York City will play the first of five cup finals when they travel to Nuneaton Town on Tuesday night (Apr 10th).
Apr 10th 2018, 7.45pm KO
The Minstermen lost their first home game of 2018 with a 2-0 defeat to high flyers Harrogate Town on Saturday.
It means they are now clinging on to their playoff place with Chorley breathing down their necks, 2 points behind and with a game in hand in eighth.
With five games remaining, there is no room for error if York are to reach the playoffs this season and the games certainly don’t get any easier.
After being strong relegation candidates for most of the season, Nuneaton Town have been on a run that has only seen them lose one game in their last 12.
It means they are well clear of danger and will have the freedom to play with little to no pressure on their shoulders on Tuesday night.
The biggest problem for City right now is the catastrophic list of injuries in striking positions, which seems to have had a damaging effect on City’s general goal threat.
Top scorer Jon Parkin will be out until the last game of the season, while Louis Almond and Alex Pattison will not return for at least another two weeks with hamstring injuries.
It is hoped that Alex Kempster may be back in time for the Gainsborough match on Saturday, but City will be very much as they were for Harrogate on Tuesday evening.
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York City preview
Penney’s new role
Dave Penney has had to put football matters to one side to focus on business from above, since forming part of a new board of directors recently.
The sporting director took Monday’s press conference, while manager Martin Gray continued to prepare his players for a quick turnaround.
Penney has been in football management for nearly 19 years and has been well known for being one of the most vocal and animated figures on City’s coaching staff.
However, with his sudden drafting onto the board of directors, Penney has been absent from the touchline in recent weeks while he focused on managing matchday affairs from the stands.
On Saturday, one of his duties even involved persuading the matchday DJ to play more upbeat music to improve the atmosphere inside Bootham Crescent.
The 53-year-old is confident Gray has enough support in the dugout without his presence, and also quashed rumours that the manager could be leaving to take the current manager vacancy at Hartlepool United.
Gray and Penney worked together with now Hartlepool chairman Raj Singh in a successful period at Darlington. However, Penney was quick to deny rumours that the National League club are interested in acquiring the City manager’s services.
It’s a different picture. I’ve never looked at things from the stands, but I’ve tried to look at the bigger picture on Saturday in terms of the matchday experience.
I had a chat with the DJ just to try and make it a better atmosphere. It’s entertainment in the end, and you want that before, during and afterwards, so if we can make it a better atmosphere for supporters, we will.
It always has been Martin’s decision whatever team he picks – I’ve always just been a mentor and I still am – but if he asks my opinion I will always give it. He’s got Shaun (Gregan) and Brian (Atkinson) down there and he trusts their opinion as well as mine, so I just let them get on with it.
I’ve heard the rumour and there is always going to be that connection, but certainly Martin hasn’t spoke to me about it, and Hartlepool have not made any kind of approach.
He’s got a full time job to do here in terms of the next five games and potentially three playoff games, and until I hear something different or Hartelpool make an approach, then as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing in it.
A striking crisis
No one could fault a hard fought first half performance against Harrogate on Saturday. But to perform with a high press with no real attacking threat like City did, there was always going to come back and bite them eventually.
Harrogate outclassed City with counter attacking excellence, while City could barely muster a shot on target in the second half, posing worrying signs for York’s goal threat for the rest of the season.
The hard working endeavour of Connor Smith tempted Martin Gray to start the dynamic forward on his own on Saturday, which was a gamble that in the end didn’t pay off.
Gray then called upon 17-year-old academy product Flynn McNaughton from the bench to try and change the game, but it was always going to be difficult for him in only his second ever senior appearance.
By this evidence, it seems Gray may have lost faith in out-and-out senior strikers Raul Correia and James Gray, who only have two goals in 22 appearances between them this season.
Dave Penney believes that the reduced goal threat is City’s main problem at the moment, but said it shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of effort from the players.
The sporting director labelled the situation as plain old bad luck, with all the injuries coming within a week of the transfer window shutting, saying:
It was unbelievable because the transfer deadline came on the Thursday, and the very next day Jon came to us with his knee problem, and two or three days later, them two got injured as well.
If the window would have been open, then the manager could have dipped in and got a couple of players to help us get through this period. Now it’s up to the likes of Flynn, Connor, Raul and James to come to the party and hopefully chip in with some goals.
I think with the height we have, set plays are going to important for scoring goals over the next few weeks.
Flynn and Connor came into the Chorley game and did really well as a pair, and your instinct is… ‘right, they are going to play the next game’. But can you stick them up against a team like Harrogate Town and expect them to do well?
I don’t think so, but they are both fresh, lively players, but its about getting the balance right when you do play them.
The players will always give 100% over 90 minutes, but it’s the matter of fact that we don’t have a real goal threat at the moment that is really affecting the team’s performance.
Nuneaton Town preview
Founded: 1937 (2008 reformed)
Stadium: Liberty Way
Capacity: 4,614 (514 seated)
Nickname: The Boro
Colours: Blue and white stripes, black shorts
Manager: Gary Charles
League Position: 12th
Top Scorer: Ashley Chambers (18)
It’s been a story of two halves of a season for Warwickshire side Nuneaton Town.
A mere six wins from 22 up until the New Year saw the Boro lingering in and around the relegation places.
However, under the management of former Stevenage Borough striker Dino Maamria, who arrived in early November, Nuneaton turned their form around with a 9 game unbeaten run (6 wins and 3 draws), stretching from early January to early March.
This run of form was clearly noticed by League 2 side Stevenage, as Maamria left his position at Nuneaton to take the vacant managerial role there just two weeks ago.
In stepped former Aston Villa and Derby defender Gary Charles to take his first ever management job last week – and he got off to a great start at the weekend.
The Boro beat Southport 1-0 away from home and they now look almost certain to stay up with a 7 point cushion over third bottom Telford.
They could even push for a playoff place if results go in their favour. A victory over York and a win in the game in hand they have over City would put them within 3 points of the playoffs with 4 games remaining.
After the Southport victory, Charles has warned that they are not quite safe yet and thinks the win on Saturday will give his team extra encouragement to get more points on the board.
Speaking to the club’s website, he said:
We’re not safe yet, I’m watching videos on York and they are a good side, but Southport look a good side in the videos I’ve watched as well, sometimes you forget what a good side you can be.
We’ve got a good group of lads and I know we can match anyone. The most important thing for us as a group is getting the points on the board.
We’ve gone and played, and got a result in a hard place to go. They’re a good side and they’ve spent a bit of money so that result should give the lads a lot of encouragement.
Man to watch: Ashley Chambers
Ashley Chambers will always be remembered by City fans for helping the club lift the FA Trophy and return to the Football League. He scored 19 goals in 95 appearances between 2011/2014 for York, including a top scoring tally of 10 in York’s first season back in League 2, six years ago.
Fast forward to 2018, and the 28-year-old is one of the National League North’s top scorers with 18 goals for Nuneaton Town this season. This included two against York on his return to Bootham Crescent back in August.
The striker has hit a bad patch of scoring form recently, having gone without a goal in his last 5 outings, but if you would back anyone to score against City on Tuesday night, it would certainly be him.
Last time out: City survived a late comeback scare to beat Nuneaton 4-3 in an action packed game at Bootham Crescent. Two goals from Simon Heslop and a Michael Rankine header put York 3-0 up, but they handed Boro a lifeline when Ashley Chambers scored a penalty for 3-1.
Rankine then made it 4-1 with a penalty of his own on 70 minutes, but Nuneaton scored twice in the final 7 minutes to leave City clinging on to three points until the final whistle.
The last time York played Nuneaton at Liberty Way was last season, when they came out 3-0 winners in the FA Trophy quarter finals.
Three goals in the first twenty minutes from Amari Morgan-Smith, Vadine Oliver and Sean Newton sealed the win for York, who went on to win the trophy for the second time in 5 years.
Despite being 12th, Nuneaton have conceded the sixth least amount of goals in the league (50), with 9 of their 13 wins this season also finishing with clean sheets.
York have conceded five more than Boro this season, and have only kept 6 clean sheets from their 16 winning games this season.
Nuneaton have not lost a home game since January 6th and have only conceded four goals at home in that time.
York meanwhile have not won an away game since the 5-3 victory over Telford back in January, which is also the last time they won a match by more than a one goal margin.