GOOD FRIDAY a year ago ended with York City propping up the entire Football League.
Results elsewhere had dumped the Minstermen, who were not in action until the following day, deep in the mire and the situation looked desperate even though Easter being early meant there was still half-a-dozen games to play.
York were without a win in 15 matches and although the picture improved marginally 24 hours later thanks to a goalless draw at Bristol Rovers, the nightmare scenario of an instant return to the Conference loomed.
As we all know, the ‘great escape’ began two days later on Easter Monday as Plymouth were beaten at Bootham Crescent to begin a run-in that would yield 13 points from a possible 15 to propel Nigel Worthington’s men to safety.
Twelve months on and York again go into the holiday period with plenty at stake as they today prepare to take on play-off rivals Oxford United. For director Sophie Hicks, however, that is where the similarities end.
“It is totally, totally different,” said the lifelong fan when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“Last year was a very serious position and totally nerve-wracking.
“There were sleepless nights because relegation would have been a disaster for York City. There was so much weight on the shoulders of people at the club that it was difficult to concentrate on anything properly.”
After beating Plymouth on Easter Monday, York were – as happened last weekend in League Two – held to a 1-1 draw at home by Accrington Stanley courtesy of a last-minute equaliser by the Lancastrian club.
Worthington’s men responded to the disappointment in fine fashion, as back-to-back wins over Northampton Town and Southend United left them needing a draw from the final day trip to Dagenham & Redbridge to guarantee safety.
“Travelling down to Dagenham on the final day knowing things could still go against us was not nice,” recalls Hicks of that trip to Essex. “It was a terrible time for both our fans and us as a family. And (fellow director) Ian McAndrew.
“Relegation would have changed everything. Our personal commitment to the club would have been likely to change as well. Then there was the new stadium, which could have been jeopardised if we had been relegated.
“Thankfully, we won at Dagenham and that, to me, fully justified the board’s decision to change manager with 10 games to go.”
Few would surely disagree with that considering just how well York have performed this time around now that Worthington has his own players in place.
Victory today would see York leapfrog seventh-placed Oxford to move into the play-offs with just three games remaining.
“This season has been an unexpected pleasure,” said Hicks as the Minstermen battle Oxford and Southend United for the final two berths in the top seven.
“Nigel has done a great job. He has achieved more than has been requested by the board. This season was always discussed as being one where we established ourselves back in the Football League.
“The manager believed we could maybe challenge for the play-offs but that was certainly not what the board was asking of him. So, what has happened has been a delight – especially considering what we went through last season.
“It is very exciting for us all and the pleasing thing is the players seem to have a taste for competing for the play-offs.
“That said, I do think the pressure is off. Let’s just enjoy it and see where we can go.”
Oxford go into today’s meeting on the back of a rare win, Plymouth Argyle having been beaten 2-0 by Gary Waddock’s side last Saturday. It was, though, only the second time in 11 outings that the U’s had claimed maximum points.
Hicks said: “Our fans have been magnificent all season long, and especially away from home. I am sure a good number will be travelling down to Oxford.
“Obviously, we would love to get a good result. But, in many respects, the pressure is off – and especially when you compare it to last season.
“That attitude has served us well so far. Nigel is feeling very positive and that definitely rubs off on the players.
“Even the disappointment of conceding a ‘91st-minute’ goal (last Saturday against Accrington) did not knock Nigel. He just went in the dressing room and said, ‘Heads up and let’s go again’.
“He just wanted to get the players’ minds on the next game at Oxford and that is an attitude that helps create a very positive atmosphere around the club.”
York, unbeaten in 13 games, have enjoyed a fine second half of the season. On New Year’s Day, for instance, Worthington’s side were 22nd and 15 points behind Oxford in fifth place.
Now, just one point separates the two clubs. Hicks added: “It is funny how all the fixtures fall and this is, as the cliche goes, a real six-pointer. But whatever happens at Oxford, we still have two home games (against Bury and Newport County) to come before we go to Scunthorpe (on the last day). It means nothing will be decided (today).”
Last six games: Oxford United LWLLLW, York City WWWDDD.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).
Last time: Oxford United 0 York City 0; February 23, 2013; League Two.