The sleek Rodney Rowe is at the very peak of his game, sliding away from ponderous markers with effortless glee and pouncing on half-chances to set the sternest of tests for the exposed Fettis in the York net. Lawrie Dudfield soars down the left flank to demonstrate once again the sublime dribbling ability he possesses in those skilled feet. With young Morley offering slippery and vigorous running down the right, like the vivid product of a BeillChild dream computer game, and Theodore Whitmore pirouetting through tackles in an industrial midfield before stroking imaginative passes between York's defensive ribs, the travelling City support could only be hugging itself with glee and admiration for our heroes.
Well, it might have been, had the above cameo not occupied no more than the last ten or fifteen minutes of this wretched match, and had the previous 75 not seen Hull City demolished by Relegationhauntedyork.
We were shockingly poor. Again. Do not be deluded by the scoreline. It was not close. We deserved to lose. York outplayed us - convincingly, unarguably.
York. A poor side. Tumbling downwards. In turmoil off the pitch. Approaching this fixture off the back of a draining, disappointing and deflating exit from the FA Cup. Managed by Terry Dolan. And quite good enough to beat us. It was shaming, it was humbling.
The starting eleven that confirmed once again that our manager selects his midfield pairing for the day from a tombola:
We had a glimpse of a chance early on, as a Beresford cross flew just too high for Roberts to connect, but the game quickly came flowing towards the net defended by the Muss, in front of the Tiger nation. And York duly scored the same goal - twice.
First, Wicks and Mohan obligingly looked helplessly at each other instead of tracking ball and/or opponent, and a brace of Yorksters swarmed chortling straight through the middle of our defence. The man in possession placed his shot against a post, and the rebound arrived back at the feet of his chum (or was it even the same bloke? I couldn't really see), who pushed it gleefully into the inviting net.
Shot - post- goal. That's a clever trick. Can you do it again, I wonder? O yes. This time the first shot was belted against the Muss's left hand post from a longer distance, near the edge of the box, and the rebound was hammered home from 15 yards courtesy of an impressively controlled first-time drive by Peter Duffield. It was a higher-quality strike than York's first goal, but the story of the defending was naggingly, nauseatingly similar - slow-witted, second to the ball.
Only a short while ago a tig-chatter asserted that Wicks looks the equal of Goodison. Well, we've all seen our snap judgements, delivered in good faith, compromised by subsequent developments. No harm in that. But right now "Wicks = Goodison" would make even an optimistic alchemist chuckle with derision. Young Wicks may well be able to meet Ian on equal terms in a competition to name the class of locomotive commonly used on the North Yorkshire Moors railway line. (Both, I suspect, would struggle to break their duck, and I am frankly unsure whether Mr Goodison would stay in the room for too long while such quiz questions were being fired at his colossal frame). Moreover, I can well imagine that Wicks would have at least as good a chance as Goodison were they invited to name the traditional county town of Wiltshire or even of the West Riding of Yorkshire. But as centre backs who play football, I have to confess, I think Wicks is not the equal of Goodison. But young Wicks, who made a modest start to his City career is now deteriorating, was the better of our two centre-backs last night. Poor old Mohan. Neither adjective is chosen without calculation. I have wanted to like Mohan this season. I believe in the virtues of non-nonsense defending in this Division and I like his aggressive attitude. But it's time to confess that opponents are perfectly well aware they can beat him for pace, and they are duly doing so, with dismal regularity.
And then, behind this calamity, there's the Muss. A fine shot-stopper and a dignified personality. Poor ball distribution. And too quiet. The list of confused moments, even for this month alone, covers an argument with Goodison at Plymouth, a complete failure of communication with Whittle in dealing with an Exeter long ball and the frequent lack of understanding with Wicks and Mohan last night.
And so we were 0-2 down to bloody York. Dudfield skated down the right and saw his shot deflected over the crossbar. Then we had a howl for a penalty, but it would have been the second generous award in the space of four days, and I don't complain about the referee's refusal. And, late on in the half, as we pieced together probably our only recognisably competent move of the entire first half, Williams fired a left-foot shot high into the night sky. But, in the ledger of "things we did that were just about OK", that's it. The complete lack of invention, movement off the ball and leadership were cumulatively woeful. And, in fact, we were lucky to troop in at the break, heads down, only two goals to the bad. Mohan had been exposed for lack of awareness down the middle, allowing one of theirs a glittering one-on-one, but we were rescued by a feeble attempt at a chip which trickled safely through to the Muss. On half-time, the linesman's offside flag chalked off a "goal" scored after York had been allowed five touches deep inside our penalty box before booting the ball into our net. No way was that offside.
I've been in Bootham Crescent in crowds much larger than last night, including what may be the biggest City travelling support of the last two generations, the six- or seven-thousand that saw us play (and lose, feebly) in what I think must have been one of our promotion seasons in the 1980s. But is it just me who no longer finds standing on slippery shale banks to be a comfortable way to spend a football match? Am I just getting old when I think that I want at least to be able to see an emergency exit? How, then, does that ground get its safety certificate?
We were improved in the second half. It's not saying much. All that happened was that York had decided they had spent enough time and energy scything our defence apart, so that at least we didn't look like conceding another goal every time the opposition had possession. While, on the Tigers side of the coin, we passed it around sporadically. But with little conviction (geddit?). Beresford cuts inside, wins a corner - wasted. York shoot - straight at Muss. Sneekes punts one wide of their goal. Scrappy stuff, York remain largely in control. So much so that the best chance of the first 25 or so minutes of the half is not only created by the home side, it is also defended by them. A crisp passing movement leads to a well-judged chip that seems to be travelling just inside the far post, with the Muss beaten, until one of theirs contrives to slice the ball back over his own shoulder to safety from only three yards out.
Time for that triple substitution that looks ingenious the first time you try it, and merely a lame admission that you have simply run out of ideas when you keep taking a punt on it whenever things are going badly. Greaves came off and both Beresford and Williams were invited to "tuck in" on the bench, while on in their stead came Morley, Rowe and Jonsson.
Actually, my scorn for the triple tactic is unfair. For the changes did make a noticeable difference and the team perked up considerably, though still inadequately, in the closing stages - as my opening paragraph, above, suggests. Rowe, in particular, was excellent. He raced into space with the eagerness of a man who wants his first-team spot back and the York defence was not able to track his bursts. Tappa and Roberts combined to send a low cross into Rowe's feet, deep inside the box. A slick turn from Rodders, a clumsy tackle, a clear penalty. Rowe himself belted it into the net, 2-1, and moments later a thoughtless backpass had Rowe haring in on the ball with Fettis scrambling in horror to get out to smother the chance. Rowe's toe arrived first (so it was no longer a backpass), but Fettis managed to claim the ball. And then Rowe again - a fierce volley, just too high.
2-1, then, and even with five minutes of "added" and a much livelier Tiger set-up seeing out the final rites, we were pointless.
It's not the desperation that kills me, it's the hope. These players are capable of so much better. I truly expected us to win automatic promotion this season, and now ... Well, it still could happen: with 16 games to play, it's daft to deny it. But equally the dismal displays of the last two months will, if continued, leave us looking at a limping landing in the PlayOffs, at best, and a horrible semi-final exit on some foreign field. The sullen silence among the large City support last night told a sorry tale. Disillusionment, confusion. Not quite despair. But close.
And so to Halifax. Did someone say this is a "must win" game? It's not. But I am too weary to object too strenuously. To conclude, I will observe that, apparently, our club was mired in a drinking culture in the early stages of this season. But Mr Little has spent the last couple of months "sorting it out". Right. That's good then. Way to go. I can only suggest that for Saturday's visit to Halifax the fans show the club what they reckon to this ploy. Never mind fancy-dress. Turn up steaming at the Shay. You know it makes sense.
Report by: Steve Weatherill