York City gave it their absolute best but couldn’t find the vital breakthrough in a hugely entertaining play-off semi-final second-leg against Fleetwood Town at the Highbury Stadium.
A scoreless draw means that Fleetwood go through 1-0 on aggregate courtesy of Matty Blair’s first-leg winner and take on either Burton Albion or Southend United in the final at Wembley Stadium.
The Minstermen certainly didn’t let down their vast army of supporters though, with a fiercely determined and committed performance during a truly riveting contest.
Manager Nigel Worthington earlier made one enforced change from the first-leg with Ryan Bowman replacing the injured Ryan Brobbel. Indeed Bowman went straight down at the kick-off after finding the ball blasted directly at him.
But York still opened in great fashion while immediately passing at high-tempo and snapping into every challenge. Even so Fleetwood soon broke for Josh Morris to exchange passes with David Ball and flash a shot over the crossbar.
The visitors instantly replied as Russell Penn volleyed over after Keith Lowe’s far post header was blocked from Michael Coulson’s corner.
Fine work from Coulson then witnessed Adam Reed having a shot charged down before Will Hayhurt’s whipped corner was punched away by Chris Maxwell.
Conor McLaughlin drifted a tame left-footed reply along the ground and through to Nick Pope but the slick and busy Minstermen were appearing much the livelier of the two sides.
The recalled Bowman next flicked Hayhurst’s low corner wide of the near post while Fleetwood’s Ian Hume lashed over a Morris cross following an uncharacteristically misplaced pass from Lowe.
Moments later a superb move from the visitors, with a quick interchange of passes between Calvin Andrew and Reed ending with Coulson’s firm drive being parried by Maxwell.
McLaughlin became the first player booked for a late challenge on Ben Davies, while skipper Penn dusted himself down despite a split nose following a nasty collision with Hume.
York were still looking much the better outfit as the bustling Andrew headed over Davies’ cross and Bowman was soon hacked down by the cautioned Mark Roberts.
Goalkeeper Maxwell next flapped at a Hayhurst corner but the ball was scrambled away from the line as Andrew and Penn both challenged.
Striker Bowman also saw an effort charged down when Andrew headed on Pope’s long clearance and Antoni Sarcevic became the third home player booked for tripping Coulson at a quick free-kick.
First-leg goalscorer Matty Blair in turn headed a Coulson delivery over his own bar for another corner, and Hayhurst’s resultant cross was met by Lowe and parried away by Maxwell as Andrew prepared to head in.
Fleetwood rallied a little towards the end of the first-half through a Steven Schumacher free-kick being glanced on by Nathan Pond and deflected wide by Roberts. Schumacher also hoisted over in added time.
The Minstermen were straight out of the blocks at the start of the second period and Reed’s whipped corner from the left was cleared near the line by the excellent Pond.
Sarcevic glanced a Charlie Taylor corner over at the other end while McLaughlin tried a speculative 40-yard effort which drifted harmlessly over the target.
Back came a superbly determined York and Hayhurst’s excellent cross was glanced wide by the head of Reed while Morris dragged a reply beyond the near post following good work by Sarcevic.
Fleetwood introduced former City striker Jon Parkin on 64 minutes before Hayhurst was booked for catching McLaughlin. Great work from Blair then took him to the byline and his inviting delivery flashed dangerously across the face of goal
York made their first switch with Ryan Jarvis coming on for Bowman, although it was Sarcevic soon surging into the visitors’ box and forcing a brilliant, low one-handed save from Pope. Morris’ corner was then headed over by Pond.
The Cod Army had real concerns as the already-cautioned Sarcevic escaped a sending-off when bringing down all-action midfielder Penn. Substitute Parkin next spread play well but Lowe successfully blocked Taylor’s cross.
Back again came never-say-die York with Andrew curling a 25-yard attempt just over as the game was becoming increasingly stretched over the final ten minutes.
Fleetwood again escaped punishment when substitute Jarvis was clearly tripped on the edge of the area and Coulson hoisted over the crossbar.
Morris dropped another cross onto the roof of the net in reply and York-born Taylor drilled a left-footed shot wide of the far post – while the visitors pushed substitute Lewis Montrose into attack for the closing moments.
Into five minutes of added time and Coulson’s driven effort was deflected over by the outstanding Pond. On loan goalkeeper Pope was sent forward for the corner but immediately had to chase back as Morris miscued on the break with an open goal beckoning.
Some lovely footwork from the tireless Coulson wide on the left then witnessed a firm shot into the midriff of Maxwell, until team-mate Morris was sent racing clear but the trusty Pope again stood his ground.
That proved at least some justice because defeat on the night would have been totally unfair on the terrific Minstermen – who were defiantly fearless and spectacularly brave throughout.
Fleetwood Town: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Roberts, Taylor, Blair, Schumacher (Goodall 75), Sarcevic (Cresswell 83), Morris, Hume (Parkin 64), Ball
subs (unused): Murdoch, Evans, Jordan, Lucas
York City: Pope, Oyebanjo, Lowe, McCombe, Davies, Coulson, Penn, Reed (Montrose 84), Hayhurst (Allan 90), Andrew, Bowman (Jarvis 69)
subs (unused): McGurk, Platt, Puri, Ingham
Ref: S. Duncan (Northumberland)
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