Wembley wonders now face biggest challenge

Matty Blair wrote himself into York City folklore last season.

He was the young man with the uncanny knack of popping up in the right place at the right time to score the crucial goals that helped the Minstermen win the FA Trophy and also end their eight-year exile from the Football League.

Blair, 23, scored in the Trophy semi-final against Luton and bagged the opener against Newport in the final at Wembley.

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That latter goal came in between an extra-time winner against Mansfield Town in the play-off semi-final, and the clinching goal in the play-off final against Luton that sent 8,000 City fans who had made the return trip to the national stadium, into rapture.

Blair was untouchable as York rode on a wave of euphoria back into the Football League.

The thing that excited him most about taking his place in the League pyramid was that it would result in his name being on the FIFA 2013 computer game he played with family and friends.

“That’s my target. I’ve been saying it to my mates that I want to be on FIFA,” a jubilant Blair said at the time.

Fast forward 12 months and all that Blair and York City worked so hard for is in danger of going up in smoke.

The Minstermen face two games to secure their survival in League Two after a season in which the versatile midfield man and his fellow York players have found the going considerably tougher in the division they strived to reach.

York need two wins from their final two games to eliminate the possibility of being overhauled by their fellow relegation battlers. Victory over Southend today may be enough but no-one wants to leave anything to chance.

Having played an integral part in getting them up, Blair knows as well as anyone how important it is now to keep them up.

“This would be a greater achievement than what we managed last year, with the position we find ourselves in,” said Blair, whose five goals this season emphasise how great the step up has been for York’s players.

“The play-off final was the biggest game in the history of York City. But this now is the biggest because it’s the game that will effectively keep us up.

“It’s all well and good winning the play-offs and the FA Trophy, but then not being able to keep your status as a League Two club would ruin that.

“These next two games are more important than anything last year.

“No-one wants a relegation on their CV. The club itself has enjoyed their time in League Two, there’s a lot of pride involved in saying you’re a Football League club, plus a lot more money.

“The players want to say they’re Football League players and the fans have enjoyed being able to say they follow a Football League club.

“The fans have stuck by the players. The core fans of York City will stand by the club no matter what.

“They remember the Tuesday nights at Ebbsfleet. It would be great for us to repay them by staying up.”

York do at least carry good form into the visit of Southend and next week’s trip to Dagenham and Redbridge.

They have picked up eight points from their last four games, including a vital win over fellow strugglers Plymouth and a 2-0 win at Northampton last week that took the division by surprise.

Those three points put York’s destiny back in their own hands as it lifted them out of the relegation zone, something Blair acknowledges has given players a “spring in their step” this week.

The timely form is indicative of the influence of former Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington, who was tasked in March with rescuing York after Gary Mills – the man who orchestrated last season’s memorable finale – had been unable to prevent them plummeting from mid-table into the bottom two. Although he is enjoying the revival, Blair admits it was not an easy transition to make, with the dismissal of Mills – the man who gave him his chance in professional football – proving hard to stomach.

“I really liked Gary Mills, we had a good relationship,” said Blair. “So it was very difficult, although that has nothing to do with Nigel Worthington.

“Gary brought me to the club and gave me the chance to make a name for myself last season.

“But, like all the lads, I’ve really taken to Nigel and we all like the way he works.

“He’s very professional. He’s very structured. At first, he tried to change the system and the way we played and I don’t think it suited us.

“But as he learnt our way and we learnt his, it’s improved and now we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

Whether the direction they are heading ends with League Two football next season, or a return to the abyss of non-League, will be determined on the next two Saturdays.

Last season, York City put their all into clambering out of a fifth tier that becomes more professional with every year. Dropping back down would be catastrophic, and is motivation enough to ensure everyone gives their all to avoid that scenario.

As Blair concluded: “I worked hard to get on FIFA 2013, and I want to be on the 2014 version as well.”