Nobody wants to lose 4-1 at home. Nobody plans to – Europol investigation notwithstanding – and nobody goes out with that intention in mind, but it can and does happen and there are generally reasons for it. The problem is that in the febrile and fickle world of the football supporter, where half a dozen clubs have offed their manager in the space of a couple of weeks, calls for a change at the top are often the first resort of the disgruntled fan.
Unfortunately, York City did lose 4-1 at home last Saturday. It wasn’t pleasant and the grumbling began instantly, in the ground, on the radio and online. Gary Mills has lost the plot, apparently, and if City are to prevent an early return to the Conference then he has to go. That seems to be the prevailing opinion expressed by a noisy minority. It’s also rubbish.
City actually started pretty well at the weekend, but went behind in the 23rd minute, Kevin Ellison nodding down a right-wing cross for Lewis Alessandra to sweep home. City stuck to their game plan and were level five minutes later from the penalty spot after a foul given for holding at a corner. And from there on, there appeared little danger to the City goal. Trouble is, there’s not a huge amount of danger at the other end. With quarter of an hour to go, a hopeful ball down the channels should have been easy for City keeper Michael Ingham to deal with. Instead, he missed his attempted clearance and allowed Ellison to nip in and restore Morecambe’s lead. With time ticking down, City launched everything forward with the almost inevitable consequence of leaving themselves wide open at the back. Against a decent counter-attacking side like Morecambe, it was a gamble and one that didn’t pay off. Twice in the last few minutes, they broke the City siege and found nobody at home and, twice, substitute Jack Redshaw profited with goals.
Taken purely as a result, it is of course dispiriting, but the nature of the defeat was not in any way indicative of structural flaws in the way City go about their football. You can’t legislate for a goalkeeping brain-fart, especially from one of the better keepers in the division, and the two late goals were always going to be at least a possibility when everybody else was up at the other end of the field. The team is short of goals, this is clear. Ashley Chambers hasn’t played since October, but still sits second on the goal-scoring charts – one behind Jason Walker – and fellow forward Michael Coulson, who had a great start to the season, damaged knee ligaments in September and is out for most, if not all, of the rest of the season. Alex Rodman came in on loan from Aldershot to fill in on the left side of the front three and it would be fair to say he’s not been a resounding success, but to heap blame on the forwards alone is to miss the point.
Defensive pragmatism blunted the attacking intent of the full-backs which, in a 4-3-3 system, is absolutely crucial. The result has been a dearth of chances created and while the forwards haven’t been converting too many, they’re largely feeding on scraps and it’s difficult to be over-critical. Steps have been taken to improve the supply lines by getting Curtis Obeng in on loan from Swansea to play at right-back, but the hunt for a left-back during January proved fruitless. There appears to be money there to bring players in, particularly after moving other players on, but City are still operating on a budget that even by League 2 standards cannot be regarded as anything other than small.
Recruitment in the summer wasn’t huge either and this was understandable. Over the previous couple of seasons, a winning mentality had been cultivated and the group of players that got out of the Conference got first chance to consolidate the club back in the Football League. It not only seemed fair, but also the right thing to do. However, for a lot of those players, this is their first experience of league football. Perhaps the pace is getting to them. Perhaps other teams, now that there’s a lot more footage available, have been able to work City out a bit more than was happening in the division below.
Either way, it’s more a series of minor things that just aren’t quite coming together rather than something that indicates the need for fundamental and structural change. It’s not a time to get rid of the gameplan – despite plenty of calls for a big lump of a striker to chuck on up front and reverting to a 1970s lump-it-and-hope, low-percentage brand of football that’s best left in the distant past, the brand of football that got us relegated out of the league in the first place – or the manager. When the loan window opens there may need to be personnel changes and Gary Mills remains the man to do that and to see City into the mid-table obscurity that everyone at the club would have bitten your arm off for five years ago.
Feel free to disagree, but you’re wrong.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
John tweets at @johnnydobbo