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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 12/4/97
Watford 4(2)
Team: Miller 3, Gibbs 3, Armstrong 2, Palmer 3, Millen 3, Page 4, *Slater 5*, Andrews 2, Ramage 4, Easton 4, Mooney 4
Subs: Bazeley (for Armstrong) 3, Penrice (for Andrews) 3, Phillips
Scorers: Ramage (20,43), Mooney (39), Easton (87)
York City 0(0)
New hope
Report by Ian Lay

With six games remaining the match against York was a must win. On paper, certainly the easiest of our remaining opponents, not only did Watford need to come away with three points but also a good performance which would install some confidence into the players and the fans. On Saturday we got both in a match which was exciting, encouraging and above all pleasing to the eye.

At this stage of the season three points is all that matters, but to accomplish that in the way Watford did was a bonus and must give new hope in a season which was in danger of running away from them.

There were many excellent performances and one outstanding one in Stuart Slater who, for all of the afternoon, had the York defence back-pedalling continually.

Watford had the game sewn up by half time, York never really being able to cope with our attack and once they went a goal behind they never looked like coming back. Mooney had a 20 yard shot which the keeper had to push around the post for a corner. Then from that corner there was a massive scramble before the ball was poked just wide of the post. Watford continued to pressure the York defence and forced a series of corners. From one Ramage rose above the defence and sent a header into the top corner.

Almost immediately York went down the other end and won a free kick just outside the area. The resulting kick was sent over the wall, and with Miller stranded, the ball hit the inside of the post but bounced out across the goal and it was scrambled to safety. This was the best chance York had, and after that the Horns took control of the game with two further goals.

The first came from a move down the right. Slater and Gibbs linked up well to allow the latter a chance to cross the ball. It eluded everyone and found its way through to the left hand side of the box where Mooney, unmarked, picked his spot and drove the ball under the York keeper. Then just before half time Craig Ramage wrapped up the game as a contest with his second goal, again a header from a cross from Slater.

In between these goals, Mooney had another shot which the keeper had to push out over the byline. At the resulting corner the keeper came for it but missed the ball and Millen sent a shot over the bar when he really should have got it on target.

In the second half, Palmer forced Warrington into a good save to his left. Gibbs hit the bar. And from a free kick Slater picked out Ramage who hit a shot which bounced off the top of the crossbar and over.

York had a couple of half chances, the first when Miller had to come out smartly to push away a ball before a York attacker could latch onto it. Secondly, a smart save to his left which would have gone out for a corner if the linesman hadn't already flagged for an offence.

The Horns finally gave us the goal down the Vic end that we wanted. Slater, going on one of his numerous mazy runs down the right, cut inside his marker and sent a cross in which was half cleared to Easton at the edge of the box. Clint coolly picked his spot and sent a low side footed shot inside the keeper's left hand post. Da na na na na Clint Easton!!!. Yes, that's right we got that chant going that Peter Fincham has been trying to get people to do for ages. Okay, so it was only about seven of us. But hey, it's the thought that counts. By the way Pete, if you are reading this, it don't half make your throat sore after a couple of renditions.

As for the individual performances, only two people had below par games. Armstrong, who struggled with his control all the first half and was not surprisingly replaced by Bazeley (who had a good second half) at half time. Also Andrews wasn't at his best. But, to be fair to the kid, this wasn't his type of game and he looks more comfortable playing off a big man up front.

Page was the pick of the defenders. To be fair they didn't have much to do, but what there was to be done was mainly done by Robert.

Palmer had a solid game in front of the back four, but it was Easton, Mooney, Ramage and Slater that stole the show. Easton, back in the side due to the suspension of Johnson, had an excellent game. His passing was impeccable and he even managed to put in a couple of Johno type tackles, i.e. kicking someone twelve feet up into the air. He looks a little bit like Johno too!!

Mooney ran and ran, giving 120%, scored a goal and put in some useful crosses. He particularly linked up well with Bazeley in the second half. Ramage scored two goals, looked a lot more interested, used some of that skill we know he is capable of and generally had his best game by far since returning to the side. Penrice, who came on for Andrews, also put himself about well and had an amazing knack of planting about seven or eight headers right into the path of Slater.

The man of the match however, if you hadn't already worked it out, was Stuart. He absolutely terrorised the York defence. So much so that at one point they put three players on him, and he still managed to lose all of them. He was involved in three of the goals and generally was brilliant. And according to a reliable source at the game, he wants to sign an extension to his contract as soon as possible. We love you Stuart Slater!

Well, a great win, a great performance and some great team spirit. Yes, they did ease up a little in the second half, but with a game on Monday against Stockport who can blame them. I know we should be beating teams like this easily at home each week, but we haven't. The fact that we look a little more like scoring in recent games is that KJ at last has a wide selection of players to choose from and has found the right balance between attack and defence. Against Crewe he didn't quite get the formation right. On Saturday he did and with it an emphatic win. It ended with four goals. It could easily have been seven.

It won't be easy, but three points against Stockport on Monday could really start to make things interesting again. It's unlikely we will get automatic promotion, but if we have a run like we did at the end of last season….. well, you never know, do you.

Slater shows his class
Report by John Hargreaves

I turned up at the ground early as usual to get a decent seat. I wasn't confident of our chances in this game, especially considering the last two home results.

The game started quite brightly and we attacked quite well and got a couple of corners. For once we whipped in some decent crosses, and tested their goaly (although I thought he was rather dodgy). For most of the next few minutes the game quietened down a bit, and got a bit scrappy.

Just as I was fearing the worst, we got a corner. Easton took it (I think!) and Ramage nipped in at the near post to head it into the corner. 1-0 and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Yet seconds later, York got a free kick near the edge of our box. I was certain it was an indirect free kick (especially as Miller didn't dive for the shot) but the shot came of the left hand post and bounced along the goal-line. I then knew it was going to be our day.

The rest of the first half I remember being pretty scrappy. The only other two things I recall were the ball being played through to Mooney on the left of the box and he drilled it in with his left foot. Ramage then scored another before half-time, but I didn't really see it!

The second half was what I've been wanting to see all season. Slater was brilliant, he kept beating his marker superbly and was fantastic all round. We resorted to playing the ball about on the floor more rather than hoofing it up in the air all the time. Penrice came on as did Bazeley for Armstrong and Andrews. Penrice linked up well with Slater and we were passing the ball about really well then.

We had a couple of great chances. Gibbs hit a shot from about eight yards which rattled the crossbar and came down near the line, and Ramage had a header which clipped the top of the crossbar. With two minutes left, the ball was played across to Easton in the middle and he slotted it home coolly.

Slater had a blinding match and he and Penrice linked up very well too. Ramage didn't have as good a match as I would have liked but that doesn't detract from the fact that he scored two goals on the day and that was what he was expected to do. All in all, a good performance, especially in the second half, and should now bode well for a play-off position at least.

Finishing makes the difference
Report by Dan Exeter

It would be easy to gush and to go on about how wonderful we were. Before I do so, I think I'll emphasise now just how bloody awful York were - it really does make you wonder how they beat Everton and Man Utd in recent years. To their credit, they did try and play football, passing it around and moving, but that, of course, suited us better and overrall, I think 4-0 was probably a fair result.

The team was fundamentally the same as at Chesterfield on Tuesday, ie 4-4-2, with Miller in goal, Armstrong, Page, Millen and Gibbs across the back. Slater and Mooney were on the wings, Palmer in centre midfield and Clint Easton came in in place of the suspended Johno. Rams was up front with Wayne Andrews. Super Kev was on the bench, as was Bazeley (who came on for Armstrong at half-time) and Penrice (on for Andrews with about half an hour to go).

We started off quite well, moving the ball around nicely and attacking York straight away, before having one of our nightmare periods in defence when the fact that we've the best defence in the country seemed nothing more than a hollow joke. I suppose it was nerves, and when these settled down we started to attack again, winning a succession of corners. They were all the same, Easton passing it short to Slater, who'd stop the ball for Easton to cross to the back post. Clearly getting bored of this repertoire Easton finally just dinked one into the near post, where Craig Ramage leaped highest and furthest to plant the ball where it belongs, ie in the opposition net.

I've always been quick to criticise Ramage, for his laziness, his perceived lack of commitment, for his blatant attempts at cheating by diving when he's near the box, but with his goals on Saturday and just as importantly, his contribution I will be quick to praise him, for he did have a good game. He didn't do anything especially outstanding, there wasn't any skinning of defenders or majestic passes like in the old days, however that wasn't what was required. He played the simple ball well, made space for himself and others, and scored two goals, neither of which will win goal of the season but did need to be finished, and if there is one problem we've had this season it's our lack of finishing.

Despite Rams' two goals, it's Slater who wins my man-of-the-match award. Again, he did nothing especially fancy. He stayed out wide, and when he received the ball ran at the York defence, sometimes cutting inside, sometimes going for the byline. Certainly the crowd got right behind him, which is always good to see, and I think simple old-fashioned wing-play like Slater showed did make a big difference to the team. He helped fashion the second goal, when some good work on the right lead to a ball to Gibbs, who played a frankly dreadful cross which the York defence made a complete hash of so that it came to Mooney on the left-hand edge of the box who had time to control it before smashing it into the right-hand corner. Mooney had an otherwise quiet game but showed composure and finshing when it mattered.

I managed to miss most of the build-up for the third goal, all I saw was Ramage heading in at the near post after the 'keeper seemingly made a hash of it. Yet again, not an outstanding goal, but nevertheless a simple chance that needed to be taken competently, which Rams did.

3-0 up at half-time, with the game as a contest over, I was thinking of getting some more rather than worrying about a York comeback. They did have a couple of chances in the first-half, a free-kick bent over our wall coming off the woodwork with Miller stranded, and their very big and very crap Number 9 had a shot from about eight yards out which he sent high up into the Vic Road end. Armstrong, who hadn't done much (but then, hadn't needed to) came off for Bazeley.

The second half saw much more York pressure, and plenty of possession although I only recall one chance which really looked threatening and then I think it was given offside. Certainly Page and Millen looked like they could cope with York attacks all day. As the team with the advantage we obviously did some attacking, mostly through Slater down the right (he must surely be one of our best-ever signings). A cross from the byline by Slater was just missed by Wayne Andrews, which would have surely burst the net had he connected. He came off for Penrice, when those of us in the stand thought that Phillips would have made a better choice, but no matter, as we continued to create. Gibbs had a dig from the edge of the box which left the 'keeper stranded and came off the bar, while a minute later Rams had a header from a free-kick tip the bar on its way into the stand. Rams also (I can't remember if this was before or after) received the ball six yards out and completely unmarked - unfortunately it got caught up in his feet and he couldn't complete his hat-trick.

The final goal was probably the best of the lot. Slater went bombing down the right, after seemingly being ignored for a good 15 minutes by the rest of the team despite being in acres of space down the right, cut inside and crossed low. The York centre-back mucked up his clearance, Rams played the ball beautifully back to the onrushing Clint Easton who had a relatively simple task of almost passing the ball into the back of the net. This also gave us the chance to use our new Clint Easton chant (best heard rather than explained).

Like I said, I think 4-0 was probably the right result. Before the match I was saying that I'd be happy to scrape a 1-0 win, much like over Bristol Rovers last month, however I think a 4-0 thumping is important not just for our 'goals for' column but especially for the players' and the fans' self-confidence. We didn't play outstandingly well, but then we didn't have to, and we did take the chances that came our way, which is something we haven't done on too many occasions this season. This result should give us the momentum to last through the play-offs to Wembley. Johno being suspended at least should mean he's that little bit fresher later on in this month and in May, while Phillips was also rested after looking knackered recently. If Connolly can sort out his transport and stop missing buses and the like then he'll be in contention too, so we should have a reasonably fresh and sharp forward line at a stage of the season when other teams may not do.

Here's hoping.