YORK CITY SOUTH
Gary Mills - The ideal candidate to lead York City
York City face their eighth season (2011/2) in the fifth tier, but DAVE FLETT is convinced manager Gary Mills can end the club’s long Football League exile.
HAVING beaten five of the seven teams that finished above them in 2010/11 and remained undefeated against the other two – runaway champions Crawley and play-off contenders Wrexham – York City will fear no side in next season’s Blue Square Bet Premier.
It is also likely Gary Mills will pay no credence to the well-worn mantra that every football campaign is a marathon not a sprint.
The Minstermen have been left in the starters’ blocks for the last two years now and that has affected their position at the finishing line on both occasions.
In 2009/10, Martin Foyle’s team would have been worthy title challengers, but for an average August that ultimately resulted in a 25 per cent chance of promotion via the play-offs.
This term, the early-season stutter carried on until October, by which time Foyle had departed and new boss Mills was tasked with a rescue act of huge proportions, taking charge with the team having won just four of their first 15 fixtures – the last of which was an humiliating 4-0 nadir at Newport.
Following a valiant effort, though, a top-five spot only proved beyond the former Nottingham Forest European Cup winner and his largely-inherited squad after the penultimate fixture of the league programme.
Mills, pictured, restored pride and belief into the club and is already signalling his intention for 2011/2 – he wants the league title.
His predecessor was always more cautious and quick to play down his side’s championship chances, preferring to concentrate on a possible play-off push.
But Mills’ unbounded optimism and positivity is infectious and it is beyond doubt that the personable, but passionate and professional boss will dedicate a considerable amount of time in pre-season to reminding his players that points gained during a congested beginning to the campaign count for the same as those garnered with games running out.
He will also be looking to address this season’s patchy away form and a regular failure to convert chances.
One factor is, of course, not exclusive of the other with the Minstermen lacking that all-important, counter-attacking decisiveness in the final third of the field that often picks up points on the road.
His summer recruitment drive too will need to be better than Foyle’s 12 months ago.
Defenders Duane Courtney and Greg Young, both intended as replacements for Ben Purkiss and Luke Graham, flopped badly for Foyle and later Mills while, once Richard Brodie left, the likes of Mark Beesley and David Dowson, along with Michael Gash, failed to provide any form of firepower.
Rookie signing George Purcell, meanwhile, was sidelined with a broken leg before spending the second half of the season out on loan.
Mills also arrived at a time when his two best players – Alex Lawless and David McGurk – wanted to jump a ship he needed to steady fast.
Ceding to Lawless’ wishes, he dug his heels in with McGurk, knowing the inspirational centre-back was contracted to the club for another 18 months.
It proved an inspired piece of work with McGurk and new club captain Chris Smith – Mills’ first signing – swiftly forming a defensive backbone that was to be crucial in the team’s renaissance.
Mills’ powers of persuasion would later convince McGurk his long-term future belonged at Bootham Crescent while the new manager’s footballing philosophy was first witnessed in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at Kidderminster when his side passed their eventual play-off challenging rivals into submission during a 2-0 victory.
That tie was also a triumph for the new boss’ favoured 4-3-3 formation that Foyle had dallied with unsuccessfully earlier in the campaign when he attempted to crowbar three centre-forwards into the system.
Devastating displays against Rotherham and Rushden soon followed as Mills’ refreshing air of positivity began to breathe morale back into the club.
Playing with a freedom of expression as the team concentrated solely on improving their league position, the Minstermen began to rack up confidence-boosting wins and reached the third round of the FA Cup.
Having pulled an away tie at Bolton Wanderers out of the hat, Mills insisted his side were targeting a win at the Premier League outfit.
They very nearly pulled it off too, with Neil Barrett going close to opening the scoring twice before international stars Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander spared the Premier League club’s blushes at the death.
As the pitches got heavier and the stakes higher, with City hauling the top five teams back to within their reach, playing catch-up meant the flowing football sometimes gave way a little to the pressing need for results.
While the performances were not always as aesthetically pleasing, the points kept coming though and, during January, Mills would make two more astute signings to bolster his squad.
Jamie Reed, while looking raw and less than fully fit on his arrival from Bangor City, brought a hunger for goals and some much-needed potency to a shot-shy strikeforce, although he was still ploughing a somewhat lonely furrow in that respect.
Former Lincoln City captain Scott Kerr, meanwhile, added a midfield assurance that was missed when he began a two-match suspension during the season’s defining moment – a 2-1 defeat to Darlington with three games left to play.
Following the 0-0 Easter Monday home draw with Cambridge, City’s eighth consecutive campaign of non-League football was confirmed by the news that Fleetwood had beaten Barrow.
A more impressive draw in the final game of the season at champions Crawley, though, provided enough evidence to suggest that City can take their own place on the winners’ podium during Olympic year.
Proved once more how adept he is ghosting into goalscoring positions in the penalty box. Had the former Portsmouth midfielder been more ruthless in front of goal, though, he would have scored more than twice in 2010/11. Offered something different for City when called upon, but not a regular under new manager Gary Mills.
League and Cup appearances: 19 (6); Goals: 2; Rating: 6/10.
Almost anonymous during his three-game City career. The on-loan Fleetwood striker added very little to a struggling strikeforce. Was shipped out quickly on Mills’ arrival at Bootham Crescent.
League and cup appearances: 2 (1); Goals: 0; Rating: 4/10.
Capable of fantastic footwork and performs tricks with a ball that would struggle to be matched at any other Blue Square Bet Premier club. Looked unfit though until upping his performance level at the end of the season. Worked very well in tandem with Scott Kerr against Crawley and, with a little more dynamism, could play a bigger part in the next campaign.
League and cup appearances: 11 (9); Goals: 0; Rating: 7/10.
Completely out of sorts at the start of the season. The 2009/10 season’s 37-goal top scorer only managed to net once – with a penalty – during the six games before he left for Crawley. His contribution to the club during three-and-a-half years should not be forgotten though.
League and cup appearances: 6; Goals: 1; Rating: 5/10.
Featured far less frequently than he did during the 2009/10 campaign. Still the most reliable crosser of a ball at the club with a good football brain but the new manager’s favoured 4-3-3 formation hampered his prospects of regular selection. Sometimes struggled to get back into position as quickly as fellow left-back Meredith when marauding forward from that position.
League and cup appearances: 15 (13); Goals: 1; Rating: 6/10.
His speed caused countless defences problems, including the back four of Premier League Bolton. His end product though, as witnessed at the Reebok Stadium, often let him down. Needs to be more decisive and three goals was a disappointing return from the on-loan Leicester striker.
League and cup appearances: 25 (4); Goals: 3; Rating: 6/10.
Much more effective coming off the bench than starting games. The 33-year-old striker was always capable of nicking a goal but, lacked the presence of Michael Rankine – his main competitor for a starting place. His paucity of pace and power failed to unsettle too many defences.
League and cup appearances: 14 (15); Goals: 8; Rating: 6/10.
Erratic and error-prone in a City shirt. Got his Bootham Crescent career off to the worse possible start when he conceded a decisive late penalty against his old club Kidderminster on the opening day of the season. Surprisingly, played a blinder when new club Tamworth caused a big upset against the Minstermen during the last month of the campaign.
League and cup appearances: 4 (3); Goals: 0 Rating: 4/10.
Produced some very spirited displays following his release by Leeds United. Strong in the tackle for a 20-year-old and also willing to join in attacks. With him and Daniel Parslow to choose from, Mills had little cause for concern over his team’s right-back options.
League and cup appearances: 17; Goals: 0; Rating: 7/10.
Blink and you will have missed his City career. Recruited on non-contract terms during a difficult period in the season. There were few highlights for the Sunderland forward during his fleeting appearances.
League and cup appearances: 0 (5); Goals; 0; Rating: 5/10.
Gave his best in whatever position he was employed for City. Made an impact on the left wing under Mills before being a little unfortunate to be farmed back on loan to Maidenhead. Returned at the end of the campaign to prove himself an athletic and determined centre-back.
League and cup appearances: 9 (5); Goals: 1; Rating: 7/10.
A centre-back’s dream with his unwillingness to break out of a trot or into a sweat. Unacceptable levels of fitness and effort saw Mills lose patience with him prior to a loan move to Rushden. Also boasted a poor record in front of goal for City and the club got very little in return for their £55,000 investment in his services.
League and cup appearances: 12 (6); Goals: 1; Rating: 4/10.
A little peripheral on his handful of appearances after arriving from Leeds United. Might need to work on his physique if he is to become a midfield force. Looked like a willing worker though.
League and cup appearances: 1 (3); Goals: 0; Rating: 6/10.
Endured a shaky start to the season but his judgement was impeccable by the end of the campaign. Capable of great saves but, more importantly, can be imperious with his handling and command of the penalty box. A safe pair of hands should never be underestimated at any club.
League and cup appearances: 51; Goals: 0; Rating: 8/10.
Added intelligence, experience and encouragement to the midfield on his arrival from Lincoln City. Always willing to receive the ball and then retain possession sensibly. Rarely caught out of position.
League and cup appearances: 16; Goals: 0; Rating: 8/10.
Only handed one outing as Ingham’s replacement against Forest Green. Untroubled in that match and unlucky not to claim a clean sheet. The lack of a reserve team at Bootham Crescent meant he was inactive for most of the campaign.
League and cup appearances: 1(0); Goals: 0; Rating: 6/10.
Comfortably the club’s best performer prior to his departure for Luton. Carried the team at times during the disappointing start to the season. Shame he decided to leave, as he would have probably thrived under Mills.
League and cup appearances: 18; Goals: 3; Rating: 8/10.
Rarely called upon by Mills after missing the first half of the season through injury. Would be one of the first names on the team sheet at many Blue Square Bet Premier clubs and always made his presence felt during his sporadic outings. Scored one of the most spectacular goals of the season against Forest Green but blotted his copybook by conceding the penalty at Crawley on the last day of the campaign.
League and cup appearances: 6 (7); Goals: 1; Rating: 7/10.
Adept at keeping possession, especially in tight situations. Looked impressive in the midfield anchorman role when Mills first showcased his 4-3-3 formation. Less influential when played on the wing, where he lacked penetration.
League and cup appearances: 12 (9); Goals: 1; Rating: 6/10.
As unflappable as ever at centre-back. Makes reading the game look effortless. Great credit to him that he produced his best form after handing in a transfer request following overtures from Luton.
League and cup appearances: 40; Goals: 0; Rating: 8/10.
Very few attacking players get the better of City’s Australian defender – either on the floor or in the air. Proved his maturity by filling in excellently at centre-back at the end of the season. Just needs more composure in the final third of the field, as a record of just two assists and one goal during 2010/11 illustrates.
League and cup appearances: 49 (2); Goals: 1; Rating: 8/10.
Vastly under-rated and under-stated professional who has won over every manager he has played for at Bootham Crescent. Worked diligently at his game to become a rampaging right-back, as comfortable going forward as he is in defence. Brave in the tackle and in the air, as was evident when he picked up his season-ending head injury.
League and cup appearances: 46 (1); Goals: 1; Rating: 8/10.
Looked sprightly in his one outing for City, as a second-half substitute at Grimsby. Injured soon afterwards and then loaned out to Dartford and Eastbourne. His City career could amount to one of the briefest in the club’s history.
League and cup appearances: 0 (1); Goals: 0; Rating: 6/10.
Virtually unplayable when at his best, as Bolton’s England centre-backs Gary Cahill and Zat Knight would testify following an unsettling afternoon at the Reebok Stadium. A mixture of his power and purpose was also key to big City home wins over Rotherham and Wimbledon. His level of performance dipped considerably, though, at times and will need to find greater consistency if he is to play at a higher level.
League and cup appearances: 40 (8); Goals: 14; Rating: 7/10.
Tidy performer who could deliver a decent set-piece. Never built on a promising start to his City career though. Struggled to impose himself during his last couple of outings in particular.
League and cup appearances: 19 (4); Goals: 2; Rating: 6/10.
Displayed a great hunger for goal scoring and comfortably the best finisher at the club during a misfiring season. Direct and powerful, he will benefit from a professional pre-season as his fitness levels could have been better following his January arrival from Bangor. More than capable of being City’s next 20-goals-a-season man.
League and cup appearances: 12 (12); Goals: 9; Rating: 8/10.
After rarely instilling confidence at centre-back, found his niche briefly as a midfield anchorman. Mills had and has better candidates to fill that role however and his December departure proved no great loss. Surprisingly turned up at Oxford after a move to Morocco collapsed.
League and cup appearances: 12 (2); Goals: 1; Rating: 6/10.
Became a rallying presence when he arrived from Mansfield and lifted some heads that had begun to drop. Led by example as captain and never surrendered. Better in defence though than between the sticks!
League and cup appearances: 30; Goals: 1; Rating: 8/10.
Tears around the pitch wearing his heart on his sleeve. His eagerness sometimes gets him into trouble with a foot left in here and there, leading to inevitable cautions and dismissals. Hopefully, there is still more to come from the modest midfielder, who can also contribute goals.
League and cup appearances: 35 (9); Goals: 5; Rating: 7/10.
Capable of frightening defences when he drives forward but could still make more of his pace. Decision making could also be better and should have scored more goals. Still a talent though who can be a match winner on his day, which just needs to be a bit more often.
League and cup appearances: 31 (14); Goals: 4; Rating: 7/10.
Very composed midfielder who was comfortable in possession. Capable of seeing the full picture on the ball and pulling the strings in midfield. A real shame he decided to end his loan spell and return to Sunderland.
League and cup appearances: 8; Goals: 0; Rating: 7/10.
Seemed to rain goals every time he played. Looked sluggish and uncertain during his outings at centre-back. Enjoyed his best game for City as an emergency ’keeper at Luton.
League and cup appearances: 9 (3); Goals: 1; Rating: 4/10.
Assists: Rankine 13, Chambers 6, Till 6, Carruthers 5, Gash 4, J Smith 4, Fyfield 3, Lawless 3, Parslow 3, C Smith 3, Darville 2, McGurk 2, Meredith 2, Barrett 1, Brodie 1, Constantine 1, Ingham 1, Kerr 1, Weir 1
Bad boys: J Smith two red cards, 11 yellow; C Smith nine yellow; Chambers seven yellow; McGurk, Kerr both one red, five yellow; Lawless, Rankine both six yellow; Boucaud, Carruthers, Meredith, Parslow, Young all three yellow; Ingham one red, one yellow; Barrett, Brodie, Darville, Gash, Racchi, Sangare all two yellow; Hatfield, Mackin, Reed, Weir all one yellow
This article is closely based on one written by Dave Flett that first appeared in The Press on May 3rd, 2011.
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