York City v Blyth Spartans
Sat 23rd December
Nineteen years ago York City were enjoying Christmas league fixtures against current Premier League big-hitters Manchester City and Burnley. This time around the Minstermen faithful are contemplating the festive challenge offered by present-day rivals Blyth Spartans and North Ferriby United. But then it's never been a particularly routine journey for the magnificent supporters at Bootham Crescent.
In early August, York won 2-0 at their latest opponents. However, significant levels of troubled waters have passed under a seemingly increasingly crumbling bridge since then, and they come into this latest contest on the back of successive away defeats to Boston United and, most recently, Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Trophy, while at the same time seriously languishing in mid-table of a part-time regional league.
Manager Martin Gray has once again demanded for a victory to spark a much-needed sequence of them. But York fans are understandably tiresomely weary of the same repeat process of insistent calls for a fresh and vibrant rebirth being immediately followed by a shocking and totally demoralising no-show.
Now almost three months into the role, Gray has this week admitted to heavily underestimating the challenge of it, although one can't help but feel that consecutive gut-wrenching relegations for this once proud little club should have perhaps alerted that something was very seriously amiss.
Christmas is, of course, traditionally a time of extended goodwill to all, but even that is beginning to seriously run out of legs amongst a wonderfully loyal fanbase that has already suffered far too much of late from this always perplexing yet eternally special football club.
"We've got to finish the year off strong," manager Martin Gray told BBC Radio York. "Start the year so strong and make sure that come the end of the season that we've got something to play for. And the aim is promotion, still. We've got to make sure that we're in those play-offs and give this football club something to celebrate."
York City Team News:
Skipper Sean Newton is ruled out until into the new year after suffering an ankle injury during the FA Trophy defeat to Kidderminster Harriers. Amari Morgan-Smith and Aidan Connolly are both challenging for recalls after coming off the bench last weekend. Strikers Louis Almond [shoulder], Michael Rankine [high blood pressure] and midfielder Clovis Kamdjo [knee] remain sidelined.
York City (probable): Bartlett, Rowe, Burn, Bencherif, Ferguson, McAllister, Moke, Pattison, Connolly, Parkin, Morgan-Smith
subs (from): Parslow, Law, Gray, Simpson, Whittle, Smith, Muggleton, Walton
Player to watch: Amari Morgan-Smith
Produced a quality finish after coming off the bench at Kidderminster Harriers last weekend.
Blyth Spartans Team News:
The visitors were hoping that left-back Michael Liddle would recover after missing out in midweek. But fellow defender Chris Bell and midfielder Jordan Watson remain longer-term absentees.
Blyth Spartans (possible): MacDonald, Atkinson, I. Watson, Reid, Buddle, Hutchinson, Rivers, Mullen, Maguire, Hopson, Dale
subs: Rutherford, Green, McTiernan, Wrightson, Jameson
Player to watch: Dale Hopson
Prolific goalscoring midfielder at Whitby Town last season.
Match Facts & Stats
Blyth Spartans have made a single previous visit for an FA Cup first round tie in November 1978. Former Welsh international midfielder David Pugh scored for the hosts in a 1-1 draw. Team: Brown, Kay, Walsh, Pugh, Faulkner, Clements, Ford, Randall, Wellings, McDonald, Staniforth. York went on to win the reply 5-3 after extra-time.
Link: Red Rewind - Gallant City given extra time
York - North Ferriby (A); Blyth - Spennymoor (H)
Weekend Games: Alfreton v Boston; Brackley v AFC Telford; Curzon Ashton v Stockport; Gainsborough v Darlington; Harrogate v North Ferriby; Kidderminster v Nuneaton; Salford v Chorley; Southport v Bradford PA; Spennymoor v FC United of Manchester; Tamworth v Leamington; York City v Blyth