ON an afternoon when the Bank Holiday sunshine made York positively shine as a city, its football club endured yet another dark and dismal day.
A 23rd defeat of an increasingly desperate season may have been avoided thanks to a stunning strike from Michael Coulson that saw the Minstermen peg Crawley Town back for a second time.
But a much-needed three points proved beyond the Minstermen, who thanks to Stevenage claiming an unlikely point at promotion-chasing Oxford United are even deeper in the mire.
Seven points – or, effectively, eight thanks to York’s abysmal goal difference – separate Jackie McNamara’s men from safety and a return to the National League after a four-year absence looks more a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
York’s failing yesterday was a familiar one. They simply cannot defend for 90 minutes, with Crawley twice profiting from basic errors that would shame a schoolboy.
Matt Harrold and Liam McAlinden were the strikers to benefit from such generosity – and had McAlinden not produced a truly woeful first touch when through on goal in stoppage-time with the nearest defender six yards away, the afternoon would have ended on an even sourer note for McNamara’s men.
“We should have won that game,” insisted McNamara. “We have only got ourselves to blame.
“A lack of concentration cost us. We gave ourselves an uphill task with both goals. It has been costly, but that is why we are where we are.”
It has been a truly wretched season at Bootham Crescent. Lies, damned lies and statistics may have been Mark Twain’s firmly held belief, but anyone trying to claim York’s numbers add up to anything but a passport back to non-League has a hard sell on their hands.
Just six wins, the worst defensive record in the basement division and a paltry four clean sheets – only one of which has come since the opening week of September – point in only one direction and that is down.
Still, had yesterday’s visit of a Crawley side with little but pride to play for in the final weeks yielded three points then belief may have flickered. A boost had come the previous evening when the local council had approved the necessary increased funding to build the community stadium that will, barring any further delays, become the club’s home in 2018.
However, any hopes this could be a catalyst for a late charge towards safety lasted a little over four minutes, this being how long it took York to fall behind.
Once again, the damage was self-inflicted as a floated free-kick from Simon Walton appeared to pose very little threat.
Scott Flinders, however, initially came to collect but then hesitated and that was the only invitation Harrold needed to nip in and lift a first-time shot over the stranded York goalkeeper and into the net.
For the next 20 or so minutes, York looked as flat as the crowd was quiet, almost as if the club’s fate had already been sealed.
Then, though, came a revival that, first, saw goalkeeper Callum Preston spill Danny Galbraith’s free-kick before then being called into action to deny Dave Winfield from the resulting corner.
Lewis Alessandra then gave the hosts a fantastic chance to restore parity with a weaving run that saw two defenders left trailing in the loanee’s wake before his run was brought to an abrupt halt by a clumsy challenge from Jon Ashton.
Referee Phil Gibbs had no option but to point to the spot and Luke Summerfield ensured the Minstermen were able to benefit from Alessandra’s skill by sending Preston the wrong way from 12 yards.
Clearly buoyed to be back on level terms, York produced their best spell of the game as Alessandra dragged a shot wide after intelligently using the pace of Russell Penn’s pass to steal a march on the last defender.
Vadaine Oliver also should have benefited from more good work by Alessandra, but the club’s joint top-scorer shot wide despite being well placed.
That strong end to the opening 45 minutes should have been the prelude to a concerted push for the afternoon’s third goal on the restart.
Instead, the defensive frailties that have left York deep in trouble returned with a vengeance as Crawley went ahead once again. A long throw by Andy Bond on the right flank was just begging to be cleared, but Scot Bennett got in the way of Winfield to inadvertently flick the ball to McAlinden.
The Red Devils’ striker was in sufficient space to be able to turn on the edge of the six-yard box before beating Flinders with a scuffed shot.
York did come close to an instant reply, but Preston somehow got a strong enough hand to a rasping volley from Summerfield to deny the midfielder.
Winfield then had an effort from 20 yards that flashed just past the post before Preston did brilliantly to keep out a deflected effort by Alessandra.
As well as he did to react quick enough to deny that effort, Preston was helpless on 69 minutes when Michael Coulson cut in from the left flank and unleashed an unstoppable 15-yard shot beyond the goalkeeper’s right hand.
A couple of crosses did flash across the face of Crawley’s goal as York chased a winner but, in truth, it was the visitors who should really have wrapped up the points when McAlinden was presented with a chance he spurned courtesy of that woeful first touch.