POPE HAS ARRIVED IN NICK OF TIME
Rookie keeper stars in York’s fine run
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.
“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.”
PROUD: Nigel Worthington EXCEPTIONAL: York’s on-loan Nick Pope has been in fine form since arriving from Charlton. Inset: John McCombe