Seven years and eleven months ago, York City were about to embark on a run of twenty league games of which they won precisely none of them. That is relegation form in anyone’s book and, lo, it came to pass.
Promoted out of the Conference playing attractive football and with the manager’s preference for a 4-3-3, you’d think that would appease fans, even if it wasn’t quite working. But no. This is football after all with all the fickleness that implies.
On Saturday, York were poor against an AFC Wimbledon side that has found this season a bit of a struggle so far. The first half was grim as neither side got going and it was, consequently, one of the dullest 45 minutes of football you’re likely to see. At least, we consoled ourselves during the interval, we can’t possibly play as badly in the second half. Oh, but we could.
A hopeful ball over the top caught the defence flat-footed and allowed Byron Harrison to open the scoring. Stacy Long added a second with ten minutes to go which sealed the win, so unlikely were York to get back on terms at that stage, before Jack Midson added a third from the penalty spot in the dying moments after skipper Chris Smith caught Charlie Strutton’s heels when clean through on goal. Wimbledon might have added more misery with Michael Ingham making one great save and Strutton somehow managing to clear the crossbar with a downward header that looped up and into the visting fans behind the goal. There weren’t so many of the home fans left inside Bootham Crescent to see it.
Home form hasn’t been good with just two wins from nine so far compared with just one defeat on the road. As such, the majority of the support are a bit starved of winning football this season. Add in that a significant number of the support this season didn’t see us over the last eight years in non-league football – crowds last season were around the 2500 mark compared to nearly 4000 so far this term. Comments around the ground that I heard laid the blame on “too much passing” and the remedy identified as “stop all this tippy-tappy nonsense”. This is patently ridiculous, of course.
The manager, Gary Mills, has clearly heard and/or seen some of the same things as in the local paper, he’s quoted as saying “Why would I change a formation that has won us lots of games and got us promoted?” which is a germane argument, one I also subscribe to. He went on to say “I’ve never heard such rubbish if people want us to change because we’ve lost one game of football. Over the last 12 months, the system has seen us play entertaining football and made us hard to beat. Saturday was our first defeat in seven games and the first time we haven’t created a lot of chances, but that doesn’t make us a bad team or me a bad manager. I got boos because we lost one game. I’m glad I wasn’t here when the team was losing every week before I was manager. It must have been horrendous.” Again, it is nigh-on impossible to disagree.
Mills has been a breath of fresh air at the club. Since relegation to the fourth tier back in 1999, the club really wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until Martin Foyle arrived in November 2008 and started the enormous task of turning a failing club round that we’ve had anything like optimism on the terraces.
I started watching the club 30 years ago. It was a good time to get started as, a couple of years later, Denis Smith’s swashbuckling side scored 96 goals and won Division Four with a then-record 101 points, the first club to break three figures. The football was excellent and, though I didn’t realise at the time, I was being spoiled rotten. Bobby Saxton’s disastrous reign and relegation back to the bottom tier four years later was something of a reality check, but there was another peak in the mid-1990s with a first ever Wembley appearance and promotion after a penalty shoot-out against Crewe. League Cup wins over Manchester United and Everton followed which certainly gave the club a boost in publicity terms, but we quickly reverted to type. What I’m saying here is that for perhaps 22 of the 30 years I’ve been watching the club, we’ve not been up to much. For the last two years, however, that has not been the case.
Under Mills, we play nice stuff. We try to play football. It’s attractive, entertaining and clearly gets people through the gates. It’s good to watch and while no system is a panacea – ask Barcelona about their loss at Parkhead recently – playing the way we do will ensure we will win more games than we lose. No it won’t work every time and clearly didn’t against Wimbledon, but if you take even half a step back and see what is being attempted, then it shouldn’t be too hard to shrug off that defeat and look to the next game (that next game being a Cup replay against… AFC Wimbledon on the evening of the day I write this). People suggesting otherwise either have short memories or didn’t see us under Saxton or Colin Walker or Chris Brass. Now is not a time to panic and throw away everything the last two years have brought us.
The system, the plan is not the thing that’s at fault and hiring a big lump of a centre forward, reverting to two banks of four and hoofing it long is not the remedy. The remedy is to keep plugging away at what we’re doing. Clearly some players are struggling for a bit of form and there may need to be some personnel changes, but it’s tinkering in the margins rather than wholesale changes that are required.
As a support-base, we’ve long had a reputation for negativity – hardly surprising when most of the time we’re rubbish – but for the first time in 15 years we’ve got a manager worth believing in. It would be a disaster for the football club if chelping about his ideas on playing the game were to drive him away. In Mills I still trust.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
John tweets at @johnnydobbo