York First XI executed an emphatic second-half reversal of fortunes, exacting a 5-1 defeat on Leeds Beckett Fifths to avert an upset and secure their safe passage into the next round of the Conference Cup.
The visitors were able to play the game on their own terms in the first half- it was a scrappy affair punctuated by fouling and midfield grappling. After the break, however, York made it a much more fluid occasion and stretched the Leeds back four with expansive passing, wingers a-marauding and full-backs overlapping. In doing so, goals from talisman Josh Bew, skipper Dave Belshaw, quicksilver Garo Heath and the splendid Conor McCoy sealed the win.
The opening exchanges were frantic to say the least; despite some attempts at sharp one-touch passing between York’s midfield trio of Chris Osborne at the base, through Joe Easter and McCoy ahead of him, there remained a lack of proper pattern to the proceedings.
Leeds Beckett were tough, uncompromising opponents, adopting a high block pressing game to counter York’s attempts to play the ball out from the back. Their direct approach paid dividends after 8 minutes when, after cowering to watch Ralph Gill win another header, their left winger calmly chested down the second ball and volleyed into the top right corner from fifteen yards out.
The visiting team almost found themselves two goals to the good when their striker found himself one-on-one with Andy Balzan, only to curl a poorly struck effort wide. Joe Fox coped admirably as a right-footed midfielder at left-back, but found himself caught square on to the ball when trying to shepherd it back to his keeper and was, albeit wrongly, accused of handball by Leeds Beckett.
As the first half unravelled, York tentatively begun to settle. For the most part, they found it tough going; Leeds were able to get away with a perilously high defensive line thanks to both the hosts’ commitment to playing the ball on the ground and Bew’s disinclination to run the channels.
Conor McCoy saw an effort cleared off the line with 32 minutes on the clock, though, and Garo Heath’s first-time snapshot was fended away by a strong left hand. With the last kick before the interval, Bew proved his undoubted worth with the equalising goal. A hopeful long ball forward from Gill found the striker, who took the ball early, measuring a cute chip over Leeds’ floundering goalkeeper- a goal rendered all the more impressive as it was a first-time effort from well outside of the penalty area.
With Belshaw at pains to emphasise patience in his half-time address, York continued the game the ascendant side. The Black and Gold carried more threat out wide with the introduction of Sam Weighall, whose contribution of pace off the bench was enhanced by the intuitive combination play he shared with full-back Guy Bowden down the right flank. Weighall, who had a host of chances as the game split open, was narrowly unable to divert home from point-blank after McCoy’s testing cross, and hit the post in the closing moments. Heath attempted an outrageous backheel from the best part of twelve yards out, shortly after Gill opened up his frame and agonizingly flashed a header past the far post.
As the hour mark passed, York embarked on the defining phase of the match; a period in which they enjoyed space in the final third that simply hadn’t existed earlier on. Garo Heath, who had been thwarted by the keeper’s legs earlier from a one-on-one, latched on to Conor McCoy’s defence-splitting pass, cut inside and drove into the near corner to take a 2-1 lead. McCoy delivered a succulent in-swinging corner not five minutes later, which planted itself firmly onto the forehead of Belshaw, whose goal capped a dominant display well worthy of his captaincy. York plunged the knife into Leeds Beckett’s hopes of salvaging a result when, following a goalmouth scramble, Bew pirouetted gracefully and hooked over his shoulder into the top corner. Conor McCoy added a fifth after 82 minutes.
Although on paper, York should have been expecting to win by such an emphatic scoreline over a mere Fifth team, Leeds Beckett gave as good as they got and, despite tiring alarmingly, they were pugnacious in midfield areas. The manner in which the Firsts put their foot down and turned up the gas in the final third will please Belshaw and company as their inspirational captain leads them into the next round of the Conference Cup.
York (4-3-3 DM): Balzan; Bowden, Gill, Belshaw, Fox; Osborne, McCoy, Easter; Fotheringham, Bew, Heath
Subs: Nestor, Weighall
Man of the Match: Conor McCoy