York City 0 Fleetwood 1 – Blair hits winner to leave York with huge challenge

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MATTY BLAIR may have earned himself a place in York City folklore in previous years, but his contribution certainly did not taste so sweet last night.

After Saturday’s game was postponed due to the weather, the former Minstermen favourite produced his own version of the Ex-Factor at his old stomping ground to inflict a first defeat in 18 games upon Nigel Worthington’s side.

York City's Michael Coulson shows his frustration on a night his team went down 1-0 in the first leg of the League Two play-off semi-finals at home to Fleetwood Town (Picture: James Hardisty).

York City's Michael Coulson shows his frustration on a night his team went down 1-0 in the first leg of the League Two play-off semi-finals at home to Fleetwood Town (Picture: James Hardisty).

His 50th-minute strike in front of Fleetwood’s brigade of just 252 travelling supporters proved the difference, with York’s hopes of a fifth appearance in as many years at Wembley – where Blair saw his name in lights twice in the space of eight unforgettable days in a momentuous end to the 2011-12 season – now in jeopardy.

To his credit, Blair, the man whose goal sealed a return to the Football League and helped put the FA Trophy in the cabinet, elected not to overdo his celebrations after bundling the ball home – although the damage was done.

It will have prompted rueful expressions from the York faithful, given Blair’s epic contribution to the club’s modern-day history and penchant for the play-offs while at Bootham Crescent – he also netted the all-important goal in the play-off semi-final second leg win at Mansfield two seasons ago.

His close-range effort last night resulted in York suffering defeat at home for the first time in 10 matches since Chesterfield defeated them 2-0 back on January 28.

It also represented their first loss in the play-offs on home soil in their sixth crack at them.

In the process, Fleetwood maintained their 100 per cent record at York with their fourth straight win.

Their manager Graham Alexander may have been a tad upset that the game was scheduled for yesterday and not tonight, but he will be rather more sanguine now.

York gave it a go in the final half hour, but it was Fleetwood, labelled by Worthington as the ‘Manchester City of League One’ who possessed the poise without exactly looking a billion dollars.

The hosts were high on energy if not creativity and despite being urged to embrace the occasion by their manager, they did not grab the tie by the scruff of the neck and have it all to do on Friday.

They will at least be able to count on a four-figure support at the Highbury Stadium and it will take something special, like their Conference play-off heroics against Mansfield and Luton, to keep their promotion dreams alive.

But they will also be thankful that former Barnsley forward Iain Hume spurned a great chance to claim a two-goal cushion with a bad miss late on.

On a sticky surface, the contrast in the teams’ respective styles was self-evident, with Fleetwood adopting a neat, considered passing game despite the conditions, while York elected to mix play up somewhat in a bid to turn the visitors’ rearguard.

It was the Minstermen who had the first chance, with the alert Nathan Pond blocking Calvin Andrew’s drilled goalbound effort before Fleetwood posted a warning of their own.

It arrived via League Two player of the year and dangerman 
Antoni Sarcevic, with his dipping 25-yard effort beaten away by Nick Pope.

It was a half in which York displayed the obduracy, organisation and work ethic which has served them well in their fine unbeaten run, while Fleetwood enjoyed the majority of possession and looked comfortable in their own footballing skin without being too threatening at the sharp end.

A brief moment of alarm saw David Ball’s cross-shot deflected off John McCombe into the grateful clutches of Pope, but it was fairly standard stuff.

While no doubt satisfied with his side’s energy levels after a decent first-half shift, York manager Worthington will have been looking for a little bit more attacking zeal in the final third in a bid to fluster the Fleetwood back four more.

While the likes of Ryan Brobbel, Will Hayhurst and Michael Coulson showed plenty of graft, the ingenuity was not plentiful – but the latter was certainly on-message shortly after the break.

Coulson showed enterprise to cut inside before unleashing a fierce, low-angled low shot, which flashed inches wide in the hosts’ best moment.

Seconds later, they were in deficit thanks to Blair biting the hand that used to feed him after a break from the Lancastrians saw him following in on a scramble after Sarcevic’s low shot was blocked.

Blair, sent clear by Hume, then had the chance to apply salt, but fired wide after racing clear.

Worthington threw on Ryan Bowman for the quiet Brobbel just after the hour mark and it sparked York into belated life, with the replacement seeing a scuffed effort saved before firing wide after Reed’s initial shot was blocked from Lanre Oyebanjo’s cross.

It was better from York, but Fleetwood still possessed menace on the break with Josh Morris testing Pope and their final chance coming when Hume fired a golden opportunity wide after being sent clear late on.

York City: Pope, Oyebanjo, Lowe, McCombe, B Davies; Brobbel (Bowman 62), Penn, Reed, Hayhurst; Andrew, Coulson. Unused substitutes: McGurk, Jarvis, Montrose, Platt, Allan, Ingham.

Fleetwood Town: Maxwell; McLaughlin, Pond, Roberts, Taylor; Blair, Schumacher, Morris; Sarcevic, Hume, Ball (Murdoch 86). Unused substitutes: S Davies, Evans, Parkin, Matt, Hogan, Jordan.

Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorks).