Relegation clash with Cheltenham a crucial match
3 April ~ With seven games left, four points separate York City in 20th from League Two basement dwellers Cheltenham Town, with Carlisle, Hartlepool and Tranmere – all playing a division higher last season – sandwiched in between. York would appear to have an advantage as their next home game comes against Hartlepool. Indeed heading into today’s clash there is mild cause for optimism among the faithful that was nowhere to be found last week, after a frustrating and grim run of form was ended by a season-high four goals away at Mansfield, despite being down to ten men for an hour.
Two of those even came from perfectly executed corner routines, a concept most regular attendees would previously have found laughable, while the others were tucked away in fine style by promising on loan Tottenham youngster Shaquile Coulthirst.
So as they did two seasons ago under Nigel Worthington, York seemed poised to click at the right time. But they have only won at home twice all season and failed to score in their last three fixtures at Bootham Crescent. Add in the fact that a seemingly dead in the water Hartlepool have rattled off four wins on the bounce under Ronnie Moore to haul themselves out of the relegation spots, and nothing is a certain. Meaning today is the big one and it may not be pretty.
In October Worthington walked away from a team that lost narrowly in the play-offs last season, perhaps recognising the dearth of genuine promotion-gaining talent in a squad of which many are tied to two-year deals. Worthington’s replacement, Russ Wilcox, has tried to plug the gaps with a carousel of loanees. League Two, though, is a division of fine margins. York have 17 draws this season and minus the concession of a plethora of 90th-minute goals would be 13th.
Cheltenham themselves have 13 stalemates and have sagged, rather than plummeted, to the bottom. The presence of three relegated sides in another basement scrap plus the fact at least one of Bristol Rovers, Barnet and Grimsby will not be coming up the other way demonstrate how far the bottom two leagues and the Conference have concertinaed in terms of ability.
As bad as relegation would be, with a new community stadium finally given the green light by the council last week, York fans still remember the near-oblivion created by serial fantasist and former owner John Batchelor in the early 2000s and know things can always be worse. Indeed both teams and the above average crowd today will always maintain a sense of grounded realism. Two weeks ago Wilcox told local media that on loan midfielder Diego de Girolamo would not be distracted by purported interest from Juventus. Last week he went to Northampton Town. No one was surprised. Greg Norman