Minstermen were battling to avoid relegation
26 March ~ On Saturday, Michael Coulson's early goal at Fratton Park was enough for York City to complete the double over Portsmouth. No one would have envisaged such an occurrence just a few years ago while City were touring the bleakest outposts of the Conference. Of course this isn't the Cup-winning Pompey of the Redknapp era – the real story of the result is that it took York into the play-off places, a stunning turnaround for a season that at Christmas had conclusively become a second successive relegation battle.
On December 29, the team lost 2-1 at Bury, conceding within a minute of kick-off and listlessly pursuing the game thereafter without ever looking like clawing it back. That result left the Minstermen in 22nd place with only a marginally less dreadful goal difference than Torquay keeping them out of the drop zone. Now, 16 games and 36 points later, there is genuine hope that the season could end with a visit to Wembley, the first since the 2012 Conference play-off and FA Trophy double.
As is usually the case, the role of the manager in such a transformation is key. When Nigel Worthington was brought in late last season to halt City's headlong charge back to the Conference, many fans wondered why a former international coach would drop to League Two. After the final day escape, not many were complaining but doubts retuned last winter as an unsettled team slid down the table, culminating in that depressing trip to Greater Manchester. But the January transfer window changed all that, as Worthington landed the right players in key positions.
The paper-thin defence, barely held together by stalwarts of the later Conference campaigns now sadly out of their depth, was bolstered by proven League pros Keith Lowe and John McCombe. No-nonsense midfielder Russell Penn was installed in front of them and Charlton's young goalkeeper Nick Pope (on loan) behind. Subsequently in those 15 games since Bury, only eight goals have been conceded. From this solid base the likes of Josh Carson, given an international debut by Worthington in his previous job, are finding the goals to bring in the points.
Less positively, goalkeeper Michael Ingham (another Northern Ireland cap) appears to be frozen out and heading for the exit. It is thought he blames Worthington for the end of his international career and whatever happened there seemingly has not been resolved. Ingham is another top performer of the Conference years who unfortunately has looked increasingly shaky at League level, so it may the right decision from a footballing perspective.
After dispatching former relegation rivals Torquay on Tuesday and with another home game against current play-off challengers Burton to come on Saturday, City can consolidate that place in the top seven. Six wins out of six so far in March could well extend to seven and set up an end to the campaign thrilling in a very different way than was anticipated just three months ago. Joe Haining @jobi1k