POPE HAS AR­RIVED IN NICK OF TIME

Rookie keeper stars in York’s fine run

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

YORK man­ager Nigel Worthington says he “hasn’t got a clue” about his side’s in­cred­i­ble de­fen­sive record.

Well, let us put him in the pic­ture. Since the be­gin­ning of Fe­bru­ary, the Min­ster­men had con­ceded just three goals in 15 games head­ing into the weekend. Two were from cor­ners. One was from a free-kick. That’s 23 hours with­out ship­ping a goal from open play.

That means this sea­son they have kept a club-record 21 clean sheets and surged from 16th in League Two to play-off cer­tain­ties.

And what’s even more as­ton­ish­ing is that, for the first half of the cam­paign, their de­fence was woe­ful, man­ag­ing just three clean sheets in 21 games.

It’s been an as­ton­ish­ing turn­around and one thing’s for sure – no­body in the top seven will fancy a trip to Bootham Cres­cent in the play-offs!

“Ev­ery pro­fes­sional feels a pride in keep­ing clean sheets,” says Worthington, the for­mer North­ern Ire­land and Nor­wich man­ager.

“And there’s a siege men­tal­ity that no­body will get any­thing off us. If you want to achieve any­thing – pro­mo­tion, stay­ing up, reach­ing the play-offs – that’s the kind of ethos you need.

“Bod­ies have to be on the line. Sac­ri­fices have to be made. You have to go through the pain to get the plea­sure, and they cer­tainly have. My play­ers have crawled off the pitch at times, but I ex­pect noth­ing less. I want them to do York City proud.”

Much of the credit for City’s re­vival must go to ex­pe­ri­enced duo Keith Lowe and John McCombe, Jan­uary sign­ings from Chel­tenham and Mans­field.

Lowe ini­tially joined on loan in Novem­ber and the ar­rival of McCombe – who had started just seven games at Field Mill since sign­ing in June – in Jan­uary saw the 28-year-olds form an in­stant un­der­stand­ing.

“The per­for­mances in the first half of the sea­son weren’t bad,” in­sists Worthington.“It was just that fine line where we were get­ting a draw in­stead of three points, a de­feat in­stead of a point.

“It was a young group and what it needed was two or three ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers added to the mix.

Au­thor­i­ta­tive

“The chair­man (Ja­son McGill) and my­self sat down and iden­ti­fied the ar­eas we needed to im­prove. We also iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­u­als who could help. And I’m pleased to say we man­aged to get them all.

“What Keith and John – as well as Russ Penn, who we also got from Chel­tenham – brought is league ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge, of how to see out re­sults, how to play the game. And how to spread that knowl­edge across the group.

“And let’s not for­get young Nick Pope, the goal­keeper we took on loan from Charl­ton in Jan­uary.

“Nick’s been an ab­so­lute rev­e­la­tion for us. At 22 he’s barely started his ca­reer, but his per­for­mances for such a young man have been ex­cep­tional, re­ally au­thor­i­ta­tive. That’s a big part of why we crossed that fine line of turn­ing draws into wins.”

And, just over a year since he re­placed Gary Mills, Worthington is en­ti­tled to re­flect on a job well done.

“When I came in 15 months ago, there were ten games left and you had no time to worry about it,” adds the 52-year-old, who in­her­ited a side sit­ting sec­ond bot­tom of League Two.

“The only pri­or­ity was to stay up, which we did with five wins and a draw from our last six games.

“The progress we’ve made is tes­ta­ment to the hard work of ev­ery­body at the club and just shows you what a bit of de­ter­mi­na­tion can do. If there’s any jus­tice, we’ll be able to push on a lit­tle bit more but there’s a lot of foot­ball to be played.”

PIC­TURES: Pin­na­cle

PROUD: Nigel Worthington EX­CEP­TIONAL: York’s on-loan Nick Pope has been in fine form since ar­riv­ing from Charl­ton. In­set: John McCombe

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