York City’s first ever season in the National League North will come to an end when they travel to Brackley Town on Saturday
St James Park
Apr 28th 2018, 3pm KO
What can you say about this year? The hopes and fears of City fans have been juggled around like a cat with a ball of string, but now it’s all about to come to an end.
After the 1-0 victory over recently crowned league champions Salford back in February, I think many would have tipped York as a certain fixture in the top seven come the end of the season.
But top scorer Jon Parkin has struggled with injury for most of 2018. York just haven’t been the same without the big man’s goal threat, and it has cost them dearly.
York’s last six games has seen them score a mere three goals, picking up only two points from a possible 18, fuelling a one way ticket out of the playoff places.
Yet still, despite being second bottom of the form table, York still have a chance of making the playoffs.
Bottom side North Ferriby did the unthinkable holding Spennymoor Town to a 1-1 draw on Thursday night (Apr 26th), meaning York are still only two points outside the playoffs with three to play for.
It would take a York win, a Spennymoor loss and a failure for victory for both Blyth Spartans and current playoff position holders Bradford Park Avenue, for City to make the cut… but hey, stranger things have happened!
It will take triple the effort for City, against a Brackley side who have occupied third place for most of the season, conceded less than any other team in the division and have only lost eight games in their strong promotion campaign.
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York City preview
Time to rebuild
City’s slim playoff hopes were dealt yet another blow when Matt Dodd headed a last minute equaliser to snatch a 2-2 draw for Leamington on Saturday, summing up this season pretty well.
After the game manager Martin Gray hammered the mentality of his players, as he has done repeatedly over the last few months.
Speaking at his last press conference of the season on Thursday (April 26), the manager had a keen look in his eye, as he awaits to undertake a big summer rebuilding job at the club.
Gray wants to build a ‘fantastic dressing room’, filled with players who show the same determination to do what Salford players have done so well this year: win at all costs.
And he isn’t messing about. When we asked him when fans can expect to see new faces through the door, the manager confirmed he’s already got two potential newcomers ready to sign on the dotted line.
Ultimately, Gray wants City fans to be able to wave goodbye to Bootham Crescent with a promotion next season, and be playing their first year in the new stadium as a National League club. He said:
The club needs to rebuild from the ground again, you learn more about people when things haven’t gone so well. The fans are dying to be the 12th man here and some players don’t know how lucky we are to have that fan base.
I’ve got one or two players who are hopefully ready to sign, because their contracts end on May 5, but we can’t rush into things either, but we’ve got to take our time to recruit the right players and there will be a lot available in the next few weeks.
We know the positions we need to strengthen. I understand the main priority is goals. Ideally, you want two forwards who can get you 20 goals a season, but equally we need a stronger defence. You look at Salford winning games 1-0 consistently, we need to get to that.
I want a fantastic changing room next season full of honest players who will give everything. Every player who comes back after the summer will be told what condition I expect them to be in and what weight they need to be, because we’ve got to have the fittest squad in the division next season.
I honestly believe with the new stadium on the way, we can go into our first season there with a promotion.
Kamdjo the war hero
The manager confirmed that striker Alex Kempster will be available for Saturday’s game, but top scoring veteran Jon Parkin will still be unavailable despite hopes that he would make it back for the Brackley match.
Alex Pattison meanwhile, has returned to Middlesbrough after a difficult second loan spell with the club.
The young attacking midfielder played a star part in City’s five-match winning run in December and January, but after returning to the club in February, he couldn’t reach the same levels of performance and has struggled with a hamstring injury over the last month or so.
And with a lengthy spell on the sideline for Louis Almond, Gray has had to call upon his captain to lead the line in recent weeks. In the last match, it was a gamble that paid off.
Sean Newton showed a real striker’s instinct to score two poachers goals against Leamington, and Gray had high praise for his new makeshift number 9, confirming that he will likely play in a front two with Kempster against Brackley.
Gray also confirmed that the returning Clovis Kamdjo could play a big part in York’s season-ender on Saturday, as well as in his summer preparations.
The big unit defensive midfielder has been battling with a knee ligament injury for well over a year, but has recently been brought back into the fray by Martin Gray and made his first appearance this season as a substitute against Chorley in March.
Overall, although there is still a chance of the playoffs, Gray wants to finish the season with a real ‘honest performance’, against a Brackley side who have been one of the toughest sides to beat in the league this season. He said:
“Clovis is somebody I can trust and the one person at this club I’d want to go to war with, because he’s an honest lad and that’s what we want on Saturday. I’ve invited him back for pre-season, because I think he deserves the best chance to show me what he can do.
“Brackley have done fantastically well and are in a great position, where they have been able to look at the squad and rest people for the play-offs, which is something we wanted to do, but we failed on that front.
“I want to make sure we finish the season with a really, honest performance, so I will put the players out that I believe will give me their best, because the fans deserve that.
“The majority of players have been very good in training this week, although one or two downed tools three weeks ago and they’ve been the same this week, so they will struggle to find clubs in the summer.”
Back to the day job?
One of the players who could be in danger of not being offered a new contract is tenacious full back Connor Brown.
While you can’t fault the defender’s effort and commitment in a City shirt, the team has only recorded one win with him playing since his arrival from Guiseley back in January.
However, the 25-year-old is happy with how he has performed for City since he joined, despite a disciplinary record that has seen him pick up 16 yellow cards this season.
Brown will be out of contract come June, but the defender explained how being without a club in the summer is part and parcel of football in the lower leagues. He will make landscaping his full time career if the manager decides not to keep him on. He said:
I’m satisfied with how I’ve done, but we’ve not got the results. I would prefer to play rubbish as long as we’re doing well, so overall it’s just been frustrating.
Being without a club over the summer is part and parcel of football lower down the leagues. You don’t get many long contracts but, hopefully, I’ve given the gaffer something to look at.
My contract here finishes in June and, if I don’t get another one, I’ll see what else is out there. If there isn’t anything full-time, then I’ll go back to doing landscaping. I didn’t mind doing that really, but I would rather play full-time.
Brackley Town preview
Stadium: St James’ Park
Nickname: The Saints
Colours: Red and black stripes
Manager: Kevin Wilkin
League Position: 3rd
Top Scorer: Aaron Williams (23)
Northamptonshire side Brackley are having their most successful season in five years, and along with Salford and Harrogate, they have been a class ahead of the rest of the league.
Former Northampton striker and Brackley manager Kevin Wilkin took the club on a run of only two defeats in six months running up to April, and he will walk them out at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final in May with the chance to take the trophy from York to Brackley.
The only reason the Saints haven’t seriously challenged top spot is because of their 11 draws this season, and they only managed one win in four fixtures over the top two sides (2-1 at home to Salford).
A poor April has proven to be the final nail in the coffin for Brackley’s automatic promotion hopes. Although they won their last three away games convincingly, they have failed to prevent defeat in their last three at home.
With playoff home advantage already sealed, they can think about resting players.
One player that could be given a break is top scorer Aaron Williams. The 23-goal striker was placed on the bench along with a number of other first teamers in the 2-1 home defeat to Chorley on Tuesday.
But if Brackley want to go into the playoffs with momentum, they might decide to pitch a strong line-up against City.
Man to watch: James Armson
James had progressed through Nuneaton Town’s youth set-up, where in five years, he amassed more than 100 games scoring 17 times. He brought valuable experience to Kevin Wilkin’s Saints squad and scored an incredible 25 goals last season.
The versatile attacking midfielder has played a significant role in Brackley’s promotion campaign this season, scoring 15 goals in 35 appearances for the club.
He scored in the last match against Chorley, and with the possibility of Brackley’s prolific marksman Aaron Williams being rested for the playoffs, it is likely that the spotlight will be on Armson once more against City.
[arve url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg0ZiQ5xxvg” title=”York City 2-1 Brackley Town 17.10.2017″ /]
Last time out: A late smash and grab goal from Jon Parkin secured a 2-1 win in Martin Gray’s first game in charge of the team. The big striker had put the Minstermen in front with a header in the first half, but that was cancelled out by Aaron Williams mid-way through the second half.
The only other time City have met Brackley in competitive action was in a 1-0 FA Trophy victory at Bootham Crescent back in February 2017. Jon Parkin was the goal scorer on that occasion as well, in a competition that York eventually went on to win.
No side has conceded fewer goals in the league than Brackley (37) this season, and that’s the reason they are where they are. City have conceded nearly double the number of their final opponents (60), and incredibly, they haven’t kept an away clean sheet since the third game of the season back in August.
City haven’t scored in their last three away games, while Brackley have only scored two goals in their last four home games, although they haven’t failed to score away since early February.