Promoted York City take first step on long road back

York City manager John Askey is not one for flourishes but after five years exiled at the lowest level they have played at, it was just about getting the job done against Boston United. The first job.

If there had not been so much at stake, the professional way the Minstermen saw out their 2-0 win Conference North promotion final win over a Pilgrims side they made look very limited would have put minds at rest.

“These sort of games are never going to be a great spectacle, it’s the atmosphere that makes it,” reflected Askey, beer in hand, at full-time.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

If York did not really turn on the style, their timing more than made up for it – 2022 is their centenary and the season was their first in a new stadium. On Saturday it hosted its biggest crowd, 7,448.

York City captain Paddy McLaughlin and Matty Brown with the trophy celebrating promotion to the National League. Picture: Tony Johnson

York did not deliberately sit on Lenell John-Lewis’s sixth-minute goal – they were the far more positive team in the first half – but inevitably with so much at stake and so many anxious in the stands, the closer the final whistle, the greater the reluctance to pile forward. If dealing with those pressures was easy, the full-time club would not have been in a part-time league since 2017.

With Pete Jameson making two important saves in the last 10 minutes and Akil Wright, Maxim Kouogun and even Clayton Donaldson putting in vital tackles, the clean sheet was well protected even before Afghan winger Maz Kouhyar added a second goal 80 minutes after the first.

If Scott Barrow perhaps had some luck when referee Matt Corlett took his side over a clumsy-looking 64th-minute tackle in the penalty area, it more than evened itself out a few minutes later when he suffered an injury that had him on crutches with his right knee in a brace at full-time, able to make it onto the pitch to celebrate but with no chance of joining the lap of honour.

The way York took the lead was clinical. Boston forced a couple of early corners on a day when they looked far more threatening from set-pieces than open play. Then Kouhyar released Mitch Hancox, who won a throw-in Barrow launched. When the ball dropped to Grimsby Town loanee John-Lewis, he finished with the calmness of a striker who turned 33 days earlier.

York City celebrate promotion to the National League after winning 2-0. Picture: Tony Johnson

Donaldson went from centre-forward to the right of a midfield five, shifting Paddy McLaughlin more central. Jameson’s meticulousness over goalkicks escaped a booking for time-wasting.

Although former Harrogate Town centre-back Luke Shiels –one of 12 Pilgrims who had played for a Yorkshire academy or first team – hooked a volley over and Danny Elliott failed to make clean contact from a long throw, most of the first-half play was at the other end.

McLaughlin had a couple of shots from long range and Wright and John-Lewis fired over.

Donaldson cut inside and dropped a shot onto the crossbar. If anyone deserved a goal it was the former Hull City, Harrogate, Scarborough, Halifax Town, Sheffield United and Bradford City player, whose 38 years may stop him stepping up, but who showed there is still plenty in him.

York City celebrate promotion to the National League. Picture: Tony Johnson

Some of his touches were exquisite but his willingness and ability to work for 90 minutes was the best part of a brilliant personal performance.

The second half was five minutes old when Jameson came for a corner without taking it and Shiels headed over.

It was a sign Boston were going to play the second period much more on the front foot but until the desperation minutes with three visiting forwards on from the bench, York largely kept them at arm’s length.

“(John-Lewis) was virtually playing on one leg but we couldn’t bring him or Clayts off no matter how tired they looked because of their physical strength,” said Askey, who used one substitute.

The game was made bitty and tetchy by fouls, and the aggro was not confined to the pitch, Boston manager Paul Cox booked for preventing a quick throw-in and his assistant John Ramshaw going head to head with York coach Kingsley James.

Brad Abbott, the first player booked, was fortunate not to get another for fouling Kouhyar just before the hour, and perhaps his substitution soon after acknowledged that. Corlett took a similarly forgiving attitude when Boston appealed for a penalty against Barrow.

Jameson only really had to earn his money turning Sean Byrne’s 80th-minute free-kick around a post and denying former York loanee Ntumba Massanka a couple of minutes later.

It made Boston more vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Hancox ran out of steam when he broke and Kouhyar misplaced a pass but Donaldson kept the ball alive and played him in for a shot Marcus Dewhurst touched without saving.

It was not job done because if York are not a Conference North club, neither are they a Conference club but then nor are Oldham Athletic, Wrexham, Notts County, Grimsby Town, Chesterfield, Torquay United, Southend United and others who will be in it next season (one may escape via the play-offs). But the first step has been so hard to take and now York are finally moving in the right direction again.

York City: Jameson; Dyson, Kouogun, Sanders, Barrow (Brown 71); McLaughlin, Wright, Hancox, Kouhyar; Donaldson, John-Lewis. Unused substitutes: Woods, Willoughby, Whitley, McKay.

Boston United: Dewhurst; Seriki, Shiels, Garner, Ferguson; Green, Byrne, Dimaio (Preston 83), Abbott (Massanka 60); Wright (Hanson 76), Elliott. Unused substitutes:  Duxbury, Wright.

Referee: M Corlett (Bootle).