Match of the Weekend 4 – The Conference Playoff Final – York City 2 – 1 Luton Town
“We’re a Football League club, how good is that?” – Gary Mills’ reaction to York City’s return to the league was typically unshowy, embodying the calm, quiet way the Minstermen have gone about their season.
There were no tears, no whoops of delight and not much in the way of a wild celebration, just an acknowledgement of how much it means for the club to win.
It is almost ironic that the only fuss York City have caused this season came in the form of Matty Blair’s winning goal, which looked at least a yard offside.
Mills’ response to the goal:
“Was is offside? Who cares. It’s a goal and a huge goal. Mistakes happen all the time.”
After Andre Gray fired Luton ahead with barely two minutes on the clock things didn’t look great for York. Gray, signed from Hinckley United in the Conference North, was there to collect Robbie Willmot’s flick, with the crossbar helping the ball over the line.
Luton could’ve made it two with Alex Lawless and Adam Watkins both shooting wide. But with 15 minutes played the Minstermen began to take control. Top scorer Jason Walker tested Luton keeper Mark Tyler with a rasping shot, Tyler stretching to tip the ball over the bar.
Their equaliser came when York took advantage of some lazy Luton defending, Chris Smith darting back and looping a cross into the box for Ashley Chambers to smash into the back of the net.
After the break York didn’t waste time, Matty Blair collecting the ball and flicking it past Tyler, the York striker appearing to be in plenty of space – but clearly offside.
Gray somehow failed to connect with the ball, clear on goal six yards out, with an air kick which will no doubt be in his nightmares for months to come.
Luton pushed in search of an equaliser, with manager Paul Buckle’s double substitution on the hour mark adding energy to the Hatters but York saw out the victory.
Outnumbered in the crowd of 39,265, the York fans were the loudest by the time of the final whistle, many of them on their second Sunday outing to Wembley in a row following last week’s FA Trophy final which saw Matty Blair score the winner against Newport County.
Going into the game without having lost to Luton this season York were still the underdogs, the team from up North weren’t bringing as many fans so perhaps they didn’t want it as much.
But Mills told The Press: “We know where we go if we win. It puts a lot of things to bed, a lot of things that have gone on over the years at York City Football Club.
“They are going to be gone. We know what it means. We know what it is going to take.”
Understated, but determined, York came back from a goal down to spoil the afternoon for around 30,000 Luton fans. Having reached the play-offs in 2007 and 2010 and falling at the final hurdle, York fans had seen the chance of league football fall away before their eyes before but how sweet to do it off the back of a Trophy final victory the week before too, the club’s first piece of silverware in almost 20 years.
In January I wrote in the Grimsby Town programme about how York were settling into the top six without the drama of the clubs around them and in this vein they continued; look at the manager changes at Wrexham and Luton, Mansfield’s only recently solved ground issues (not to mention the arrest of their CEO at the play-off tie against York) and contrast that with York. The only time the Minstermen generated a bit of non-football publicity was when one of Matty Blair’s teammates kidnapped his statue of a dog, set up a twitter account (@blairys_dog) and began tweeting pictures of the ‘hostage’ from all over the country.
Mills, the fifth York manager in the seven years the club has been in the Conference, assembled a solid squad, perhaps lacking the stand out names of Luton and the depth of Wrexham but a squad of experienced players nonetheless. Their top scorer this season, Jason Walker (signed from Luton) may have only netted 18 but three other players (Jamie Reed, Patrick McLaughlin and Blair) have netted 10 in the league. Results have been consistent, grinding out victories and dropping few points – by the end of the season York has still conceded fewer goals than all-conquering Fleetwood.
Looking to the future, plans for a new stadium were approved earlier this month – taking York away from Bootham Crescent to a new site at Monks Cross. The club look set to remain at the ground once known as Kitkat Crescent for another couple of years while the new ground, which includes a small retail park is built.
Next season, back in the Football League, expect Mills to go about his business as he has done in the Conference. Let Fleetwood take the headlines as the brash new kids in the league, but don’t be surprised when York quietly get on with it too, just don’t expect them to shout it too loudly.
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