546 days: the length of time elapsed between York’s previous league match at Spen Valley in March 2020 and their visit to Wetherby Athletic FC for their long-awaited first game of the season against Leeds Schools. A period of time that brought us lockdown, furlough, social-distancing, Zoom calls and panic buying of toilet-rolls and made the world around us a much different place. At long last, the boys from York were able to get back out there and play a competitive match ….
York started the game brightly, immediately pushing forward, closing down their opponents and showing their desire to start the season with a victory. They pinned Leeds back into their own half for long periods and dominated the opening exchanges. The attacking trio of Dominic Weston, Adam Nganga and Cameron Wakerley were lively, skilful and direct when they needed to be. Unfortunately, despite enjoying a large percentage of the possession, they were unable to create any clear-cut openings. On the handful of occasions when Leeds managed to force their way into the York half, they found that the back line of Seb Holowkiewicz, Billy Hobson, Jack Cottam and Ben Garbutt-Smith stood firm and gave very little away. Garbutt-Smith, standing in at centre-half for the injured Alex Gilbey, gave an assured performance, using his pace and reading of the game to cut off danger and provide cover in behind. Holowkiewicz, with his quality use of the ball, verbal promptings and encouragement of those around him, showed that he is becoming a very influential and confident captain at this level. Cottam, with his desire, aggression and ability to play his way out of danger, was a rock at the heart of the defence and the ever-reliable Hobson, who has returned this season playing better than ever, utilised his skill and athleticism to show that he can not only defend resolutely but begin and support attacks for his team. Behind them, goalkeeper Jacob Bryant, with his accurate distribution, constant vocals and instructions and assured starting positions, gave the defence reassurance and kept everyone on their toes. This cohesive unit set the platform for what proved to be a very confident performance from the York team.
As the half progressed, the York midfield began to impose themselves on the game with Billy Dickinson patrolling the central areas, combining well with the tireless Harry Fort and the industrious Ben Armitage to close down space, regain possession and set their team going forward on a series of attacks. Wakerley had a very good claim for a penalty waved away by the referee after he beat his man in the area and was brought down. Unfortunately, VAR has not yet reached Wetherby so York had no choice but to increase their efforts in their search for a goal. Shortly afterwards, Weston had a similar claim dismissed but York did not allow this to frustrate them and on the half hour mark they made their superior play tell. The ball was played out to Nganga on the right flank. His pace, power and trickery allowed him to beat the full back before firing in a low, hard cross. Weston, timing his run to perfection, finished confidently. 1-0 to the visitors and nothing more than they deserved.
York continued to press home their advantage, always aware that Leeds posed a threat on the counter-attack. Lleyton Brown latched onto a chance, only to see it blocked and the same player then hit a lovely, left-footed swerver that the Leeds keeper did well to push around the post. With Leeds on the rack, Nganga showed good close control to skip over a tackle but saw his delicate chip just clear the crossbar. Despite the abundance of chances. York were almost caught out just before half-time when the Leeds striker broke into the box and seemed certain to score. The ever-reliant and increasingly confident Bryant narrowed down the angle to make things difficult, forcing the shot to roll against the post where it was cleared to safety. A close one for York and a warning sign that the game was not yet in the bag.
The referee blew his whistle to signal the end of a very entertaining half with York a goal to the good. York gathered together during the break, pleased with their performance but aware that they needed to finish the game off while they were in the ascendancy. They knew that Leeds were still in the game.
The second half kicked off with Leeds raising their energy levels and York struggling to maintain the excellent levels of concentration and focus shown in the first half. Unfortunately, this led to Leeds grabbing an equaliser when a deep cross from the right was tucked away at the far post. 1-1 and this hit York hard, who appeared to be in a state of shock. Leeds now fancied their chances and turned up the pressure. With York’s passing not quite hitting the mark, Leeds took the lead with a well-taken finish. 2-1 to Leeds. In the space of ten minutes, the match had been turned on its head.
York struggled to come to terms with things and were forced to soak up a lot of pressure. However. Bryant helped bring some composure and calm, bravely dealing with a high corner under pressure from a number of attackers to keep the score at 2-1. To their credit, York regained their focus, stuck together and picked up the quality to turn Leeds round. This pressure paid off when Wakerley cut inside and fired into the top corner to level the score at 2-2. They didn’t stop there. They raised their heads, rediscovered their confidence and began to once again play some lovely, fast-moving, attacking football. Brown’s free kick from outside the area dipped and eluded the keeper to put his side 3-2 ahead and York sensed it was their opportunity to grab hold of the game. The speed of their play was upped and they went about sealing the victory. Leo Littlewood, who put in a great shift in the midfield, skilfully weaved through two tackles to create space before curling an effort narrowly wide, Ben Armitage – showing his versatility and commitment by taking up positions in both the midfield and up front, was aggressive in closing down the Leeds defenders and combined well with the right flank to cause a number of problems for Leeds. A lovely, flowing move across the pitch saw Hobson receive the ball. He fed Weston, who fired the ball across the area for Nganga to finish and put more daylight between the two teams. 2-4, but York weren’t finished. Armitage controlled nicely and dipped one over the bar before some neat inter-link play between Nganga and Holowkiewicz saw the latter send in a beautiful, spinning cross to the far post, where Weston grabbed his second with a bullet header. 2-5 to York and they saw the game out to claim a very well-deserved victory and start the season in convincing style – and send the visiting supporters home very happy.
Scorers: – Weston (2), Wakerley, Brown, Nganga.
MOM – Ben Garbutt-Smith. Assured, poised, calm. Provided pace and cover at the back, using the ball intelligently when stepping out of defence.