With Easter upon us, most football fans will be turning their attention to the end-of-season run-in.
The last few months of hard work and dedication can be completely undone in the coming weeks as teams look to finish what they’ve started.
York City are one of those sides as they look to bounce straight back to the National League after last season’s disappointing relegation.
It won’t be an easy feat as they certainly aren’t the only club looking to escape National League North. The new playoff format gives hope to Martin Gray’s side but will they do it?
Bad couple of years
It has been a tough couple of years for York City Football Club. Things looked a lot brighter back in 2012 after the Minstermen followed up a promotion to League Two with a steady, foundation-laying first season.
The 2013-14 season proved even more successful as York reached the playoffs, only to lose in the semi-final to the eventual winners, Fleetwood Town.
York City were a side in decline and manager Nigel Worthington left in October 2014. Things only got worse as a couple of stagnant seasons were followed up by the Minstermen’s disastrous 2015-16 campaign.
Thirty-four points was the lowest figure a League Two side had accumulated for six years and it seemed to hang over the club. A consecutive relegation followed as York slumped to the sixth-tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history.
Victory in the FA Trophy somewhat softened the blow of relegation and now, York are looking to bounce straight back into the National League.
They currently sit in fifth place in the National League North table, a couple points inside the playoffs.
That advantage will likely be eroded with the sides around them having played fewer matches but it’s still there. Journeyman striker Jon Parkin has continued to shine up front despite turning 36 years old midway through the season.
York are into the final straight in their quest to return to the National League but they face stiff competition. Harrogate Town and Salford City have made a two-horse race of the league title and the automatic promotion spot it carries.
It’s difficult to look past the latter of the two sides considering Salford’s two promotions in the last three seasons but either way, one strong side will have to settle for a place in the playoffs.
New playoff structure
This is the first season in which the new playoff format will be used. Instead of the standard four-team knockout playoff structure, the National League will be utilising a six-team style.
The clubs finishing 4th and 5th place will take on 6th and 7th place with the winners of these two matches progressing to the semi-finals to take on the sides which finished second and third.
This gives more teams a ticket in the playoff lottery but will also make things tougher for the sides finishing outside of the top three.
This is perhaps reflected in the odds which heavily favour the sides currently in that bracket. Salford and Harrogate are at 1/4 and 4/7 to go up while York City are the sixth-favourites at 10/1 on Betway as of 26 February.
It shows how close things are in the top half of the National League North Table. Just seven points separate fourth from tenth but York have their faith in their own hands.
The Minstermen will take on two of the top three before the season is up and Martin Gray’s men must look at the possibility of the playoffs with some confidence. York were ultimately relegated last season but they experienced something few sides do: victory at Wembley.
Keep the faith
Success in the FA Trophy must give the side confidence ahead of any potential playoff situation. This York team has proven to be quite inconsistent – five straight wins at the start of the year came after three consecutive defeats before Christmas – but their record in important matches speaks for itself.
Wins over teams like Salford and Brackley this season will give the York players the belief that they will rise to the occasion in May.
It’s always difficult for teams to climb out of the lower leagues of English football and the National League North is no different this year.
York City are in a promising position but face tough competition from the sides around them. The changes in the playoff format will surely help the Minstermen but it is anyone’s guess who will be contesting them.
If York manage to overcome their tough run of fixtures to reach the playoffs then they must be amongst the favourites. Senior players like Parkin and last season’s Wembley win may just give Martin Gray’s men the edge.