Promotion hopefuls York City have failed in their attempt to get back into the Football League after a 3-1 Conference Play-Off final defeat to Oxford United. In what was the climax of a long and turbulent season, the Minstermen couldn’t produce the performance they needed to beat a strong Oxford side on a sodden Wembley pitch.
As I took my seat in the York end, it was clear that Oxford would be the home side for this match, with at least 30,000 fans at their end of the ground. There was a faithful of around 10,000 who had made the long journey down from York, but the support looked spartan compared to the yellow that was adorning most of the stadium.
The teams entered to fireworks, but the trumpets soon stopped sounding for York. Oxford were on top straight from the kick-off, and they eventually took the lead after 15 minutes thanks to a sublime finish from striker Matt Green. With York goalkeeper Michael Ingham stranded off his line after failing to deal with a long ball, Green turned on a sixpence and struck a looping half-volley into the top right-hand corner of the net from just outside the area.
York tried to fight back instantly, but a header from David McGurk went wide from a corner. Then the Minstermen were silenced again only five minutes later, after some calamitous defending. It was clear by now the long ball would be the main source of attack for both sides throughout the 90 minutes. The ball hoofed long, centre back James Meredith played a sloppy header back towards goal under pressure from Green, only for James Constable to latch onto it. After an awkward touch with his right foot, he powered the ball under Ingham for Oxford’s second.
In the torrential London rain, Oxford seemed to be running away with the game. A goalmouth scramble resulted in the ball ricocheting off York’s left-hand post and was punted away to prevent them going three goals down.
Oxford United collect the Conference play-off trophy and with it a return to the Football League after a four-year absence. Photograph by Alexander Prowse.
However, a stroke of fortune late in the first-half led to York going in at the break with a glimmer of hope. At the Oxford fans’ end of the ground, goalkeeper Ryan Clarke catastrophically dropped a deep, hanging cross from Ben Purkiss into his own net. We could at last smile for the first time in the evening.
York were charged in the second period and spent the majority of it camped in the Oxford half. Spells of great flowing passing drew the obvious comparisons to Arsenal’s style of play. Unfortunately York did not have that penetrative final ball, and were forced to take pot shots at goal. Record goalscorer Richard Brodie didn’t get the time on the ball to be effective enough. Michael Gash was an ample replacement for Michael Rankine, but the removal of Chris Curruthers from midfield for substitute Courtney Pitt seemed a mistake. Pitt couldn’t put the ball into the box as well as Curruthers, and seemed to enjoy shooting over the bar.
With time ticking on and nine City players going up for each corner, a counter attack was always a threat. When the ball fell to Alfie Potter after being cleared from the penalty area, the resulting two-on-one led to him placing the ball in the bottom left hand corner of the York goal at the other end of the pitch.
Hearts broken and not much change out of £100 from the day, the journey back to York wasn’t a pleasant one. On reflection, in the second half of the season York lacked lustre and eventually finished fifth in the Blue Square Premier. Oxford did drop from first to second, but their performance over the season and in the final made it clear that they deserved a return to the football league after a four-year absence.
Here’s to more Blue Square Premier action next season.