York City 0
By Rick Cowdery
A WEEK after being unable to hold on to a lead with ten men, the Pilgrims were powerless to take advantage of similar misfortune suffered by their opponents
Despite enjoying a man advantage for three-quarters of the game at Bootham Crescent, after former Pilgrim Stephane Zubar was sent off for a butt on Peter Hartley, they were unable to break down a resolute York defence and had to settle for a point that at least keeps their Sky Bet League 2 play-off ambitions alive.
It would be callous to deny their hosts celebration of their share of the spoils as, not only did they defend well but also showed great spirit to take the game to Argyle, for who Luke McCormick was – and needed to be – in great form.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had welcomed back Curtis Nelson and Hartley – two-thirds of his first-choice three-man defence – after injury, his captain and vice-captain having missed both the Pilgrims’ defeats over Christmas, at Newport and at home to Oxford United.
They took the place of Aaron Bentley, who was serving the first leg of his three-match suspension after being sent off against the Us the previous weekend, and Anthony O’Connor, who resumed his defensive central midfield partnership with Lee Cox. Ollie Norburn, whose performance against Oxford had been described by Sheridan as “magnificent”, must have felt unlucky to be the man to make way.
York stayed faithful to the 11 that had won 3-0 at Carlisle six days earlier, not surprising, seeing as the Brunton Park win had seen them achieve successive victories for the first time this season. It came on the back of their first home win, at the 11th attempt, against Accrington Stanley.
The starting 11, which differed only by one from that which had laid the foundations of their last-gasp 1-1 draw at Home Park in late November, included another former Pilgrim, Ivybridge-born Luke Summerfield.
Argyle’s recent occasional vulnerability at set-pieces showed itself at York’s first corner. They failed to clear it properly and allowed Summerfield a shot at the far post that Kelvin Mellor blocked, with the home fans in the David Longhurst Stand claiming a hand had been involved.
Summerfield had been heavily and usefully involved in York’s early promptings, but the focus then suddenly switched to the other ex-Pilgrim on the field – although not for much longer, as it turned out.
As Bobby Reid’s floated free-kick from the left arced harmlessly into the arms of City goalkeeper Alex Cisask, Zubar and Hartley had a coming-together that resulted the former being shown a red card. The implication, not least of all from Reuben Reid as he persuaded a very reluctant Guadeloupian to leave the field, was that a head had been used.
The Pilgrims had immediately to deal with a clearly aggrieved Bootham Crescent as their opponents, roared on by angry support, tore into them with a passion fuelled by perceived injustice.
As at Home Park the weekend before, it was not straight away obvious that the two teams were uneven in number and Argyle initially dealt badly with the situation, giving the crowd more to shout about with some injudicious tackling. In turn, the spleen-venting support lifted the home players.
A strange half ended with Hartley being substituted, in favour of Norburn, during time added on largely for Zubar’s long walk to the shower-room. The decision not to wait the few additional seconds might have been influenced as much by the vice-skipper’s resurfaced groin problem as by the fact that he had already been show a yellow card and, being physically hampered, looked close to picking up another at least once subsequently.
The half ended with Luke McCormick making a double save from Summerfield, parrying his former Home Park team-mate’s low, wall-beating, free-kick and then accepting the ball graciously on the deck as Jake Hyde spooned the rebound gently into his midriff.
With pantomime villain Hartley out of the picture and half-time offering a chance for everyone to regroup, the second half saw a more composed Pilgrims side passing the ball with patience, using their numerical advantage to probe for an opening.
Reuben Reid went close with a header from Andy Kellett’s right-wing cross and Lewi Alessandra nearly capitalised on Reuben’s through-ball before Alessandra was withdrawn in favour of Marvin Morgan with half an hour to play.
York, well marshalled by captain Russell Penn, had been forced to play largely in their own half up until this point, but suddenly fashioned two breakaway chances for Hyde. The first was a shot which he dragged wide; the second was a header, from Penn’s delivery, that McCormick leapt to pouch.
Hyde then completed a hat-trick of wasted opportunities when Michael Coulson made a superb length-of-the-pitch breakaway that ended with a perfect pass to the far post, where the supporting Hyde somehow contrived to play the ball all the way back across goal and wide of the opposite upright.
Argyle maintained the patient approach, faced by a wall of red – sometimes with nine men inside their own penalty area – but always looked vulnerable to a snap counter, and McCormick had to be at his best to deny Coulson on one such occasion.
Sheridan deployed Jason Banton from the bench for the final quarter, giving him the Bobby Reid role behind Reuben Reid and Morgan.
However, Banton was unable to provide the launchpad for a late Pilgrims steal and, indeed, it was York who looked more likely to stage a repeat of their late Home Park heartbreaker in November.
York City (4-5-1): 29 Alex Cisak; 2 Marvin McCoy, 38 Stephane Zubar, 15 Keith Lowe, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 7 Michael Coulson (20 Lindon Meikle 90), 8 Luke Summerfield, 12 Josh Carson, 10 Russell Penn (capt), 39 Jake Hyde; 9 Wes Fletcher (5 John McCombe 22). Substitutes (not used): 1 Jason Mooney (gk), 14 Lewis Montrose, 18 Tom Platt, 19 Diego De Girolamo, 25 Carlton Morris.
Sent-off: Zubar 22.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley (6 Ollie Norburn 45); 2 Kelvin Mellor, 4 Lee Cox, 17 Bobby Reid (8 Jason Banton 72), 28 Anthony O'Connor, 13 Andy Kellett; 7 Lewis Alessandra (10 Marvin Morgan 59), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 19 Nathan Thomas.
Booked: Hartley 21, O’Connor 29.
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Attendance: 3,869 (528 away).