Does York City lead the National North through smoke and mirrors?
Background image: Matty the White, CC BY 4.0
With less than two months to go, preseason favourites York City lead the National North. Much of the campaign unfolded as a two-horse race between York City and surprise package King’s Lynn Town. However, the Minstermen may have loosened their grip this past week.
Traditionally a Football League club, the side struggled in recent years. Back-to-back relegations sank them to English football's sixth tier. They haven't made the playoffs in either campaign at this level.
Under new manager Steve Watson, things began to look up. He moved them up the table last season, away from trouble. This term, they challenged from the word go.
Off the pitch, it is also an exciting time for York fans. They said a long goodbye to a classic old stadium in Bootham Crescent. Expected to be settled in their new digs before the campaign kicked off, the move is continually postponed. Several fixtures were earmarked as debut matches but each was cancelled and no firm date is confirmed.
Meanwhile, their most recent games proved disastrous for their promotion chances. In the National North, as is the case with many non-league divisions, only the champions win automatic promotion with a playoff offering one more. The top two remained clear of the chasing pack for most of the campaign. Then King's Lynn faltered. Their last three results produced a single point from nine possible, putting all the pressure on the Norfolk club.
Only York failed to take advantage, scraping just four points from their last four games. Humbled 1-4 at home on Tuesday night at home by Hereford, Watson's side missed a huge opportunity. In their previous match at Bootham Crescent, they drew with another bottom-seven club, Curzon Ashton, taking one point where they expected and needed six. The slip leaves the Minstermen two points ahead of the Linnets with nine games to go. One small problem, their rivals hold four games in hand. Those five points dropped could have all but buried King's Lynn.
Third place Boston can now draw level with York as well if they win their two games in hand. York’s task looks much tougher than their rivals in the bargain. Four of their nine remaining fixtures come against sides in the top eight. With second through seventh qualifying for the playoffs, there won't be an easy match to be found. If York surrender the top place, they'll face some of the teams that pulled them down again in those playoffs.
Watson boasts a squad filled with talent. Striker Jordan Burrows scored 15 times in the league this season but it is their experience all over the park which should shine through. While players such as Dan Maguire and Pete Jameson come from fellow non-league sides, many in the first team played much higher up the pyramid, including long-serving Minsterman Adriano Moke.
The run-in may prove a steep learning curve for Watson, only in his second managerial job following a spell at Gateshead. He is clearly taking the club in the right direction but they cannot afford to miss the chance for automatic promotion. Nine wins from their last nine games is a must at this point.