrington Stanley.

Accrington Stanely were three points back of us in the table: with a win they could leapfrog over us to finish in 12th place in the Conference. Nonetheless, I'd decided that it was more important to get the youngsters first-team experience than to hold onto the spot, or to win the Under-18's title, so I gave a number of youngsters starts.

It started in goal, with 17-year-old Arran Reid in goal. His defense was pretty solid, with Paul Parkin on the left and Gary Pearson dropped back to central defense. Captain Steve Davis, who might be making his last appearance at Bootham Crescent, was the other central defender. Nathan Kamara, now 18, would play right back. Billy Manuel, at defensive midfield, was certainly making his final appearance, with his contract expiring. Paul Robinson was still filling in at right wing, with 19-year-old Bryan Stewart on the left. Lee Morris, in the last match of his loan, would start at attacking midfield with Lee Nogan, who, like Davis, I was shopping around. Turkish striker Levent Yalçin, now 20, got the final starting slot up front.

Accrington Stanley came out in a very negative 3-5-2, with the wingers dropping all the way back to full back in defense, while I returned to the more aggressive variant of the 4-5-1, with my full backs and wingers pushing forward.

There were chances at both ends early on, as Lee Morris flighted a free kick just over the bar on 5 minutes, and Arran Reid made a brilliant save to deny Accrington captain Mike Flynn a minute later. Nathan Kamara sent in a fine cross on 14 minutes, which Levent Yalçin rose to head home, only to see his effort caromb off the goalpost.

Things quieted down until the 31st minute, when Accrington's Ian Craney launched a shot from wide to the left, which Reid barely managed to deflect wide, another highlight-reel save by the youngster. Four minutes later, however, Ryan Wilkie sent a nice pass to Lee McEvilly, who juked past Kamara, and was suddenly free in the box. Reid started to come out, then hesitated, allowing McEvilly to dribble around him and score easily. At 35 minutes, we trailed 0-1.

We nearly got the instant reply, when Paul Robinson's cross from the right wing to the near post found Yalçin. Instead of heading it at the well-positioned keeper, he headed it back across the goalmouth for Lee Morris. Craney did just enough to put Morris off, and his header went just wide of the open goal. Still, I was very pleased with the Turkish youngster for the creative move, and when we came in for half-time, I felt we'd had the better of play, and were just unlucky at the finish.

Six minutes later, I was irate and screaming. Gary Pearson had launched a long back-pass to Reid, and the youngster failed to control it. His first touch went well out in front of him, and he had to sprint to beat McEvilly to the loose ball. He tried to dribble, but again his touch was poor, and went straight to Craney, who could not believe his luck. From 35 yards out, he launched the ball towards the empty net, and it went in, narrowly missing the left post. Just like that, we trailed 0-2.

I switched things around to the 3-5-2, our desperation offense, but Accrington just fell back, clogging every lane with a defense that looked very much like a 5-3-2 at this point. By the 75th minute, it was clear that we were doomed to another defeat, and the crowd of 1,456 began to file for the exits.

I did not have that option, though I was equally disgusted with our play, and the whistle for full time could not come soon enough.

York 0, Accrington 2

----; McEvilly 35, Craney 52

MoM: Craney (Accrington MC)

None of the players could look me in the eye in the locker room - we'd finished up our regular season with an 0-1-4 push in the month of April, outscored 3-12 in the five matches and securing our only point from a 0-0 draw. In fact, since Valentine's Day, when we had looked like serious contenders for promotion, we had won just two matches to slump well out of contention.

I was not happy, and neither were any of my players.

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Sunday, 1st May, 2005.

The absence of some of their top stars seemed to cost the York Under-18's, as after Robbie Haw and amateur Jamie Withe had scored to give them a 2-1 advantage late in the match, they conceded an 87th minute equalizer to Scarborough U-18's, a result which left the lads somewhat disappointed - until they learned that Macclesfield U-18's had lost 2-1, giving them a one-point edge going into their final match showdown. The game also marked the return of young right wing Adam Arthur, recovering from the surgery I had sent him to back in January.

After our dismal finish, I was somewhat dreading my monthly meeting with the Board, but though I was unhappy, Steve Beck informed me that they remained pleased with my performance.

They were looking forward to the prospect of winning the F.A. Trophy, and I learned to my shock that the only silverware York had ever lifted was the title in what is now League Two, one level above the Conference, back in 1984, and that they had never won a Cup of any kind!

A win, even in such a minor trophy, would be a Big Deal, in captial letters.

Sophie McGill remained truculant, reminding me that the club were sliding ever further in debt due to my rampant spending. We were still £75,000 p/a over our wage budget, £70,000 in debt, and had posted an operating loss of over £425,000 for the season to date.

That put the cap on my first Conference National season, and despite some flashes of brilliance, especially our nine-game unbeaten run through February and March and our F.A. Trophy run, there was obviously lots of work to do, and honestly I didn't feel confident about any of our positions save Tappa Whitmore and the strikers.

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Monday, 2nd May, 2005.

I reviewed training progress with my coaches today, as we do every month at this time.

To my dismany, Tappa Whitmore had lost a bit of the technical ability which made him such a star, Lee Nogan had dropped off dramatically, Paul Parkin was still regressing, and even Levent Yalcin was going backwards. A period of poor morale such as this month had been seemed awful for training.

Left wing Marc Schofield had progressed well, as had Robbie Haw, and Michael Staley was at least holding on to his gains.

The biggest improvement of the month was Graeme Law, the 20-year-old right back, whose growth thus far made him the most improved player since I'd taken over management of the side.

In other news, Tappa Whitmore earned third in the Conference Player of the Month balloting, while Exeter's John Neill had the second best goal of the month - against us, in that 0-4 travesty of a match.

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Wednesday, 4th May, 2005.

Danny Whitaker left the side yesterday, his 3-month loan from Macclesfield completed. I was sad to see him go, because the 24-year-old was very technically adept, but he had struggled to last more than about 60 minutes through a match.

Danny Whitaker, 24, AMC: February 2005-May 2005: 12 starts, 20 apps, 1 goal, 5 assists, 7.05

It was a strange evening tonight, in our Reserve match at Hartlepool. First, it was pouring rain and gale force winds were blowing, which nearly prompted the postponement of the match. When the match got the go-ahead - nearly thirty minutes late - I started an odd mixture of youth and experience. First-choice keeper David Stockdale returned in goal, gaining match fitness towards the FA Trophy final, while 16-year-old central defender Darren Hollingsworth was named man of the match. Up front, Lee Nogan and Robbie Haw scored goals, powering us to a 2-0 victory.

Elsewhere, the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals were played. Arsenal travelled to Italy with a 2-0 lead over newly-crowned Scudetto champions Juventus. When the home side scored two goals, it forced one of the most incredible extra-time periods the tournament has ever seen.

David Trezeguet put Juventus ahead just 1 minute into extra-time with his second of the game, but Dennis Bergkamp equalized at 103 minutes. Alessio Tacchinardi put the hosts back on top 4-3 in the second extra-time period, and then as Arsenal sent everyone forward in desperation, Trezeguet completed his hat-trick to make the final score a 5-3 aggregate.

Meanwhile, Bayern München took the same 2-goal advantage to Barcelona, where they coolly dispatched the Catalunya side 1-0, completing a 3-0 aggregate win to set up a grand clash between two of the world's biggest clubs in the Final.

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Wednesday, 11th May, 2005.

The Premier League season was rapidly coming to a close, and with one match remaining, Chelsea held a mere two point lead over Manchester United. Believe it or not they would face each other on Saturday at Stamford Bridge to determine the champions!

At the bottom of the table, Birmingham, Crystal Palace, and Norwich were assured relegation from the Premier League, whilst Sunderland had won the Championship and would be promoted along with West Ham.

In our division's playoff battle, Exeter beat Stevenage on penalties, while Halifax defeated Gravesend on a 3-1 aggregate score, despite drawing 1-1 in the first leg at home.

Today, however, was our last Reserve match of the season, and this time I sent a full-strength senior side, as we were eleven days from the FA Trophy final, and I wanted to ensure everyone was fully fit for the match. With the injury crisis passed, and in fact all of my once-injured players back on the pitch, it was as strong a side as I could field.

Despite a number of good individual performances, and a Man of the Match outing from David Stockdale, who certainly appeared back in match form, the squad lost 1-0 to Hull Reserves - a quite worrisome outcome!

The action, as a second half substitute, would be Lee Morris's last in a Minstermen jersey.

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Saturday, 14th May, 2005.

Yesterday, we'd gotten some bad news. Mark Rawle, the speedy striker, had suffered a calf strain which would rule him out for the F.A. Trophy final.

Today, however, was Title Day: the press were of course making a huge to-do about the Chelsea-Manchester United match in the Premier League, but in our Under-18 division, we were due to host Macclesfield U-18's, whom we held a 1-point lead over. A win or a draw would see our youngsters earn the title, and a loss would hand the title to the visitors.

187 fans turned out to Bootham Crescent to cheer our youngsters on, and they got a treat. Adam Arthur scored his first post-surgery goal 40 minutes in, a spectacular 20-yard strike from a corner kick. At 64 minutes, Joe Foote sent a beautiful pass ahead to Levent Yalçin, who had gotten behind the Macclesfield line, and the Turk made it 2-0. In the 83rd minute, Foote was fouled in the box after another corner, and Darren Hollingsworth converted the penalty for his first U-18 goal. Finally, Foote and Yalcin combined on another beauty to make the score 4-0!

Joe Foote, the captain, had 3 assists and fully deserved a 10 match rating, a Man of the Match award, and the right to hoist the Under-18 Group 2 trophy on his home ground!

The youth match had been at noon, which meant, even with the post-match celebrations, everyone was showered and changed in time for the big Chelsea-Manchester United match, and we all gathered around a television in the nice club lounge at the stadium.

It was a sellout crowd at Stamford Bridge, and they were all on their feet in the 8th minute, when Mateja Kezman broke free with a fantastic dribble, beating Rio Ferdinand and putting Chelsea ahead early.

In the 23rd minute, Damien Duff got a breakaway into the box, and Tim Howard tripped him; Paulo Ferreira converted the penalty and the rout was on.

Michael Ballack made it 3-0 with a spectacular 30-yard curling shot in the second half, and got his brace on a header ten minutes later.

The final score was 4-0, and the crowd of nearly 43,000 celebrated as their heroes lifted the Premier League trophy for the first time in fifty years!

Newcastle nipped in to steal second from United with a 2-0 win of their own, and that made the final table:

   Team              Pts    W   D   L   GF  GA   GD 
----------------------------------------------------
1 Chelsea            74   22   8   8   65  32  +33  Champions League
2 Newcastle United   70   20  10   8   55  43  +12  Champions League
3 Manchester United  69   20   9   9   64  46  +18  Champions League
4 Arsenal            66   20   6  12   54  39  +15  Champions League
5 Tottenham          62   19   5  14   57  48  + 9  UEFA Cup
6 Liverpool          60   18   6  14   53  47  + 6  Inter-toto Cup
7 Middlesbrough      58   15  13  10   45  44  + 1  Inter-toto Cup
8 Everton            57   16   9  13   44  41  + 3
9 Charlton Athletic  56   16   8  14   56  51  + 5
10 Manchester City    56   16   8  14   50  45  + 5  
11 Aston Villa        55   15  10  13   49  42  + 7  
12 Bolton             49   13  10  15   44  46  - 2
13 Blackburn          48   14   6  18   47  53  - 6  UEFA Cup
14 Portsmouth         48   14   6  18   46  53  - 7
15 Southampton        46   13   7  18   47  51  - 4
16 West Brom Albion   42   11   9  18   45  54  - 9
17 Fulham             41   11   8  19   38  54  -16
----------------------------------------------------
18 Norwich            36    9   9  20   31  61  -30
19 Crystal Palace     33    7  12  19   36  52  -16
20 Birmingham         31    8   7  23   35  59  -24

Blackburn Rovers were guaranteed a UEFA Cup berth by virtue of reaching the F.A. Cup Final, regardless of the outcome against on-form Chelsea as the Blues looked to make it a double.

Where was the other UEFA Cup berth? Have you not been reading this story?!

Stoke City had placed 20th in the Championship .. but by winning the League Cup, were bound for Europe!

Sunderland and West Ham were the clubs bound for the Premiership, while the talk of Yorkshire was the presence of not one but TWO clubs in the Championship playoffs: local rivals Leeds United and Sheffield United, should everything go their way, could meet in the Playoff final!

Championship:

   Team              Pts   W   D   L   GF  GA   GD 
1 Sunderland         81   24   9  13   66  51  +15
2 West Ham           81   23  12  11   63  49  +14
  ------------------
3 Derby              78   21  15  10   68  53  +15
4 Leeds United       77   21  14  11   59  48  +11
5 Reading            75   21  12  13   64  50  +14
6 Sheffield United   74   22   8  16   55  50  + 5
----------------------------------------------------
  .....
20 Stoke City         55   16   7  23   50  60  -10  UEFA Cup

Stoke City had not been in much danger of relegation, finishing 11 points clear of 22nd-place Rotherham; Coventry and Watford were the other two clubs to go down.

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Wednesday, 18th May, 2005.

I could hardly wait for the F.A. Trophy Final, but had to wait through days' worth of media coverage about the Championship playoffs.

Sheffield United's playoff campaign had gotten off to a good start with a 1-0 win over Derby County on Monday, while Leeds United had started with a 1-1 draw at Reading that seemed to leave them in the driver's seat with the return tie upcoming.

On Tuesday, Lee Morris bid us farewell, as his second 3-month loan was over, and he had to return to Leicester. I bid him 'adieu', not 'good-bye', as I'm considering making a full-season loan offer to Leicester in July.

Lee Morris, 25, AMC: December 2004-May 2005: 22 starts, 25 apps, 7 goals, 6 assists, 2 MoM, 7.04

That left us back down to just the players we had under contract, to pursue our F.A. Trophy dream with.

In Lisbon, today was the final of the UEFA Cup at the Estadio Jose de Alvalade, and Newcastle United was England's last hope for a major European trophy. However, Bayern Leverkusen manhandled them 2-0, with goals by Landon Donovan and Bernd Schneider to eliminate the English threat.

I have to confess a certain fondness for the American, Donovan, who had been a long-time member of my local San Jose Earthquakes back when I was living in California. Believe it or not, he went to the same high school my wife did, though they weren't contemporaneous.

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Friday, 20th May, 2005.

The club were buzzing with excitement about the approaching F.A. Trophy Final: our chance to bring some silverware home to Bootham Crescent!

The Yorkshire local news, of course, remained more interested in the Championship playoffs.

Leeds United played their Semi-Final first, and a second consecutive 1-1 draw with Reading saw the match go first to extra-time, and eventually to penalties! It was, I must say, thrilling stuff, but when Reading's Nicky Forster made the decisive fifth shot to give Reading a 4-3 win, Leeds were done save for the familiar refrain "wait 'til next year."

Sheffield United had their turn the next day, and an early goal against Derby gave them a seemingly insurmountable led. Though the Rams, buouyed by the Pride Park crowd, clawed one back to earn a 1-1 draw on the day, the Blades were through to the Final on a 2-1 aggregate.

Compared to that drama, our quest for silverware was drawing a small spot on the third page of the sports section, even for the local Evening Press.

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Sunday, 22nd May, 2005. FA Trophy - Final, vs Altrincham, at Millenium Stadium, Cardiff.

The Millenium Stadium is a magnificent facility, and I'm sure every one of my players felt as nervous as I did as we prepared for the match. The locker room is of an incredible standard, and hearing the noise of the crowd - at 7,873, our largest crowd of the season - outside as we got ready sent chills tingling through the spine.

Our opponents would be Altrincham, a Conference North club from Greater Manchester who had, ironically, closed out their season with a crushing 3-0 victory over Lancaster. They hadn't lost a match since April 16th, and had rocketed up the Conference North table to finish 7th, narrowly out of the playoffs themselves. We should be the better club, but they were definitely the 'on form' side.

I chose what I consider my lineup, starting with David Stockdale in goal. Dave Merris was the left back, with veteran captain Steve Davis partnered with young Michael Staley as the centre backs. Graeme Law, of course, was the right back - I've really come to trust him over the second half of the season. Gary Pearson got the nod at defensive midfield, and Darren Dunning was my first choice at left wing. 19-year-old Adam Arthur would start at right wing, his first senior start since the injury and only his eighth appearance ever for York. The attacking midfield would pair playmaker Theodore Whitmore with player/coach Lee Nogan, while leading scorer Andy Bishop would start as the lone striker.

To my great horror, I realized that the referee was going to be Rob Styles, whose notoriously strict discipline was legendary even to a manager from the lower leagues. Unfortunately, while I was worrying about that, and making last minute changes to my tactics to ensure that nobody wound up in card trouble, the Robins were busy getting off to a dream start. Lee Flanagan accepted a pass beyond the top of the arc, juked past captain Steve Davis, and launched a 20-yard curling shot into the back of the net! A mere 53 seconds into the match, and we trailed 0-1 - a disastrous start!

I retained the conservative formation I'd started with, figuring an early goal was no reason to panic, and my faith in young Adam Arthur was repaid in the 16th minute. From 40 yards out and well over on the right sideline, the 19-year-old launched a long, curling cross into the box. Andy Bishop outran one of the Altrincham defenders to reach the ball about 16 yards from net, and he looped a header perfectly into the top-right corner! It was quite a distance to score with head, and equalized at 1-1.

Bishop nearly got a second just minutes later, as he broke clear of the last defender and went one-on-one with Altrincham keeper John Hodges. It looked a great chance, but our leading scorer put it wide of the net. That was followed by ten minutes of Altrincham pressure, with several corner kicks and most of the play occuring in our own third.

The pressure was capped when captain Rod Thornley launched an aerial pass into the area. Michael Staley got his head on it, but misplayed it, directing it into the path of Flanagan. The 24-year-old striker pounced on the opportunity, and laced it past David Stockdale to put Altrincham up 1-2 with his 15th goal of the year!

At halftime, I knew that we were being thoroughly outplayed. We'd been outshot 8-2, and were lucky to trail by only a single goal. I switched things around, pushing players forward in our attacking tactic. Altrincham manager Graham Heathcote countered by falling into a conservative 5-3-2, packing five men into the back line, and clogging the middle with midfielders.

We couldn't seem to crack the nut, perhaps for lack of patience, and as time went by I tried every trick, bringing in Levent Yalcin and some fresh wingers. Shortly after I brought Bryan Stewart and Paul Robinson on, they combined for a lovely move, a cross from Stewart over to Robinson unmarked at the far post, but his shot went straight to goalkeeper John Hodges.

Time was running out, and I looked to Tappa Whitmore for a moment of brilliance, but he was being marked out of the game, with two midfielders shadowing his every step. Somebody had to be open, but we just seemed to be running out of steam - even giving Graeme Law his head to range forward, and asking Gary Pearson to get more involved in the attack didn't seem to be helping. Nothing seemed to be working for us.

In the waning minutes, I even tried sending all eleven men forward on a corner kick, but the Altrincham defense was up to every challenge. When Styles blew full time, it was the end of our F.A. Trophy adventure.

Altrincham 2, York 1

Flanagan 1, 36; Bishop 16

MoM: Flanagan (Altrincham SC)

As the lads exchanged shirts with the Robins, I made sure to find Altrincham manager Graham Heathcote: I had to admit I'd been outmaneuvered at every turn by the grey-haired Moss Lane legend - do you believe he started 502 games for them before the age of 31?

He'd certainly had my number today, but after 35 years with the club, as player, captain, coach, and now manager, he's got a bit more experience with the game than I do!

I shook his hand, with sincere congratulations.

Robins striker Lee Flanagan, with a brace, was named Man of the Match.

We were left with the mild humiliation of having lost to a side from the Conference North, where I had started the season, and trying to assuage that with assurances that it had been a good Cup run nonetheless.

Still, runners-up was a fine acheivement.

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Unlucky there Amaroq! Sounds like Graham Heathcote should be managing in a higher league than he is! I was really looking forward to seeing Tappa Whitmore dominate proceedings too, shame it never quite happened. Hope you continue this into next season, a great read! Keep it up!

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I was, too .. but they really did seem to double-cover him throughout, and I wasn't tactically sophisticated enough to cope.

Don't worry, we've plenty more Tappa yet to come ..

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Monday, 23rd May, 2005.

Today, I bid farewell to all of my players, telling them to return in mid-July for our pre-season training camp.

It had been an interesting season, with the side finishing 13th in the Conference National, with a 15-11-16 record and a -2 goal differential. Runners-up in the FA Trophy, and the U-18 side lifting their Cup were definitely the highlights of the year. Honestly, though, I was quite disappointed with our last two months, after looking like we had a shot at both promoting to League Two and winning the FA Trophy, to fall as flat as we had was hard to take.

Elsewhere yesterday, Exeter had beaten Halifax 1-0 to secure promotion to League Two. Considering the embarassing 4-0 defeat Exeter had handed us, I was glad to see them promote on to the next level.

It certainly made their August hiring of Andy Kilner as Manager appear to be a stroke of brilliance. He got my vote in the Manager of the Year balloting, but came second behind champion Hereford United's Graham Turner.

Hinckley and Dorchester had won the English Conference North and South, respectively, while Hornchurch had qualified via the playoffs. Those three sides would replace Woking, Northwich, and Leigh RMI, who had finished as the last three and been relegated.

Also joining the Conference from League Two's relegation zone would be Southend United and Northampton.

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Tuesday, 24th May, 2005.

To recap the season for you, I've a few tables. Here were the final standings from the Nationwide Conference, where we'd finished in a solid mid-table position.

  Pos            Pts    W   D   L   GD  PF  PA
C  1 Hereford     84   24  12   6  +33  67  34
-----------------------------------------------
  2 Gravesend    73   19  16   7  +13  55  42
P  3 Exeter       68   19  11  12  +19  58  39
  4 Stevenage    66   21   3  18  +10  70  60 
  5 Halifax      66   17  15  10  + 2  50  48 
-----------------------------------------------
  6 Barnet       62   16  14  12  +10  54  44
  7 Burton       62   17  11  14  + 9  58  49
  8 Carlisle     61   15  16  11  + 3  49  46
  9 Morecambe    60   15  15  12  - 1  52  53
 10 Dag & Red    59   15  14  13  + 4  54  50
 11 Aldershot    57   15  12  15  + 1  59  58
 12 Accrington   56   15  11  16  - 1  54  55
 13 YORK         56   15  11  16  - 2  52  54 
 14 Canvey Isl.  56   15  11  16  - 7  50  57
 15 Tamworth     55   14  13  15  + 1  64  63
 16 Farnborough  53   14  11  17  - 8  55  63
 17 Crawley      52   12  16  14    0  46  46
 18 Forest Green 51   13  12  17  - 4  46  50
 19 Scarborough  50   13  11  18  -11  51  62
-----------------------------------------------
R 20 Woking       41   11   8  23  -17  40  57
R 21 Northwich    40   10  10  22  -24  39  63
R 22 Leigh RMI    26    5  11  26  -30  35  65

I took note of the success Stevenage had had with an all-out attack strategy. Leading the league in goals, but with a defense more porous than relegated Woking, they'd suffered 18 defeats but come fourth - the next team with 18 defeats came 19th!

The old adage that "defense wins championships" had proved true enough, as Exeter dumped them out of the promotion proceedings easily enough; it was little coincidence, I thought, that the two promoted sides had the two stingiest defenses.

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Wednesday, 25th May, 2005.

Tonight was the Champions League Final, a classic between German champions Bayern München and Italian champions Juventus, and I made sure to get down to the pub to watch.

It was a very defensive struggle, one of those thrilling matches where every chance has your heart racing, only for a defender to nick in at the last moment, or a goalkeeper to make a phenomenal save. It was a thing of beauty - and that's something the American sporting public will simply never understand. It held scoreless all the way through relegation, and on through both periods of extra time, and was finally resolved on penalties.

Juventus managed to avert a German sweep of European honours, with a 3-2 shootout win!

I could only watch them celebrate their third title and dream ..

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Thursday, 26th May, 2005.

While goal-poaching striker Andy Bishop may have led the club in scoring, it was clear that Jamaican midfielder Tappa Whitmore was our best player: he'd led the team in assists with just half a season, with an incredible match rating of 8.28.

Strikers        Pos Age  GS App Goa Ass MoM  Av R
Andy Bishop      SC  22  31  46  19   2   1  6.93
Mark Rawle       SC  26   6  13   7   1   1  7.15
Chris Brown      SC      13  13   6   2   3  7.15  Loan
Levent Yalcin    SC  20  10  21   5   0   0  6.76
Robbie Haw       SC  18   1   6   0   0   0  6.50

Att.Midfielders Pos Age  GS App Goa Ass MoM  Av R
Tappa Whitmore  AMC  32  15  18   7   7   7  8.28
Lee Morris      AMC  25  22  25   7   6   2  7.04  Loan
Lee Nogan     AM/FC  36  26  29   4   1   2  6.86
Danny Whitaker  AMC  24  12  20   1   5   0  7.05  Loan
Joe Foote       AMC  17   4   5   1   0   0  7.00
Trevor Snowden  FLC  31   2   5   0   0   0  6.40  Expiring

Wingers         Pos Age  GS App Goa Ass MoM  Av R
Bryan Stewart   AML  19  20  30   3   5   0  6.63
Kevin Donovan   AMR  33  17  19   2   1   0  6.79
Darren Dunning   ML  24  32  39   1   3   0  6.69
Peter Till       MR  21  12  12   1   2   0  6.17  Loan
Alex Benjamin   AMR  23   9  13   1   1   1  6.62
Adam Arthur     AMR  19   3   5   1   1   0  6.60
Andrew Green    AML  18   6   8   1   1   0  6.88
Paul Robinson   AMR  26  10  21   0   2   0  6.29
Marc Schofield  AML  20   1   4   0   0   0  6.25
Steven Collins  AML  17   0   0   0   0   0  -.--  Released

Def.Midfielders Pos Age  GS App Goa Ass MoM  Av R
Billy Manuel    DMC  35  29  37   1   2   1  6.73  Expiring
Gary Pearson    DMC  28  32  35   1   0   0  6.57
Paul Groves      MC  39  22  23   0   1   1  6.09  Transferred (Free)
Matthew Coad     MC  20   6   7   0   0   0  5.43  Transferred £2,000
Kane Ashcroft    MC  19   1   1   0   0   0  7.00  Transferred (Free)
Byron Webster    MC  17   1   1   0   0   0  6.00  Transferred (Free)

Defenders       Pos Age  GS App Goa Ass MoM  Av R
Steve Davis      DC  36  41  41   3   1   2  6.85
Dave Merris      DL  24  33  34   1   1   0  6.71  Expiring
John Fitzgerald  DC  20  18  18   1   0   2  7.22  Loan
Paul Parkin      DL  21  10  10   1   0   0  7.10
Graeme Law       DR  20  29  31   0   1   2  6.94
Michael Staley   DC  17  12  12   0   0   0  6.92
Gavin Hurren     DC  19  11  12   0   0   2  6.58
Chris Clarke     DC  24  12  14   0   0   0  6.50  Expiring
Nathan Kamara    DR  18   3   3   0   0   0  7.00
Shaun Smith      DL  34   5   7   0   0   0  6.43  Expiring
D. Hollingsworth DC  16   0   0   0   0   0  -.--

Goalkeepers     Pos Age  GS App Con Cln MoM  Av R
David Stockdale  GK  19  32  32  38   7   0  6.44
Tony Caig        GK  30  16  16  18   6   1  6.88  Loan
Chris Porter     GK  25   3   4   5   1   0  6.75
Arran Reid       GK  17   3   3   6   1   0  6.33

Judging from the average match ratings, however - six is "fair to middling" and seven is "played a decent game but didn't catch the eye" - the rest of my club were, well, not quite what it was going to take to challenge at this level.

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Friday, 28th May, 2005.

In the Conference North, my former side, Lancaster, had faltered badly without me. I'd built the side for the 4-5-1, and, as Kevin Hull had before him, Micky Engwell had persisted in playing a 4-4-2 that was utterly unsuited to the players I'd left them.

Luckily, the Dolly Blues escaped relegation by a single point - through little fault of their own. Hull had managed four victories, but since Engwell took over in March the club had amassed a 2-1-5 record. They'd conceded a goal in their last thirteen straight matches, and ended with three straight defeats.

To be fair, they'd finished only six points off of tenth, too; the league was just that tightly packed together at the bottom.

  Pos                Pts    W   D   L   GD  PF  PA
C  1 Hinckley Utd     77   24   5  13  +29  72  43
---------------------------------------------------
  2 Worksop Town     73   20  13   9  +23  68  45
  3 Barrow           72   21   9  12  +12  61  49
  4 Worcester        69   20   9  13  + 2  54  52
  5 Nuneaton Borough 67   18  13  11  +15  57  42
---------------------------------------------------
  6 Redditch United  65   18  11  13  + 4  54  50
  7 Altrincham       61   15  16  11  + 5  53  48
  8 Stafford Rangers 59   16  11  15  + 2  56  54
  9 Moor Green       58   15  13  14  + 4  58  54
 10 Alfreton Town    56   16   8  18  - 2  49  51
 11 Hucknall Town    55   14  13  15  - 4  47  51
 12 Gainsborough     54   14  12  16  - 5  48  53
 13 Droylsden        53   14  11  17  + 4  54  50
 14 Stalybridge C.   53   13  14  15  - 1  56  57
 15 Harrogate Town   53   14  11  17  - 4  52  56
 16 Runcorn          51   13  12  17  - 5  51  56
 17 Southport        51   13  12  17  - 5  48  53
 18 Bradford P.A.    51   13  12  17  - 7  57  64
 19 Lancaster        50   13  11  18  -10  40  50
---------------------------------------------------
R 20 Ashton United    49   13  10  19  -26  38  64
R 21 Kettering Town   45   11  12  19  -11  44  55
R 22 Vauxhall Motors  38    8  14  20  -20  49  69

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Saturday, 28th May, 2005.

Tonight was the F.A. Cup Final, and Blackburn took a shock first-half lead over Chelsea through Scottish striker Paul Dickov.

The Blues battled back through Thomas Rosicky's equalizer on the hour, a stunning volley 25 yards from goal which left the keeper little chance - a truly majestic strike worthy of the stage.

Rosicky won Man of the Match for his assist on Mateja Kezman's breakaway extra-time goal, a fine through ball which put th Serb in behind the tiring Blackburn defense with just ten minutes left in before penalties.

Chelsea had won the Double, 2-1!

In less-national news, I'd arranged the move of backup goalkeeper Chris Porter to Moor Green on a free transfer, primarily to rid myself of his £18,000 p/a salary.

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Sunday, 29th May, 2005.

Yorkshire's campaign came to its official close with the Championship playoff final, where Sheffield United was facing Reading.

The Blades managed an 80th-minute equalizer from another Scottish striker, Andy Gray, to force extra-time, but a scoreless half-hour saw the match head to penalties. Irish 'keeper Paddy Kenny was unable to make a single save, which made him no match for 32-year-old American counterpart Marcus Hahnemann, who saved two as Reading won 4-3, without needing to take their fifth effort.

I'd found myself quite rooting for the red-and-white Blades, despite the presence of a countryman in goal for the opposition - frankly, I'd never heard of him before, and I guess I've started to put down roots here in Yorkshire!

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