Robert Beaumont reflects on a stunning turnaround in fortunes at Bootham Crescent as York City thrash fallen giants Portsmouth
|York City 4||Portsmouth 2|
Fletcher (4, 66)
In all my 45 years of watching York City, I cannot recall such an extraordinary turnaround in attitude, energy, skill and commitment in such a short space of time than the one that has happened at Bootham Crescent during the past month.
Like the majority of City fans, I was horrified by the listless and disjointed displays against Hartlepool and AFC Wimbledon, when a porous defence, plodding and one-dimensional midfield and toothless attack suggested that a return to Conference football was inevitable.
There was a distinct danger that all the goodwill that manager Nigel Worthington had garnered at the end of last season, as he saved City from the dreaded drop, had evaporated.
Could Worthington change the personnel and tactics to stop the rot? I must admit I had my doubts, but I was wrong. He took some brave decisions – dropping City’s error-prone captain Chris Smith, restoring Daniel Parslow to the centre of defence and making him skipper, dispensing with identical midfielders Craig Clay and Tom Platt (whose form had dipped alarmingly) and leaving inconsistent wingers Chambers and Puri on the bench.
Crucially he recruited a flying winger in the wonderful Ryan Brobbel, brought back the excellent Josh Carson to Bootham Crescent and played Lewis Montrose, a proper midfield holding player, in the centre of the park.
Another loanee, Elliott Whitehouse, has brought energy and skill at both ends of the pitch, whilst the return of Wes Fletcher and the consistently classy David McGurk has strengthened the side in crucial positions.
And then there was a change in system. Whilst 4-3-3 might suit highly-talented Premiership clubs, with three swift, attacking forwards constantly switching positions (think Liverpool with Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho), it does not suit typical League Two sides.
It always amazed me that Gary Mills, who insisted in playing the diminutive Jason Walker at the centre of his attacking trio, could not – and would not – see this. Ultimately it proved his downfall.
At this level, 4-4-2 with two fast wingers and two strikers in tune with each other (which City had yesterday) are much more effective. With Brobbel and Carson stretching the defence, you do not need a holding midfielder and two other midfielders getting each other’s way.
Two are fine, especially when they are as fit and skilful as Montrose and Whitehouse. Watching Brobbel and Carson on the flanks yesterday reminded me of McCarthy and Canham, Pollard and Ford and Lyons and Butler, all pivotal wingers in great City sides, and my goodness, that was a magnificent feeling.
Yesterday’s goals, the last two of which were superb, underlined what a team performance this was. Players in the box for the first two, making sure the goalkeeper’s mistakes were punished, players with vision and skill for the second two, in which Ryan Jarvis played a crucial part.
Jarvis, despite his early goals this season, had turned in a couple of underwhelming performances, but he was excellent yesterday. Could he and Fletcher be another Jimmy Seal and Chris Jones? There are signs that they are beginning to click.
OK, I know that as a City fan, it is dangerous to get carried away and one swallow does not a summer make and all that. There will inevitably be ups and downs this season.
But this performance against Portsmouth, who won the FA Cup five seasons ago and were in the Premiership four seasons ago, suggested that Nigel Worthington has assembled a squad which can play attractive, attacking football and hold its own in a very competitive division.
After the Wimbledon shambles, I never thought I would be able to write those words.
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